Pittsburgh Pirates: First Base Offense Becoming an Issue

Apr 21, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Carlos Santana (41)
Apr 21, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Carlos Santana (41) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Santana has been a great defender for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but his offense is starting to become an issue

Throughout the first 41 games of the season Carlos Santana has been a mainstay in the lineup for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Santana has played in 38 of the first 41 games of the season for the Pirates and has been an anchor at first base.

After a strong start to the season offensively, Santana has started to struggle in recent weeks. However, Santana has started to slide into a slump at the plate. This has led to first base offense becoming an issue for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After going 0-for-5 against the Orioles on Sunday, Santana is now hitting for a .239/.327/.362 slash line and just a 91 wRC+ this season. While he's walking at a 11.9% rate and striking out at just 17.6% rate, his overall offensive numbers are not good enough.

The biggest offensive issue for Santana has been the lack of power. He's hit just 2 home runs on the season, with no home run since the home opener against the Chicago White Sox on April 7th. His isolated slugging (ISO) is just .123.

With the Pirate lineup struggling they need to get more power from first base. Santana has always been a power hitter in his MLB career, but at 37-years-old that power could be waning. His average exit velocity of 87.9 MPH, 32.4% hard hit rate, and 5.6% barrel rate are all below league average.

Currently, Santana is stuck in a major rut at the plate. In his last 46 plate appearances dating back to April 30th, Santana is hitting just .162/.304/.216 with a 55 wRC+. He has just two doubles as his lone extra base hits during this stretch, to go with a 17.4% walk and strikeout rate.

Where things get tough with Santana is due to his defense. His +4 Defensive Runs Saved leads all MLB first basemen this season. So while Santana has struggled offensively, he has been one of the best defensive first basemen in all of baseball.

For the first time you are starting to see the Pirates miss Ji Man Choi. Choi was off to a slow start before hitting the injured list, but he owns a 114 wRC+ in his career. This includes a 123 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, and Santana has hit lefties better than righties this season. Having Choi healthy would allow the Pirates to give Santana some additional days down with him struggling, especially against right-handed pitching when Santana has hit left-handed pitching better this season.

Managing first base is tricky for multiple reasons. First off, while Santana is not producing enough offensively his defense has been a huge plus for the Pirates. A huge plus for a team that has struggled defensively this season.

Second, with Choi injured the options on the team's roster for other players at first base is limited. Sure, Connor Joe could play first base but all that does is create another hole in right field. Jared Triolo could be an option as well, but he is just now getting his feet under him at Triple-A after starting the season on the injured list.

Whatever happens moving forward, the Pirates need to get more offense out of first base. Especially with their offense has a whole currently struggling. Hopefully, Santana can pull out of his offensive struggles and fix these issues himself. If that does not happen, then, at some point, the team will need to start debating other options at first base, even if that just means Santana not getting essentially every at-bat at the position.

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