Newman 'trying to get better' at plate

June 13th, 2021

is stuck in one of the worst offensive seasons of any Major Leaguer so far in 2021, and he’s not getting much help from opposing defenses.

How unlucky has he been? First, let’s look at how tough this season has been.

Entering Sunday, Newman’s .500 OPS in 2021 is the lowest among all qualified batters in MLB. He’s never been a high-slugging guy, and he wants to put the ball in play, striking out at a 6.4% clip -- the lowest mark among all qualified batters.

So if Newman is going to succeed, a now more-dated metric like batting average plays a huge part in how he’ll fare, and clearly, this season has not been good in that aspect. His batting average entering Sunday was .207, which is tied for the 11th-worst mark in MLB.

It’s a steep fall from when Newman went 20-for-33 (.606) in Spring Training, when it seemed like everything was falling. Of course, no one expected him to bat .600-plus in the regular season and the quality of arms was slightly diminished in spring, yet it felt like he was on track to rebound from a tough 2020.

Does he feel like he’s gotten away from anything?

“No,” Newman told “I’ve analyzed a lot of video and stuff. Even my mentality in spring, like I wrote down what I was looking for and the things that I was feeling. You do that when you’re good. I constantly revisited those things, so no, I’m not. It’s just part of the game.”

Newman has small adjustments he’s working on to try to help his production, but in his case, part of it is simply luck. Despite his .207 batting average, he has a .248 expected batting average. The -.041 difference between those is the third-most on the Pirates, behind Phillip Evans (-.047) and Ka’ai Tom (-.042).

The Pirates’ shortstop has also hit into some phenomenal defensive plays. The six outs above average against balls Newman has put in play is tied for the most in MLB along with Justin Turner, Eugenio Suárez and Elvis Andrus. Another one of those gems against Newman happened on Friday, when Luis Urías robbed him of a hard ground-ball single with a diving play and throw to beat out Newman’s strong speed.

“It’s like you hit a ball well, and it’s right at somebody,” Newman said. “You have those balls that you get fisted on that should just bleed over the first baseman, and they make a great play. It’s just kind of been one of those years.”

The one thing going well for Newman beyond all others is the flip side of that: He’s been outstanding on defense, and it’s helped him correct for some of the balls that haven’t found holes to help the Pirates compete. Entering Sunday, Newman is the only shortstop in MLB without an error committed, and he’s making some great plays, as he’s fourth in the Major Leagues in outs above average among shortstops (6).

Newman said defense was a huge focus this offseason for him.

“I really focused a lot on my first step and did a tremendous amount of glovework -- forehands, backhands, drop-steps right at me, everything,” Newman said, “and I think that’s a big part of what’s been helpful this year for me.”

But he knows that he needs to turn it around on offense, and he’s trying to keep a positive headspace.

“That’s what I’m doing, man. I’m showing up to work every day with a great mentality, trying to get better, trying to work through it,” Newman said. “That’s where I’m at.”