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Pirates Pillaging Pitchers

The Pirates take a team-wide .700 OPS into their Monday night game against the Milwaukee Brewers, but that is a misleading figure. First off, to get a sense of how an offense is performing overall, I like to look at a composite figure that adjusts for context, like weight runs created-plus (wRC+). For wRC+, the average is 100, thus when I tell that Pittsburgh's .700 OPS yields a 93 wRC+, you're probably unimpressed.

And yet, you read the headline so you know something is up… unless you don't know what "pillaging" means or you're actually looking for pitchers that can be used for pirate pillaging, though I'm not sure how that would work.


A 93 wRC+ is in fact unspectacular. And I'm sure a lot of you aren't that surprised by the Pirates total, except maybe that it feels high to you because you're still remembering how poorly they hit in April (they turned in a cool 75 wRC+). They managed a 12-10 record in spite of the offense in April, but then opened May on a five-game losing streak and six of seven, including four to St. Louis. Through that point, May 7th, they were still lingering in the high-60s, low-70s with their wRC+, but they are surging over the last 30 days.

In that time, they have run off a 112 wRC+, good for fifth-best in the league. Unsurprisingly, they have been led by Andrew McCutchen. He has a 198 wRC+ over the last 30 days, which is hilariously just third in the league (what up, Bryce Harper and Jason Kipnis at 274 and 224, respectively). It's also no real surprise that McCutchen was toting a .622 OPS through May 7th when the team's offense was lagging. It's almost as if they go as he goes. Alas, he certainly hasn't done it alone with Josh Harrison coming off the mat to post a 156 wRC+ during the run while Francisco Cervelli is hitting .403 and up at 180 wRC+.

Starling Marte only has a 108 wRC+ in that time and I say "only" because it's below his season mark of 118, but he was definitely present during the team's hot streak. He posted an .883 OPS in the first 20 games from May 8th through May 29th, he's just been a little cool in the eight games since with just one big game and a .448 OPS in 31 PA. And again, saying "only a 108" is relative to the guys who were just absolutely on fire for pretty much the entire 30 days.

Pedro Alvarez (122 wRC+), Jung-ho Kang (109), and Gregory Polanco (105) have all been instrumental in the Pirates running off an 18-9 record after that ugly first week of May. Of their regulars who are expected to contribute with the bat, only Neil Walker has been down during the run with an 82 wRC+, but he's been just a tick under average for the year (98) so he's hardly a bad piece in their lineup.

The overall point here is that if you're still remembering the Pirates from April, you've got to change the perception. This is especially so if you're playing DFS. I've repeatedly seen them recommended as a go-against for middling pitchers as if they are still hitting like they did in April. The fact is, April was the outlier. This team was expected to be an offensive threat and they're showing that over this last month.

With Kang emerging, they can get their weakest bat out of the lineup whenever they please as Jordy Mercer just hasn't done enough to justify his glove, though he is still getting playing time. Mercer is rocking a tidy 46 wRC+ despite being on something of a hot streak lately with an .897 OPS in his last 12 games. Of course, 43 PA of good work can only do so much to reverse 121 PA of a .423 OPS. Mercer is the only real black hole in this lineup right now. Looking at full season, the lowest that any other regular reaches in wRC+ is Harrison and Polanco both at 95, and headed upward mind you.

This was the fourth-best offense in the league last year even accounting for a home ballpark that plays much more favorably to pitchers. Cervelli is coming damn close to replicating Russell Martin's 2014 which is the only real change in the lineup. Alvarez went to first for Ike Davis which cleared the way for an everyday spot for Harrison and at worst that is status quo and likely a net gain. I don't necessarily see Cervelli maintaining this pace, but he doesn't have to for them to claw their way into the top 10.

If Walker can recapture his 2014 form or Polanco can breakout, they could even get back into the top 5. Beware of the Pirates offense. I wouldn't sit stud pitchers against them or anything, but I wouldn't really be trying to stream or find value DFS picks against them, either.

I know Jimmy Nelson had that bust out against them to start his season, but they've been doing their biggest damage against right-handers during this run. Nelson is mostly susceptible to lefties, putting Walker, Polanco, and Alvarez in focus, but I wouldn't be surprised if the righties find more success against him than they have to date.