It was just three nights ago in Seattle that the Pittsburgh Pirates tied a franchise record with 7 home runs in a single game. Their 11-6 win was just their sixth win of May.
Maybe you remember that the Pirates were one of the hottest teams in baseball to start the season; but, their 20-9 start has given way to a 6-17 May and what first looked like a resurgence has drifted back towards, “Same old Pirates.”
They have Andrew McCutchen back in the fold. He’s doing Andrew McCutchen on the Pirates things, too. Before the San Francisco Giants traded for him and set into motion the final days of Bobby Evans’ Baseball career, McCutchen was on a Hall of Fame track:
(1,346 games) 1,463 hits | 292 2B | 203 HR | 171 SB | .291/.379/.487 (136 OPS+)
Then Oracle Park disfigured his slugging percentage before the Giants fell off and traded him to the Yankees, whose uniform policy disfigured his face. He spent three injury, pandemic, and unremarkable seasons with the Phillies, and then had the worst season of his career with Milwaukee.
So the Pirates gave him $5 million this past offseason to be a sort of mascot and to avoid a grievance from the MLBPA for not spending any money on free agents. I’m certain the Pirates’ cynical and Bob Nutting-flooded front office didn’t expect much from their former face of the franchise.
Except, he’s Andrew McCutchen, and it’s impossible for him to be anything other than awesome. It turns out he becomes Superman when he puts on a Pirates uniform, because he’s absolutely back, baby.
Through their first 46 games, he’s batting .267/.363/.453 (.817) with 8 HR, 25 BB, 39 K, serving primarily as the Pirates’ DH. That line is good enough for a 121 wRC+, which is 53rd-best in MLB, and 27th in the NL. Remarkably, he’s tied with two other bounce back players: Michael Conforto and Cody Bellinger. He’s also the third-best full-time DH right now, behind Nolan Gorman (156 wRC+) and Jorge Soler (138).
McCutchen also leads the DH category in O-Swing%, or outside of the zone swinging percentage (19.3%) — this is the chase rate stat you’ve heard about before and it’s generally considered the best measure of a batter’s ability to control the strike zone and, conversely, a pitcher’s ability to get outs.
Using this measure, the Pirates are the best team in baseball when it comes to not swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone. They’re just ahead of the Dodgers, 24.1% to 24.3%. The Giants are 12th in MLB at 27.8% (9th in NL). Despite that impressive control of the strike zone, Pittsburgh has the third-worst (27th in MLB) in contact within the strike zone (83%). But! That hasn’t caused them to pile up strikeouts the way the Giants have — they’re 12th in MLB at 22.5%. The Giants are 29th (26.1%). Because they don’t chase as much, their 9.8% walk rate is 4th in MLB, behind the Padres, Dodgers, and Cubs.
So, are the Pirates a playoff team? Keep something in mind. It’s a shocking thing! The Giants are a playoff team right now.
The Pirates have scored just 226 runs (22nd in MLB), 12 fewer than the Giants, but you’ll see that their pitching is such that the team has a +10 run differential. That’s mostly thanks to their starting rotation, tied with the Dodgers with 4.0 fWAR and 10th-best in MLB. They’re striking out hitters a bit more than the Giants’ staff has done (8.6 K/9 to 8.5 K/9), but walking more batters per 9 and allowing more flyballs than the Giants have.
Now, the Giants’ ability to get the groundball still hasn’t quite shown up in fewer home runs — on the season line (1.11 HR/9). But in May, the Giants’ rotation has been the best team in baseball when it comes to preventing home runs (0.82 HR/9 in 132.1 IP). They’re still a team that gives up home runs on flyballs, though; however, the Pirates are below average (10.6% - 23rd in MLB) when it comes to HR/FB ratio. The Giants’ lineup is 4th-best (15.6%).
