The curious case of the Pirates’ bats and the Pacific rim


SAN FRANCISCO – Clint Hurdle rejected my hypothesis.


Pedro Alvarez did the same. And Josh Harrison also shook his head in disagreement.


Still, I’m buying my own theory and it goes something like this:


The worst offensive environments in baseball have helped the Pirates’ offensive approach.


The Pirates entered Friday with 22 runs scored in their last four games, their best since four-game output since scoring 30 over four games at the Angels and Marines from June 21-25.


The interesting thing about both four-game bursts of offense is they each came in the worst offensive environments in the country: our nation’s ballparks along the Pacific rim.

File:San francisco in fog with rays.jpg

Is the marine layer making the Pirates a better offensive team?


Not only do these parks have large dimensions but they also have the misfortune, for lovers of offense, of being planted near the Pacific, where the marine layer lives. Heavy air + deep fences + plentiful foul territory equals a less-than-ideal run scoring environment.


Petco Park and AT&T Park rank as the two most difficult environments to scores runs in this season according to ESPN’s Park Factors.


But the Pirates scored eight runs at Petco on Tuesday and 10 runs at AT&T Park on Thursday. I think these parks have helped the Pirates’ approach, consciously or subconsciously. The Pirates aren’t trying to hit homers here. Yes, even Garrett Jones said he wasn’t trying to homer when he splashed down in McCovey Cove on Thursday.  He was reacting to an inside pitch. The Pirates are better targeting the gaps in California. They are using an all field’s approach and not trying to do too much. Pedro Alvarez has been a prime example of this.


At San Diego and San Francisco, Alvarez, instead of pulling everything, has used the gaps well: he doubled twice Thursday and tripled Tuesday at San Diego.


Alvarez told me he hasn’t changed his approach on the West Coast. Ditto for Harrison. Hurdle also thinks the ballpark affect on approach is limited.


Consciously, maybe that’s true, but subconsciously? Something has changed because Hurdle said the approach has been different out here in Cali — even though the message from the staff has been consistent throughout the season.


“It’s something I’ve talked about whenever I’ve talked to (hitters),” Hurdle said Friday. “One of the fist thing I heard a Little League coach say is hit the ball back hard where it’s pitched. The mindset we’ve tried to do a better job with: visualize the ball to the opposite field gap then react to the ball inside.”


That’s what the Pirates have done out West.


Now can they bottle it up and bring it back East?