Pittsburgh Pirates: Patient Plate Approach Fueling the Offense

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The Pittsburgh Pirates offense has started off the 2021 season with a much-improved approach, winning 5 of 6 games by at least 4 runs or more. Is a patient Pirates plate approach helping the offense take off?

Last season, the offensive performance of the Pittsburgh Pirates was dismal. Ranking at the bottom of the league with a 73 wRC+, the Pirates struggled to muster any type of support at the plate to keep their record from being the worst in baseball.

While some of that had to do with luck just not being on their side (as I pointed out here), the Pittsburgh Pirates also weren’t a very patient team. The Pirates ranked 25th in baseball with a 7.8% walk rate, putting their on-base percentage at .284, the worst in the Majors. They swung 47.1% of the time, the 9th most in baseball, and missed on swings 12.4% of the time, the 4th worst mark in the league.

So far this season the Pittsburgh Pirates plate approach has improved across the board in terms of offensive success. Currently, the Pirates have a 98 wRC+, which is 12th in the Majors. They are walking 10% of the time, which ranks 9th, and their OBP ranks 10th at .326, a 42-point swing. They are also swinging less, only 44.6%  of the time (23rd), and missing less at 11.2% (19th).

All these stats point to improved patience at the plate. As of Saturday, for Pittsburgh Pirate hitters have OBPs over .400 through at least 45 plate appearances. Those hitters are Jacob Stallings, Colin Moran, Adam Frazier, and Phillip Evans. Bryan Reynolds and Gregory Polanco are also getting on base at good rates, with Reynolds owning a .356 OBP and Polanco owning a .340 OBP despite a .205 average.

Each of these guys, besides Evans, have walk rates over 10%, which is the current league average. Stallings leads the club with a ridiculous 19.6% walk rate, improved on his impressive 10.5% walk rate last season. That’s the 8th highest in baseball.

I can’t overstate the importance of this approach. The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball so far this season, their 87.4mph exit velocity is 28th in baseball, and their hard-hit rate ranks dead last. They’ve hit just 12 home runs and their ISO ranks 19th at .145. But, as I mentioned above, the Pirates rank within the top 15 of offenses with a 98 wRC+, a stat that measures the total performance of the offense against the league average.

Patient approaches have allowed the Pittsburgh Pirates offense to rebound from a season in which they were terrible and gravitate back to the level which they were at in 2019. The approach has also been a big reason for their run-producing. The Pirates are a station-to-station team, meaning their baserunning will play a huge role in the number of runs they score, and getting on base plays a big role in that.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have an extra-bases taken percentage (XBT%) of 40%, which is a stat that measures the number of extra bases taken on singles (more than 1 base), and doubles (more than 2 bases), up from 37% in 2020. Right now that ranks 12th in the league. Getting on base is good, getting around the bases is better.

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It took the Pittsburgh Pirates 23 games to win 6 last season, an awful record of 6-17. This season, thanks to a new level of patience in their plate approach, the Pirates have accomplished that feat in just 14 games. As long the Pirates keep their patience and continue walking all over the bases it will mask the lack of power the team has and allow them to continue producing and scoring runs. The more patience, the more headaches for opposing arms.