The 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates have a greater talent level that they may have shown on the field thus far in 2017. Here now are three overreactions to the club’s performance, culled from the first week of action.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have come out of the gate a bit wobbly.

Whether it be Gerrit Cole‘s implosion against Boston, the run-creation stalling to the point where they go through large stretches of game without advancing a runner to second base or, more recently, Tyler Glasnow‘s troublesome debut, the club has had its fair share of issues.

With the season a mere eight days old as of today, these amount to little more than a small chapter – a paragraph even – in the book that will be the 2017 season. But that does not mean that those issues don’t spur headlines in the media and worrisome expressions on the brows of fans. Today we will take a look at three such overreactions, while attempting to discern if any spell anything ominous on the horizon.

Andrew McCutchen is Destined For Another Bad Year

The new Pittsburgh Pirates’ right fielder seems like a good place to start.

Many Pirates entered 2017 with a certain amount of pressure weighing upon them, but perhaps none had as much as McCutchen. Coming off of his worst season in the majors and dealing with a position change, many wanted to see McCutchen come out of the gates swinging. Literally.

That has happened, but the results have many pointing towards another down year for the former MVP. To date, McCutchen is slashing .167/.231/.167. He has seven strikeouts in 24 at-bats. A quick look at social media will tell you that McCutchen is now more or less a lost cause.

But those who proclaim definitely that the team should have traded him in the offseason are only looking at the strikeouts without looking at the particulars of his punchouts. This sounds like the pefect place to add a strike zone map.

image courtesy of Statcast

I do not need a chart, or a stat to tell you that McCutchen’s bat speed has never left him. The naked eye can inform anyone who watches his at-bats of that fact. It is pretty clear that McCutchen’s slow start is one of approach. Only three of his seven strikeouts have come from pitches well outside of the zone. For his career, McCutchen owns an O-Swing percentage (percentage of pitches outside of the zone that batters swing at of just 22 percent, well below the 2016 major league average of 30.3 percent.

McCutchen isn’t suddenly swinging at nothing but junk, he simply may be pressing a bit – much like many of the Pittsburgh Pirates – in the season’s early going.

If we couple these facts with his current hard hit rate of 47.1 percent, it becomes clear that reports of McCutchen’s continued demise are greatly exaggerated. For now.

Much Ado About Glasnow

What would a post about early season overreactions be without mentioning top Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow?

To date, McCutchen is slashing .167/.231/.167

Yes, Glasnow’s start yesterday was absolutely brutal. Take a look at our Wake Up Call from today, the day after, for the gory details.  The tall right-hander’s poor debut has ignited a firestorm of debate among many Pittsburgh Pirates observers, and rightfully so. Not only did Glasnow lay an egg in his debut, but general manager Neal Huntington did not exactly give him a vote of confidence during his radio show this past Sunday.

In speaking with Greg Brown about how the team decided its fifth starting rotation member, Huntington was quoted as saying “The truth is, no candidate completely distinguished himself.”

Along with McCutchen, Glasnow served as the fulcrum of fan’s ire over the off-season, as his name was linked in several hypothetical trade scenarios. It became a philosophical debate – trade six years of potential performance for four years of proven performance from Jose Quintana.

Those that were in the pro-Glasnow camp had their cases severely damaged yesterday. Of all of the overreactions listed here, this one may carry the most weight.

First, there was the body language. One need only look at the demeanor between Glasnow and pitching coach Ray Searage both during the game and after he was pulled to determine that Glasnow was shaken. After the game, he seemed to recover and put the game in its proper perspective, but the damage to confidence may have already taken a toll, especially if it is seeping into his faastball, which has never been a concern to this point.

This is a pie chart of all pitches thrown for balls in Glasnow’s debut, listed by pitch type.

Yes, 19 out of his 23 balls were from his four-seam fastball, which he had extreme trouble in locating. The misses were varied – high, low and wide – and glaring. Though it was just one start and thus the clamoring for his demotion or relegation to the bullpen can still be classified as an overreaction, there may actually be some substance to this one. After changing grip, delivery, mechanics and more over the offseason to help his non-heat pitches, it was the four seam that failed him in his debut. That is troubling.

