For a team that is having its best season in two decades and the middle of a razor-thin division battle in the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates sure didn’t look like it on Sunday.
With just four hapless hits against the Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals, there’s plenty of blame to go around in the team’s 9-2 loss; however, arguably no performance of offensive ineptitude on this day stood out more than the one from the Bucs’ new cleanup hitter Justin Morneau.
Granted, the no. 1 through 3 hitters only managed a pair of hits and a walk in the ball game, and one of the hits came after Morneau was taken out of the game at the end, so it wasn’t like there was much for him to clean up.
Still, having posted a .697 OPS since his arrival, it’s hard to call the former Minnesota Twins great the righty-smashing platoon first baseman Pittsburgh wanted either. While things aren’t all bad with the 32-year-old as he has posted a strong .393 OBP thus far, taking walks and getting on base aren’t exactly the highlights in his job description in the middle of the lineup, yes?
With hits in just three of his seven games played for Pittsburgh, and being held hitless through the team’s three-game sweep at the hands of the redbirds, Morneau is practicing discipline (8.6 percent swinging strike rate vs. 10.1 in Minnesota; 43.9 percent swing rate vs. 52.8) as a result of not seeing very many good pitches to hit (57.1 percent first strikes vs. 63.9; 38.8 pitches in the zone vs. 45.8).
That’s all fine and dandy if the opposing pitchers are a little more careful towards him, but the problem is that when he does hit the ball, he’s been afflicted by the Travis Snider syndrome: he is lining the ball more often at 23.5 percent vs. 20.6 prior to the trade, but his ground ball rates have spiked (47.1 percent to 39.3), and many of the balls being put into play are ending up in the infield (12.5 percent vs. 5.7 percent).
In fact, with a .,353 BABIP. it’s likely that his .261/.393/.304 triple slash will see more rainy days.
The SSS caveat applies to all of these numbers, of course, but with just a few weeks left in the season, small samples are exactly what the Bucs have left. Simply put, they don’t have time to wait out a full season for the numbers to normalize and for his performance to improve.
And with Alex Presley still thriving with the Twins, you have to wonder if the Bucs will get that nagging feeling that might have made just one move too many in their quest for the NL Central …