Hitting, Where are thou?
Once again the Pirates find themselves with no hitting to begin the season. This year if you can believe it has actually been worse than the start of the 2012 season. It is mind-boggling that a team can hit this bad at the start of the season but it is happening. Once again though people are overreacting some, the Pirates are not this bad of a hitting team. Make no mistake they aren’t a good hitting team but they aren’t a historically bad hitting team either. In the coming weeks the Pirates will likely rebound some and becomes the below average offensive team they are but that still leaves us with the question of why we are once again seeing such a poor start.
Any number of factors could be in play here. It is possible the team did an inadequate job getting the hitters ready during spring. It is possible the collection of hitters the Pirates have assembled could be prone to poor starts. It is possible it could just simply be bad luck. Or it could be something else or some combination. It is impossible to figure out just what is at play here but I’d like to take a deeper look at the mix of hitters the Pirates have in their lineup.
The Pirates lineup is loaded with high strikeout guys. The major league average strikeout rate for non pitchers last season was 21.4% so keep that in mind when looking at these numbers.
Russell Martin: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Garrett Jones: 20.0% K rate in 2012
Gaby Sanchez: 17.2% K rate in 2012
Neil Walker: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Pedro Alvarez: 30.7% K rate in 2012
Clint Barmes: 21.5% K rate in 2012
Starling Marte: 27.5% K rate in 2012
Andrew McCutchen: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Travis Snider: 25.9% K rate in 2012
Jose Tabata: 15.5% K rate in 2012
The above are the Pirates 10 regular players. A fair number of them were below the average K rate last season but only two Sanchez and Tabata were significantly lower. What does that mean? It means on days when Snider and Jones both starts which should be against just about every right handed pitcher the Pirates are fielding an entire lineup of players who are going to strike out in at least about 1 out of every 5 at bats. In theory that isn’t a big deal but of course the strike outs don’t come exactly 5 at bats a part. Players get cold and when average to high strike out players get cold guess what they strike out a lot. Not exactly rocket science there. Strike outs in return limit the number of balls put in play and limit the chances of getting a good bounce. Without a good bounce hitters continue to hit without runners on where they see fewer pitchers to hit so they continue to struggle and the strike outs continue to mount. It’s all a cyclical effect. A couple hitters start off cold and struggle to put the ball in play creates fewer good hitting opportunities for the players hitting well so they in return get cold and start hitting fewer balls and striking out more. What this Pirates lineup lacks are some low strikeout guys who can work counts and get on base or even players who just manage to make contact a lot.
The Pirates find themselves in a tough cycle to break out of. Ideally a lineup like this would have a different type of bench supporting it but the Pirates really don’t have that. Sanchez and Tabata can mix things up a little bit but McKenry and McDonald are largely useless to change much. The last bench player Harrison is an interesting player though. Harrison won’t work hardly at all but he won’t strike out much either so having a bat like him who will make contact in the lineup could be a good thing. Problem is unless you are facing a left handed pitcher where do you play him? The Pirates really can’t sit Walker or Alvarez against right handers and Harrison isn’t good enough defensively to warrant starting him over Barmes, Marte or Snider. I thought this past weekend when facing two left handers in a row was a perfect opportunity to play Harrison for a couple games and see if his contact skills couldn’t ignite some sort of spark but alas that didn’t happen. In reality that is all Harrison brings to the table the ability to make contact on a consistent basis and that is something this Pirates team desperately needs.
With all that being said the Pirates non pitchers currently have a ridiculously low .169 BABIP. Simply put that isn’t going to continue forever and in time more balls will begin to fall in and the Pirates will in return score more runs. Still even with bad luck playing a huge role in this current offensive mess it would be nice if the Pirates lineup had or at least could be complimented with some good contact hitters who can manage to get on base at a high level. The front office has done a fair job of assembling some decent arms and some decent power hitters but it has been a miserable failure at balancing out the lineup and providing it with any kind of useable depth.