Pirates' patient approach paying huge dividends early

The Pirates are seeing a lot of pitches and doing a lot of damage.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Miami Marlins
Pittsburgh Pirates v Miami Marlins / Rich Storry/GettyImages
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"The more pitches you see, the more dangerous you become."

That quote comes courtesy of Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, but it might as well be the motto of Pirates hitting coach Andy Haines. The Pirates have been notoriously patient, if not overly passive, ever since Haines joined the staff prior to the 2022 season.

This passive approach has been subject to much scrutiny. During Haines' tenure, the Pirates have swung at the fifth-fewest strikes and drawn the 12th-most walks. But they've been disastrous situationally - during that same span, the Pirates possess the fourth-lowest batting average and fifth-worst strikeout rate with runners in scoring position. All of their offensive woes were the same ones that got Haines fired in Milwaukee.

But Harrelson's words have proven true thus far in 2024. The Pirates have accumulated at least six runs and nine hits in each game so far, and the only team averaging more runs per game than the Bucs is the vaunted Atlanta Braves.

The Pirates certainly have seen plenty of pitches so far, particularly against the opposing starting pitchers:

Name

Date

Innings

Pitches

Jesus Luzardo

March 28

5.0

85

A.J. Puk

March 29

2.0

68

Ryan Weathers

March 30

4.0

94

Trevor Rogers

March 31

5.0

97

MacKenzie Gore

April 1

5.1

101

The Pirates have done an excellent job at drawing walks, fouling pitches off, and doing whatever they can to get the starters' pitch counts up. Those five pitchers averaged 20.9 pitches per inning in their outings against the Pirates - the league average this year is about 16.9, and only one team (the Angels) has had their starting pitchers throw more pitches per inning than what the Pirates have forced from their opponents.

Those pitchers were neither efficient nor effective against the Pirates. Not only did they average over 20 pitches per inning, but they did so while posting a cumulative 6.75 ERA. That combination allowed the Pirates to get to the opposing bullpen early, and they didn't fare much better. The Bucs have managed to push three or more runs across against the bullpen in each game of the season so far.

On the offensive side, the league average rate of pitches per plate appearance is about 3.9, according to Baseball Reference. Pirates hitters are currently seeing 4.08 pitches per plate appearance, better than all but three MLB teams. They have a whopping eight hitters (minimum 15 plate appearances) above that 3.9 P/PA threshold, including the league leader in Edward Olivares, who is more than a full pitch above the league average.

The Pirates started their season by facing five consecutive left-handed starting pitchers, which was cause for legitimate concern.

It's safe to say that they passed that test with flying colors. They finally get to line up against a right-hander on Wednesday in former Pirate Trevor Williams. Whether they can continue their success at the plate remains to be seen, but their patient approach is finally starting to pay dividends.