Even By Spring Training Standards, the Pirates Hitting is Worrisome

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are mightily struggling at the plate so far in Spring Training. Spare me with the "it's only Spring Training" or "it's way too early to evaluate" comments on this one.  I know it is.  And you're right.  

For the most part it is way too early to evaluate.  However, this is all we have to evaluate at this point and in writing this blog I will be comparing to other teams who are in the exact same Spring Training situation as the Pirates.  So I will only cite stats relative to other teams and other players.  And I won't talk about wins and losses either.  

The Pirates have played 10 games so far in Spring Training.  In those games, they are batting a cumulative slash line of .196/.271/.326 with a .597 OPS.  10 games in, 40 games in, 100 games in: to have a stretch of 10 games batting like that is not good.  

So the argument can be made that players who won't even be on the roster are getting at-bats.  True, they are.  However, that is happening with every team, all of which have played a range of 9 to 12 games so far.  Among baseball, the Pirates are last in batting average, last in on-base percentage, second to last in slugging, and second to last in OPS.  Not great.

Runs per game or hits per game stats are tough in Spring Training because sometimes games end early  because they don't matter. If both teams agree to end a game in the 7th inning, they could.  We actually saw the Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles play a bottom half of the 9th that wouldn't have been played in the regular season, and they did so without umpires.  So because of this, I will be using more specialized stats to breakdown how bad the Pirates hitting has been.  

These aren't stats I would typically depend on in the regular season when teams are, typically, playing an equal amount of innings per game.  Although now that I'm thinking about how better teams don't hit in the bottom half of the 9th as often, and rain cancellations have an effect, maybe I'll use these stats below more often.

The Pirates are currently scoring 0.130 times per Spring Training at-bat.  That number on its own doesn't mean much to anyone, but that ranks them 27th in baseball.  They are also 26th in RBI per at-bat with 0.029.  They rank a little better in HRs per at-bat with 0.0280, which puts them at 23rd, but that's still well in the bottom half.  

The Pirates are also striking out at the second highest rate, which is over every third batter.  That means at least one out per inning is by the strikeout.  They are one of just four teams to be striking out at a rate of one hitter per three outs.  

What is even more troubling about all of these stats is that we were told last year that the sudden increase in power the Pirates experienced during Spring Training was because of the windy conditions in Bradenton.  It is typically a hitter-friendly ballpark.  Other teams are still hitting well there.  The Pirates just aren't.  

And like I said above, we do have a lot of non-active roster players getting at-bats.  But the expected starters aren't hitting well either.  

I expect, at least to begin the season, a starting lineup of the following in no particular order:

  • Rodolfo Castro  (.231/.231/.462)
  • Ke'Bryan Hayes  (.200/.200/.500)
  • Bryan Reynolds (.111/.200/.111)
  • Oneil Cruz (.250/.308/.500)
  • Andrew McCutchen (.000/.111/.000)
  • Ji-Man Choi (.125/.111/.250)
  • Carlos Santana (..182/.308/.182)
  • Jack Suwinski (.250/.308/.417)
  • Austin Hedges (.222/.222/.222)
You don't need me to tell you those numbers are bad.  Some are very troubling.  

And I know, the traditional ratio stats that we used to depend on no longer matter, and you need to look at exit velocity and times a ball was barreled, and XOPS, and XFIP, and XYZABC, and bee-bop-doo-diddly-doo.  I know, I've heard it all.  

But you know what, I also heard all of this last year and it didn't matter.  Good hitters still have a good OPS and good pitchers still have a good ERA.  Period.  The analytics just explain trends.  They can't be substituted for results.  And right now, the results are bad.  

There are too many numbers above starting with 1 and not enough starting with 3.  I had to google how an on-base percentage could be lower than a batting average, in the case of Ji-Man Choi.  So spare with me the comments about it being too early or it's just Spring Training.  This is what we have to evaluate for every teams right now, and all of the numbers are bad.  Even this early, it's worrisome for the Pirates and Pirate fans.