Prior to the 2016 season, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington made it known that there would be a new approach when Pirates hitters stepped into the box.
With very few legitimate power bats on the Pittsburgh Pirates roster, the new focus was on OBP as Huntington was hoping to build a lineup of guys that simply got on base a lot.
In the couple years prior to that Huntington watched teams like the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals win World Series’ despite not having much power so on paper the shift in approach made a lot of sense.
In 2015 the Pirates ranked ninth in OBP and 19th in walk rate. Jaso was a guy who judging by his past, looked like he could help improve those numbers. Prior to signing with the Bucs, Jaso owned a .361 career OBP, which included a .380 mark in 2015. Jaso also owned a very nice 12.6 percent walk rate prior to coming to Pittsburgh.
We know how that experiment has played out.
The question to ask though is has the shift in approach worked overall for the Bucs?
On the surface, the offense really hasn’t been much of a problem the past couple of years compared to the pitching, but there are some positives and negatives attached with the shift to becoming more of an OBP team.
Has it worked?
The Pittsburgh Pirates were coming off back to back seasons in 2014 and 2015 where they hit .259 and .260 as a team. That included a little bit of pop in the lineup as well.
In 2014, the Bucs ranked third in the majors with a .330 OBP. Despite winning 98 games in 2015, they slid to ninth in baseball with a .323 mark. That coupled with decreasing power numbers by the year led to the increased focus on OBP.
On the surface the switched worked as the Bucs finished fourth in baseball with a .332 OBP last season.
But that number was helped a ton by a ridiculous .378 mark during the month of April when it seemed that the Bucs were getting on base every time they stepped to the plate. They also finished the season with a very nice .351 mark in September which helped their overall number.
The months in between weren’t as pretty, posting OBP’s of .333, .302, .310 and .322.
That has actually carried over to this season where the Pirates’ .320 OBP ranks 20th in MLB.
Not having Starling Marte, who owns a lifetime .344 OBP and Jung Ho Kang (.355) helps hurt the overall OBP number, but I am sure Huntington would agree that the overall results haven’t been what the team has been looking for.
The Pittsburgh Pirates went from sixth in baseball in 2014 in homers to 23rd in 2015.
Naturally with the switch in philosophy there would be some decline.
The Bucs ranked 26th in homers and 23rd in SLG last season and ranked 29th out of 30 teams with only 145 homers this season and rank 28th with only a .390 slugging percentage.
This is a team that doesn’t have a ton of big hits in them so when they aren’t getting on base at a very high clip, it makes it very hard to score runs consistently.
That is evident by only scoring 4.25 runs per game this season, which places them in the bottom third of the league. That is down from the 4.5 runs per game they averaged last season.
Hitting the ball out of the ballpark isn’t the only problem as the Bucs rank 21st in MLB in doubles (145) and 26th in fewest extra base hits (254).
If they had a little bit of power and were getting on base at the rate they currently are then that would be one story, but they don’t and it has led to a problem of scoring runs.
Ideally you would like to see the Bucs be getting on base at around a .335-.340 clip with solid gap power up and down the lineup, but that isn’t the case.
Part of being able to put together a successful lineup focused on OBP is the ability to draw walks as a team.
This is one area where that has been a bit of a positive for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After falling to 19th in baseball with a 7.3 walk percentage in 2015 that number bumped up to 9.0 percent last season and have posted the same mark this season.
So far this season, Pirates hitters have walked 301 times, the 10th most in baseball.
This is another area the Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten a lot better at, which could be a direct link to Alvarez and Neil Walker being gone.
In 2015, the Bucs posted a k-rate of 21 percent and while that number stayed steady last season, it has dropped to 19.3 percent this season, which is good for the fourth best mark in baseball.
But there is also a negative aspect to that as well.
While the Pirates aren’t striking out as much, they aren’t doing a whole heck of a lot with the balls they put in play.
As a team, the Bucs own just a .279 BABIP, which is downright terrible. Only one team in baseball, the New York Mets has a worse BABIP (.276) on the season.
To me, here is the clubs biggest problem.
Without team power and without a team that gets on base at a high clip like envisioned, you would hope that they made the most of there at bats and hit line drives all over the field.
But instead, the Pittsburgh Pirates have become a team that beats the ball into the ground way too much.
On the season they have hit 1,150 ground balls to date, which is the fifth highest mark in the game. Last season that number was 2,080, which was the eighth most.
That hasn’t changed too much over the past few years, as every season since 2013 the Bucs have finished inside the top 10 of amount of ground balls hit.
That wouldn’t be so bad if they posted better than a 24 percent line drive percentage as a team.
Their 0.88 ground ball to fly ball ratio is also amongst the worst in baseball.
With a 32.6 percent ground ball rate overall, the Pittsburgh Pirates rank among the five worst teams in that aspect.
When looking at how the switch in philosophies has effected the Bucs, it’s about status quo.
A legitimate power hitter is out of the budget so this type of switch was pretty much necessary and who knows how the numbers look overall with Kang and Marte in the fold for an entire year?
But while pitching is still this clubs biggest problem, the offense hasn’t exactly performed to what Huntington and his staff envisioned it when committing to OBP and getting on base at a high clip.
It looks nice in a couple of areas but overall the numbers are just average at best.
They just don’t have the make-up to be a highly successful OBP team.