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Best record in baseball but time for a change in approach? … A scout’s take on Cole … And three Pirates’ prospects in BP’s midseason top 50


SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – So you awoke today to find the Pirates off to 48-30 start, winners of a season-best six straight, and tied with division rival St. Louis for the best record in baseball.


Just another June 27th in Pittsburgh, right?


The Pirates are coming off a 7-2 road trip despite being down A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Life is pretty good.


This should be a team that wins more than 81 games, barring an epic collapse. But  if this is going to be a postseason team, the Pirates have plenty of room for growth offensively. And to stick with St. Louis they’ll need to improve, unless you think Jeff Locke, Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli are each going to have second halves as good as their first.


Unless the Pirates make a trade for a proven slugger, I don’t expect any dramatic infusion of power numbers and one-swing, game-changing ability. But what the team could do to dramatically improve its offensive production (11th in the NL in runs, 11th in the NL in OBP) is to cut down on strikeouts.


The Pirates rank second in the NL in Ks and Felix Hernandez struck out 11 more Pirates on Wednesday.


If the Pirates were hitting with power, I’d say the strikeout cost would be OK because there was a resulting power reward. But the Pirates are 10th in the NL in slugging.



Can Jay Bell improve the Pirates’ approach at the plate?


The Pirates don’t need a big name to improve their offense. They could improve  simply by putting more balls in play and thereby place more runners on base. The Pirates are striking out 8.46 times per game.


Outside of Alvarez, there shouldn’t be a high-volume strikeout guy on this team, there simply aren’t any premium power hitting profiles on the team to accept such non production. And PNC Park isn’t an offensive park. Moreover, Bill James has said the most under-valued hitters in today’s power-depressed game are those that put the ball in play.


Of course there is easier said than done. Hitters’ approaches have been formed over years.


For Friday’s paper I’m looking at the decline of pure hitters in the game. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has noted the Pirates are simply chasing to many pitches out of the zone and not making enough contact in the zone. In general in baseball, he blames aluminum bat:


“The aluminum bat is probably one of the single biggest reasons why people don’t handle the bat like we used to be taught to handle a bat,” Hurdle said. “The sweet spot on a wood bat is three inches long and it’s about a quarter-inch wide. The sweet spot on an aluminum bat is about an inch-and-a-half wide and about six inches long. You can cheat you can get out there and hook. You don’t have to worry about getting jammed as much.”


Still, I believe slight changes to approach can be made.


Sure, adding a Giancarlo Stanton would boost the offense but so would a simpler in-house change: putting the ball in play and using the whole field. The Pirates don’t have to be an elite offensive team to make the postseason but they at least have to give themselves a change to produce runs by getting on base.



… talking to BP’s John Perrotto

“You watch him pitch and realize he really hasn’t even scratched the surface yet. He throws hard but he doesn’t walk anybody and he doesn’t seem to get nervous for a young kid. He’s going to be something special.”



Three Pirates prospects – Jameson Taillon (No. 10), Gregory Polanco (No. 12) and Tyler Glasnow (No. 46) – made Baseball Prospectus’s updated top 50 list this season. Taillon and Polanco were also among Keith Law’s updated top 25 prospects last month. BP wrote Glasnow has potential to crack the top 25 with a strong second half.


– TS



  1. NMR says:

    I think this team needs an old school two-strike approach. Three guys in particular. Look at these numbers in a two-strike count:

    Jones 46% K .238 SLG
    Snider 45% K .241 SLG
    Marte 39% K .244 SLG

    Not only are they not putting the ball in play, but they’re not hitting it with authority when they are.

    Literally have nothing to lose in adopting the ole choke-up-and-punch-it approach.

  2. kr70 says:

    and yet we are still in 1st place!

  3. Skip says:

    And they could also show a willingness to let the ball get deeper and not be so worried about getting jammed, especially with two strikes. Marte took a great two-strike approach the other night when he hit his triple off Saunders.

    Of course, hitting is a lot easier from the vantage point of watching on tv, sitting in the stands or press box.

  4. Chuck H says:

    Yes, we made it to a 1st place tie with the Cards, but it wasn’t necessarily from good hitting,
    but great pitching. with a few exceptions, has been phenomenal. What we need is a power hitter from the right side of the plate to complement Alverez, and we also need to cut down on the Ks. I noticed that most of the time, the Pirate batters do not swing at the first pitch of the at-bat. Good pitchers try to get ahead in the count, so they throw their strike pitch first. Marte will let the first pitch go by, which is sometimes right down the middle, and swing at one in the dirt. He does not like to take a walk. I think he is gaining on Sir Whiffs-a-lot in Ks.

  5. National Mart of Records,

    O numbers wizard, you —— what are McCutch, Alvarez, Walker’s numbers with 2 strikes? (for comparison above)

    And just for fun, Ryan Braun, Starlin Castro, Jay Bruce, and Carlos Beltran?

