Pirates seek pinch-hitting improvement

Team management has a few decisions to make about the state of the Pirates’ bench before they travel north for the regular season. Regardless of who claims the final bench jobs, one area the Bucs need to improve upon in 2013 is pinch-hitting.

Their final 2012 pinch-hitting stats:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
as PH 135 268 227 22 40 6 0 2 24 32 65 .176 .284 .229 .513

Their .176 PH batting average was the second-lowest in the National League, only ahead of the Atlanta Braves.

Here’s how the rest of the NL Central fared when pinch-hitting…

Cincinnati:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
as PH 128 201 175 15 47 14 4 2 21 19 44 .269 .337 .429 .765

 

Chicago:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
as PH 139 273 250 27 61 13 0 6 35 16 71 .244 .300 .368 .668

 

Houston:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
as PH 140 260 231 23 56 12 1 6 26 26 76 .242 .323 .381 .704

 

Milwaukee:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
as PH 149 315 282 24 63 12 4 4 42 25 89 .223 .290 .337 .627

 

St. Louis:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
as PH 143 279 242 25 46 13 0 1 29 29 80 .190 .275 .256 .532

 

Notes:

- The Bucs actually drew the most pinch-hit walks in the division (32), but hit for the lowest average (.176) and OPS (.513), among other categories.

- The division champion Cincinnati Reds posted the highest PH batting average at .269 and OPS at .765.

- Pirates’ pinch-hitters had a ridiculously low slugging percentage (.229). They had the least amount of extra-base hits by far, with only one homer, six doubles, and no triples. St. Louis had the second lowest total of XBH, with one home run and 13 doubles.

- In general, the Cardinals were pretty weak in the pinch-hitting department, but they made up for it with one of the most potent lineups in the National League. The loss of Albert Pujols did not slow them down, as they hit .271/.338/.421 as a team. Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, and Jon Jay all hit higher than .300, while Carlos Beltran knocked 32 homers and drove in 97 runs.

- They are no longer in the division, but even the 55-win Houston Astros had more productive pinch-hitting than the Pirates in 2012.

Michael McKenry and Gaby Sanchez seem to be locks for the Pirates bench. McKenry shouldn’t see too many pinch-hit opportunities since you don’t want to waste your backup catcher in case the game goes into extra frames. Sanchez, however, should be a go-to option when a right-handed bat is needed, and he’ll often replace Garrett Jones at first base for defensive purposes.

Sanchez, 29, had a poor year in 2012 after a couple productive seasons in Miami. Dejan Kovacevic writes that Gaby is feeling like his old self again:

“I’m healthy. I’m healthier than I’ve been in two years… All I was trying to do all year was get to the point where my knee wasn’t hurting. That was it. After the season, I was able to get back to my old routine, heavier squats, power lifting. I feel really good.”
Gaby Sanchez Pirates’ First Baseman

Although it doesn’t mean much, he has five hits in nine at-bats this spring, including two home runs. The Bucs will need Sanchez and others to step up with clutch, timely at-bats in pinch-hitting situations.

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