Pittsburgh Pirates: Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Cole Tucker’s Offense


The Pittsburgh Pirates have the most young talent at shortstop. One of their young talents is glove-first switch hitter Cole Tucker, but he isn’t going to be a complete liability in the batters box.

The general consensus seems to be that, eventually, Cole Tucker will take over at shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, potentially pushing Kevin Newman to second base. After all, this would give the Pirates the best defensive middle infield they could have.

Tucker is a great fielder. Last year in the limited amount of time he got with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the switch hitter had racked up +2 DRS, 0.3 range runs, and 0.9 UZR. Overall having a 4.6 UZR/150. While it is a small sample size, Tucker has good fielding grades with a 55 future fielding grade and 70 current and future throw grade by FanGraphs. He can also run with a 28.8 feet/second sprint speed.

But one of the concerns that arises when talking about Tucker is his bat. After all, his showing at the MLB level last year wasn’t too impressive. He struck out about a quarter of the time with a 25.2% strikeout rate, and hit .211/.266/.361 with a 61 wRC+. But, remember, this was in a very small sample size of 159 plate appearances. But you shouldn’t worry too much about his offense.

For one, Tucker has drawn walks at a fair rate throughout the minor leagues. Last year at Triple-A, Tucker hit .261/.346/.413 with a 95 wRC+. Overall, not super great numbers. However, he did put up a 10.8% walk rate. The MLB average walk rate is 9% and the average OBP was .323, which would make him better than the league average compared to the majors. If Tucker is a lead off hitter, he’s doing his job well. Even if he isn’t posting the best of batting averages, all that really matters is that he’s posting an above average OBP.

Good pitch recognition is something you want your player to have, and Tucker seems to have decent recognition. Tucker was also doing great in the minors when he was getting consistent playing time. Through the first month of the minor leagues, Tucker was hitting .333/.415/.579 in April. Granted, it was a small sample size of 57 at bats.

In June, Tucker was hitting .289/.325/.500, again in a small sample size of at bats of 76. While he wasn’t getting as many base hits in July or August, Tucker was still drawing walks, collecting 27 to oppose 44 strikeouts. In both months, he posted a .330 and .347 OBP despite having a .220 and .244 batting average.

Drawing walks isn’t anything new for Tucker either. Tucker had a 10.8% walk rate in 2017, and has a career minor league walk rate of 9.4% walk percentage. If Tucker is a lead off man, a .260/.340/.400 hitter isn’t bad considering his speed. Tucker gets on base enough to use his speed, and isn’t an automatic out when he swings the bat.

Some might see a Jordy Mercer type player in Tucker, but Mercer was not anything like Tucker in the minors. Aside from their power, they are very different. Mercer wasn’t a guy you would want leading off like Tucker is. While both had similar batting averages, what’s more important is their on base percentages. Mercer had a .324 OBP and walk rate of just 6.9%, compared to Tucker’s .340 OBP and 9.4% walk rate. He also wasn’t nearly as fast of a runner compared to Tucker.

Last year, despite his overall poor hitting at the MLB level, he did show some improvement as the season went on. Tucker’s numbers are as bad as they were at the Majors because he got off to a cold start. His first 95 plate appearances in the Majors only yielded a .157/.202/.258 line. But as he got to face more MLB pitching throughout the season, his numbers got better. In Tucker’s final 64 plate appearances of the year, he hit .293/.359/.517 with seven doubles, and three triples. Although both are very small sample sizes, Tucker seemed to be adjusting to MLB pitching once he got to see more of it.

He also made hard contact 36.5% of the time, which is more than 2% higher than the MLB average. More often than not, hard hit balls are going to turn into base hits.

In Grapefruit League play, Tucker was doing really good before it ended prematurely. His 31 plate appearances saw the former first-round pick collected eight hits, including three home runs and a double, and walk four times, while also striking out four times.

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Tucker may never be a Silver Slugger Award finalist for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a productive player, both with the bat and the glove. Tucker already has a good eye at the plate, drawing a decent amount of walks. Tucker has shown a decent amount of improvement the past year. Getting on base is a valuable skill, whether that be a walk or a hit, and Tucker can get on base at an above average rate. Plus, with his base running ability and fielding, Tucker could be a 3+ WAR player in a full season.