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How Are Pirate Hitters Performing Compared To Their Expected Stats?

Dead Pirate bat. Do not eat.

The Pirates' offense is bad. (I feel like I've already written that once this week). There are a few bright spots here and there, including Josh Bell, Melky Cabrera and the recently promoted Bryan Reynolds, but most have been disappointments.

Starling Marte has a very uncharacteristic 73 wRC+. Adam Frazier isn't faring much better, currently sitting at a .648 OPS. Francisco Cervelli might miss some time after being plunked in Texas, but he really has not been helping the team at the dish this season. Jung Ho Kang has the slashline of a player who had been out of the game for two years.

If you look at their results, there isn't much cause for optimism. Is there any hope in the world of expected stats?

Find X

With the advent of Statcast, we now know not only how well a player is performing, but can also take an educated guess at how they 'should' be doing. Statcast can take individualized exit velocities and launch angles and assign each batted ball event a hit probability. By accumulating those hit probabilities and factoring in how often a player walks, strikes out or gets hit by a pitch, they can give an expected batting average (xBA), expected slugging percentage (xSLG) and an expected wOBA (xwOBA). Of course, expected stats do not guarantee regression or better luck in the future. It's just an estimate based on the data that is already at hand.

The mere thought of 'expected stats' may cause an eye roll, but they do warrant existing. For an example, let's say there are two players in the same game. Player A goes 2-4 with a couple of weakly hit singles, and Player B goes 0-4, but flies out to the warning track a couple of times and rips a hard hit ground out. Player A had the better game, but you might feel more confident with Player B the next day because he's tagging the ball. He's 'due.' Whether you put more stock in the quality of contact or whether or not the hits fell in, both sides of the argument have merit.

Since we're nearing the end of 'small sample size' season, let's take a look at those expected stats. I'll be examining the 14 Pirates who have been to bat at least 30 times this season and the team as a whole. If the difference between the actual and expected results is in red, that means the player is underperforming compared to his xStats. If it's green, he's doing better than Statcast is expecting.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

The Good News!

Going by the xStats, Marte and Frazier are still hitting the ball well. Marte finished 2018 with a .337 wOBA and .342 xwOBA. His batted balls just haven't fallen in for hits, as evidenced by his .230 BABIP clip. Frazier had a .315 xWOBA in 2018, and a .330 xwOBA in the second half. He's making better quality of contact now than he did then. Going off of Baseball Savant's leaderboards, Marte has the ninth worst difference in baseball between actual and expected wOBA, and Frazier isn't too far behind at 18th.

Both players have battled through some injuries already in 2019. If they are healthy now and finally get the hits that cold, heartless math says they should be getting, then the offense should get a jolt from these key players. If you came to this post in search of hope, there it is. But if you came here to reaffirm your pessimism'

The Bad News'

If you were looking for some straws to grasp at for Cervelli or Kang, they aren't here. Cervelli hit like his batted ball profile projected. Before he got hit, we saw him change his stance, going with a hybrid of his original look and his 2018 retool.

Quick video look! Savant seems to have ditched all videos before 2018 from the archives, so we have to go to Youtube for his original swing.

Here it is last season:

And in Texas this week:

That's a different swing with barely any leg kick. Let’s see if it makes a difference.

Kang is getting the bases the algorithm says he should. So is Pablo Reyes. If you believe in the power of regression, Cabrera is walking on eggshells. As a whole, the Pirates seem to be under producing a bit, but even if they were meeting their expected stats, they would still be one of the worst offenses in baseball.

Before I wrap this article up, here’s a quick, micro-story about two rookie outfielders.

Hey, Rook

Bryan Reynolds has been the talk of the town lately. That tends to happen when you start your career with a nine game hitting streak with a bunch of doubles scattered in there. Jason Martin also had a couple big hits, but had subpar results in his first taste of the majors. It wasn’t too surprising when he was the first of the two to be optioned back to AAA.

The interesting angle is Martin actually made better quality contact out of the two. Not by much, and that's not a knock on Reynolds. His expected stats say he's fairly average at the moment. That's not too shabby for a kid getting his first taste of the majors. Martin struck out more (which is factored in), but he hit the ball harder and with better launch. The separation between the two may not be as drastic as their early slash lines would indicate.

There. I made it through the whole post without making a joke about how this is just Pirates looking for x.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

3 Comments on How Are Pirate Hitters Performing Compared To Their Expected Stats?

  1. Johanna Hafley // May 3, 2019 at 10:23 AM //

    So analytical!

  2. Phillip C-137 // May 3, 2019 at 5:56 PM //

    Appreciate the stats and analysis. Now, a few questions.

    1. It seems Frazier sees about 2 or maybe 3 pitches his 1st AB (which I don’t consider ideal for a leadoff man), how does he stack up vs the League average in that 1st AB?

    2. Does it help Martin to get sent down, so he can get regular ABs, or should Shuck have been sent down? Was this a good “big picture” move?

    3. Should I be expecting Kang to suffer an “injury” soon (Newman’s return)? You know, so he can go down to Florida and get 50 ABs a day and maybe rediscover his stroke?

    4. At this point, is there really any difference between Cervelli and Stallings?

    • Alex Stumpf // May 4, 2019 at 2:12 AM //


      1. I’m too lazy to check individual results around the league, but Frazier has seen less pitches in his first PA (average of 3.5) than the rest of the league (about 4 pitches per 1st inning PA). As the game goes on, he sees more pitches, averaging 4 pitches seen in PA after the first inning. Good eye.

      2. I’m a firm believer in letting young players get regular playing time. I think the difference between Shuck and Martin in similar bench roles is so negligible that I’d rather the kid get consistent ABs in AAA, especially since Reynolds is probably going to stay in the lineup until he cools down.

      3. I don’t know if you could ever “expect” an “injury” like that, but I wouldn’t be “shocked” (don’t take that as a prediction). Honestly, I don’t know if hitting AAA sliders for a rehab assignment will help that much. He looks lost.

      4. Cervelli still has the higher ceiling, but Stallings probably could have hit at least as well as him to this point. I’d still rather start Francisco out of the two.

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