Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 11/1/14

I have been pretty brutal in my thoughts about the Pirates offense this year. I have checked in several times in several different ways to note that the offense came out of the gate in a putrid way. Six weeks in I was nothing short of convinced that the slow start the offense had was going to plague the club, resulting in yet another bad season. I’m happy to say that I was wrong.

The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates were last in the league in runs per game in both April and May. An abrupt about face saw the team lead the loop in runs per game in June and then finish second in that category in July. The team is currently third in August.

What caused the turnaround? I don’t have a good answer for this. I think it was simply a bunch of players getting hot all at once. Through the first two months, the Pirates only had two players who put together an OPS of .800 or better (in 25 or more PAs) in a single month (Andrew McCutchen and Rod Barajas both in May). Then in June, five different players did it. Five more did the same in July. A big portion of that hot streak and the corresponding lift in runs was the long ball. The Pirates had 38 homers combined in April and May. Then the team went out and smashed 39 in June and another 39 in July. I don’t believe it was the pitching that the Pirates had faced early on in the season. The collective group of starters the Pirates faced was good. But the Pirates made them look like candidates to start the All-Star game. It also certainly wasn’t an increase in getting on base more often. The team still struggles to draw walks and in spite of what is currently a league average offense (9th in the league in runs per game), the Pirates are 15th in the NL in OBP.

Two questions from me on this. First, how often does a team go from the outhouse to the penthouse in runs per game per month in a single season. It happens more often that I would’ve figured. I went back to 1998 and found seven different teams (including four in 2006!) who have led the league in runs scored per game in a month while also bringing up the rear in that department in a different month of the same season.

Let’s have a look (all data from baseball-reference.com):

1998 Cincinnati Reds – finished 77-85
In June, the club posted a season worst in homers, doubles, walks and batting average. Reggie Sanders slumped, posting a .666 OPS. The result was a league worst in runs per game. All eight regulars – led by HOF SS Barry Larkin – posted a .750 or better OPS as the team led the league in runs scored in August.

League rank for the whole season
Runs per game – 7th
BA – 7th
OBP – 7th
SLG – 8th
OPS – 8th
OPS+ – 8th
ERA – 10th

2001 Chicago Cubs – finished 88-74
The Cubs finished last in the league in runs in June. It wasn’t so much an inability to score runs versus other months or someone slumping as much as it was the rest of the league heating up. The Cubs played one more game in June 2001 than they did in May 2001. They scored eight fewer runs overall in June and that dropped them from 8th in the league in May to last in June. Sammy Sosa and Fred McGriff (acquired in late July) combined to hit 20 homers and each posted an OPS of greater than 1.000 as the team led the league in runs in September

League rank for the whole season
Runs per game – 7th
BA – 8th
OBP – 7th
SLG – 6th
OPS – 6th
OPS+ – 2nd
ERA – 4th

2005 San Diego Padres – finished 82-80
In the second year of Petco Park, the Padres won a very weak NL West with a record just a smidge above .500. Then they were swept in the first round of the playoffs. After hitting the ball well in May and leading the league in runs per game at 5.71, the Padres went cold the rest of the year and failed to average 4.0 runs per game over the final 110 games. They were 14 games over .500 on 5/31/05 and played substantially lower than .500 the rest of the way. Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko posted their best month of the year in May. Phil Nevin was bothered by back spasms and missed about a month before being traded at the deadline. The club scored a league worst 3.37 runs per game in June and followed that up with a 14th place finish in July with 3.38 runs per game.

League rank for the whole season
Runs per game – 13th
BA – 12th
OBP – 7th
SLG – 15th
OPS – 12th
OPS+ – 7th
ERA – 7th

2006 Atlanta Braves – finished 79-83
The Braves offense abandoned them in June and they finished the month 6-21. The club scored the fewest runs per game in June (3.48) only to follow that up with a league leading 7.18 runs per game in July. 26 homers in June was nearly doubled (a total of 50) in July. Seven different players posted an OPS of .900 or better in July after only three reached that plateau in June. In limited time, Chipper Jones hit .500 in July 2006 and had a 1.556 OPS. Independent of June, the club averaged nearly 5.6 runs per game, but it wasn’t enough to get them in the playoffs.

