Trades Were Never Going to Help This Streaky Offense

In the last two days the Pirates have been one hit and lost a 5-2 game against the San Diego Padres. That’s the same San Diego team that is 70-80 this season, and 29-47 on the road. There was a time this year where the lack of offense the last two nights would have been met with loud cries of “Trade for a bat!”, with no regard for the cost of that bat. That time was actually a few weeks ago, before the Pirates added Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau.

The biggest misconception about mid-season trades comes with the value those trades provide. Most people grossly over-estimate the impact that an individual player will have. The Pirates had one of the worst offenses in the league prior to the trades for Byrd and Morneau. That’s a team effort, and not something that would change with the addition of 1-2 players.

Articles are written all the time leading up to the trade deadline showing that the value of players is lower than the expected value of players. Yet every year that misconception about value lives on. The thought was always that if the Pirates add a bat, they’ll never have to lose games 1-0 games or struggle to score runs against the Padres. Prior to any trade, it’s hard to argue against this. You’ve got the reality of a bad Pirates offense, and the optimistic view that new players will solve all of the offensive problems. Even with stats that show how previous deals worked out, it’s impossible to argue against these optimistic views.

Now we actually have the stats, and the games are going on. We’re able to see the actual impact that Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau have had on the offense, and we’re able to see if that has made the massive difference everyone thought it would.

The trades for Justin Morneau (pictured) and Marlon Byrd haven't really made a big impact on the offense. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
The trades for Justin Morneau (pictured) and Marlon Byrd haven’t really made a big impact on the offense. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Prior to the trade for Marlon Byrd, the Pirates combined for a .245/.313/.392 line. That wasn’t good, ranking near the bottom of all MLB teams. Those numbers create a situation where you have to try and upgrade the offense, but no one player will make an impact. The Pirates got two players, raising a lot of hope that the offense would be better. After Justin Morneau joined the lineup, the Pirates combined to go .233/.300/.363. That is worse than the numbers before Byrd and Morneau showed up.

There are some other factors involved here. For one, Starling Marte played most of the season prior to the Byrd trade, and has only played one game since the Morneau trade. Marlon Byrd has been excellent, with an .857 OPS since the trade. However, he’s just replacing the production lost by Starling Marte. Jose Tabata had a great August, but has a .700 OPS so far in September. You also have guys like Russell Martin (.357 OPS), Pedro Alvarez (.562 OPS), and Morneau (.637 OPS) struggling since the addition of Morneau.

The irony here is that Morneau was needed because Garrett Jones put up a .636 OPS in the month of August, after struggling at other points this season. Now Morneau has an OPS that is one point higher than the August numbers from Jones. In September Jones has a .492 OPS, so it’s not like he has been doing any better. Morneau has been getting some key at-bats against left-handers, which shouldn’t be happening since he’s a platoon option. That still leaves him with a .663 OPS against right-handers and a .558 OPS against lefties.

You could use the “small sample size” argument against these numbers, but a month ago everyone was going nuts over a two week hot streak from Morneau in the beginning of August, and demanding that the Pirates trade for him immediately, no matter the cost. Morneau has been a streaky player all year. Prior to that big month of August, he had a .596 OPS in July. The .821 OPS in June was good, but the .750 OPS in May wasn’t as good, and the .688 OPS in April was poor.

That has been the case with the entire Pirates offense. They have been a very boom or bust group, with very few consistent hitters. Every hitter in the lineup has had a down month at the least. Here is a look at the months with a down OPS.

Russell Martin – Martin had a .664 OPS in May, a .675 OPS in June, and a .357 OPS this month. His OPS in July was .748, and .717 in August, but you’d take those with his defense. I would take the May and June numbers with his defense, but September has been horrible.

Garrett Jones – Jones had a .634 OPS in May, a .657 OPS in June, a .636 OPS in August, and a .492 OPS in September. Basically April and July were good.

Gaby Sanchez – Sanchez might be one of the most consistent hitters on the team. His monthly splits: .884 OPS in April, .717 in May, .737 in June, .725 in July, .728 in August, .830 in September. Those numbers in the middle don’t look great, but remember that those are overall numbers. The struggles from Jose Tabata, Travis Snider, and everyone else in right field led to Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez playing everyday, when neither is an everyday player. On the season Sanchez has a .991 OPS against lefties and a .622 OPS against right handers. As long as he is strictly a platoon option, he’s good.

Neil Walker – He had a .693 OPS in April, .679 in June, and a .429 this month. He has been platooned more often lately, but that doesn’t explain the down month this month.

Jordy Mercer – Shortstops don’t really put up big offensive numbers, unless they’re stars. So to penalize Mercer for putting up an OPS in the .760 range or better seems wrong. Instead I’ll point out that he had a .671 OPS in July and a .704 OPS in August, which was mostly fueled by carrying his struggles over from July. He picked up the pace in the second half of the month.

Pedro Alvarez – I’m just going to list all of his months and let you decide: .560 OPS in April, .794 in May, 1.060 in June, .760 in July, .711 in August, .562 in September. I still feel the problem here is that he should be a platoon player. He’s got an .828 OPS on the season against right-handers, and a .532 OPS against lefties. I’m sure those numbers are pretty consistent by month.

Starling Marte – Marte has been more consistent than most, but had a .676 OPS in May, and a .672 OPS in July.

Andrew McCutchen – The only down month for McCutchen was his .731 OPS in April. If you want to call his May and June down because he was below .900, then that’s just being unreasonable.

Marlon Byrd – He had a .657 OPS in April. I’m including him because we know the other right fielders have been far from consistent. Also, I mentioned Morneau above, so Byrd is the only guy that hasn’t been mentioned. A big reason why I liked Byrd more than Morneau is because he has been so consistent.

