At the end of May, I observed how the Pittsburgh Pirates had an offense poised for history. They were not just bad at scoring runs, they were great at making outs. They had a team wRC+ twelve points lower than the next-nearest lineup:
I called it a “catastrophe” then, but now it has become a swash-buckle’d turnaround.
In the month of June, the Pirates had a 111 wRC+, good for fourth-best in the MLB. So far, five days into July, the Pirates have a 161 wRC+ and .408 wOBA. They have gone from worst in the league, to the third-worst in just a little over a month:
In my previous article, it should be noted, I was excited at the chance of witnessing something spectacular — an offense poised to enter the history books as one of the worst in modern baseball. But at the same time, I recognized there were a lot of things bouncing the wrong way, that could just as easily start to bounce right:
If we De-Luck the Pirates position players, we see quite a few possible BABIP regression candidates. But if they meet only the downgraded expectations of an adjusted slash12 xBABIP, only Michael McKenry (.329 De-Luck’d wOBA) crosses to the positive side of league average, while [Josh Harrison] (.279) drops well below it.
Still, we can expect some of these players to either (1) change their approach and get better results or (2) get replaced faster than an NBC sitcom.
What we have seen in the Pirates is a little of both. They added Drew Sutton’s bat from the waiver wire and redistributed their playing time.
Here is a couple of different visual ways to see the differences in the first two months from the last month.
A weighted runs created chart with relative color coding:
And a wRC+ graph:
And my personal favorite, a cumulative wRC graph:
A couple of things stick out:
1) Andrew McCutchen, for most purposes, IS the Pirate offense.
3) Alex Presley has also made a massive turnaround, posting a respectable 13 wRC in the month of June.
4) In March/April, the team had a .279 BABIP. In May that dropped to .256. In June, they hit .311 BABIP. And so far in July? A whopping .431 BABIP.
5) The team’s walk rates also went: 6.1%, 6.6% to 7.5%.
Add to this offensive resurgence a starting rotation that — though perhaps a bit top-heavy (James McDonald and A.J. Burnett doing the heavy lifting) — can take care of itself, and then add a yet-again disappointing NL Central division, and we find a Pittsburgh Pirates team poised to maybe build a neat little alcove of treasures up there in first place.
So well done, Pirates. You had a shot at history, and you blew it, but at least you have a shot at the playoffs now.
Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.