Glasnow’s fastball reputation precedes him and precludes the reaction from his debut from being over-exaggerated, but not by much. His next start will be pivotal.

Run Creation as A Whole

As mentioned above, the Pittsburgh Pirates are having difficulty with run creation. Or getting runners on base. Or getting past second base at times.

It was on perfect display yesterday, as the Pirates could only manage four hits – albeit with a fair share of walks – against the woeful Reds pitching. A deeper look at how the Pirates have fared at the plate over the season’s first week reinforces their ineptitude.

Batting - Pirates vs. NL April 2017

Metric
Stat (NL Rank (of 15))
BB%8.2% (11th)
K%17.6% (2nd lowest)
OBP.309 (11th)
SLG.309 (14th)
BABIP.280 (10th)
Hard-Hit %30% (8th)
Line Drive %18.9% (7th)

If we look at these selected metrics as a whole, we actually see a Pittsburgh Pirates team that is content to put the ball in play, with an average hard-hit rate. With a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) that is closer to the bottom third of the National League than it is to the top ten, a case could be made that the team has been a bit unlucky this year. They have certainly been patient at the plate, with the second best strikeout percentage thus far.

Again, McCutchen carries the highest K-Rate on the team at this writing with a 26.9 percent mark. Of all Pirates hitters with at least 10 plate appearances thus far, only three – McCutchen, Starling Marte (21.4 percent) and Jordy Mercer (20 percent on the nose) – have strikeout rates of 20 percent or above. Two others – Gregory Polanco (15.4 percent) and Josh Harrison (16.7 percent) have low strikeout rates without having taken a walk this year.

And then we see Adam Frazier with a 4.2 percent strikeout rate. We also find Josh Bell carrying a 10 percent rate. Surprisingly, David Freese has come out of the gate with a 22.2 walk percentage against just an 11.1 percent strikeout rate. Freese easily led the team in punchout rate last season.

The point is this: though the team’s offense has been lacking, there is nothing to suggest that it will not come back down to National League average-levels, at the very least. When the gears are all grinding properly, this club’s hitters have a real chance to string enough hits and walks together to present balanced, potent run creation.

These three items have caused an abundance of overreaction from Pittsburgh Pirates fans, but more often than not, they will likely course-correct.

To what degree remains to be seen.

Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)
  • Daniel Decker

    nice analysis as always Jason.

  • redrage97

    yeah, Cutch has never been great in spring through may… May/June seems to be where he “turns it on” If by the end of may he doesn’t appear to be turning the corner then there should be cause for real concern. If he can get to the 250 320ish marks for April I’m not worried. And his arm from right field looks soo much stronger too

    Tyler looked a bit worse than i could imagine. We knew he had control problems coming in but MLB hitters just won’t swing at those pitches on the “edge” like triple-a hitters. he got “shaken up” quickly and couldn’t even get them over the plate.

    His next outing he’ll be on a short leash… if he cannot even get it over the plate for contact when he wants too then i’d expect him to get sent down and either Brault, Williams or even Hutch to take his spot.

    As far as the line up. Need Bell to get into his groove. Cutch start to heat up and as a whole see as many pitches as you can, strike out or not. Its disturbing to see a lot of 0-2 counts.. but nice to see them working back to 2-2 and 3-2. a 10 pitch walk is as good as a one pitch single.

    Again like I said in the off season.. the Pen is horrible. Okay long relief they’ve done pretty well. but when Taillon goes out there pitches 6 decent innings and you are in the game and the pen gives up 5 runs… very disheartening. Over the course of the season they’ll get better.. i mean its been two weeks and they’ve all shown some good games… a bad outing here and there with such a small sample really looks bad.

    still mildly worried about frazier’s defense but not as bad as i once was. I’d like to see some games with He and Hanson at SS/2nd.