Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is batting .338 on a team with a .217 average and is pretty much the whole offense. Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Pirates Are Modern Hitless Wonders

They hide it pretty well. The Pittsburgh Pirates are masking their ineptitude at the plate with excellent pitching and somehow playing nearly .500 baseball with the worst hitting in the majors and while being one of the worst hitting teams of all time. On any given day the Pirates will start a lineup with three or four players who are batting less than .200 for the season.

Really. That’s not a typographical error, though it is an error of some kind. Less than .200. Normally that range of batting is reserved for pitchers only, of whom not much is expected when they wield bats. In Pittsburgh, it’s an epidemic. Entering the game I attended against the New York Mets the other day (which Pittsburgh lost 3-2), the Pirates were batting .217 for the year, a mark they are still stuck on. Oh yes, a day or two ago they were looking at a team .269 on-base percentage, too.

The awful number brought to mind a piece of ancient history. In 1906, the Chicago White Sox somehow managed to win the American League pennant and then upset the Chicago Cubs in the World Series with a .230 batting average. The combination of finding ways to win without hitting and posting such a meager team-wide batting average earned that club the everlasting nickname, “The Hitless Wonders.” So what does that make the Pirates?

Well, another illustration of how bad .217 is, and also requiring a trip in the wayback machine, is how another Pittsburgh Pirates team fared with lousy hitting. In 1952, the Pirates finished 42-112, and even that bunch batted .231. The notorious worst-ever New York Mets of 1962 with a 40-120 record, batted .240. The 1941 Philadelphia Phillies that finished 43-111 batted .244. The 1942 Phillies finished 42-109 and batted .232. During the deadball era, the Boston Braves finished 49-102 in 106 and batted .226.

Let’s just say that the 2012 Pirates are in bad company and are truly being held together by their pitching staff.

Pittsburgh’s newspapers are having a field day (so to speak) with this aspect of the current Pirates’ game. It turns out that not only is the Major League club hitting at a historically poor level, the disease has spread throughout the farm system, as well. At one point recently, the AAA Indianapolis Pirates minor-league affiliate, had scored one run in six games. What this means, of course, is that no slugger in the organization is waiting in the wings primed for a chance to prove himself against big-league pitching. Not when hitter X has not proved himself against minor-league pitching.

Under the category of piling on, it also so happens that one Pittsburgh paper intensely scrutinzed the Pirates’ pinch-hitting record. As of one recent moment the club’s pinch-hitting batting average was .132 (7 for 53). So it’s not as if manager Clint Hurdle can be accused of being stupid for not playing someone who is mired on the bench.

Pittsburgh has one all-star-caliber hitter in outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who is batting .338. The next highest average on the team belongs to Josh Harrison at .274. Other than that you can’t tell the regular position players’ averages from the pitchers’ averages. Clint Barmes is locked in at .178, Michael McHenry at .188 and Casey McGehee at .186. This kind of begs the question of whether or not all of these guys should even be in the majors.  A few players have recently shot above .200, with Pedro Alvarez climbing to .203 and Rod Barajas at .212, but they may be a single oh-for-four-day away from going back below .200.

I watched a few days ago as the Pirates went up against Mets knuckleball thrower R.A. Dickey. This match-up seemed like the perfect storm for the Pirates, with a group of hitters who have poor judgment at the plate seeking to master the always confusing knuckler’s twists and turns. Dickey got the win and struck out 11. I was shocked, I tell you.

It is astounding that as of Thursday the Pirates could still have a 20-24 record and be just five games out of first place in the National League Central. Except for the champion White Sox, every single one of those dreadful hitting teams finished last. Just imagine what the Pirates could do if they got hot at the plate.

Tags: Andrew McCutchen Boston Braves Casey McGehee Chicago Cubs Chicago White Sox Clint Barmes Clint Hurdle Hitless Wonders Josh Harrison Michael McHenry National League Central New York Mets Philadelphia Phillies Pittsburgh Pirates R.A. Dickey

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