Pirates at the Quarter: Are the Hitters Really This Bad?

We’re just past the one-quarter point in this mini-season.  It’s not exactly news to anybody here that the Pirates’ offense is bad.  Like, on a biblical scale.  Offense is down MLB-wide, but not as much in most places as in Pittsburgh.  The Pirates made some statistical headway in their 17-13 loss last Friday, but they still rank 11th in the NL in runs.  They’re 14th in average (.209), easily last in OBP (.273), and easily last in slugging (.328).  They’re also easily last in MLB in wOBA (.261).

With one exception, Ben Cherington’s offseason additions have been a fiasco.  The exception is . . . well, was . . . Phillip Evans, who was the only position player Cherington acquired who had a history of hitting fairly well.  Jarrod Dyson (118/189/118), Guillermo Heredia (188/278/188), J.T. Riddle (125/125/125) and John Ryan Murphy (176/263/176) have been automatic outs.  Remarkably, in 83 combined plate appearances, they haven’t managed a single extra-base hit.

The team’s ballyhooed core has been abysmal:

Adam Frazier:  177/239/290
Kevin Newman:  250/278/346
Josh Bell:  213/246/328
Gregory Polanco:  069/152/207
Bryan Reynolds:  189/306/283

These guys certainly aren’t really that bad, but it was never realistic to think this was the core of a contending team.  For one thing, they’re not as young as the Pirates have portrayed them.  Reynolds is 25, Newman 26, Bell 27, and Frazier and Polanco 28.  With the possible exception of Reynolds, these aren’t up-and-coming prospects.  They should be in their primes now.

It’d be nice to think the hitters were just getting a lot of bad breaks, but the statcast data suggest otherwise.  Only three NL teams see a lower percentage of pitches in the strike zone, yet only five NL teams swing at a higher percentage of pitches overall, or at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone.  Only two NL teams swing and miss more often.  No team in baseball makes contact less often when swinging at pitches outside the zone; few are even close.  Things don’t get better when the Pirates hit the ball.  Only two NL teams have a lower average exit velocity.  Only one hits the ball on the ground more often.

So, it’s been just 16 games and I’m sure this will get better, even if it’s by accident.  But this team’s approach at the plate so far is just fundamentally bad.  And another offseason of dragging in the cheapest available players is going to make things worse.