Clint Hurdle Needs to Shuffle the Pittsburgh Pirates Lineup

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

Stuck in a terrible 4-13 rut there is no better time for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lineup to receive a shakeup and for the batting order to get shuffled around

Like most managers Clint Hurdle enjoys consistency. This includes consistency in his batting order which is something that the Pittsburgh Pirates have had most of the season.

Early in the season it was tough to argue with Hurdle’s lineup construction. While, yes, an argument could have been made to make a change at leadoff, through the first 43 games of the season the Bucs owned a 26-17 record and were in the top three in the National League in every important offensive category. What Hurdle and the Pirates were doing was working.

The problem is that it is no longer working. After a 5-0 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday night the Pirates are now just 4-13 in their last 17 games. During this stretch the team has been shutout three times and is averaging just 3.2 runs per game.

You do not have to get deep into the Pirates’ batting order to find issues. Leadoff man Josh Harrison – outside of 2014 – has never been a good leadoff hitter and likely never will be. 2018 has been no different for the team’s second baseman.

Outside of the time he missed with a hand injury, Harrison has been the team’s leadoff hitter this season. This is despite owning just a 5% walk rate and a poor .306 on-base percentage. Harrison owns a lifetime 3.9% walk rate and .320 OBP. These are the reasons why he has never been a good leadoff hitter and why he should be taken out of the leadoff spot.

Another issue is cleanup hitter Josh Bell. After slugging 26 home runs, posting a .211 ISO, a 9.4% extra base hit rate, and being a finalist for National League Rookie of the Year in 2017, Bell appeared to have emerged as the man who would be the team’s cleanup hitter for a long time. Bell may still be this player, right now, however, he is not.

Bell is scuffling to the tune of a .133 ISO, .372 slugging percentage, and a 7.3% extra base hit rate. By continuing to bat Bell in the cleanup spot Hurdle is doing nothing but hurting the Pirates.

As I wrote about a few days ago, Bell’s big issue this year appears to be his launch angle. He also appears to be off balance with his swing this season. Until Bell can rediscover the swing that led him to nearly winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2017, he needs to be dropped in the batting order.

So, what should the Pirate batting order look like? This:

  1. Francisco Cervelli – C
  2. Austin Meadows – RF
  3. Starling Marte – CF
  4. Corey Dickerson – LF
  5. Colin Moran – 3B
  6. Josh Bell -1B
  7. Josh Harrison – 2B
  8. Jordy Mercer – SS

In this lineup you have the player who leads the team in walk rate and is second behind Meadows in on-base percentage leading off in Cervelli. Makes sense, no? You then follow your best on-base player with other four hitters that round out the team’s top-5 in wRC+, wOBA, and slugging percentage this year.

It also takes pressure off of Bell which could help jumpstart him at the plate again. And, make no bones about it, if the Pirates are going to pull out of the rut they are in they NEED Bell to rediscover his swing at the plate again.

Another matter that needs to be addressed is the outfield. This four-man outfield rotation is not working. Dickerson (126 wRC+, .354 wOBA), Marte (125 wRC+, .353 wOBA), and Meadows (207 wRC+, .474 wOBA) need to be playing every day, while Gregory Polanco (97 wRC+, .312 wOBA) serves as the team’s fourth outfielder. This would make the Pirate lineup better than trying to get each outfielder equal at bats will.

Next: Pirates, Hoglund Agree to Terms

Clint Hurdle – like most baseball managers – can be very stubborn with his batting order. However, it is time for him to shuffle pieces around in the Pirate lineup. He started this when he dropped Polanco from the two hole and moved Cervelli up in the order a week or so ago. More batting order shuffling needs to be done, though.