Josh Bell had a May to remember. Where does it stack up all-time in Pirates history?
In the first inning Friday, Josh Bell beat the Brewers’ defensive shift with a two hop bouncer through the left side of the infield for an RBI single. It was his 93rd total base in May- a new Pirates record, breaking a record Ralph Kiner had held since June of 1947.
Bell would add another base hit later in the game, but after the month he had, a 2-5 performance almost seemed a down game. It’s almost like the Brewers had won by holding him to a .400 batting average.
“Yeah, that was a blast,” Bell said, reflecting on the month. “A lot of hard hit balls, outs and hits. So a lot to celebrate.”
Before we celebrate the month as a whole, let’s celebrate some highlights, starting with this 472 foot home run that hit the Allegheny River on the fly. It was the longest home run by any NL player this month.
He became the first player in PNC Park history to reach the Allegheny on the fly twice two weeks later, launching a 454 foot dinger. At an exit velocity of 116.2 MPH, that was the hardest hit ball by an NL player this month. It’s also the hardest hit ball by any Pirate in the Statcast era, starting in 2015.
Speaking of hard contact, he lead baseball with 11 batted balls with an exit velocity of 110+ MPH in May. He went 11-11 with six home runs and a double on those batted balls.
The rule of three says I should add another video, so here’s one of my personal favorites from this month: a 460 footer in Arizona.
At the time, the 26 year old switch-hitter had the best month of his career in April. In May, he obliterated that. During the calendar month, among qualified major league hitters and batters with at least 50 balls in play, Bell ranked…
wRC+: 218 (1st)
OPS: 1.238 (2nd)
HR: 12 (T-1st)
RBI: 31 (1st)
SLG: .797 (1st)
Hits: 46 (1st)
Doubles: 12 (1st)
Average Exit Velocity: 95.3 MPH (1st)
ISO: .407 (1st)
BA: .390 (2nd)
OBP: .442 (3rd)
Runs: 26 (2nd)
wOBA .510 (2nd)
fWAR: 1.8 (T-2nd)
It was as torrid a month as we’ve seen in recent Pirates history. So where does it rank all-time? Thanks to the handy dandy Play Index, we can find out.
We’ll start with wRC+. Unfortunately, FanGraphs’ splits tool only dates back to 2002, but that’s still a decent sample size to start. This is just the fifth time a Pirate has posted a wRC+ of at least 200 (which is to say they produced at least twice as much offense as the average hitter) in a month since then (min. 80 PAs).
Bell, Andrew McCutchen x3 and a random Adam LaRoche sighting. That’ll play.
Next comes OPS. From now on, we can date back any stats to 1908.
That’s a heck of a top 20, including multiple appearances by Kiner, McCutchen and Willie Stargell. Bell sits in 12th. Among those who at least matched his 129 plate appearances, he’s only behind Sep. 1992 Barry Bonds and Sep. 1949 Kiner.
Time to rapid-fire some more charts. Home runs.
And finally, doubles.
Speaking of doubles, Bell joins Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron as the only NL hitters to ever record at least 12 home runs and 12 doubles in a calendar month (both Hall of Fame sluggers accomplished the feat in July of 1961).
So where does Bell’s month rank all-time? Probably not near the very tippy-top, but close to it. It certainly is the best month of May. Not to mention this hot stretch could not have come at a better time. The Pirates have been decimated with injuries, and with the pitching a mess, Bell’s offense has kept their head above water. Who knows where the Pirates would be right now without him?