Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Pirates' Woes Start At The Top

Once hot offense is coldest in MLB over last ten days, and the problem is the top of the order

Chris Mack
April 23, 2018 - 8:56 pm

You can’t score runs if you can’t get on base.

The Pirates have learned that the hard way, averaging 2.7 runs per game in their last 10, as they’ve fallen to 12-10 after an 11-4 start. That 2.7 run average includes a 10-run outburst in last Wednesday’s win over the Colorado Rockies. Without it, they’re averaging a measly 1.9 runs and 6.1 hits per game.

The hottest offense in the National League over the first 12 games of the season is now the league’s coldest, and you don’t have to look far to spot the problem: It’s the top of the order.

Before jumping on the narrative that it’s all because of the broken metacarpal bone in Josh Harrison’s left hand, you have to include the 12 hitless plate appearances Harrison had before being hit by a pitch in Miami that will have him out of the lineup until nearly Memorial Day.

Since April 13th, Pirates’ leadoff hitters – a combination of Harrison, Adam Frazier, and Sean Rodriguez – have gone 5-for-42 with just two walks.

That’s good for a .119 batting average and .159 on base percentage.

Not to be outdone, Gregory Polanco, who’s started in the 2 hole in all but one of those games, has gone just 4-for-34 with three walks. That’s a .118/.189 BA/OBP split.

Clint Hurdle has never been one to fear juggling a lineup, but has repeated over the last week his desire to keep his batting order intact. The question here is, why? What is he afraid of damaging? The offensive momentum of a club that’s scored more than 2 runs in a game just twice in the last 10?

When the Bucco bullpen was struggling early on, Hurdle and General Manager Neal Huntington had no fear of shaking things up, sending Dovydas Neverauskas to the minors, calling up Kyle Crick and claiming Enny Romero on waivers.

It’s helped. Crick has provided 5 scoreless innings, allowing just four baserunners and striking out seven as the Pirates have the highest bullpen strikeout rate in the league over the past week.

Why continue to further fritter away an 11-4 start if the remedies for the top of the order are already available?

Starling Marte’s wheels create havoc on the base paths for the opposition, and he currently leads the team with a .365 OBP and .841 OPS. He’s second in the league in stolen bases and leads the league in triples. With so much talk about the Pirates not having a ‘prototypical’ leadoff hitter, it’s hard to see why people don’t understand that Marte is exactly what’s needed.

Then there’s Corey Dickerson, who’s hitting .303 with a .794 OPS and has spent more time in the 2nd spot of the order than anywhere else over the course of his career, for good reason; he has a .308/.358/.526/.885 career slash line in the 2 hole. It’s his most productive spot in the order.

Those two couldn’t be better at the top of the order than a pair of struggling stopgap leadoff options and a lost-in-the-wilderness Polanco?

Hurdle would espouse the notion that moving Dickerson and/or Marte out of their current spots may hurt their production, but going back through the same 10-game time frame, the Pirates as a team have just a .305 slugging percentage and .543 OPS in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th spots in the order, both worst in the National League. A large part of the problem is that those spots in the order are coming to the plate with two outs and nobody on more than all but one team in the National League.

Nothing’s working for this offense.

Everything’s broken.

So why not try to fix it?