  6. NMR says:

    Only ‘cuz I love ya Groat…

    In order of request:

    32% .254
    55% .267 (6 homeruns)
    32% .213
    43% .360
    38% .311
    54% .375 (5 homeruns)
    42% .264

    The reason I chose those three Pirate players, in case you were wondering, was because they were the three regulars with ABOVE average strikeouts rates and LOW power production. All three of them caaaan hit homeruns, but I’d rather have them put the ball in play even if it means a lighter swing. Pedro, on the other hand, keep rippin’ it.

  7. Mickey Martin says:

    I don’t agree with you that this is an offensively weak team. We’ve struggled here and there and yes we strike out a lot.

    However, sitting Barmes and with Pedro coming around our offensive numbers are trending upward in all categories, even hitting with RISP.

    Even the little used players like Presley, and Inge have hit for power off the bench recently. It will all level out. We’ve also faced some stellar pitching so I’m not concerned as all you stat thumpers.

    Why is baseball great? Because its so unpredictable..

  8. Dave says:

    Great analysis and I love the stats. We do have a right hand power hitter: Cutch. He is playing below his potential. He swings at too many up and in fastballs and takes way too many right down the middle in the early at bat. IF he comes around this season, you will see a surge in scoring. He is the middle and heart of our batting order. Marte is also a good extra base man from the right side. His singles become doubles and he scores when he gets on.

  9. National Mart of Records,
    Thanks for the homework! You da Man!
    Let me digest, and I shall return.
    Although, as a first response——McCutch and Garrett Jones can carry the team for 10 days when they get hot, as they did last season and as Pedro has done recently. Neither has been hot hot for a stretch yet this year.
    I ALWAYS believe that making contact is better, even with Kdro.
    However, I would be less inclined to mess with McCutch and Garrett Jones, because their “carrying time” is coming. Starling Marte is in his first full season as a starter. The League adjusts; he adjusts. The League adjusts; he adjusts. I’m perfectly fine with his progress.
    Travis Snider . . . . . . even though SOMEONE thinks he would make a wonderful Leadoff hitter, Snider needs to make whatever adjustments possible to become a Major League hitter and secure being a bonifide starter. Snider needs to take your advice!

  10. Derrick says:


    Great writeup. Live in Charleston SC and am both a Pittsburgh pro sports and Clemson fan, so I get my Pittsburgh coverage from the Trib and used to follow Tiger Tracks with the P&C. Best of luck to you with the Buccos.


  11. Keith says:

    A couple tweaks to the bench before the trade deadline brings, perhaps, an everyday RF: Cut ties with McKenry and Inge and bring up T.Sanchez, Harrison and Hague. There’s too much baseball between now and July 31, when some or all of this will be sorted out, anyway. Hague and Harrison are bopping at Indy; get ‘em while they’re hot!

  12. NMR says:

    I’m with you on Jones. He is who he is at this point, and at some point he’s going to get hot.
    Snider is the most disappointing, IMO, only because it looked like he had a big league approach figured out. For about the first six weeks, he quit trying to be the guy that was supposed to drip with power and settled on contact and groundballs. It worked for him.
    Since then, his GB/FB ratio has gone from 2.09 all the way down to 1.43 while his K-rate has increased from 23% to 30%.
    Guy needs to regroup. Fast.

  13. Dave says:

    I agree. We have the best team in the minors. It is time to use this talent for our bench and spot starts. I hope we are just not trying to save money.

  14. Dave says:

    Re: Travis Snyder.
    When we got him I thought he was a clone of A Presley. Presley may even be a better choice. His power is much more consistent and he is more of a base stealer. BUCS never want to admit a mistake and hang with guys like Travis even when there are options. They can win with Snyder, but right now Presley deserves a chance.

  15. Jim S. says:


    I think you are seeing something different with Marte than I am if you lump him with Snider and Jones in terms of hitting the ball hard. To say Marte doesn’t put it in play hard, well I just don’t get that. He plays in a pitcher’s park, but he has 30 XBH before the half-way mark. He strikes out too much. On that, I totally agree. He doesn’t seem to shorten his swing with 2 strikes, and that is frustrating but it is pretty much par for the course for the whole league these days with just an occasional exception. The guys now swing hard, and they are willing to accept lesser batting avg. for more blasts. I am not saying it is good, but that is what has evolved. They have calcuated that an out is an out, regardless of whether it is a whiff or lineout to the 2b. There are negative ramifications to their approach, but this has been coming league-wide for awhile now.

  16. florida steeler says:

    We need a quality right fielder. Snider and Presley are NOT the answer.

  17. RobertoForever says:


    Love this month that Pedro is having. Hope the positive streakiness last a while longer.

    Couldn’t agree more on hitting approach. Clearly a few of them need an adjustment especially low MLB service time ones.

    Even Joe Mauer chokes up on the bat in situations he needs to.

    Do the Pirates have the best grouping of talent in those top 25’s or does another team have better?

    And I agree with Santelli’s #FF. You are the first stop for my Bucs info. Keep up the good work.

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