Okay, maybe not the best timing for this, as the Pirates have had two great offensive performances in a row, and look like they might be breaking out of a prolonged, team-wide slump. However, even though the last couple games have been tremendous to watch, the biggest problem with the team thus far has been its offense. If you watched the last two offensive outbursts, you might be wary to say that the offense has awoken, as the majority of hits (especially yesterday) have barely left the infield, Neil Walker's Moon-Shot not included. That isn't to say that the Pirates aren't hitting well, but there is still room for improvement. With that being said, let’s examine the reason for the mediocre offense so far this year.
Just last September, Clint Hurdle was the hitting coach for one of the most intimidating lineups in baseball (Texas Rangers), Neil Walker and Jose Tabata were batting around .300, and Pedro Alvarez was showing signs of stardom (batting .306/.355/.577 for the final month of the season). Fast-forward nine months, and you will see Clint Hurdle managing the Pittsburgh Pirates, Neil Walker still having success (but in a little slump), Jose Tabata struggling to repeat his performance, and Pedro Alvarez looking lost at the plate.
So what happened? Is the “small ball” approach, that Clint Hurdle uses, harming the Pirates offense? Are Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker suffering from a sophomore slump? Can the Pirates’ offense come to life?
The first question, whether “small ball” is harming the offensive production can only be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. In some cases (like having McCutchen bunt a man to 3rd with 0 outs), it has hurt the offensive production, but for the most part I believe small ball works well with our players. This Pirates team has a ton of speed, especially when Xavier Paul and Josh Harrison are in the lineup. Stolen bases, drag bunts, and (hopefully at some point) suicide squeezes should be worked into the offense consistently. With that said, I don’t believe that Hurdle is to blame for the offensive struggles thus far.
My next thought was that perhaps a sophomore slump is responsible for the Pirates offensive funk. To me, this does seem reasonable, as film has been reviewed in the offseason, and there are more extensive scouting reports on Alvarez, Walker, and Tabata. Alvarez seems to be the greatest example of this, as pitchers have attacked the outside-bottom corner of the plate with breaking balls all year long. Pedro, along with the rest of the players must make adjustments to prevent pitchers from having the upper hand. To me, this seems to be the biggest problem with the Pirates offense.
With the core player’s struggles seemingly linked to their youth, it seems to me that the sooner they can adjust to pitchers, and get back to what they were doing last year, the better off they will be. Clint Hurdle, and the Pirates’ scouts should have a good idea of how to make these adjustments, but making them will take time. Over the next couple months, I do expect to see more offensive outbursts (like we have seen in the last couple games).
Outside of the young players, Lyle Overbay has seemed to come alive in recent weeks, and Ronny Cedeno has been batting extremely well. Cedeno will be one to keep an eye on, as the season goes on, because if he keeps the success at the plate going, he could play a key role of future bucco teams (though as the Mackowiaks, Hyzdus, and Craig Wilsons have taught us, don’t get your hopes up after just a few weeks of baseball).
On-Deck: How Much is the Pirates Defense Helping the Pitching Staff?
Also, the All-Star Ballot is online, so if you haven’t voted yet, check it out. At the very least, vote Cutch and Walker.