The Pittsburgh Pirates improved their approach at the plate when they came up with men on base
The Pittsburgh Pirates were greatly struggling to score runners on base. From the start of the year until July 27th, they hit .252/.338/.393 with a 96 wRC+ with men in scoring position. With men on base in general, they were just a .237/.318/.359 hitting team with a .298 wOBA, and 83 wRC+. But from July 28th through the end of the year, the Pirates went 31-29 while improving their ability to hit when they had a chance to score a runner.
After July 27th, the Pirates batted .268/.350/.442 with men on base. That put them in the top ten of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Their .341 wOBA was 6th best among all teams throughout this time period, while their 112 wRC+ was tied for 10th with the division rival Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pirates were also in the top half of the league when it came to runners in scoring position. They hit .260/.338/.431. wOBA pinned them at .328, while wRC+ had them at 103, meaning they were slightly above league average compared to the league average batter. The only statistic listed here that wasn’t among the top 15 teams was their on-base percentage with runners in scoring position, which still ranked 16th.
So what change happened?
The major difference is that they changed their batted ball approach. The Pirates had the 3rd highest line drive rate with men on base at 22.1% while having the 12th lowest ground ball rate. With men in scoring position, they had a 21% liner rate (13th highest), though they were in the bottom half of the league in both ground ball rate (46.3%, 12th highest), and flyball rate (35.3%, 9th lowest). Still, you’re talking about a team that went from well below league average in terms of hitting with men on and RISP, to being an average to above-average team.
But why July 28th specifically, aside from it marking the final 60-game stretch of the year? Well because the day before, July 27th, I had published an article heavily dissecting the Pirate issues hitting with both runners on base and RISP. One of the main points I made was the Pirates were hitting way too many ground balls, and not enough liners or fly balls. As you just saw, the Pirates have been great at getting line drives and avoiding ground balls when there are runners on base.
I’m not going to take credit for the Pirates turning around their offense (because I obviously never worked with the Pirates' coaches or players in any direct or even indirect way), but if there is someone important out there who works for the Pirates and took my advice, I very much appreciate that you did so. If not, then it's just a coincidence the Pirates improved their approach with men on base soon after I wrote this article.
Hopefully, the Pirates continue to improve this area of their game going into 2024. Being good when there are runners on base is obviously important, and the Pirates were pretty solid in these situations from July 28th onward. If they can continue to build upon this development, they could prove to be a highly effective line-up come the 2024 campaign.