The 2020 Pirates Have One Message – Get Better

Friday Focus

After the hire of Travis Williams, he first uttered something we would hear repeatedly, get better. Do a better job, hire better people, instruct the players better, everything comes back to those two words, get better.

Ben Cherington upon being hired took up the mantle, get better he said as he was asked about how he felt about the talent on his roster. Derek Shelton was asked what his goal was this season and his very simply said to get better every day.

There’s nothing wrong with that friends, we should all want to get better every single day, but at some point, don’t you have to, you know, get better? This isn’t about being impatient, thinking the team could flip overnight into a contender, this is about the things you can control right now.

You know me, I’ve got questions when I see certain moves being made and I simply have to understand how they fit into the mantra of get better. Let’s attack this like a fake lawyer who watched too much Law & Order.

When they say get better, I take that in a few ways, because it’s not fair to expect this current roster to suddenly achieve what anyone would call good, in fact better would be a stretch, but let’s call it current day improvement.

First Question, why retain Joey Cora? This is so much more than a 3rd base coach who makes bad calls, honestly, I’m not sure how you judge that entirely, but he coaches the fielders, and did so last season too, a season that added up to 121 errors and ranked 15th in the NL. Here we are 34 games in, and they’ve committed 33 errors, good for, wait for it, 15th in the NL. Now, Joey isn’t playing, I can’t totally blame him, but the defense hasn’t improved, said to be a focus of the Shelton administration. So, why keep someone who so completely failed at his job, to allow him to preside over it again? I mean that’s on pace to at least be worse if not very much so worse.

If defense is important and part of getting better, so much so that your only real free agent acquisitions are Jarrod Dyson to patrol center and Luke Maile to be your backup catcher. It’s not their fault that Luke got hurt and Murphy has been ok, but they almost immediately decided to use Tucker rather than Dyson. They use Riddle instead of the eminently slicker Erik Gonzalez or Ke’Bryan Hayes. Why? Tucker ok I get it, Dyson isn’t the future, they think Tucker is, fine. But shouldn’t we maybe spend some time letting him learn the position? It just confuses me and more, it doesn’t help the team get better.

Being a good defender doesn’t come to all young players, in fact a player like Hayes who comes up ready to rock in any position is rather rare. Cole Tucker in fact was one at short stop, but he’s now a center fielder so I guess I should just move on.

If you have a pitching staff full of questions that then goes on to put at one point 9 players on IL to make matters far worse, putting a good defense behind them would seem imperative. At some point, being rewarded for getting that ground ball in a key spot needs to feel good. If I’m at home holding my breath every time a ball gets hit to the left side, imagine being a pitcher who doesn’t have strikeout stuff.

At what point does the defense actually improve? Is there a plan there beyond replacing people? It’s one thing to play an inferior fielder if they’re hitting 25 homeruns, it’s another entirely to get next to no offensive output and still play people in positions they won’t succeed.

That’s enough on the defense for now, lets’ move on to another way to get better, recognizing strengths and weaknesses.

Sure, that topic could touch on defense too but let’s call that subject covered and keep this centered on controllable issues. Baserunning is bad all across MLB, and this shouldn’t be confused with being aggressive trying to make something happen. In other words, if a player tries to stretch a single into a double and get’s thrown out by an eyelash, that’s a play of aggression not bad baserunning.

I’m talking about breaking for third on a ground ball to short. Breaking for third on a single to left with two outs and a runner headed for the plate representing a run you could very well get erased by being thrown out. Taking a risk to get to third on a middle-distance fly ball with 2 outs, AKA getting into sac fly position when the sac fly has been taken off the table.

You or I could name a hundred scenarios, the point is, this stuff can be improved regardless of skill level. Baserunning on a club that doesn’t get nearly enough of them in the first place is important, if we’re going to watch a team lose more often then not, there is little reason we need to watch them run into outs with such regularity. Obviously, this will never entirely be eliminated, anyone asking for that doesn’t understand baseball, but it shouldn’t be nearly as frequent.

How about hitters seemingly swinging for the fences regardless of skill set. I know that’s baseball today, but this club should understand some of these guys aren’t going to hit 50 homeruns in batting practice this year, let alone in games. That being the case, why are players like Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman not hitting the ball to the opposite field? Want evidence that its happening, look no further than Bryan Reynolds, if you watched him last season you know he got played straight up from both sides of the plate because shifts don’t work on a guy who will use the entire field. It’s hard right now to observe because we can’t be in the park but next time, they show the defense when he’s up, watch how the shifts have come, and watch how his approach never changes to beat it. That’s not Bryan Reynolds game, at least it isn’t his strength. It certainly doesn’t help him get better.

Josh Bell has had more swing changes this season than the Shondelles changed outfits. Does that feel like get better is being served? I don’t claim to be a baseball expert, certainly not as in the know as a coach, but how is allowing him to constantly tickle with his swing helping him? He’s quieted down recently but maybe Shelton and Eckstein both being involved in the hitting instruction is not good for a player who already overthinks things. It would seem whether you plan to trade or extend Bell, helping him get better would be a priority.

Maybe they don’t mean get better the way I’ve taken it. Again, I take that as improving what is here or at the very least seeing if you can chip off some rough edges to discover something. I’m starting to feel they really want the players to get better, but not the way I’d approach it. Rather than looking at what’s here and asking them to improve on things they have shown penchant for, they have certain outcomes they want to see regardless of skill set.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe they’re just that bad, but boy 2019 sure was a lucky year at the plate wasn’t it.

I get it, winning isn’t the goal this year, but at some point, young players want rewarded for following the process and taking instruction. It may not lead to major record improvement, ok, I definitely won’t, but if you want to get better as you say, start with what can be improved. Like maybe don’t reward a young pitcher who fought his way through 5 tough innings with being relieved by Neverauskas, because I guarantee part of the message to that young pitcher is something like “don’t try to do too much” but wouldn’t you feel like you need to control your own destiny if Dovydas is going to come in and turn what you did into little more than innings eating?

Finally, for the fans, at the very least, don’t we deserve to see a team strong in the fundamentals of baseball? Good player doesn’t equal playing the game the right way. It makes it easier to watch a losing team knowing they’re doing the little things and not beating themselves. You should be able to understand talent above all causes the losing, not mistakes and bad approach. It’s alarming watching a new coaching staff lead some of these players to regress, especially soaked in the knowledge of how many of them will return for 2021.

Get Better needs to be more than a T-Shirt slogan. Time to actually affect change Mr. Shelton.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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