The Pittsburgh Pirates have had trouble driving in runners in scoring position in 2017. If they cannot fix this soon, they stand little chance to make the 2017 postseason.

Thursday was an anomaly for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Behind a 3-7 performance at the plate with runners in scoring position, the Pirates defeated the Detroit Tigers 7-5. With the win, the Pirates took three of four in a home-and-home set with the Tigers and move three games out of first place in the National League Central.

Big knocks in RISP opportunities included Josh Bell’s two-run home run in the third inning and Adam Frazier’s two-run double in the fourth. All told, the Pirates drove in six runs with runners in scoring position on Thursday afternoon.

To continue making a run at the division crown, the Pirates need similar success with runners in scoring position going forward.

RISP Troubles

Entering play on Thursday, the Pirates ranked in the lower half of the standings in multiple RISP opportunities.

Statistic Ranking
Runners left in scoring position per game 3.68 27th
Batting average with runners in scoring position .255 18th

 

Hitting with runners in scoring position hasn’t been the only problem. The Pirates are 28th in runners left on base per game with a 7.19 mark. Thursday, Pittsburgh stranded seven runners compared to Detroit’s three.

Furthermore, the Pirates only have two players with at least 50 plate appearances hitting over .300 with RISP; Andrew McCutchen (.348) and Jordy Mercer (.300). Adam Frazier is close at .292, but the next closest is David Freese at .278.

The rest of the division

With four teams all vying for first in the N.L. Central, it’s worth examining how the rest of the teams above the Pirates are doing in RISP situations.

Record AVG with RISP Runners left in scoring position per game
Chicago Cubs 59-54 .237 (tied 24th) 3.51 (24th)
St. Louis Cardinals 59-56 .265 (12th) 3.35 (16th)
Milwaukee Brewers 59-57 .237 (tied 24th) 3.47 (22nd)

 

As a whole, the N.L. Central struggles with runners in scoring position. Incredibly, the cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Reds have left fewer runners in scoring position (3.46, 20th) than any team except the Cardinals. Additionally, the Reds have a better average with runners in scoring position (.259, 15th) than everyone except the Cardinals.

So, the Pittsburgh Pirates are doing better than the bulk of their competitive divisional competition, but still not very well.

How to fix it

Besides simply hitting better in scoring situations, there aren’t many other ways to fix things besides adding outside talent.

Monday’s lineup is the Pirates best when at full health, besides Sean Rodriguez at shortstop. The left and right handed bats are evenly separated in the lineup and everyone is in the right spot to either get on base or drive runners in.

That said, it’s not a perfect lineup. Freese is solid, but not an everyday player based on his up-and-down season. Marte has shown flashes of his brilliant 2016 season, but still sits at .248/.313/.644 at mid-August. Polanco has lit up his spray chart with hits in May and July, but has hovered below the Mendoza line in June and August.

A fix that is no longer an option

Problems like this make it astonishing that the Pirates didn’t make a deal for a player like Jay Bruce. Consider that the Cleveland Indians, a team in dire need of another outfielder with Michael Brantley hurt, only gave up a single-A pitcher for a player with 29 home runs.

A mild ankle sprain is not a long-term injury, but the Indians made a move to improve their depth. Would Bruce not be a short-term upgrade over Polanco, who hits .215 with RISP? Bruce is a free agent after this season, so the Pirates wouldn’t have had to worry about paying too much for him.

By the way, Bruce hits .290 and has nine home runs with runners in scoring position. That’s more than anyone on the Pirates.

Moving forward

There is still time to acquire another bat to help drive in more runs. The waiver trade deadline Aug. 31 and the Pittsburgh Pirates should not be done dealing yet. If the Bruce contract is any sign, then acquiring rental players will not require giving up much.

Bruce isn’t the only productive player to be traded for so little. The Oakland Athletics were happy to deal Yonder Alonso and his 22 home runs to the Seattle Mariners for Boog Powell. No, he’s nothing like the former Baltimore Orioles’ slugger.

The market is set for the Pirates to do something. They need another run-producer. The Pirates would do well to find a right-handed hitting outfielder to take some playing time away from Polanco and hopefully drive in more runs than him.

It’s very simple: even though the division is struggling, the Pirates can’t hope to make the playoffs continuing at this rate with runners in scoring position. Though they are three games out of first in the N.L. Central, the Pirates are 7.5 out of a Wild Card spot. Drive in more runs, win the division. It may not be that simple, but based on the rest of the division’s work, it’s the best chance to come out on top.

Image credit – Daniel Decker Photography

Joel Norman

Joel Norman is a journalism major at West Virginia University. In addition to writing for Pirates Breakdown, Joel covers WVU sports for the Daily Athenaeum and writes game recaps and features for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Joel also does play-by-play broadcasts of WVU hockey and baseball for WWVU-FM in Morgantown.