Pittsburgh Pirates: Josh Palacios Results Should Be Better Than They Are

Pirates outfielder Josh Palacios should be hitting better than he has so far.
Aug 4, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Josh Palacios (54)
Aug 4, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Josh Palacios (54) / Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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The advanced metrics for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Josh Palacios and his results at the plate have not matched up this season

The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Josh Palacios in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The Rule 5 Draft is already taking a shot in the dark, but the minor league phase is like taking a shot in the dark with a blindfold on. Rarely do you find a decent player in this phase. The Pirates still felt like Palacios was worth the pick, however, and while on the surface you might not think much of him, he has more potential than what some may think.

Palacios is only hitting .210/.258/.370 and 65 wRC+ on the season. He has hit 6 home runs and has a .160 ISO, but he’s walked in just 5.5% of his plate appearances. The good thing is that he’s only struck out 18.9% of the time.

He’s provided about league-average defense but has made some flashy plays. He’s also made some strong throws and is in the 89th percentile of outfield arm strength. But these numbers are what you’d expect from a 4th outfielder on a team with middling at best bench depth. What reason is there to believe that Palacios can be any better?

Before we get into that, I just want to state that I am not arguing that Palacios is superstar material. I don’t even think he’d be a semi-regular. But do I believe he could be a quality fourth outfielder? Yes, and based on the underlying numbers, he could potentially reach that.

Palacios hits the ball hard when he makes contact. His average exit velocity is 90.5 MPH while his hard hit rate is 43.5%. Both are well above the league average. Palacios isn’t just like a pre-2023 Ke’Bryan Hayes either. His 8.2% barrel rate is also above the league average. He’s making quality contact, along with hard contact.

The outfielder has a .256/.299/.415 expected triple-slash, and a .311 xwOBA. Again, that’s not superstar level, but those numbers are comparable to Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Trea Turner, who has a .255/.307/.420 triple-slash. Sure, Turner is having a down year, but an 87 wRC+ is much better than what Palacios currently has, 22% better to be exact. Former Pirates all-star second baseman Adam Frazier is hitting a comparable .237/.296/.405 and has a 92 wRC+. 

So why isn’t he hitting as well as he’s expected to? Palacios has a .230 batting average on balls in play. He's just three plate appearances shy of 200. Only ten players currently have a lower BAbip in 200+ trips to the dish. Even if Palacios has a .260 or .270 BABIP, something that is achievable, he could be a productive bench player. He could live up to the expected stats, and give the Pirates a potential long-term fourth outfielder.

Plus, keeping him in a 4th outfield role lets the Pirates use him to his fullest potential. Palacios has been oddly clutch this season. In late and close games, Palacios has nine hits, including four doubles and two home runs, along with four walks in 25 plate appearances. He is also hitting .375 with a .849 OPS as a pinch hitter. That’s a bat you want off the bench, and only making maybe one start a week, two at the very most. Although he’s a lefty batter, he does have a .752 OPS vs same-handed pitching. 

Again, is Palacios going to all of a sudden take the league by storm? No (at least I doubt it), but he should be hitting well enough to be a quality 4th outfielder. Palacios has already shown off what some of that raw power can do. He’s already hit six home runs and has a respectable .160 isolated slugging percentage. If Palacios can get his BAbip up, he could be a .250 hitter with a dozen home runs and average to above average defense at all three outfield positions moving forward. I’m sure any team would be ecstatic to have that from their back up outfielder.

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