PITTSBURGH — Andy Haines has been a hot topic this season, but don’t expect the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ hitting coach to go anywhere anytime soon.
Despite what’s sure to be another losing season of baseball on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, the expectation is that Haines will be retained for 2024.
In a recent interview on 93.7 The Fan, Pirates manager Derek Shelton confirmed that the plan is for Haines to return to his same role with the club next season.
In meeting with reporters prior to Tuesday’s game at PNC Park, Shelton voiced his satisfaction with Haines this season.
“I think there’s a lot of areas of improvement if you look statistically at what we’ve done — runs scored, on base, batting average, strikeout percentage,” Shelton said. “We’ve had individual players get better. I’ve said this numerous times — being a hitting coach is really hard. Being critical of a hitting coach is really easy.
“It’s a place where a lot of people want to go and when things don’t go the way people assume they should go, then they can be critical. And I’m telling you that very much so from experience. But I think there’s a lot of things that we’ve done and we’ve had a lot of young players get better.”
In 2022, the Pirates’ offense was anemic. They finished 29th in batting average (.222), 28th in on-base percentage (.291), 27th in slugging percentage (.364) and 28th in OPS (.635). In terms of home runs, the Pirates finished around the middle of the pack with 158 in total — good for 18th in the league.
The offense this year has taken a step forward, but they still rank towards the bottom of the league in most of the major offensive categories.
On the year, the Pirates’ offense as a whole is slashing .236/.313/.388. They’re tied for 26th in average, 22nd in on-base and 25th in slugging. The team’s OPS has jumped to .701, which is ranked 23rd, and they are 27th in home runs this year with 137.
While the Pirates’ offense has improved this season, offense across the league is also up. Last year, the Pirates had an 84 OPS+ as a team, meaning they were 16% below league-average.
This year, the team’s OPS+ of 89 is indeed better, but only marginally, and it’s still significantly below league-average.
Still, general manager Ben Cherington echoed similar comments as Shelton in discussing Haines and the job he’s done this season.
“If you look at it on a team level, all of the categories that I think we’d all mostly look at from a team-performance standpoint, things that are visible to all of us, have all improved year-over-year,” Cherington said. “We’re on track to score more runs. We’re getting on base more. Our slug is higher. Our walks have improved. Our strikeouts have come down.
“In those categories, we’ve shown improvement year-to-year on a team basis. There’s also other stuff under the hood that is less visible that we track, that we see improvement on, too. Swing decisions. Quality of contact, etc. On a team basis, we’ve made improvement, we think, across the board.”
Being a major league hitting coach is certainly a tough job. There are 13 or 14 guys on a roster who fall under your responsibility.
Nobody knows the challenges of being a hitting coach more than Shelton, who served in the position for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009-16.
“When you’re a hitting coach, somebody has a bad night every night,” Shelton said. “When you’re a hitting coach and you go home, you don’t worry about the guys that had great nights. You don’t worry about the guy that went 2 for 4 and had a double and a homer. Even when you win, you worry about the guy that went 0 for 3 because the next day, that’s the guy you’re gonna have to deal with.
“That’s why I got a lot of gray hair, No. 1. No. 2, that’s why being a hitting coach is very challenging and being critical of a hitting coach is very easy. You can always go to the one person that didn’t have a good night that night when there are a lot of positives that happened.”
Haines has been the Pirates’ hitting coach since he was hired prior to the start of the 2022 season. And based on all the indicators, expect him to be back on the bench for at least one more season.