Bell reaches 100-RBI plateau with 3-run blast

August 25th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Back in Spring Training, Josh Bell said, Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein laid out where the switch-hitting first baseman’s season might take him. If Bell trusted his plan and executed it to the best of his ability, good things would happen -- things like a 30-homer, 100-RBI season.

With a week remaining in August, those things have already happened.

Bell blasted his 32nd home run of the season in the seventh inning of the Pirates’ 14-0 rout of the Reds on Saturday night at PNC Park. The three-run shot off Kevin Gausman tied Bell with Bobby Bonilla (1990) for the Pirates’ single-season home run record for a switch-hitter. It also bumped Bell past the 100-RBI mark, giving him 102 on the season.

Bell had been hovering just south of triple digits for a while, as he drove in only one run between Aug. 14 and the seventh inning of Saturday’s game. Finally breaking through that barrier, he admitted, was a good feeling.

“There’s a lot of weight on that number, so it’s cool to get that out of the way,” Bell said. “Strive for more. It’s cool to have that check go off in that box.”

The last Pirate to drive in 100 runs in a season was Pedro Alvarez, who had exactly 100 RBIs to go along with 36 homers in 2013. With 33 games remaining this year, Bell has more RBIs than any Pittsburgh player since Jason Bay drove in 109 runs in 2006.

There are plenty of reasons why counting RBIs is a flawed way to evaluate a player. Certain players bat more often with runners on base, or in more advantageous run-scoring situations, and there are other stats that better encapsulate a hitter’s overall production.

Don’t tell anyone in the Pirates’ clubhouse that RBIs are without meaning, though.

“If you can’t wrap your head around that, I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re wrapping your head around,” manager Clint Hurdle said during his postgame press conference. “Every manager gets to do this after a game. Fifteen of us, on some nights, talk about missed opportunities, not hitting with runners in scoring position.

“There’s absolutely value in it. Back in the day, you hit 20 [home runs] and [drive in] 100 [runs], you were a bad dude. Now, 20 [home runs], I don’t know how many guys are going to end up with 20. But 100 [RBIs] is still a yard marker. It’s like 200 hits in a season. Wait until the end of the season, see how many guys get 200 hits this year. They’re yard markers. They’re real.”

And it’s not like Bell is driving in runs without doing anything else. He’s slashing just .205/.322/.378 in the second half, but his historic first half put him on pace for an excellent season overall. Heading into Sunday’s series finale, Bell is batting .275 with a .935 OPS that still ranks 10th among qualified National League hitters despite his second-half slump.

“Obviously all of his other stats are impressive, too, but RBIs are runs that your team is scoring. At the end of the day, that’s pretty important,” third baseman Colin Moran said. “I think it’s impressive. I think everything he’s done is impressive. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about getting to 100 or nothing, but once you do that, they’ll start coming in faster now again.”