The old Pirates Game Discussion on No Quarter is now a Daily Pirates Discussion. We will update the article throughout the day with game notes, links to Pittsburgh Baseball Network stories, and any news for the day.
— Umpire Scorecards (@UmpScorecards) August 30, 2021
The Pirates and the four full-season teams are all off today. The Prospect Watch will go up later today after the four short-season games end
Here’s the link to today’s Prospect Watch.
NEWS AND RUMORS
Follow along throughout the day as we provide updates and commentary on the daily Pirates news, along with links to stories around Pittsburgh Baseball Network.
The Pirates announced that they have dismissed hitting coach Rick Eckstein. The Pirates are last in runs per game and last in OPS, so while he didn’t have much to work with as far as talent, it’s no surprise to see the Pirates move on. The next hitting coach will certainly have challenges in 2022 with what looks to be a young team, but there will be a chance for a large group of prospects by the end of 2022/start of 2023 that should make that person’s job easier.
Quinn Priester, to the surprise of no one, was named as his league’s Pitcher of the Week after throwing six shutout innings on one hit, no walks and 13 strikeouts.
THOUGHTS ON THE ECKSTEIN MOVE
Just to add my two cents . . . . It’s impossible to deny that Eckstein had very little talent to work with. It’s not just that the roster was loaded with hitters who turned out to be bad. Ben Cherington went out of his way to find hitters who couldn’t possibly be expected to be anything other than awful, and Derek Shelton has gone out of his way to give them as much playing time as possible. Jeez, who could have thought that Michael Perez would bat .143 with a .216 OBP? Just because he hit .167 with a .237 OBP last year? (Among the 438 players with 100+ plate appearances, only four have lower OBPs, and none of them is currently on an active roster.)
Then again, a number of other teams around MLB are rebuilding and none of them have been as horrendous at the plate as the Pirates. The last two years, the Pirates have been easily the worst-hitting team in MLB. As hard as it is to deny that Eckstein was stuck with a dismal array of hitting talent, it’s just as hard to deny that there’s no downside whatsoever to this move.
I wasn’t sold on Eckstein at the start. At least according to his public comments, his focus was going to be on a line-drive, contact-oriented approach. Sure enough, the Pirates the last three years have been good at making contact, but they hit the ball with less authority than any other team.
This started in 2019, Eckstein’s first year. The Pirates were the epitome of empty batting average. They tied for the NL lead in BA, but they were 11th in runs and 10th in OPS. The latter resulted from being 10th in OBP and 11th in slugging. Considering that BA is the main component of both OBP and slugging, that tells you just how bad the Pirates were at doing anything other than hitting singles.
With Starling Marte and Josh Bell gone, the team really hit the depths in 2020. They were dead last by wide margins in runs, OBP and slugging, and in OPS by a whopping 53 points. This season hasn’t been any better. They’re once again last in runs, slugging and OPS, all by comfortable margins. They’re one point of OBP ahead of the Marlins. And they’re last in home runs by 16.
The batted ball data tells the story of a team that can make contact, but rarely quality contact. The Pirates lead the NL in making contact when they swing. But they’re last in exit velocity, barrel %, hard hit % and wOBA. They lead the league by a wide margin in soft contact.
I’m not at all convinced the problem was entirely with Eckstein. Some of it may be a general failure by the team’s front office to prioritize hitting. Dejan Kovacevic wrote a column a couple days ago about talking to a scout who’d just finished reviewing the Pirates’ farm system. One comment from the scout was that the Pirates spent too much time moving players around to different positions, which could detract from their focus on hitting. That’s consistent with what we’ve seen at the major league level, in the form of Shelton’s obsession with players who can stand at multiple positions, whether they can hit or not. (I also wonder whether anybody on the team noticed that Adam Frazier, Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds all improved dramatically at their current positions only after they settled in at those spots for an extended time.) But at least this move shows the team places some value on hitting. Whether they realize it’s by far the most important quality for position players remains to be seen.
Per source, Pirates calling up RHP Shelby Miller from Class AAA Indianapolis. Hasn’t allowed a run in 8.1 IP (6 relief appearances) this month while recording an .071 BA against and 0.36 WHIP.
— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) August 30, 2021
It’s good to see Miller doing well, but he will be a free agent at the end of this season, so there might not be any real upside except a better bullpen for the final five weeks.