The Pittsburgh Pirates Offense, Reborn

At the end of May, I observed how the Pittsburgh Pirates had an offense poised for history. They were not just bad at scoring runs, they were great at making outs. They had a team wRC+ twelve points lower than the next-nearest lineup:

I called it a “catastrophe” then, but now it has become a swash-buckle’d turnaround.

In the month of June, the Pirates had a 111 wRC+, good for fourth-best in the MLB. So far, five days into July, the Pirates have a 161 wRC+ and .408 wOBA. They have gone from worst in the league, to the third-worst in just a little over a month:

In my previous article, it should be noted, I was excited at the chance of witnessing something spectacular — an offense poised to enter the history books as one of the worst in modern baseball. But at the same time, I recognized there were a lot of things bouncing the wrong way, that could just as easily start to bounce right:

If we De-Luck the Pirates position players, we see quite a few possible BABIP regression candidates. But if they meet only the downgraded expectations of an adjusted slash12 xBABIP, only Michael McKenry (.329 De-Luck’d wOBA) crosses to the positive side of league average, while [Josh Harrison] (.279) drops well below it.

Still, we can expect some of these players to either (1) change their approach and get better results or (2) get replaced faster than an NBC sitcom.

What we have seen in the Pirates is a little of both. They added Drew Sutton‘s bat from the waiver wire and redistributed their playing time.

Here is a couple of different visual ways to see the differences in the first two months from the last month.

A weighted runs created chart with relative color coding:

And a wRC+ graph:

And my personal favorite, a cumulative wRC graph:

A couple of things stick out:

1) Andrew McCutchen, for most purposes, IS the Pirate offense.

2) Nate McLouth and Yamaico Navarro both lost playing time and are no long on the big league club (McClouth got DFA’d). This opened playing time for Sutton and Presley.

3) Alex Presley has also made a massive turnaround, posting a respectable 13 wRC in the month of June.

4) In March/April, the team had a .279 BABIP. In May that dropped to .256. In June, they hit .311 BABIP. And so far in July? A whopping .431 BABIP.

5) The team’s walk rates also went: 6.1%, 6.6% to 7.5%.

Add to this offensive resurgence a starting rotation that — though perhaps a bit top-heavy (James McDonald and A.J. Burnett doing the heavy lifting) — can take care of itself, and then add a yet-again disappointing NL Central division, and we find a Pittsburgh Pirates team poised to maybe build a neat little alcove of treasures up there in first place.

So well done, Pirates. You had a shot at history, and you blew it, but at least you have a shot at the playoffs now.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

22 Responses to “The Pittsburgh Pirates Offense, Reborn”

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  1. Jeff says:

    Good article – one notable typo. I know it is the Pirates’ offense and all, but I don’t think that a wRC of 13 (Number Three – discussion of Alex Presley) is respectable. Perhaps you meant 103, 113, or 130 something?

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  2. zach says:

    the Pirates definitely got better but wow how about those Angels! From 21st to 4th!

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  3. Mike B. says:

    I find it tough to believe that McCutchen’s Fld score is really -6.3. Having seen the guy play a number of times now I think he’d be at least above zero.

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    • Aaron (UK) says:

      Jeff Passan had something to say about this on his first-half awards article:

      “…both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement metrics prefer Votto, both also ding McCutchen for his defense. That didn’t dovetail with what scouts were telling me and what my eyes saw.

      Moreover, it ran in contrast to what two general managers said their proprietary defensive metrics told them: McCutchen actually is a good center fielder, easily above-average.”–choosing-midway-mvps-isn-t-easy–bro.html

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  4. cs3 says:

    ” They have gone from worst in the league, the third-worst in just a little over a month: ”
    what is this supposed to say?
    not sure if that was a typo or i just completely misunderstood

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    • cs3 says:

      ok im assuming its a typo since there are several other mistakes as well:

      ” (McCouth got DFA’d)…”
      ” They were no just bad at scoring runs,…”
      ” I recognized there was a lot of things bouncing the wrong way,…”

      with the exception of the first sentence i mentioned in the post above ( i still have no idea what that is supposed to mean), none of these mistake take away from the message the article gives us.

      however, all the mistakes DO make the article come across as rather sloppy, and take away from the authors credibility as a writer.
      why not proof read before publishing?

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      • Scott says:

        …this site is filled with so many a-holes.

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      • David G says:

        They went from worst to 3rd worst.

        Also that color coded chart should be labeled to indicate what the values represent.

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      • Thanks cs3. It’s hard to point out mistakes and offer criticism without losing a demeanor of fairness. I feel like you have done a good job of criticizing without attacking, and I appreciate that.

        And, it is worth noting that I proofread every one of my articles no less than two times before publishing. Unfortunately, because I typically spend 3+ hours researching each article, I am often pressed for time while proofing.

        I hate my mistakes more than any of the readers — I literally lose sleep over them — but my commitment to research sometimes forces me to make hasty edits. Oddly enough, 2 out of the 3 typos you observed came after my final edit, as a result of changes I made at the last second. Such is life, amirite?

        Thanks for reading and holding me to a higher standard.


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