There are countless ways for MLB teams to score runs, with almost endless combinations of hits, walks, wild pitches, passed balls, stolen bases and even hit by pitches. However, the quickest way to affect the outcome of a game has almost always been the long ball; followed closely by a base clearing triple and a down the line, in the gap or bouncing over the wall double. If a team does not have a fair number of hitters that at least pose a threat to bring in multiple runs or even simply get on the board, extend a lead or scrape back into a game with a single swing of the bat it obviously makes scoring runs a more difficult proposition, but in turn it also puts more pressure on your pitchers to over perform on a regular basis.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates their ability to score runs was a clear disadvantage this past season, especially with the bases loaded. They ranked 21st in the league with 758 runs and only slashed .227/.267/.378 when the bases were full of Pirates. Of course some clutch hitting or patience at the plate could have easily allowed them to improve upon these numbers. It is also just as clear that extra base hits in these situations and others would be more effective than a bloop single or a walk. However, a quick glance at the team’s numbers as whole in terms of power provides a bleak outlook on this potential; at least as far as last year is concerned.
When I look at and for power, ISO (Isolated Power) is the metric that my eyes gravitate toward first. It isn’t the be-all-end-all in determining the ability of a player, which no metric can truly do on its own, but it gives us a glimpse into the raw power potential of each player and a team overall. ISO is also a very simplistic metric to calculate as it is SLG (Slugging Percentage) – AVG (Batting Average). Once again it must be punctuated that this will not provide you with information on the overall ability of a player or team, only the type of player or players they are and when you look at the Pirates as a whole they were not very powerful; ranking as the 25th team in MLB with a .156 ISO. With that pretty disappointing revelation out of the way we can start to examine which individual Pirates players excel in this area of their game and the ones that bring down the average, as well as how they stack up against the rest of the league.
In Major League Baseball the average ISO is around .140, while prototypical powers hitter possess an ISO of .200 or above. In 2019 Mike Trout of the LA Angels was the league leader with an ISO of .353, followed closely by Christian Yelich of the Brewers (.342) and Nelson Cruz of the Twins (.328). On the opposite end of the spectrum is where you would find Yolmer Sanchez of the Chicago White Sox (.069), David Fletcher of the Angels (.094) and Miguel Rojas of the Marlins (.095). Even though it may seem this way I must reiterate that ISO does not always clearly determine the quality of the player, only the type of player, which becomes more evident as the ISO’s move closer together. Another thing that is fairly evident is that all of the Pirates fall in between the best and worst players in league according to this specific metric.
Top 3 Pirates
1) Josh Bell (.292)
It is no surprise that Bell is the top dog of the Pirates in this category as he produced near historic numbers during the early part of the 2019 season, as well as the fact that he had career numbers in home runs (37) and doubles (37). Bell’s numbers were good enough for 10th in MLB in ISO, which begins to put him in the conversation for one of the best power hitters in the league. Even taking into account the second half slump he still would have been the highest ranked Pirates with an ISO of .196.
2) Jose Osuna (.192)
In an injury shortened season, the one thing that Osuna clearly did well was drive the ball. Of his 69 total hits this past season, 30 of them were of the extra base variety. This puts him in position to be one of the Pirates only power hitters on the roster, which makes sense as to why fans are eager to get him more at bats moving forward.
3) Bryan Reynolds (.189)
This past season Reynolds was the Pirates best example of a player that could hit for average and power. For the most part he has displayed above average power in his professional career, but this past year’s ISO would rank as his highest; especially for a full season. At only 24 years of age in 2019 there is still room for increased power potential, however I would be happy even if he is just able to maintain.
Bottom 3 Pirates
1) Jacob Stallings (.120)
For all of Stallings doubters this is another bit of ammo that can be used in their arguments to show that he is not built to be an everyday catcher in MLB. It is also one that I would have a hard time disagreeing with, as he has never been seen as and/or known to be a power hitter; in spite of his 6’4” 220 pound frame. The positives for Stalling evidently lie behind the plate, not at it.
2) Kevin Newman (.138)
There have been many talks about Newman’s possible offensive regression from last years .308/.353/.446 slash line and this seems to be another example of that potential. This is not to say that he cannot be a productive player moving forward, it will just more than likely not be in the power department; which is more fine by me for a leadoff hitter, who is tasked with getting on base and making contact above all else.
3) Adam Frazier (.139)
This number is a little disappointing for those of use who have justified Frazier’s spot in the Pirates lineup due to his deceptive power and pop in his bat. Is it possible that myself and others have overestimated this potential? Have our eyes deceived us? This is possible based simply on this number/metric.
On the Pirates roster there were only three other regulars that joined Bell, Osuna and Reynolds on the list of players with above average power/ISO; Gregory Polanco (.182), Colin Moran (.152) and Cole Tucker (.150). The last two players on this list don’t really jump off the page, but at least Tucker is young enough at 23 years old to grow into some increased power. Some may even argue that Moran still has a year or two to make that jump. However, even if these numbers do increase, it is clear that the Pirates need a shot (or two) of power in their lineup in order to compete in a game that has become more about the long ball and over powering pitchers than ever before.