League rank for the whole season
Runs per game – 2nd
BA – 2nd
OBP – 5th
SLG – 1st
OPS – 2nd
OPS+ – 1st
ERA – 11th

2006 Cincinnati Reds – finished 80-82
The Reds got out of the gate strong. They led the league in runs per game in April with 5.96. They ended with a whimper, scoring just 3.25 runs per game in September. The Reds had a share of the lead as late as August 24th. But they scored more than five runs in a game just twice in September. Two of the starting eight – Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns – were shipped to Washington in July for some bullpen help. The rest of the offense struggled in September with the following guys retreating the most severely – Adam Dunn (1.047 OPS in April to .595 in September), Ryan Freel (.763 to .613), Edwin Encarnacion (.937 to .560), Scott Hatteberg (.871 to .585) and Brandon Phillips (.970 to .457).

League rank for the whole season
Runs per game – 10th
BA – 15th
OBP – 7th
SLG – 7th
OPS – 7th
OPS+ – 9th
ERA – 7th

2006 Colorado Rockies – finished 76-86
The Rockies scored a touch over 5.0 runs per game in 2006. But that number was just 3.04 runs per game in May when they finished last in the league. The team went off in September, averaging 7.03 runs per game. What caused this? Stop me if you have heard this one before. In May, Clint Barmes was allowed to bat 91 times and posted an OPS of .319. In September he had just 37 plate appearances and posted a .424 OPS. That’s far too simplistic, but partially true. In September, the Stones had three guys go over the 1.000 mark in OPS – Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday and Jeff Baker. That and Troy Tulowitzki made his Big League debut earlier in the year, supplanting Barmes as shortstop. His .640 OPS in September was modest, but doubled what Barmes had done in May when the team was struggling.

League rank for the whole season
Runs per game – 5th
BA – 3rd
OBP – 3rd
SLG – 5th
OPS – 5th
OPS+ – 10th
ERA – 13th

2006 Los Angeles Dodgers – finished 88-74
Los Angeles averaged better than six runs per game in May, good enough for the top spot in the league. The offense slumped in July to just 4.00 runs per game – a last place slot. The team made the playoffs, but was knocked out in the first round by the Mets. Jeff Kent missed all but seven games in July after putting up a solid 1.066 OPS in May. Nomar Garciaparra slumped from 1.051 OPS in May to .673 in June.

League rank for the whole season
Runs per game – 4th
BA – 1st
OBP – 1st
SLG – 6th
OPS – 3rd
OPS+ – 3rd
ERA – 4th

2012 Pittsburgh Pirates – currently 63-50

League rank for the whole season (through games of Saturday 8/11/12)
Runs per game – 9th
BA – 12th
OBP – 15th
SLG – 7th
OPS – 10th
OPS+ – 6th
ERA – 5th

My conclusion from this is that none of these teams were great. None of them were awful either. None of them managed to win a post-season round. Only the 1999 Reds (96 wins) and 2007 Rockies (90 wins after going 26-10 to close out the season) managed to improve by ten wins or more over the previous season.

The other thing I wonder is what will the Pirates final record be. Here is something earth shattering: the truth of how good this offense is lies in the middle of where this team was in April and May versus where they were in June and July. I’m kidding. That’s not earth shattering. That is obvious. I think the result of that league average offense and a pitching staff that is starting to bend (14th in the NL in ERA at the 1/3 point in August) will be a team that plays about .500 in the second half of the season. The team was 48-37 in the first half of the year. That leaves 77 games for the second half. So, I’ll say a second half finish of 39-38, which puts them at at 87-75 on the year. Over the remaining 49 games, that puts them at 24-25. I don’t think that’ll be enough to get them to the post-season. I’ve been wrong many times before. Hopefully I’m wrong again.

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