Top of the Order

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By Jordan Ikeda

The Pittsburgh Pirates were the second worst offensive team last year in the National League. They were second to last in OBP (on-base percentage), OPS (OBP plus slugging), total bases, and RBI. On top of all that, they scored the fewest runs out of any club.

While it’s certainly early (a trend a week does not make), this year, despite losing half of their starters in trades or via free agency, the Pirates are hovering around the middle of the pack offensively and are also sporting a solid 4-5 record.

Akinori Iwamura has been a key factor in the improved offense manning the leadoff position. As the first batter of the game, he is hitting .333 with a .556 OBP. As the game goes on, when leading off an inning, he’s hitting .267 with a .389 OBP and a .922 OPS. He’s on pace to score 108 runs.

While his bat has sprung to life over the past week, (.333 average and two dingers), what makes Iwamura invaluable at the top of the order is how he can still be effective even when he doesn’t get any hits. He doesn’t throw away at-bats. He takes 4.5 pitches per plate appearance, the seventh best mark in the NL. He also makes contact, 85 percent of the time. And he gets on.

“He’s done great,” manager John Russell said. “He’s making pitchers work, and that sets up a lot of things for our offense. The quality of at-bats that he is having is a big plus for our lineup.”

The byproduct of such plate discipline is invaluable. It lets the guys behind see more pitches. It also wears out the pitcher both physically and mentally, especially if and when he gets on base, and it sets an example of the right approach to the third youngest lineup in the NL.

“Aki communicates very well when he comes back to the bench,” Russell said. “What he’s doing for us is what we kind of envisioned he would be doing. The value that he has brought to our lineup has been very good.”

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Jordan Ikeda is the sports editor of the Rafu Shimpo. Stats are up-to-date as of Wednesday noon. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.

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