5 trouble spots the Pirates must address this offseason
While picking their way through the trash spilled over six months and 162 games, the Pittsburgh Pirates needed to scratch out only three more singles to do something no National League playoff team did this season.
Collect 1,500 hits.
Yes, it’s true. The Pirates compiled a team batting average of .265, tied for No. 1 in the NL with the Colorado Rockies and Washington Nationals. That’s 1,497 hits (more than a third for extra bases) in 5,657 at-bats.
You’re likely unmoved by that fact when a more significant number — 93, the amount of losses in 162 games — hangs over the Pirates like a full moon over a cemetery. Right next to it is this one: 31, the games in which the opponent scored 10 or more runs. That’s 19 percent of the Pirates’ games.
But maybe the new manager might like to know he’ll have some hitters in his dugout, especially since he likely won’t be allowed to cherry pick better players in free agency. At least there’s a foundation to start rebuilding a team that’s in a state of disrepair.
Here are five troublesome areas the Pirates must be address this offseason:
1. Who wants to manage?
This will be general manager Neal Huntington’s most difficult offseason after firing Clint Hurdle. That was not an easy decision and probably a bit unfair, considering how Hurdle poured himself into a job he loved. But someone had to go to show fans management is willing to create change.
This is Huntington’s first managerial search since 2010, and to do it right, it should take some time.
Hurdle wasn’t hired until Nov. 15 because he was the hitting coach of the Texas Rangers, who reached the World Series that year. Studying the men on the coaching staffs of similarly successful teams is probably high on Huntington’s to-do list.
After the manager is hired, he and Huntington must figure out a way to construct a roster and coaching staff that can find ways to hit more home runs, pitch with a better command of the strike zone and excite a fan base that might not be so eager to give Pirates tickets as Christmas gifts this year.
2. Searching for power
MLB’s home run total this season (6,776) was so outrageous that it is 671 more than the second-most (2007) and 1,191 more than last year.
The Pirates barely contributed, however, with 163, 27th in MLB.
Josh Bell started the season by launching rockets into the Allegheny River and ended it with 37 home runs, the most by a Pirates player since Brian Giles hit 37 in 2001. Bell drove in 116 runs and missed the last 14 games with a groin injury, but he hit zero homers between July 6 and Aug. 10.
In that time, the Pirates were 6-23 and fell out of playoff contention.
Bell should be able to solve his issues, but the bigger question mark is Gregory Polanco, who didn’t play after June 16.
Polanco hit 23 homers in 2018 before injuring his shoulder. He had surgery almost immediately, didn’t give the injury ample time to heal and ended up hitting .242 with six homers in 42 games. He barely had enough strength to throw the ball from right field to second base.
The Pirates need him and have only themselves to blame for their desperation after trading away Austin Meadows and Corey Dickerson. In case you hadn’t noticed, Melky Cabrera, 35, isn’t the right fielder of the future.
3. Hits on parade
The batting order isn’t bad. Really.
• Rookies Bryan Reynolds (.314) and Kevin Newman (.308) finished sixth and eighth in the National League batting race.
• Bell was hitting .302 at the All-Star break. He slumped but still finished a respectable .277. That’s acceptable when it’s accompanied by 37 home runs.
• Starling Marte recorded career highs in homers (23), RBIs (82) and slugging percentage (.503) and stole 25 bases.
• Colin Moran drove in 80 runs.
• Adam Frazier hit .278 and was one of five Pirates with 30 or more doubles.
• Jacob Stallings hit .262 and said at the end of the season, “I did some things I really didn’t think I was capable of.”
The problem: To improve the pitching staff, one or more of those players might have to be sacrificed in a trade.
4. Another starting pitcher or three
There are guys who have started, but their ERAs last season were 4.44 (Joe Musgrove), 4.91 (Dario Agrazal), 5.16 (Steven Brault), 5.19 (Chris Archer) and 5.38 (Trevor Williams).
Jameson Taillon is out until 2021, which leaves little or nothing in reserve.
Spend, trade or sift through the scrap heap.
5. Bullpen needs a makeover
On a staff that had an overall WHIP of 1.45 and the fifth-highest walk total in MLB (584), Keone Kela might be the most talented pitcher.
He brings a lot of passion to the mound and clubhouse, and now he looks like the Pirates’ next closer after Felipe Vazquez’s arrest on child sex charges.
The Pirates wouldn’t miss many of the other relievers from this season, but they might be wise to consider starter Chad Kuhl in a relief role after he returns from Tommy John surgery and hopes to regain his mid-90s velocity.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .