BRADENTON, Fla. (93-7 THE FAN) – Like a 2nd Grade teacher trying to teach common core math, I’m going to beg and plead that you stay with me for the next few hundred words as we go on a search.
A search for dingers.
Whatever you call them, the Pirates once had plenty of them. It was 2014, and they went deep 156 times, good for 6th in MLB, and 11 percent above the league average of 140. They finished 2nd in the N.L. Central, but only 1 HR behind the Cubs’ 157.
That season’s everyday lineup was littered with double-digit homerun power, from Ike Davis’s 10 hit after coming over the Mets, all the way up to Andrew McCutchen’s team leading 25. No fewer than nine players hit at least 10 HRs that season, and had Gregory Polanco played a full season at the Major League level, they would have had 10, as he launched 7 HRs in just 312 plate appearances.
Fast forward two years to 2016. The Bucs hit 153 HRs.
That’s only 3 fewer longballs than their impressive campaign of ’14, so they must have still been in the Top 10, right?
The Pirates were 5th worst in the Majors in HRs, last in their division, and a full Mike Napoli, or 34 HRs, behind the league average of 187. They were also down to just 7 players with double digits in homeruns.
The kicker to that?
Three of those guys aren’t here this spring.
Matt Joyce signed in Oakland. Sean Rodriguez is at home recovering from a car accident, but will be an Atlanta Brave when he’s ready to play baseball again. And Jung-ho Kang will not be here anytime soon, if you consider “soon” to be sometime in February.
That’s 52 dingers that may not be ready to be donged this year. At least not at the start of the season. Remove them from the roster and you’re going to find yourself struggling to make up for some missing offense.
Where are the Pirates going to get that offense? From John Jaso’s or Adam Frazier’s OBP? No disrespect to those guys, but it’s their job to get on base when they come off the bench so somebody can hit a 2- or 3-run homerun instead of a solo shot.
The answer is, they don’t know. There’s been talk of being more aggressive on the base paths – as if that’s at all possible – under new Baserunning Coach Kimera Bartee. Starling Marte, when asked about his 43 percent dip in power last season, responded only that he’s more worried about getting on and stealing bases. Clint Hurdle has pointed only to the fact that no one expected Rodriguez & Joyce to collectively contribute 31 HRs at this time last year, so maybe someone will shock and awe them with unexpected power this year.
In a division where the term “arms race” could just as easily describe the 27 percent increase in longballs the Cubs have launched from 2014 to 2016, the Pirates have not “kept up with the Jones’s,” so to speak and now will have to scratch across runs in a decidedly small-ball fashion if they want to keep up with the Bryants and Rizzos.
And even a 2nd grader can see that.