By Matthew Kruth, The Burgh Blog Writer, @theburghblog_mk
PITTSBURGH – When the Pirates let Pedro Alvarez go and traded Neil Walker, there was a concern amongst fans and media that the team would not have any power and how that would significantly hurt the offense.
Home runs are awesome to watch, and they are instant offense, but that doesn’t always mean they are the best approach to putting runs on the board. Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle have said numerous times through the spring and early part of the year that the focus for this year’s squad has been getting more people on base, seeing more pitches, and utilizing the best parts of every player’s game.
Now, Huntington and Hurdle aren’t going to turn their noses up at a bomb here and there, but the focus has been to have players stay within themselves and get the next guy into the box with an opportunity to drive in a run.
This year’s focus has lead to some changes, including the signing of John Jaso, an OBP machine, and Andrew McCutchen hitting in the two-hole. There is a level of uncertainty still moving forward; every team can have a hot streak, but this team looks like the real deal. The numbers back it up too.
To this point in the season, Fangraphs has the Pirates offense pegged at +7.5 WAR. That is good for the best in all of the Majors. +0.3 WAR ahead of the Cubs.
But WAR is not the only way to measure offensive success. The Pirates are leading in a whole bunch of other statistical measures including wOBA, wRC+, and of course OBP (If you don’t know what these stats are, you can look them up and read about them here).
Let’s also give credit to some individual players who have performed very well to this point. Gregory Polanco has been absolutely outstanding this season after signing his extension. Starling Marte has been fantastic to this point as well. He looks to take a step forward in regards to his offensive production which has been pretty steady over the past few years, and he’s on his way to doing just that.
In addition to the regulars, the Pirates have had an exceptional showing from Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce coming off the bench. These two have been the gold standard for bench players in the majors to this point, and on any other team, they would have probably worked themselves into regular starting roles. Rodriguez has been able to gain more playing time based on his defensive abilities at multiple positions, but Joyce is limited to the outfield where there is no room for more than a spot start here and there.
As the Pirates move into May, it is worth looking at the numbers. A league leading BABIP of .344 suggests that there may be some regression coming in terms of the offense, but that’s okay. As the Pirates pitching returns to form, there will not be a need for so many runs.
In terms of April success, the Pirates improved significantly from last year.Through May 1 of last year, the Pirates were 12-11. So far to begin the year, the Bucs are 15-10. That puts the team on the right track as things start to heat up.