Growing tired of Lyle Overbay's punchless hitting, the Pirates picked up Derrek Lee from the Orioles on Saturday for minor league first baseman Aaron Baker. While Lee is in the midst of his worst offensive season since he was in his early twenties (.246/.302/.404), he's still an upgrade on Overbay (.227/.300/.349) and ZiPS, a major league projection system, suggests that Lee could improve the Pirates' offense by three to five runs the rest of the way. It's hardly a division-altering move, but the price was low and every little bit of offensive improvement helps.
One reason that Lee has struggled in 2011 is that he's flailing at the plate unless he gets something thrown inside. First, look at where pitchers are spotting their stuff versus Lee:
Pitches have thrown to the outside corner about 45 percent of the time against Lee, and about 26 percent down the middle. Now, look at Lee's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location:
He's killing inside pitches, but he's ice-cold for the most part on middle and away stuff. Lee's Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) versus inside pitches is .416, way above the .339 league average. But his wOBA on middle pitches is .241 (.337 average), and he's got a .278 wOBA against pitches on the outer third (.286 average).
If the expectation is that Lee will be better than Overbay, then the Pirates won't be disappointed. But to make a real difference, the soon-to-be-36-year-old needs to start making pitchers pay when they leave a cookie over the plate or throw outside.