3 telling numbers behind Pirates' hot start

April 10th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Alex Stumpf's Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PITTSBURGH -- They have not been perfect and there are areas they can tighten up, but it’s hard to find too many faults with the Pirates’ 9-3 start. It’s only two weeks worth of results, and this group knows better than anyone that a good April does not guarantee success for a full season, but a hot start is unquestionably a good thing.

So can they continue to play winning ball? That's the most important question, and only time will tell. What we can do is dive a little deeper into the numbers behind those wins to see if they can offer more insight on this club.

Here are three numbers that help explain why the Pirates have been so successful thus far.

1. 2,049 -- The number of pitches they have seen

After the Pirates’ comeback victory against the Orioles on Sunday, Ke’Bryan Hayes pointed out how important it was that they ate into Baltimore’s bullpen the first two games and forced the O's to move away from closer Craig Kimbrel in the series finale.

That’s been the norm so far this season. The Pirates have seen 2,049 pitches, the second most in the Major Leagues. They average 3.99 pitches seen per plate appearance, and considering they have sent the third-most hitters to the plate in the Majors (514), that makes for some very long afternoons for opposing teams.

It also eats into bullpens. Bucs hitters have seen 970 pitches from relievers, second in the Major Leagues to the Dodgers. Of course, that’s partially because they’ve played three extra-inning games, but long at-bats ended up costing the Marlins and Orioles late in their series because they had limited bullpen options.

This offense is looking to do a lot of things, paramount of which is score runs and do damage, but getting pitch counts up early is a part of the game plan.

"It's a byproduct of the approach, but I think it's something that [hitting coach] Andy [Haines] has been talking about throughout Spring Training,” manager Derek Shelton said. “And you really don't see it in Spring Training because Spring Training games are so convoluted. But it's something that we started talking about. … And to our players' credit, they've really embraced it. They've done a nice job with it."

2. 6 -- The number of quality starts for the rotation

There were plenty of questions surrounding this rotation entering the season, but so far, the unit’s been pretty solid. Jared Jones has flashed some great stuff, reclamation projects Marco Gonzales and Martín Pérez are off to fantastic starts, and Bailey Falter tossed one of the best games of his career the last time out, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Surprisingly, the guy who has looked the shakiest early is Mitch Keller, but he turned in a much better outing and got the win Monday.

The rotation has put together six quality starts, tied with the Orioles for the second most in the Majors. Last year, the Pirates got an average number of outings that would qualify as quality starts, if you are willing to include those that came after an opener (55), and they went 39-16 in those contests.

"I think in any good rotation, there's healthy competition,” Gonzales said. “You're looking at the other guys and watching what they do and saying, 'I'm going to either match it or do better.' They set the bar. Watching a guy like Martín -- who has done it for a number of years, a total pro -- and Mitch and Bailey and Jonesy ... top to bottom [we have] a lot of competitive guys who are just going out there and taking the ball. A lot of dogs, for sure."

3. 8%, 9%, 16% -- Their win probability in three of their comebacks this season

Those figures come from March 28, March 31 and Sunday, respectively. It may not be the most sustainable way to win ballgames, but beating the odds that many times has to say something about the group.

“[We] buy into we're gonna play 27 outs,” Shelton said. “And I think we've seen it in multiple ways. We've seen it when we've been up in games and given up leads and come back. We've seen it when we've been down five runs and come back. But just the total belief of if we continue to go out, something good is gonna happen. And so far, good things have happened."