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Give Yourself A Headache

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By reading this:

One would think that the Pirates, having been exposed to Tracy's philosophies for 5 1/2 months now, would begin to show improvement in the following areas...

[All kinds of stuff about situational hitting that anyone can see won't add more than a few runs...]

-Drill a ball into the gap with the bases loaded in, say, the fourth inning so that it is not a one-run game in the ninth.

-Make that big pitch in the seventh that gets the Pirates out of a tight spot with a 4-2 lead.

"You would like to think they've gained a much better understanding of what's necessary in some of those situations..." [said Tracy].

There is apparently no end to Jim Tracy's arrogance. For Tracy, the problem with the Bucs has nothing to do with him - it's that no one will listen to his magical teachings. As for Paul Meyer, well, to recap, here's what Meyer wants...

-Drill a ball into the gap with the bases loaded in, say, the fourth inning so that it is not a one-run game in the ninth.

The Pirates have a .745 OPS overall and a .729 OPS in 84 at bats with the bases loaded. The difference between their overall OPS and their OPS with the bases loaded so far is less than an extra single over the course of the year so far. They're batting .266 overall and .286 with the bases loaded. The Pirates are 8th in the NL in OPS with the bases loaded and 13th in overall OPS. There is no problem here. If anything, the Pirates have done slightly better than you'd expect from their overall hitting numbers.

-Make that big pitch in the seventh that gets the Pirates out of a tight spot with a 4-2 lead.

Obviously, I can't find a split for Getting The Team Out Of A Tight Spot In The Seventh With A 4-2 Lead, but here are some others. The Pirates have an .804 OPS against, which is 15th in the National League. With runners on, they're even worse, with an .836 OPS against, last in the NL. However, that seems to be because they fare poorly with a runner on first only, because with runners in scoring position they're fifth in the NL with a .768 OPS against. With runners in scoring position and two out - which are the times when a pitcher can get the team "out of a tight spot," the Pirates have an excellent .639 OPS against, second in the league. In close and late situations, the Pirates are 9th in the NL with a .769 OPS against. If anything, then, the Pirates have done a very good job at bailing themselves out of the messes they make, especially relative to their pitching overall.

In summary, then, Paul Meyer doesn't know what he's talking about. All teams flop in critical situations sometimes. It's part of baseball. Meyer either does not know that the Pirates simply do not hit or pitch very well, or he thinks that the Pirates can somehow make up for their obvious lack of ability by never allowing a hit with runners on in tight games, or by batting 1.000 with the bases loaded.

Overall, the Pirates rank 13th in the NL with a .745 OPS and 11th in runs scored. They rank 15th in the NL in OPS against and 15th in runs allowed. If anything, their numbers suggest that they have either been slightly better than expected in situational play (since they are scoring more runs than would be expected from the component parts of their offense, as confirmed by equivalent average and by this comparison of runs scored to OPS), or that they have been somewhat lucky.

There is some wiggle room here, since the Pirates have actually won fewer games than would be expected based on their runs scored and allowed and equivalent average. Perhaps the Pirates have really just crapped out spectacularly in very important situations that aren't well-captured by splits like "close and late" or "with runners in scoring position and two out."

But that would seem to be a matter of luck, or choking (which I don't think exists in major league baseball), not an inability to handle two-out situations or situations with lots of runners on, since the Pirates already do those things decently. "Hitting in a really, really important situation with the bases juiced" is not any different from simply hitting with the bases loaded, at least not in that it requires different sorts of skills that can be taught. And the fact remains that the Pirates are just not a good hitting or pitching team, and that they'd still be well below .500 even if they won the number of games expected by their OPS and OPS against.

However, this does not stop Tracy from prattling on for several paragraphs about situational playing. Oh, and about the fact that the Pirates' players apparently don't care about winning games:

"The second step you have to take -- if you're on the short end of one of those competitive games -- is not to be very satisfied with the result and understand the object of the game is to get one more point than the other team. It doesn't matter how.

"And that's going to be preached and pounded and pounded here every ... single ... day. Anything less than the understanding of that is unacceptable."

Got that? The Pirates are losing one-run games because the Pirates' players do not care about winning them. And that, according to Tracy, is unacceptable! And it will be pounded! And pounded! Every! Single! Day!

Way to go, Jim! Now that you've identified the problem and are, um, pounding it, I'm pretty sure the Pirates will start winning now.