When the Pittsburgh Pirates were 20-8 (which at this point seems like a dream), they were fourth in MLB in runs scored with 154. Over their past ten games though, the Pittsburgh Pirates have scored a total of 13 runs. Non-surprisingly, the team has lost nine of those games. What happened to the offense, and how can things change back to how they were?
During their first 28 games, the Pirates had the second-lowest out-of-zone swing rate in baseball at 23.5 percent. The team was simply laying off non-strikes and Fangraphs commended their efforts. Over their last 10 games, the Pirates are still laying off non-strikes as they have an O-swing% of 21.3 percent. Great. The problem is, they aren’t swinging at enough pitches in the zone either.
Over their first 28 games, the Pirates were seventh in baseball in Z-swing% at 66.3 percent. That is good. Swinging at pitches in the zone leads to a better quality of contact. Over their last 10 games, that percentage has dropped to 62.2 percent, good for 28th in baseball. During that time, they rank dead last in total swing percentage (42.7 percent) and first in strikeout rate (27 percent).
The Pirates are being too picky at the plate right now. Overall, in the long run, I like this philosophy. It seems as though hitting coach Andy Haines has stressed plate discipline and grinding out at-bats. I can get behind that. The Pirates still walk a ton which is great.
That said, being aggressive at times has its place too. We need to see more of that. Swing at more first-pitch fastballs. Let it fly.
Could we maybe chill on the aggressive baserunning?
The Pirates shot out of a cannon when it came to stealing bases to begin the season. When the team was 20-8, they led MLB in steals with 39. At the time, they were also tied for first in caught stealings, with nine. We didn't notice then because life was awesome and the Pirates scored a ton of runs.
In their past 10 games, the Pirates have stolen just nine bases while being caught six times. 9-15 isn't going to cut it, especially when runs have been coming at a premium. Perhaps the league has caught on to the Pirates' aggressiveness on the bases. Maybe the Pirates just aren't getting great jumps. Whatever it might be, at this exact moment, this team cannot afford to be giving away outs.
Too many automatic outs
Speaking of giving away outs, I’m sorry, but the Pirates can’t have two of Austin Hedges, Chris Owings, Josh Palacios, and Miguel Andujar in the same starting lineup in ANY particular game. One could argue that none of those players deserve to be on a major league roster. I would agree except for Hedges, who I still believe holds value in the clubhouse with his catching wisdom.
The other three though? Eh, no thanks. With Palacios, I see what the intention is. He’s been white hot in AAA and perhaps could provide a desperately needed spark to the major league club. I just don’t see it. He’s a career .200/.258/.224 hitter over 94 plate appearances.
Right now, the Pirates have 14 position players on the roster and just 12 pitchers. That will need to change soon. Personally, I would DFA Andujar (81 wRC+ which includes a position player home run) for a reliever. Owings and Palacios will have a shot to prove themselves for a little while, but I don’t expect much from either.
These three have been especially terrible but also a bit unlucky
I have to say, looking at some of these slash lines over the past ten days has been tough.
Carlos Santana is hitting .133/.289/.200 over 38 plate appearances. Both his strikeout and walk rate sit at 18.4 percent which is pretty solid. His BABIP is .167. Even with a sad 20.8 percent hard-hit rate and 45.8 percent ground ball rate, that’s unlucky.
Jack Suwinski has hit a not-so-nice .069/.206/.172 over 34 PA. He’s striking out nearly 50 percent of the time during that span. That said, of the 12 batted balls he’s put in play, just one has landed him a hit. Suwinski is still making a nice amount of hard contact when he makes contact (38.5 percent). But yeah, a .083 BABIP is ridiculous.
Rodolfo Castro has hit .150/.292/.300 over the past ten games (24 PA). Like Santana, he is making lots of soft contact while hitting too many ground balls. Like Suwinski, he’s been prone to the strikeout as well (seven K in those 24 PA). But once again, the BABIP is at an unsustainable .167 during this difficult span.
All three of these hitters have been terrible for different reasons, yes. But they are all well overdue.
Let’s give Mitch Keller some love
Mitch Keller. Shutout. pic.twitter.com/4AvKNOjlca— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 9, 2023
This post needs some good vibes. Mitch Keller has been nothing but good vibes this season. Among all pitchers in baseball, Keller ranks 15th in fWAR (1.3). Among National League starters, he ranks fourth.
Looking at the classic numbers, Keller has a 2.72 ERA over 49.2 innings pitched with 56 strikeouts and 14 walks. Those 56 strikeouts are tied for ninth in baseball.
The term “ace” is often thrown around lightly in baseball circles but I don’t know. I’m starting to get there with Keller. If the All-Star Game were tomorrow, Keller would be there. He is clearly the anchor of this Pirates staff. By season’s end, if Keller continues on his current trajectory, the word ace might be an accurate describer of what Keller is.
Also, extend the man.
Overall vibes check
The Pirates have lost nine of ten. That is bad. They still lead the NL Central. That is good.
After getting to clear my head during the off day, I think I still feel alright about this team.
Pitching staff-wise, I like what I’ve seen this season. Obviously, Keller is a GUY. I believe Roansy Contreras can be a solid Robin to the Batman that is Keller. Vince Velasquez will be back soon and Rich Hill will continue to labor and eat innings until his arm falls off. Johan Oviedo is young and inconsistent but has solid stuff. Luis Ortiz will continue to grow. Quinn Priester is on the way.
Bullpen-wise, I am encouraged. The seven guys currently manning the pen all have at least one plus pitch. This area of the team has been better than expected in my opinion up to this point.
Offensively, things will turn around. It’s mathematically impossible that they don’t. With some minor adjustments (like simply swinging the bat more often), this offense can be fine once again. Maybe not otherworldly like they were in April, but fine.
Perhaps I’m naive, but with how awful this division is, I still believe the Pirates can play meaningful baseball throughout the season. And for me, that’s all I’ve ever asked for.