Despite having one of the worst offenses in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a surprising strength on offense that they can build upon in 2023
It's no secret how poor the Pittsburgh Pirates offense was in 2022. They ranked 28th in wRC+, wOBA, and OPS, all stats that measure the total output of an offense. That's pretty bad. While there were few things that the 2022 Pirates did well, one of them may turn into a major strength in 2023: base running.
The Pirates, like most teams, had their occasional TOOTBLAN throughout the year. Overall, though, the Pirates ranked 8th in the MLB in BsR, which is Fangraphs' base running component for WAR and measures the base running production of a player versus average. In fact from July 1st to the end of the season the Pirates ranked 3rd, behind only the Diamondbacks and Dodgers.
That's good company to be in with, considering both those teams ranked first and second for the entire season. Now, per Fangraphs, BsR is calculated using 3 base running statistics: Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), Weighted Grounded Into Double Play Runs (wGDP), and Ultimate Base Running (UBR). The Pirates ranked 8th in UBR, 9th in wGDP, and 18th in wSB, though they ranked 4th in the latter after July 1st.
Their 89 stolen bases ranked 14th in the MLB, 7th from July 1st to the end of the season. In extra bases taken percentage (XBT%), a stat that per baseball-references measures the percentage of times a runner advances more than one base on a single, or more than two bases on a double, the Pirates were just above league average with 42%.
This all means the Pirates were an above average base running team in 2022, despite how awful the entire offense had been. The team will no longer have Kevin Newman or Greg Allen, two of the better runners on the team, but full seasons of Oneil Cruz and Ji-hwan Bae, who had sprint speeds in the 90 percentile across the MLB, will certainly help replace that production.
Along with those guys are a bunch of above average runners including Tucupita Marcano, Jack Suwinski, Bryan Reynolds (yes, he may not be part of the team), and Ke'Bryan Hayes, who was tied for 20th in the majors with 20 steals. Also likely to be a part of the active roster at some point are Travis Swaggerty, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, and Lolo Sanchez, all of who have 60+ speed grades per Fangraphs.
The Pirates may not have the most eye-popping offense in 2023, but their speed will certainly help, especially if the offense begins to find rhythm. With the shift being banned, Manager Derek Shelton, who loves to utilize plays such as the hit-and-run in order to generate runs, will certainly be looking for more opportunities to get balls in play to take advantage of the team's speed.
Every advantage counts, and this could be a way the Pirates can improve their run production after an abysmal 3 year stretch where the offense has ranked last in both runs scored and WAR. While they're unlikely to compete with offensive power houses like the Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros, any improvement to this offense will be gladly welcomed.