Pittsburgh Pirates: Connor Joe Hitting His Way Into a Starting Role
By Marty Leap
Off to a surprisingly strong start this season, Connor Joe has hit his way into an every day role with the Pittsburgh Pirates
Even amidst their seven-game losing streak, the Pittsburgh Pirates have still been among the biggest surprises in Major League Baseball this season. They were the first National League club to reach 20 wins, and, despite seven straight losses, currently sit a half a game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central.
When a team gets off to a strong start there are always multiple players who are driving forces behind that. Often times, when it's a sruprising start like that of the Pirates there are players who were not expected to be big contributors who become just that. One such player for the Pirates thus far this season has been Connor Joe.
Originally drafted by the Pirates in 2014, Joe never played for the team after being traded to the Atlanta Brave for Sean Rodriguez in August 2016. After spending time in the majors with the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies, Joe was traded to the Pirates by Colorado in exchange for minor league pitcher Nick Garcia this past offseason.
When Joe was first acquried it appeard he would serve a platoon role for the Pirates. Joe was looked at as an on-base first type hitter who could make starts at first base, designated hitter, or in the outfield agaisnt left-handed pitching.
When the season began this was Joe's role. However, 35 games into the season Joe has began to develop into more than that. So far this season Joe has been not just one of the best hitters on the Pirate roster, but one of the most consistent hitters in the entire NL. With this start, for the first time in his MLB career Joe finds himself pushing for every day at-bats and a starting role.
Through his first 114 plate appearances this season Joe is hitting for a .277/.360/.554 slash line. He owns a 9.6% walk rate, .277 isolated slugging (ISO), and a 145 wRC+. Joe's career high in home runs is 8, but he has already hit 4 long balls as part of his healthy 14.9% extra base hit rate. Among batters with at least 70 PAs this season, Joe's .914 OPS ranks in the top 15 in the NL.
Prior to the start of the season I mentioned that Joe could play his way to getting regualr at-bats this season. This was due to his abiltiy to get on base and the fact he had actually hit right-handed pitching better than left-handed pitching in his career entering 2023. Well, so far, hitting his way into regualr ABs is exactly what Joe has done.
Joe's success does not appear ot be fluky, either. His Baseball Savant page paints a pretty picture. He ranks in the 70th percentile of baseball in average exit velocity (90.6 MPH), 75th percentile in barrel rate (12.1%), and 88th percentile in hard hit rate (50.0%). Joe has also been an incredibly patient and selective hitter at the plate ranking in the 100th(!) percentile of baseball in chase rate.
It should go without saying at this point, especially with the Pirate offense currently struggling mightily, but Joe has done enough to hit his way into playing every day. Finding a way to get Joe into the lineup every day will not be a challenge, either.
Returning home to the organization that drafted him has appeared to kickstart Joe's career. That kickstart has made Joe one of the most important hitters on a team that is currently in first place in their divison. Showing why the Pirates drafted him as a supplemental first-round pick in 2014, Joe has hit his way into an every day role with the Bucs.