'Pack mentality' working for Pirates' offense

'Pack mentality' working for Pirates' offense

DENVER -- The Pirates retooled their offensive approach over the offseason, and with nearly a month's sample size to analyze, the efforts are paying off.

Entering Thursday, the Bucs have the third-highest run total in the Majors, with 119 through their first 22 games. That's 5.41 runs per game, and -- fun fact -- when the Pirates score four or more runs, they're 13-3 (.813 winning percentage).

"It's lineup construction, it's on-base percentage, it's matching up slugging percentage," manager Clint Hurdle said of the comprehensive new approach. "It's trying to pocket different hitters in different spots, so you're not soft in one area. You're not duplicating skills. You're not putting high swing-and-miss guys back-to-back. It's connecting a strong chain where there's no weak link."

Though Pittsburgh is in the bottom third of the league in home run production, the Pirates' lineup has gelled and found ways to be productive.

"I keep telling these guys, 'We've got power in the lineup -- let's focus on run production,'" Hurdle said. "That's where the strengths of these men line up. That's the ability to get on base, the ability to score runs from anywhere in that lineup. We always revisit looking for balls elevated over the plate. You put a good swing on a ball hit over the plate, you hit a home run. The focus needs to get off the homer, the big swing, and to maximize opportunities. That's basically where the conversation started."

Throughout the lineup, there's an approach to seeing more pitches, working deep into counts and ultimately getting on base. The Pirates' .378 on-base percentage is the best in the Majors.

Freese's RBI single

"From Day One, when all these guys started getting together and having conversations, it was about a pack mentality," Hurdle said. "It was about a relentless approach to getting on base. When someone puts a good swing on the ball that's elevated out over the plate, then you get a multi-run home run that can help bust open a game. When you're consistently on base, you're continuing to put pressure on the defense, you're putting pressure on the pitchers. All those types of things. We're just trying to continually add and leverage the innings by getting guys on base."

For Hurdle and his players, it meant buying into a new approach before the season even started. Hurdle sought the input of his players -- getting their own honest assessment about where their strengths lie -- and incorporating that input into an organizational plan that meant everything from a new-look lineup to a new agenda for workouts in the Grapefruit League.

"They were shared with a thought over the winter, conversations were had so they were understanding what we're trying to build, what we planned on building, and they were asked for their input on the routines, opportunities, work schedules, at-bats -- all of it," Hurdle said. "Then we put the whole package together and ran [it] in Spring Training. Different drills, different routines, a different work regimen, and believing it was going to give us an opportunity to be more consistent coming out of the gate as well as a strong season. It wasn't all about a strong start. I believe those were the reasons the players bought into it."

Owen Perkins is a contributor for MLB.com based in Denver. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.