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