The Pirates wrapped up another disappointing season earlier this month as the team continues their rebuilding efforts. The Pirates finished the season with a 61-101 record, marking their third losing season in as many years. During the last two weeks, we highlighted the positives for the Pirates this season, but now we will focus on the negatives and what went wrong. First up? The offense.
With a few exceptions – Bryan Reynolds, Adam Frazier before he was traded in July and Yoshi Tsutsugo after joining the Pirates in August and Ben Gamel, everyone of the Pirates’ “regulars” finished the season below league-average offensively in 2021. For a myriad of reasons, the Pirates had difficulties with scoring runs in 2021. Their 609 runs (3.76 runs per game) ranked dead last in all of baseball.
One of the biggest reasons for the problems with the bats is that the team struggled to hit the long ball as their 124 home runs as a team in 2021 were the fewest in baseball, 20 less than the next closest team (Arizona). Reynolds led the team with 24 homers, but other than that, Colin Moran was the only Pirate to finish the season in a Pirates uniform that posted double-digit homers (10). Gregory Polanco, who was designated for assignment in August, had 11. Tsutsugo was tied for the fourth-most home runs on the team in 2021, despite playing just 43 games for Pittsburgh.
For a team that struggled in the power department, the key to scoring runs would be capitalizing on opportunities with runners in scoring position, which the Pirates did not. The Bucs ranked last in the Major Leagues in average, slugging percentage and OPS when batting with runners in scoring position. Those rankings are in line with the Pirate offense as a whole in 2021 as they ranked at or near the bottom in most major categories as a team.
The struggles on offense led to the dismissal of hitting coach Rick Eckstein on Aug. 30. Though no interim hitting coach was named, the offense did see some marginal improvements during the final month-plus of the season, though nothing drastic in terms of increased production. The Pirates are currently in the process of searching for the team’s next hitting coach for 2022.
Heading into 2022, the Pirates will be looking to improve upon their underwhelming display with the bats from last year. The Pirates might look to upgrade the lineup, specifically in terms of adding more thump, especially if the National League adopts the designated hitter as speculated.
Other than outside improvements, the Pirates will be counting on a number of their guys to rebound from disappointing seasons at the plate. Ke’Bryan Hayes and Colin Moran were expected to be big contributors to the lineup, but both battled injuries for a large portion of the season and neither looked quite right because of it. Additionally, they are hoping Kevin Newman will look more like the player he did in 2019, rather than what he has shown with the bat the past two seasons.
The good news for the Pirates is that some extra help could be coming in terms of prospects. Oneil Cruz played in a pair of games to end the season and he should be a regular in the Pirates’ lineup before long in 2022. Other prospects such as Mason Martin, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell and others, could all play a role for the Bucs next year and all offer intriguing skillsets at the plate.
If the Pirates want to improve starting in 2022, the offense is in need of a major upgrade. Luckily for the Pirates, a lot of that improvement may come from within, and the club has the entire offseason to contemplate bringing in outside help to the lineup.