The Pittsburgh Pirates' hitting woes in 2024 can be traced back to Andy Haines

The Pirates have seen batters improve their game with other hitting coaches, while others are in the midst of career-worst seasons with the stick, and at the center of it all is hitting coach Andy Haines.
Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates
Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages
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At the end of May of this year, Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Rowdy Tellez was coming off what was probably the most disheartening month of his entire playing career. He had a negative wRC+, more strikeouts than total bases, was getting booed every time he stepped to the plate, and was probably on the verge of getting DFA’d. At the end of the month, Tellez turned to Dee Brown, a coach and scout, someone Tellez had known since before he was even a teenager. 

Fast forward to the end of June, and Tellez’s season has done a complete 180. He’s batted .344/.394/.525 with a .399 wOBA and 160 wRC+ in June. He’s put up a higher batting average than Luis Arraez, a higher slugging percentage than Marcell Ozuna, and a better wRC+ than Elly De La Cruz during June.

It’s almost July, and the Pirates’ offense has been dismal, to say the least. Tellez and Bryan Reynolds have done a lot of heavy lifting this month, and Andrew McCutchen has continued to provide a solid bat. But at the time of writing this, they rank 13th in the NL in runs scored, and 14th or worse in each of the three triple-slash numbers, as well as having the second-most strikeouts.

The hitting has been dismal, and one man is at the center of it all: Andy Haines. He is in his third year as the Pirates’ hitting coach, and 2024 marks the third season the Pirates have ranked in the bottom three of NL teams in OPS. It also is the third year in a row that a Pirates player has turned their season around after searching for help beyond Haines. First it was Oneil Cruz in 2022. Then Ke’Bryan Hayes turned to Jon Nunnally. Now Rowdy Tellez has made a transformation.

It’s not just Pirates players turning their hitting around dramatically after looking for help elsewhere; it’s also Pirates hitters having massive declines in performance this year. We’re just about halfway through the year, and the Pirates have seen five players’ wRC+ drop by at least 20 percentage points. It looks even worse on paper (keep in mind, 100 is always league average, 101 is 1% better than league average, 99 is 1% worse than league average, etc.):

Player

2023 wRC+

2024 wRC+

Difference

Jared Triolo

118

65

54

Jack Suwinski

112

55

57

Edward Olivares

105

84

21

Ke'Bryan Hayes

101

70

31

Michael A. Taylor

96

38

58

Average

106

52

54

Pirates' offensive woes can clearly be tied back to Andy Haines

If it was only one or two players that saw a big dip in wRC+, or turned their season around elsewhere, that would be one thing. But the Pirates have five hitters with a 20%+ drop in wRC+ from 2023 to 2024, and have now seen a player turn their game around with another hitting coach for a third season in a row. If it happens once or twice, that happens to every team. Three seasons in a row is a trend.

At the center of all of this is Haines, who has tried to make power hitters contact hitters (like in the case of Jack Suwinski) and has ruined the approach of many notable batters, both on the Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers. At some point, something needs to be done about it, because they have wasted so many good starts from the likes of Paul Skenes, Jared Jones, Mitch Keller, and Bailey Falter. 

As a fan, the only way to describe it is "frustrating" because we know this team can be better. The hitting group clearly has talent, and even getting average production would lead to a whole lot more wins. How do five players go from above-average hitters one year to well below-average the next? Why do the Pirates keep seeing players get better once they look for help beyond the major league coaching staff? The answer to both questions is Andy Haines. At some point, the Pirates will need to very much consider their alternatives for hitting coach. All one can hope for right now is that the decision will come sooner rather than later, and hopefully before it’s too late.

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