On Aug. 30, the Pirates announced that Rick Eckstein had been relieved of his duties as the team’s Major League hitting coach. Eckstein was in his third season in the position at the time of his dismissal. When he was let go, the Pirates ranked 27th in batting average (.233), 25th in on-base percentage (.305) and last in both slugging percentage (.362) and OPS (.665).
The lineup as a whole was struggling, and notable players such as Ke’Bryan Hayes and Kevin Newman were both in the midst of disappointing seasons at the plate, so manager Derek Shelton in discussion with general manager Ben Cherrington decided it was time to make a change. No interim was named, meaning assistant hitting coach Christian Marrero, with the help of some of the other coaches on the staff, including Mike Rabelo and Tim McKeithan, would have more responsibilities in the hitting coach duties.
So, how has the offense looked since?
In 131 games with Eckstein as hitting coach, the Pirates scored 470 runs in 131 games (3.6 runs/game) In the 20 games since, the Pirates have crossed home plate 90 times (4.5 runs/game). During that span, the Pirates have posted a record of 9-11, including 9-5 since dropping all six games during a 6-game road trip.
In 19 games since the start of September, the Pirates rank 14th in average (.252), eighth in on-base percentage (.331), 25th in slugging percentage (.386) and 19th in OPS (.718). Those numbers aren’t spectacular by any means, but the Pirates’ offense has been much improved during the final month of the season.
Quite a few individual guys have improved under the new hitting regime. Hayes had a .246 batting average and a .687 OPS at the time of the firing. Ever since, Hayes is batting .323 with a .709 OPS. Newman had an abysmal .562 OPS but has since posted a more respectable .651 mark. Outfielder Anthony Alford has the biggest disparity, owning a .535 OPS at the time of the change, and has raked to a .964 OPS in the post-Eckstein era.
Keep in mind the sample size is small. The Pirates have played just 20 games without Eckstein, but the early returns on the offense as a whole are positive and trending in the right direction. While not everyone has improved under Marrero and the other coaches who have taken on more responsibilities, notably Colin Moran, the bulk of the team has experienced welcome improvements.
The Pirates began their search for the team’s next hitting coach almost immediately after the announcement was made. At this point it is unclear if the Pirates will prefer outside the organization or look to promote from within, but if the Pirates continue their level of offense the final week and a half of the season, Marrero could have an inside track to the gig.