Who: San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
Where: Oracle Park, San Francisco, California
When: Monday (2:05pm PT), Tuesday (6:45pm PT), Wednesday (12:45pm PT)
National broadcasts: Tuesday — MLB Network simulcast
Monday: Anthony DeSclafani vs. Rich Hill
Tuesday: TBD vs. Johan Oviedo
Wednesday: Alex Wood vs. Mitch Keller
Where they stand
Record: 26-26, 2nd in NL Central
Run differential: +10, 5th in NL
Postseason standing: 0.5 games back of the third Wild Card, 1.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 2-game losing streak; 4-6 in their last 10 games
Record: 27-26, 3rd in NL West
Run differential: -1, 7th in the NL
Postseason standing: 3rd Wild Card, 4.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 1-game losing streak; 7-3 in their last 10 games
Pirates to watch
Dick Mountain (Rich Hill): He’s not the best pitcher on the roster, but the 43-year old lefty still has something left in the tank. He has a 4.27 ERA, striking out 8.9 per 9 innings and has already generated 0.6 fWAR in 52.2 IP. He’s doing this with just an 88mph fastball and some wonky peripherals (1.4 HR/9, 5.50 xERA), but the key point is that he’s a left-handed pitcher, and for all the Giants’ recent roster changes, they’re still struggling against lefties.
In May, their line of .244/.310./394 generates a 93 wRC+, seven points lower than league average, 23rd-worst in MLB. Hill is 8-2 with a 2.34 ERA against the Giants in his career (18 starts, 96.1 IP).
Bryan Reynolds: Over the last two weeks — his last 12 games — he’s hit .277/.370/.532 and over the last week (6 games) it’s .348/.444/.696 and has homered twice in the last three games. He’ll forever be the one
who got away was given away, and even though the Giants got to spend some time having Andrew McCutchen on the roster, I think we all would’ve rather had Bryan Reynolds all this time. Watching him play against Casey Schmitt and Patrick Bailey, at least, will be interesting.
Andrew McCutchen: Obviously. I mean, I spent all that time up top talking him up.
Joe, who identifies as Chinese American, reached base four times and scored twice. Mathias, who also identifies as Chinese American, recorded a two-run single. Stephenson, who identifies as Filipino American, pitched a scoreless seventh inning, recording his third hold.
On this night, three Asian American men donning the black and gold played roles in a 4-2 Pirates win — a win that served as a testament to the increasing influence of Asian Americans not just in baseball, but sports as a whole.
Remarkably, the Giants make an appearance in this article:
Stephenson, who grew up in the Bay Area, remembers watching two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (Filipino American) during his prime, but no one else.
Anyway, Connor Joe has a career .920 OPS against the Giants (69 plate appearances) and 20 hits — his most against any single team. In 48 PA at Oracle Park, he’s hit .357/.438/.500.
It’s, like, we get it, Connor Joe: you want to stick it to the Giants for cutting you.
Giants to watch
Michael Conforto: He’s hit 7 home runs in May. If he hits one more, he can do something that hasn’t been done since the days of Bonds:
Conforto has 7 HR in May— TriplesAlley (@Tr1plesAlley) May 26, 2023
The last time a Giants player hit 8+ HR in the month of May was Barry Bonds in 2002. After that, it was Barry Bonds in 2001. And after that, it was, uh, Barry Bonds in 2000
He could also be the guy to hit Splash Hit #100. Bonds record and McCovey Cove record? Make it splash!
Anthony DeSclafani: As Doug points out on the latest episode of our Giants Chroncast, DeSclafani’s hot start (2.70 ERA in April) has faded a bit of late (4.15 ERA in May), but it’s important to note that FanGraphs doesn’t quite see it that way: he’s posted a 0.5 fWAR in both months of the season. His 3.57 FIP is 22nd-best in baseball, and because of Alex Cobb’s fart job yesterday, DeSclafani is actually slightly ahead here, too.
But the Giants are 1-3 in his last four starts where he’s posted a 5.64 ERA against a 4 FIP. Statcast still loves his slider. By Outs Above Average (-9), it’s the 15th-best pitch in baseball right now.
Whoever’s playing second base: Between Brett Wisely and David Villar, I’m comfortable with the defense there, but the offensive dropoff looks to be massive right now. Thairo Estrada is the Giants’ best position player, the best second baseman in the National League, and by fWAR, a top 30 player.
Giants vs. Pirates - How will it go?
This poll is closed
Giants win, 2-1
Giants lose, 1-2