We’re nearly through the month of May and Jose Pirela has yet to hit his first home run.
San Diego Padres second baseman Jose Pirela has been quite the interesting storyline this season. Before the season started, many fans assumed he was going to be the odd-man out of a crowded outfield. He responded with a dominant spring and winning the starting left-field job. Now he’s the starting second baseman who has yet to hit his first home run of the season.
With 46 games under his belt, we now see some stabilization in Pirela’s 2018 numbers. He’s currently slashing .260/.320/.343/.662 with .295 wOBA and an 88 wRC+. Outside of his lack of power production, these are all numbers largely expected of Pirela.
Add up all of his production and you get a 0.0 WAR player, a 100% average, replacement-level player. His walk rate is on-par with last year’s numbers and his strikeout rate is only one percent higher than his 2017 rate. However, the glaring stat missing is his lack of home runs and extra-base hits.
What has the San Diego Padres infielder been doing different?
So, what’s going on with Pirela and this lack of power? If we look through his numbers from Baseball Savant, we see that Pirela is hitting the ball harder than he ever has in his brief major league career. His average exit velocity is a tick over 90 mph, four mph harder than last season.
He’s seeing the same types of pitches as he was last year, 60% fastball, 30% breaking, 10% changeup. Most noticeably, he’s whiffing much less on the breaking pitches he sees. His whiff rate on breaking pitches is 14% less compared to 2017.
Is he chasing bad pitches? Nope, his chase rate is down 8% while his chase contact rate on pitches he chases on is up 4%.
One of the only glaring differences is is launch angle and pitch location against him. His 2018 launch angle is nearly non-existent. Pirela’s average launch angle is 0.8 degrees, down from 5.8 and 5.7 in his previous two seasons. Taking a look at the pitch location heat maps against Pirela, we see that pitchers are attacking Pirela lower in the zone and slightly more on the outer half of the plate.
Combine the location with the fact that he is seeing many more cutters and curveballs, this may give us the answer as to why Pirela isn’t producing home runs.
As a team, the San Diego Padres have 40 home runs which ranks 27th in baseball. You have to wonder what this lineup could do with a little more power. Clearly, Pirela has the strength and ability to be a power threat for this team, however, can he made the necessary adjustments to become that? We shall see.