The Pittsburgh Pirates need to leverage speed better

Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates
Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates have some speedy players on the team. Why don't they leverage speed better?

Since Manager Derek Shelton took the reins of the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 2020 he wanted the team to be aggressive on the base paths. That has been a consistent message across his tenure with the Pirates, as this following quote from the 2021 season suggests:

""We have talked about being more aggressive," Shelton said. "We've talked about it in my personal growth but with our team looking for opportunities to do those things early on in spring training, giving those opportunities. I think at times you'll see guys run and it's on their own."

Kevin Gorman, The Tribune-Review

Since 2020 the Pirates' 1.7 BsR ranks 14th in baseball, which measures baserunning runs above average. Even if you remove the disastrous and shortened 2020 season the Pirates still rank middle of the pack at 15th with 4.1 BsR. In other words the Pirates have done little separate themselves from the rest of baseball on the base paths.

When the Pirates do leverage their speed on the base paths, they look great. In April of 2023, when the Pirates went 20-9 and were at the top of the MLB, they ranked 4th in BsR, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, from May 1st to the end of the season the team ranked 18th with -0.7 BsR.

Maybe this is a personnel issue? If so, its certainly not because they lack speedy players. In 2023 the Pirates were tied for first with the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies in sprint speed at 28.0 ft/sec. At least 10 players averaged over that amount during the year. So it's not a lack of speed, but a lack of leveraging that speed.

Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers is a perfect example of leveraging speed. His sprint speeds are in the 34th percentile, yet he was one of the best baserunners in baseball this past season with 4.5 BsR and 19 stolen bases, both of which would have ranked no. 1 on the Pirates in 2023.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles, both teams that lost 100+ games in 2021 like the Pirates, took off running last year and found themselves at the top of their respective leagues. The Diamondbacks reached the World Series after a wild card berth and the Orioles had the best record in baseball. Neither team blew you away with the bat, but both teams ranked among the leaders in BsR.

The Pirates need to take notes of what these two teams did to be successful and imitate it in 2024. The Pirates don't have Corbin Carroll or Gunnar Henderson, but they have enough speed to really make noise on the bases. First-to-third on a single to right field, executing hit and runs, and taking advantage of pitcher-catcher matchups are all paths for the Pirates to improve.

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It has been 4 seasons with Derek Shelton and we're entering season no. 5. Improvement needs to come and in a big way. If the Pirates wish to be a serious contender they need to leverage their speed on the bases and that needs to happen in 2024. Its time to get better.