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Series Preview: The Pirates have two of the top 30 hitters in baseball

Pittsburgh Pirates v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

It’s been a weird, bad year for the Pirates. On the one hand, they’ve found some real gems in their lineup. Josh Bell (135 wRC+) and Bryan Reynolds (139 wRC+) are two of the best hitters in the game. On the other hand, they’ve had two 8-game losing streaks and a 9-game losing streak and went 10-32 from July 4th to August 22nd. They’re well on their way to their third losing season in four years and 16th losing season this century.

So, yeah, pretty bad. And they get to watch their former ace Gerrit Cole have another Cy Young-caliber season for the Astros. Meanwhile,

In the span of two seasons, the Pirates traded away Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, and Austin Meadows, and in exchange, they’ve remade themselves into nothing.

It’s the post-Matt Duffy era for them, too, only they got Bryan Reynolds out of it. The Pirates are a cautionary tale, then. Perhaps, even, the Giants’ dark mirror. On the other hand, the Giants have been worse than the Pirates since the second half of 2016 (236-299 vs. 251-287) and it’s not a guarantee that just because they’re doing better than Pittsburgh this year (by a grand total of 8 games heading into this four-game series) that they’ll do well in this series.

The Giants are really, really, really, truly terrible at home. By team wOBA, they’re dead last at home with .281. They have the 10th-worst strikeout rate at home (23.7%) in all of baseball — fifth in the National League. Their 7.5% home walk rate is second-worst in the NL and fifth-worst in baseball, too.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Pirates are 11th in road strikeout rate (23.1%) and tied for 12th in walk rate (8.7%). That’s 6th and 4th, respectively for NL-only rankings. So, on average, the Pirates will probably hold the Giants to the numbers the Giants have posted at home this year, which strongly suggests a sweep, if we just go by the averages.

The Pirates are averaging 4.8 runs/game on the road. The Giants are averaging 3.5 runs/game at home.

On the other hand, I dont want to watch the Pirates sweep this series. I am very much of the opinion that the Giants should resist the urge to be swept. In fact, they should attempt to win this series, if not sweep it outright. Since that disastrous 10-32 mark, Pittsburgh is 10-6, with five of those coming on the road, and four of those coming as a four-game sweep in Colorado.

I think the Giants are better than the Rockies, even at Oracle Park. The Giants have proven us wrong many times before over the past three years, but I’m going to believe that Bruce Bochy is a better manager than Clint Hurdle, and that will save the day. Am I discounting several other variables? Oh, absolutely.

Hitter to watch

Bryan Reynolds makes his first trip to Oracle Park since the Andrew McCutchen trade and as remarkable as his year has been — .327/.391/.529 — I really want to see how his skill set will play in what might’ve been his home park. He comes in and flies out a bunch or strikes out a lot (22.1% K rate this year) then it won’t feel like quite a missed opportunity. On the other hand, if the dude hits some triples and steals bases, it’ll sting.

Of course, his success this year proves that the old regime’s scouting was accurate. But is he still cursed to hit poorly at Oracle Park like the rest of the organization or did the Pirates make some permanent changes?

Pitcher to watch

Felipe Vazquez is the guy the Pirates wouldn’t give up at the trade deadline. He’s appeared in just 13 games since the trade deadline with just four saves against two blown saves, so maybe the league’s reticence to give up any players of note for a left-handed reliever who averages 98.5 mph with his fastball was warranted? Or maybe they’re just cheap.

Vazquez is under contract through 2021, with a pair of options that could extend that out two more seasons. He has tremendous value, and his season line has been historic. Since the save became a stat in 1969, there have been just four pitchers (and just six total seasons) in which a closer has recorded 20 saves, pitched a minimum of 50 innings, and had a K/9 of 13+ with a BB/9 of 2 or less.

Kenley Jansen - 2015
Kenley Jansen - 2016
Kenley Jansen - 2017
Craig Kimbrel - 2017
Kirby Yates - 2019
Felipe Vazquez - 2019

Prediction

Madison Bumgarner will make one of his last Giants starts in game one of the series and Johnny Cueto will make his glorious return in game two of the series, and so, I cannot let myself believe this series will go badly for the Giants. I foresee a sweep, which means they will get swept.