Going into the 2016 season, Pirates fans had a huge worry about a lack of power. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez combined for 43 home runs in 2015. Since the team only had 140 home runs, this is a massive chunk of their power they lost.
In the offseason the Pirates figured to move Harrison to 2B and go out and get a power bat to play first base. Well, in typical Buccos fashion, they were unable to land a power hitting first baseman, so what did they do? They signed a guy who has never played 1B before and stuck him there. What’s the definition of insanity again?
First, we’ll look at how the Pirates first base situation has worked out. Jaso has been an average first baseman defensively by most standards. Pedro had one of the worst defensive seasons of all-time for a first basemen. Let’s get some evidence to back that up. Pedro had a defensive replacement come in for him every time after he batted in the 7th or 8th inning. This happens in many instances for Jaso, but not every game. Sean Rodriguez is the primary backup in the middle infield, so this could play a part in that. Let’s look at their UZR/150. Pedro’s UZR/150 was -26.4. The second worst of all time. John Jaso’s so far this season is 7.1. So if he stays on track there should be a difference of around 40 in their UZR/150. That is unbelievable, considering Jaso had primarily been a catcher and only logged a few innings at 1B coming into the season. Now let’s look at hitting. Pedro slashed .243/.318/.469 with 27 HR and 77 RBI. So far this season Jaso is slashing .301/.368/.434 with 3 HR and 16 RBI. This is a tough comparison to make, as Jaso is in the unusual spot of being a first baseman batting leadoff. If the only thing we are looking at here is power, then yes, there has obviously been a dropoff in power here. All things considered, Jaso has obviously been the superior left handed hitting first baseman option. If the Pirates had a true leadoff man, it is very likely Jaso’s HR and RBI would be higher. That said, he is doing a great job filling in the cracks and being the Pirates leadoff man/first baseman vs right handed pitchers.
Now let’s look at second base. Last year at 2B, Walker’s UZR/150 was -8.0. This year, Harrison’s projects to be -8.8. Let’s call that a wash. But this article is about power, so let’s look at that. Walker hit 16 bombs with 69 RBI in 2015. Harrison has 2 homers and 25 RBI so far this year. Walker slashed at .269/.328/.427, while so far this year Harrison is at .318/.354/.419. Looks like there will be a drop in power at this position as well. All things considered, the two are pretty equal as second basemen, despite being very different. Walker just happens to hit for more power.
When the Pirates were letting all of this power walk in the offseason, they were certainly projecting for an increase in home runs from Kang and Polanco. Ideally Kang would be more comfortable in his second full season and Polanco is still growing into his long lanky frame and is only 24 years old and has added some muscle. Kang is increasing his power in a big way. He has 6 home runs in his first 21 games. Last season he had 15 homers in 126 games. Polanco has 8 home runs, just one shy of his 2015 total, despite having only played one third of the games he played last season. Additional to that, he is maintaining an extremely solid .836 OPS vs lefties, way beyond expectations.
The power numbers have taken a hit by losing two of the top power hitters, from 2015, but it is not affecting the offensive negatively. In 53 games, the Pirates have hit 50 homers. They are on track to exceed the power output from the 2015 season by about 12 home runs. While letting some big bats walk, Neal Huntington did what he does. He got creative, got a little lucky and put together one of the best lineups in the NL. The Pirates are 4th in the NL in runs, 11th in home runs, 4th in OPS and 2nd in OBP, only trailing the Cubs. After letting Walker and go the Pirates offense has evolved and actually gotten better and at some point one would have to assume Andrew McCutchen is going to catch fire. As a sidenote, Neil Walker has 13 bombs for the Mets this season. Perhaps he’s the next Jose Bautista. Highly unlikely, but we shall see.
Now, about that pitching staff…
Until next time. Beat ’em Bucs.