Pittsburgh Pirates: Trying to Figure Out How the Offense Disappeared

It's time for someone to put the Pirate offense on a milk carton

Jun 23, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Ji Hwan Bae (3) reacts to being
Jun 23, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Ji Hwan Bae (3) reacts to being / Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have had such a sudden drop in offense that there's no reasonable explanation that a fan could come up with right now

The Pittsburgh Pirates have seemingly lost the ability to consistently hit a baseball in the span of two weeks. It's a very strange phenomenon, and while some fans will blame this or that, in reality, there might simply not be a reasonable explanation that any reasonable fan could come up with right now. The sudden inability has been so quick that it leaves you wondering what happened.

On June 14th, the Pirates were a .249/.327/.409 hitting team. The league average triple-slash is .248/.320/.409. The Pirates had a .322 wOBA, 9.7% walk rate, and 22% strikeout rate going into June 15th. The league average on those statistics is .318, 8.7%, and 22.7%, respectively.

Pretty much every other measure you could think of, exit velocity (89.5 MPH exit velocity for the Pirates, 89.1 MPH league average), hard-hit rate (Pirates: 342%, league average: 39.5%), barrel rate (both at 8.3%), line drive, fly ball, ground ball rates, the Pirates were right there, at the very epicenter of league average.

Then, all of a sudden, something changed. For some reason or another, the Pirates just lost the ability to hit. Since June 15th, the Pirates are hitting .157/.242/.238 with a .222 wOBA, and 35 wRC+. The Pirates still have an above-average 9.3% walk rate, and their strikeout rate has only risen to 25.3%. They've also dropped in terms of exit velocity (88.1 MPH), hard-hit rate (32.2%), and barrel rate (4.8%). They're hitting far more ground balls, with their line-drive rate plummeting to just 14.1% (the league average is 20.2%).

In terms of wRC+, that's like going from a league-average batter to Austin Hedges in a two-week span. That's not an exaggeration, either. Between 2022 and 2023, Hedges has hit .163/.233/.241 with a 35 wRC+. It is quite literally going from a league-average batter to Hedges.

As a fan, I do not have a good explanation for it. No reasonable fan would have an explanation for it. The only thing I could possibly think of is that their batting average on balls in play has gone down to just .204.

Some might pin this on hitting coach Andy Haines.

I am not a fan of Haines' work for the Pirates, but you cannot solely pin the blame of a nearly 50% drop in wRC+ and over a 250-point drop in OPS in two weeks on one coach. Haines is not a great coach, but pinning this all on him is like saying Bill Mazeroski is the sole reason the Pirates won the 1960 World Series.

I just do not know what needs to change. Slumps happen, and while Haines surely hasn't helped, it just seems like all the Pirates batters have seemingly forgotten how to hit in the span of two weeks. As an outsider looking at it, someone who watches as many games as possible, and someone who follows the stats day by day, it's simply baffling to me.

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