The Pittsburgh Pirates brought in a complete new Front Office and Management team last offseason. One of the biggest changes was the use of analytics.
Over the last year, we here at Rum Bunter have done our fair share of interviews. We have talked to former players, prospects, and other media members about the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of the reoccurring themes was that the old regime fell behind the curve with analytics.
When Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton were hired, the language around the Pittsburgh Pirates organization changed. People inside the organization like Cherington and Shelton take the time to talk about how they are and want to continue using analytics. While one can assume that most organizations at this point are using analytics in some capacity, it is nice to have people in charge explaining why those numbers are important.
On the offensive side things the two most common statistics that are brought up are launch angle and exit velocity. Both are equally important, but a perfect launch angle will not mean much if the player is not hitting the ball hard. So what Pittsburgh Pirates led the team in Exit Velocity this season?
Colin Moran had a bit of a breakout season in 2020. While his overall numbers are still not super flashy, he showed a lot of progress in 2020. This is especially true in terms of the power he is now producing. Overall, he hit .247/.325/.472. There was an obvious increase in his power numbers as his slugging jumped up 40 points from 2019 and he was on pace for his first 30 home run season. The biggest change came in his exit velocity. In 2018 and 2019 his average exit velocity was 88.2 mph, this year he jumped up to 91.2 miles per hour, which put him third on the team.
The player who finished second on the list would have likely been higher had he played a full season. Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes averaged 92.8 mph across his 85 at-bats. Hayes was by far the Pittsburgh Pirates most impressive hitter, even if it was just in a month worth of games. In those games, he slashed .376/.442/.762 with five home runs.
Hayes was only behind one player on the Pittsburgh Pirates and it was a very close margin. The lead in average exit velocity for the Bucs in 2020 was Gregory Polanco. Polanco averaged 92.9 mph, so just 0.1 mph more than Hayes. At one point this became a big point of emphasis for Polanco’s season.
After missing all of last year, Polanco was finally going to get a chance to show what Rick Eckstein and staff improved with him. While exit velocity can often be correlated to success, it is not necessarily always the case. Polanco had one of the worst slash-lines in the National League batting just .153/.214/.325. Obviously, he had a lot of bad luck in 2020, but if he keeps hitting the ball hard and more consistent, then that exit velocity will play a lot more.