The Pirates are 6-7 through their first 13 games. They currently rank 11th in the NL in R/G at 3.33. Their OPS is an abysmal .573, 14th in the NL and their OPS+ is 62. They are 13th in isolated power, 13th in OBP and 14th in slugging. Things have improved after a horrific first week, but overall the Pirates' bats are off to another slow start.
The Good: Starling Marte. The hype around Marte peaked last July when it was endlessly debated whether the Pirates were waiting too long to recall their one top high-level hitting prospect as the team plummeted from playoff contention. Ultimately, Marte hit 257/.300/.437 in 47 games and had little impact positively or negatively as the Pirates fell from the race.
However, that experience clearly benefited Marte. He flew a bit under the radar in spring training, but has opened the season as the Pirates' most productive hitter. He currently has a nine-game hitting streak and multiple hits in eight of those nine games. On the season he’s hitting .370/.404/.519 in 57 PAs. The K/BB ratio of 14/2 bears watching, as does an unsustainable BABIP of .487, but a BB% north of 5-6% should lead to an OBP above .330 and the foundation of a successful first full season. Flashes of power like the towering home run Sunday suggest this will be Marte’s only season in the top spot in the order.
Travis Snider. Inexplicably benched the first few games of the season due to Gaby Sanchez’s hot spring and Clint Hurdle’s gut, Snider is finally getting regular at bats against righties. .296/.387/.407, OPS+ 124 in 27 ABs certainly qualifies as a small sample size (as do virtually all of the numbers cited here), but that would be more-than-acceptable production from the outfielder.
The big question around Snider is whether he has gap power (9.0% career XBH% vs. MLB avg 7.7%), or whether that will eventually translate into more traditional corner outfield power. The Pirates need to get Snider 300 at bats in the first half and decide what they have. Snider needs to show better pitch recognition, particularly on breaking balls, if he is going to be a consistently successful major-league hitter.
(Aside: Why does any pitcher ever throw Garrett Jones fastballs away? Every player has hot/cold zones, but missing there on Jones is massively high-risk.)
The bad: Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez's numbers last year through 13 games: .067/.097/.267 for an OPS of .363. Through 13 this year: .073/.174/.073 for and OPS of .247 (hat tip to David Manel). A couple of early home runs last year have essentially turned into walks this year, and we’re looking at another horrific start through the first two weeks.
The larger problem is, again, how bad Alvarez’s approach looks. While it certainly appears that Pedro gets more than his share of tough called strikes, he doesn’t appear comfortable in the box. His 0-for-14, nine-strikeout, one-walk line against lefties continues to suggest his career .608 OPS and 43% strikeout rate against them is no fluke. Regardless, the Pirates still have no choice but to run him out there virtually every day and hope that he follows last year’s pattern of following massive slumps with scorching, team-carrying hot streaks.
Neil Walker. Walker had his first extra-base hit of the year last night, a homer, raising his slugging % to .298. The positive is Walker has hit a lot of balls hard early in the season, as indicated by a LD% of 28% (vs. an MLB average of 19% and a career 21% average). The negative is his splits are terrible. In 14 at bats as a righty he has one hit and one walk. He has a career .670 OPS from the right-hand side, which is serviceable, but he slumped to .602 last year in 138 PAs, so it is something to continue to monitor.
At age 27, Walker is no longer young. This is a big year for him. I have constantly advocated the Pirates going year-to-year with him contractually. This could benefit him immensely as salaries continue to spiral higher due to an influx in television revenue, but only if he produces. Coming off a back injury late last year, the Pirates desperately need his bat. Walker probably doesn’t qualify as “bad” vs. the starts of some others, but he is being counted on more than most.
(Aside: I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see all four starting infield positions being manned by different personnel on Opening Day next year. Walker could well move to third with Alvarez moving across the diamond to first. Barmes is likely gone and Jones, regardless of production, will be a trade or non-tender candidate.)
Clint Barmes/Russell Martin. Will Neal Huntington ever hit on a free agent position player? Russell Martin through 40 PAs: .086/.200/.143 .343 OPS, -1 OPS+. Clint Barmes through 36 PAs: .121/.171/.182 .353 OPS, -1 OPS+.
Silver linings? Martin continues to draw walks at a very solid rate. His OBP was .100 points higher than his BA last year and is .093 higher in almost 4,000 career plate appearances. Both players continue to be very solid defensively despite their lack of offensive production. But both need to get their OBP above .300. Martin will eventually do that if for no other reason than plate discipline. Barmes has a 5.2% career BB%, so he needs to start hitting like he did in August and September of last year.