Pittsburgh Pirates: Coaches Should Be on the Hot Seat

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 23: Manager Derek Shelton #17 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout prior to a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 23, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 23: Manager Derek Shelton #17 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout prior to a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 23, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates have made little to no progress this season which could lead to Derek Shelton and Andy Haines being let go at the end of 2022.

The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t been good this season. That’s pretty obvious, and nobody expected them to be competitors. But the major league team has shown little to no progress from last year. With that being said, the Pirates could look to move on from both the head manager Derek Shelton and hitting coach Andy Haines following the 2022 campaign.

Shelton is in his third season as Pirate skipper. He took over after Clint Hurdle’s departure following the 2019 campaign. The Pirates finished dead last in the MLB in 2020, though most will give him a pass for that season. It was a 60-game season where fans weren’t allowed in the gates, and pitchers weren’t allowed in the dugouts. It was far from normal conditions, so there was no good way to tell how much of a positive or negative impact Shelton had on the team.

The Pittsburgh Pirates then finished with a 37.7% winning percentage in Shelton’s second year as manager. This was really the big rebuilding season. The Pirates traded Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, and Joe Musgrove the off-season prior. Then they shipped off Adam Frazier, Tyler Anderson, and Richard Rodriguez at the trade deadline. In the 2019-2020 off-season, the only notable trade they made was sending Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks, so the 2020-2021 off-season and trade deadline were really the start of the roster and system rebuild.

But this season, the Pirates have just a 38.5% winning percentage, less than a 1% improvement from last season Sure, this was another rebuilding year, but that little progress made is highly concerning given the current roster’s construction. If you were to tell any Pirate fan at the beginning of the season you’d get healthy seasons from Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds, get some production from prospects like Jack Suwinski, Roansy Contreras, and Tucupita Marcano, see Mitch Keller and JT Brubaker turn massive corners, and have Oneil Cruz, Travis Swaggerty, and Canaan Smith-Njigba on the roster together at some point, you’d think this team would at least be a 70-73 win squad.

However, at the current pace, they’re projected to win just 63 games, two more than last season. Shelton’s contract is up at the end of the 2023 season, so it isn’t out of the question the Pirates decide to cut ties with the manager after this year. There’s much more than a poor record that could cause the Pirates to potentially let Shelton go.

On the other hand, Andy Haines is in his first season as hitting coach, but the hitting this year has been abysmal, despite the visible talent in the line-up. As a team, the Pittsburgh Pirates are slashing .220/.289/.362 with a .287 wOBA and 83 wRC+. Somehow, they’re not the worst hitting team in the league, though. They rank 28th in wRC+, OPS, and wOBA. However, those numbers don’t do justice to how the hitters have performed this season.

Ke’Bryan Hayes has so much power yet doesn’t even have a .400 slugging percentage or .150 isolated slugging percentage. He’s in the 92nd percentile of hard-hit rate and exit velocity, and he’s currently hitting the ball harder and more often than Manny Machado, Juan Soto, and Paul Goldschmidt. He has a hard hit rate approaching 50%, coming in at 49.2%. However, with a ground ball rate also approaching 50%, that power simply isn’t being used to its fullest potential. Hayes will almost certainly be the first player in the Statcast era to be both in the 90th or higher percentile in both hard-hit rate and exit velocity and fall short of the 20 home run mark in at least 120 games played.

On the other hand, Oneil Cruz is hitting for more power with a .201 isolated slugging percentage but is striking out nearly 40% of the time. But you’re also talking about a guy with a 17.7% strikeout rate and .300 average in the month leading up to his promotion to the Major Leagues in 2022 and 22.1% strikeout rate at Triple-A.

There’s always been some swing-and-miss in Cruz’s game, but never anything this bad. Cruz has recently flown in a personal instructor to help him with his hitting, according to fellow Rum Bunter staff writer Kody Duncan, so what does that tell you about Haines’s ability and how confrontable the players feel about him? To me, it sounds similar to when Pirates pitchers stopped listening to Ray Searage in the second half of 2019, the season before he was let go.

Of course, that’s just two players. But you’re still looking at a team with just two players with 200+ plate appearances and a wRC+ of 100 or greater. Those two are Bryan Reynolds (123) and Jack Suwinski (100), and Suwinski isn’t even in the majors as of writing this. You’re also seeing two players with some of the best raw power numbers in the league hitting for average to well below average power.

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While the Pittsburgh Pirates weren’t going to be contenders this season, you’d at least expect some visible improvements being made. With Shelton’s deal ending next season, the Pirates might decide to move on a bit early, firing him this off-season. I could see them giving him a Joe Girardi or Joe Maddon treatment if he sticks around for 2023. As for Haines, if you have one of your most talented hitters struggling so much he’d rather fly in a personal instructor, you have to consider the alternative options sooner rather than later.