Was Jeff Branson really the problem?

Was Jeff Branson really the problem?


Was Jeff Branson really the problem?


Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to shake up their coaching staff by firing hitting coach Jeff Branson and assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey. Both had spent the past five years on the Pirates staff.

It was no secret that the Pirates had a problem scoring runs down the stretch and that ultimately cost both their jobs.

But was Branson really the Pirates problem when it came to the offense?

The Good

They did some things well as a collective offense, ranking in the top 10 in the majors in doubles (290, eighth in MLB), triples (38, fifth), batting average (.254, 10th) and their 1,229 strike outs were the fewest in the National League.

Their OPS+ of 98 was right about league average, ranking 15th in baseball.

Francisco Cervelli hit a career-high 12 homers and had a nice season with the bat and Elias Diaz hit .286 with 10 dingers.

Gregory Polanco shook off some major early struggles and put together a solid season where he had and .839 OPS with 23 homers in 130 games.

Corey Dickerson, Josh Bell and Colin Moran all finished the season nicely so there may be some hope with those guys for next season.

But while that was all fine and dandy, there were a lot more problems with the Pirates offense than there were positives.

The Bad

The Pirates had no power, which you can’t point the finger at the hitting coach, and went through way too many points of inconsistencies, which you probably can point the finger at Branson if you would like.

When this Pirates team was winning consistently, they hit pretty well as a team. Yet when they went through their losing streaks, the bats disappeared.

Overall it wasn’t a pretty season.

Their 4.3 runs scored per game ranked just 20th in baseball.

Much was made about last year’s squad that hit just 151 homers, which ranked next to last in baseball. This year they improved by just six homers, hitting 157, which ranked 25th.

They had a team slugging percentage of just .407 and an OPS of just .725.

Those are lousy numbers, but I don’t know if a new hitting coach can fix those issues. The roster isn’t built to hit for power and it needs to change soon or the Pirates won’t get much better.

There are some issues where maybe a new hitting coach can help, especially with the approach.

The Pirates drew only 474 walks on the season, which ranked just 22nd in baseball.

Having Josh Harrison and Starling Marte in the lineup doesn’t help in that department, but at least one of those guys should be gone, so maybe there will be an improvement in that department in 2019.

That also led to a low .317 OBP, which ranked 19th in baseball.

With runners on base, the Pirates hit .269 as a team, which ranked fifth in baseball.

With runners in scoring position, that dropped to .266, which ranked 16th and with RISP and two outs, they hit .245 which ranked 15th.

The Bucs also grounded into 121 double plays on the season, which ranked 10th in baseball.

The Ugly

Over 100 players in the majors hit 20 homers this season.

Only two were Pirates (Polanco 23, Marte 20). No other Pirates player had more than Dickerson’s 13. That’s quite pathetic.

But that’s not going to change unless the Pirates bring some bats in and that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

The ugliest part of the Pirates season had to do with the players more so than the hitting coach.

Every single one of them, aside from the catchers, had major issues at one time or another.

Bell didn’t hit for power. Harrison was terrible aside from three weeks in April. Moran went about a month and a half without an extra-base hit. Adam Frazier was terrible before finding his swing again the last couple of months.

Dickerson was terrible in the second half. Marte went multiple months where he was terrible and Polanco was awful until making an adjustment halfway through the season.

The inability for any of these guys to put together any sort of consistency at the plate made things very hard for the Pirates offense to gain any traction throughout the season.

If you want to put that on Branson then fine.

What’s next?

I was never a big Branson guy, but he had a very potent offense his first two seasons on the job.

In this case, while he should shoulder some of the blame, a lot of it should go on the players as well.

The way this roster is constructed, the Bucs just don’t have the horses to have a consistently dangerous offense right now.

The power isn’t going to be there unless changes are made and whomever is hired to fill the role isn’t going to be able to change that.

But whomever that guys should be, I want to see someone who can help younger hitters like Bell, Moran, Kevin Newman and others develop some consistency at the plate.

That would be big in its own right.

Someone that could keep Marte and Polanco on track would be a great hire.

Clint Hurdle made his way through the majors as a quality hitting coach so he should be able to pick out a quality guy to fill the spot.

But Hurdle would be the first one to tell you that talented hitters make a hitting coach look good.

Not so talented hitters get a hitting coach like Branson fired.

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