Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 1-18-21

We’ve had just a terrific week of conversation with most of you last week and I’m truly looking forward to another as baseball inches closer to a return and news starts to pick up.

I’d also like to add something to this feature starting this week, I’m going to take one reader question and address it right here. So as you think of things you’d like to ask about, fire them at me on social media (Facebook: @insideThePiratesGary or Twitter: @garymo2007) I should also say, this won’t mean I won’t answer there too, but some of the answers and conversation are worth others seeing too.

OK, let’s have some fun.

1. The Art of the Series

I was watching the Penguins this week as they started their 2021 NHL campaign and because of the COVID forced realignment the teams will all be playing mini series of two games for each stop they make. It made me really think about baseball. The regular season series have always been unique to baseball and it really ups the rivalries and familiarity breeds contempt. More so it’s something that most sports don’t get to experience prior to the playoffs.

It’s part of why so many including me hated the idea of a one game wild card, because nothing could be more foreign to baseball. It destroys the concept of the best team by allowing one lineup or pitcher to dictate the outcome. Have a team that struggles against lefties? Well, you don’t get another game, so tough. Have a strong 1-3 starting pitcher room but no ace? Tough, the other team does.

The only good thing that came from 2020 in my mind was the fact that Wild Cards became mini series and while that will need collectively bargained, I’d love to see it stick. It’s just not baseball without it.

2. Someone Woke Up and Looked Around in the NL Central

They reportedly floated Gleyber Torres plus as part of a return for him from the Yankees and upon being told no have decided they intend to keep Castillo. I think this also means Suarez isn’t going anywhere.

I wondered which of the pseudo rebuild bound teams would wake up first.

Nobody in the NL Central is a real threat to win the World Series this season, but opening a window is more about getting a ticket to the dance than it is insurance that you’ll dance with the prettiest girl.

3. Wilmer Difo is Not a Guarantee of Any Decision Forthcoming

I believe the Pirates when they say they want open competition, and you can’t have it if you don’t have options. Say what you will about the guy, but he has MLB experience, can handle multiple positions and on an MiLB deal they aren’t forced into any choice.

I look at him as insurance they don’t want to under any circumstances force themselves to rush anyone up who isn’t ready. There is a fine line between a logjam and a shortage in baseball and if all he does is provide competition for the Phil Evans’ of the world, I’m cool.

I’d personally like to see Cole Tucker get a shot at Short, because quite frankly he’s running out of time. To me, if he isn’t the starter there on opening day, start him in AAA at whatever position you want to try him at and work on the bat. Getting Newman over to second base makes sense too.

Let’s just say, the mix they have now can’t all be part of the team and someone won’t be here, traded or not.

4. It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Baseball

A little while back the league started leaking that they had some interest in potentially pushing the start date back to May and behind the scenes the players took notice and put the kibosh to it. They have no interest in taking another pro rated pay cut, and would rather deal with the COVID situation than wait for a vaccine or fans to be universally allowed back in.

I’m sure this won’t go entirely smooth, and so is MLB, so already the decision has been just about made that 7 inning doubleheaders and baserunners starting at second will be back. I wish the DH was wrapped into this conversation or they would at least make a decision, because as it stands right now, should they decide there is one the Pirates might very well have to use Will Craig at first and put Moran in the DH role. Maybe they’d have to anyway, I mean they aren’t going to go get one right? It just seems the rules should be hammered out by now.

5. The Starting Rotation Can Survive a Move

As you look at what the Pirates have penciled in for the starting rotation, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, and Mitch Keller it doesn’t look that bad, and the fact is without injury that probably would have been the case last season too. But what about JT Brubaker, who I think really showed he was ready last season? How about Will Crowe or Cody Ponce.

When we first started looking at the rotation for this season the Pirates were in real danger of the possibility of needed to rush Cody Bolton into the mix, but they’ve since brought in enough depth (note I’m not saying long term answers) that they’ll survive a move or two without having to force prospects into the firing line.

This is important for the timing of a potential window and simply for not embarrassing themselves the way we saw in 2020. I feel the need to again say I’m not pretending moving Joe or Jamo wouldn’t be felt but I am saying they have a whole lot more MLB ready arms than in past seasons.

Question of the Week

This week comes from Denny Hennessy in response to my piece about developing prospects and the changes to the analytics department in particular playing a role “I’d like to get excited about this, but the long term disappointment that is the Pittsburgh Pirates always makes me temper my enthusiasm. But back to the article, are you saying analytics can help this team develop young talent?

I answered Denny already but here is a bit of an expanded answer for everyone.

Yes. The very first thing GMBC added when he arrived were 8 new nerds in the front office and all new equipment for measuring the analytics of each mechanic in the batters box and mound. The past regime was loathed to embrace this and it led to mechanical issues rampant through the organization and injury risk especially pitchers. Ask any player and they’ll tell you there is nothing more useful than understanding the numbers, like the exact right arm slot to maximize their spin rate on a breaking ball vs fastball. Batters want to understand how bat speed plays off plate coverage. How launch angle is impacting their ability to cover the top of the zone. These aren’t the same analytics as this guy hits to the right side 60% of the time, these are training tools and for a decade the Pirates have been behind.

We probably undersold these changes because they were anything but sexy at the time, this fan base rightly wanted much bigger changes, but from a foundation standpoint this is playing catchup to all their competition. We also haven’t had the benefit of seeing much of it in practice because the fact is all this stuff has been available at the MLB level for quite some time, problem is for many Pirates prospects they were seeing it for the first time as a Bucco when they got here.

In fact some players left college and took a step back technologically speaking. And that’s from the players, not an assumption.

If you’re tired of Tyler Glasnow types leaving here and talking about how someone at the new place helped them unlock something obvious, go ahead and be excited to watch this bloom.

Thanks everyone and Denny for the great question. Talk to you soon.

-Gary

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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