In each of the first two games of the series against the Boston Red Sox, the Pittsburgh Pirates went a stretch of seven innings with only a single base hit.
The trends of the past two games have reflected what has been apparent for most of the season — the Pirates’ offense has been pretty abysmal.
Derek Shelton was asked about the struggles with the bats after Wednesday’s loss. “I think we kind of got out of our zones throughout the game and we let the Boston pitchers kind of dictate what we were going to swing at instead of staying in our hitting zones.”
The struggles with the bats are not necessarily something new. Last year the Pirates’ team OPS of .673 ranked third-worst in the league, ahead of only the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins.
Additionally, the Pirates slugged only 124 home runs, 20 fewer than the next closest team (Arizona – 144).
The accumulation of poor hitting led to Pittsburgh making a change at the hitting coach position in the offseason, replacing Rick Eckstein with Andy Haines.
While Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley’s harsh words of calling the Pirates’ lineup “a hodgepodge of nothingness” were disrespectful, Pittsburgh’s lineup isn’t exactly filled with All-Star caliber players.
So, how much is Haines to blame for the struggles?
To start, let’s compare last year’s hitting numbers as a team with this year’s.
The good news? The Pirates are hitting more home runs. Pittsburgh currently ranks 18th in the league with 115 home runs, just nine shy of last year’s total.
The bad news? Just about everything else. The home run totals, while much better, are a reflection of an all-or-nothing approach that has been evident throughout the season.
That approach includes hitting with runners in scoring position, a situation in which the Pirates are dead last in the league in batting average (.211) and RBIs (264) and are in the bottom three in on-base percentage (.289), slugging percentage (.353) and OPS (.642).
As a whole, the Pirates as a team have manufactured just a .649 OPS, third-worst in the majors and even worse than last year’s mark.
Looking at individual performances, Bryan Reynolds has been by far the team’s most consistent and productive hitter. He leads the team with an OPS of .805, but that’s still over 100 points lower than last year’s mark of .912.
Reynolds has been a victim of a poor showing with runners in scoring position, as he is hitting just .179 in those situations. On the year, Reynolds has only driven in 42 runs.
Ke’Bryan Hayes hasn’t taken the next step yet and his power numbers have regressed under the tutelage of Haines, despite being near the top of the league in hard hit rate.
Perhaps the most concerning individual performance is that of Oneil Cruz, who hasn’t made the necessary adjustments at the big league level yet. After all, arguably the most important role of a major league hitting coach is to help young players adjust, and in that regard, Haines has fallen flat.
Although it is just is first year on the Pirates’ bench, his seat on that bench has to be getting warmer as the Pirates’ struggles at the plate trickle into the tail-end of the season.
While Haines isn’t entirely at fault, it’s hard to draw positives from his tenure as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hitting coach, and it’s a lot easier to point the finger at him for what has transpired this season.