What’s Wrong With the Pirates’ Bats?

So if you haven’t noticed, the Pirates are just plain bad at hitting in this young season. The Pirates rank dead last in the MLB in SLG, Runs, and OBP while ranking 28th in AVG. The reason this is so frustrating is because their pitching is first in ERA, 4th in quality starts and 15th in WHIP. The Bucs are 2-3 with a 0-5 offense and a 5-0 defense.

We saw what happens when the pitching carries a lackluster hitting team last year: tread water/thrive in the first half, watch the arms fizzle out in the second half. The Bucs are 4 runs away from being 4-1 if they could have managed to score when they had both Roy Halladay and Chad Billinglsey in two on, one out situations at various points in their closest losses.

So how do the Bucs fix this hitting disaster so they can take advantage of these great opportunities? The most obvious answer is plate discipline.

In their two wins, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley lasted six innings. In their three losses, Halladay, Kershaw and Billingsley lasted 8, 7 and 6 respectively but the key is in their pitch counts. Billingsley threw 77, Kershaw tossed 88 and Halladay needed just 92 pitches to oust the Bucs.

In the latest two losses in LA, the Pirates were awful at the plate against Kershaw and that is somewhat expected. They were better against Billingsley, but never took advantage of opportunities to score with their small ball speed. Billingsley was vulnerable in the 6th inning last night and even though McClouth was just as much at fault as Walker, the bottom line is that they missed their best chance and deflated themselves far too much.

Alex Presley Casey McGehee and Andrew McCutchen are the only Pirates regulars with a BA over .200 which shows just how bad the hitting has been. McCutchen is the best hope for offense, Presley can run and play small ball while McGehee is somewhere in the middle. The rest of the team is no where to be found. Neil Walker look lost at the plate, the power potential of Garret Jones, Rod Barajas and Pedro Alvarez has resulted in strikeout and flyouts, not base clearing doubles.

Granted, looking at the pitchers the Pirates have lost to, they have been Cy Young Winners and the ESPN projected Cy Young winner so it is not as if the Pirates are stuggling against inferior competition. These stars make their big money off aggressive hitters like Pedro and make guys like Walker off balanced at the plate.

That’s why tonight’s game versus Chris Capuano is so important. He is the kind of player the Pirates, if a .500 team, should put up at least 2-3 runs against if he lasts 6 or 7. The NL Central has arms (Zack Grinke, Kyle Lohse come to mind) but most are like Capuano: qualified guys with some stuff, but not no hitter material.

Not many of the Pirates’ bats were hot in Spring except for Matt Hague and Starling Marte but that doesn’t mean they should be this cold already. I think  a good game tonight gives the Bucs confidence heading in to San Fran, a park they won 2-3 in last year during their second half skid while hanging 14 runs on the board.

If they don’t the Pirates are going to need to fundamentally change how they approach the plate, something not easily done on the road against quality opponents.

Minor League Roundup:

A.J. Burnett’s second outing in Bradenton did not go well…like 5 runs in 1 inning not well…

Josh Bell got his first professional baseball homerun and leads the WV Power with 7RBI

ESPN lists Bradenton (A) as one of the best minor league teams to watch this season (insider required)

Mike Crotta has a great sense of humor

Pirates added a new arm to AAA Indianapolis off of FA

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