The Pirates offense today is the same that it has always been. It’s a very streaky offense with a lot of boom or bust players. There will be periods when several players are busting at the same time. There will be other periods where several players are all booming at once. The team has largely been built around pitching and defense, which has kept the team contending no matter what the offense does.

The trades for Byrd and Morneau haven’t made a big impact. Byrd has made a big individual impact, but that has basically replaced Starling Marte. With Marte back, the Pirates should see some sort of upgrade going forward, although it won’t be enough to change the overall look of the offense. Morneau has been just another streaky player, which is what he was before the trade. He was just on a hot streak when he cleared waivers, which made everyone forget that Garrett Jones actually out-performed Morneau one month earlier.

The hope for the Pirates going forward is that the pitching and defense holds up, and the offense gets hot at the right time. Stranger things have definitely happened.


  • Tim,

    Just wondering if you have a gut feeling as to whether or not the club will pursue the Cuban 1B (Abreu, i think?) and if so how aggressive will they be?

  • Remember when the Rangers traded for the “best” pitcher and hitter available at the deadline. And again still waiting for the mechanical adjustment to show up in (-0.2 WAR) Morneau’s swing.

  • 32HR isn’t valuable when you cannot get on base at .300. It isn’t valuable when you don’t hit doubles and have an OPS under .800. Look at fangraphs, he is a middle of the pack 3B in terms of WAR. Why pay him in arbitration for empty power when you could get value for him this offseason? I do not think he is irreplaceable in the least bit. Todd Frazier has a higher WAR for instance. He’s a nice player but let’s be real here. IUf Alvarez was a complete player, he would not be under .800 OPS. Under .600 against lefties, leading the league in errors at his position, among the league leaders in Ks at any position. IMO he would need to hit closer to 50 HR to have legitimate value. He is a run of the mill every day player who has much higher perceived value because he happens to hit a lot of HRs in a few week or two long spurts through the course of a full season.

    Look to trade him for a guy like Kyle Seger and another piece. Or a productive hitter like Billy Butler. Or a guy like Ian Kinsler who could lead off and play 3B.

  • I agree, we should trade or platoon the guy who is averaging 32 HR’s/yr and 88 RBI’s over the past two years. And, although I disagree with either of those suggestions, we had better get on board with Pedro or get off. He is completing his 3rd year and will be eligible for Arbitration after the 2013 season. The Pirates will soon find out what a guy with his stats over the past two years is worth in today’s market. My guess is between $6 and $7 mil, and it is only that low because it is his first year of Arb, and they like to leave room for at least a 20% increase next year. The Pirates better not think too hard about this one – I am tired of watching ARAM beat us to death each year – that was our last brain fart with a 3B. Pedro will not accept a platoon situation, so why keep that as a possible consideration. Platoon guys do not get $100 mil contracts and his agent is Scott Boras, so trying to reason with him through the use of stats is not going to be acceptable. How many guys hit 30 HR’s in 2012? 2013?

    I like to think of Pedro as someone who is still learning the game – his game was the ability to pull everything out of the park and now he has found that MLB pitchers will not give him those pitches. He has had moments where he has driven balls to C, LC, and L, and I like for him to get more comfortable with that approach as he matures. The time may come when we have to move Pedro before he opts out for Free Agency after the 2016 season, but that time is not now, and not in the heat of a playoff run. This is still a very impressionable 26 year old kid.

    • Those are two extremely different topics.

      Trading a guy gets rid of all of his production.

      Platooning Alvarez only gets rid of the bad production. He’s still a 30+ HR guy in a platoon. He just doesn’t struggle against LHP in the process.

    • I have to agree with emjay. Pedro is still a young player with a lot to learn. We have seen these droughts with him before. He has improved a little bit each season, including his defense this season. Sure he is not a top hitter right now, but he offers a power bat in the lineup that they really need. It is certainly too soon to give up on him. Who would they replace him with? Despite his recent slump, he is still ranked #4 of all 3B in the NL, ahead of regular 3b such as Sandoval, Headley, M. Young, Freese and Frazier.

  • This article basically reiterates what I said when everyone was going nuts for them to add hitters on July 31. I am glad they got Byrd. Other than Rios (huge salary), Byrd was the best they could do. I said the same thing Tim is saying about Morneau – that he has been very streaky. And to expect him to duplicate his 2 1/2 week hot streak in July/August for the rest of the season was simply unrealistic. He is a minor upgrade over Garret Jones, and Jones gives you the advantage of being able to play RF. Let’s just hope that Marte can get back to the pre-injury level he was playing at in very short order. Let’s also hope the starting pitching can get more consistent for the last 11 games, because that is really what carried them most of the year.

  • This is precisely why Alvarez should be traded this winter.

    • Um….like, for real?

    • Wait, why? He should just be platooned. Take away his biggest flaw and replace it with good production from someone who hits lefties. You still get the 30+ homers he hits against right-handers. Combined you probably have 40 homers from 3B and a combined OPS over .800.

      • I have always thought Pedro should have a right hand hitting platoon partner.

      • I think Alvarez is at peak career value right now. Especially coming off a potential NL leading HR campaign. He has not improved his K or BB rates at all and it’s starting to get too late to expect that to happen. Teams will over pay big time for power and he is very affordable for a few more seasons.

        • Cal,

          I think thats insane, trading Pedro. While you’re right, his value will be high due to the power, you have a larger issue of who you’re going to replace him with. What would you trade him for? Pitcher? Shortstop? Second baseman and move Walker to third?

          • To explain myself a little further, I think its insane because you don’t HAVE to. As Tim noted, Pedro’s numbers look a lot better if you take out the lefty at-bats, which is what a platoon would do. Rather than focus on what Pedro can’t do, its better to focus on what he can do: hit 30 homers against righties alone, and provide good numbers against them.