We’re two weeks into Spring Games now and I think what has impressed me most is the consistent approach by the bats. Eckstein just said yesterday while they’re getting more hits to the opposite field, the coached up process behind it is a desire to hit the ball back up the middle. In other words, the coaches don’t want players trying to aim the ball because that causes mechanical alterations to the swing, instead they want a consistent back up the middle approach. A little late and it’ll go to the opposite field, a little early and they’ll pull it. This type of approach will help tame the extreme shifting they face for every at bat.
Coaching up what’s here right now, will make what’s coming that much better.
Now that I’ve cheated and given you a thought before I start the list, let’s dive in!
1. David Bednar is Leading the Closer Competition
If there is one at least. See I’m not convinced that the Pirates will name one. We may be in for a closer by committee and I honestly think that’s where baseball is headed. If you think about the extremes coaches go to in order to make sure the deck is stacked against hitters it’s kinda silly we’re still holding on to one guy having to pitch a certain inning. It’s great having a Josh Hader for the back end of the game but what if 3-4-5 is due up in the 8th, why would you not want him to pitch then? You know, your best vs their best. Rather than wait so he can pitch the magical 9th, perhaps he should go when he’ll be able to navigate the most dangerous part of the lineup.
Take away the label, and you take the ego stomp of being dropped from it out of the equation too. Maybe some night there are three lefties due up in the 9th and Shreve would be the best choice. Flexibility suits a bullpen well and at some point, we either believe in analytics or we don’t.
Of course, if you have a Mariano Rivera on your club I can see wanting to keep him there, but aside from the save stat, he could have done just as much good in the 8th. The other reason I feel this change needs to come is the number of times the closer isn’t reached because the lead was surrendered on the way there. Why would you want to build in an artificial wall that prevents your best bullpen arm from pitching? Time for the game to evolve here a bit in my opinion.
2. Pirates Acquire Duane Underwood Jr.
I already felt the Pirates bullpen situation was a bit congested, so enter yet another arm with no options. To grab Mr. Underwood from the Cubs the Pirates sent Shendrik Apostel, a DSL level First Base prospect in return.
My biggest question is why would the pitching starved Cubs send any pitcher of value out while they try to figure out what direction they want to head this year and beyond? Past that I have to ask, what are the Pirates seeing in their own bullpen that I’m missing? I don’t see this as an upgrade to any of the 11 or so I see being in competition for making the club. He certainly has a history of being a highly touted prospect, as high as number 4 just a couple years back, but in his 30 games of MLB experience stretching over the last 3 seasons he has a WHIP of 1.431. Excellent strikeout stuff, but he’s surrendered 40 hits in 36.1 Innings pitched and toss in 12 walks on top of that. Not good. We’ll see, but for right now I just can’t understand this move. It’s talent in of course, but they have no wiggle room, he either makes it or doesn’t. By the time he clears COVID protocols we’ll probably be into next week leaving only two weeks to show what he can do.
3. New Team, Same Topic
It was fun to see Jameson Taillon again facing the Pirates in Spring Training, and for me, an opportunity to see some of the chatter coming out of the Big Apple about our former Ace. I read 6 pieces about him (if you think Pittsburgh has a ton of coverage for the Pirates, check out the Yankees options) and every single one talked about the effort to keep him on the field. His entire delivery was broken down like the Zapruder film. He was compared to Roger Clemens and Lucas Giolito, but most of all, they spoke to the very real issue he’s had in his career, stress on his arm.
The goal is to turn him from a very talented pitcher who can’t stay healthy, into a very talented pitcher who uses his legs to remove stress from his arm. Less wind up, same shove. Tall ask to change a delivery and rewrite 10 years of history, but make no mistake, this is exactly what the Pirates would have had to attempt as well.
I wish him nothing but luck and success but I remember the last time he came back with a new delivery designed to prevent the same thing from happening. At some point what makes him successful, makes him fragile. Fingers crossed, cause he’s a really great guy.
4. Stop With the Draft Nonsense
Teams in MLB don’t go out of their way to get the number one overall pick. Lots of reasons, but the biggest is probably that it’s almost just as hard as trying to win enough to get the Wild Card. A top 5 pick is 9 times out of ten going to be just as valuable as the number one. Relax, and at least realize teams just don’t think like this. The Pirates aren’t brilliant for having the worst record in 2020, in fact if they didn’t suffer catastrophic losses to injury they almost assuredly don’t get there. In other words it certainly wasn’t the plan. Looking at the early draft board I’d take any of the top 4 happily. So would every team in MLB. So if and when the Pirates aren’t the clear basement dweller of the entire league, (they won’t be) please chill and realize they aren’t screwing up the “plan”. Of all the insufferable stupidity out there this is possibly my least tolerable.
5. El Coffee is Steaming
He’s looked good this Spring. Still striking out, but the ball comes off his bat like few in the league when he does make contact. Therein lies the rub however. I’m not writing this so you change your opinion on Greg, but I am saying it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’s just going to be some lump out there. A hot start still might not be enough to get another team interested in acquiring him, but if he puts up solid numbers this season the Pirates will be faced with a decision that is sure to be unpopular regardless of which way they go. They’re either the cheap bastards who paid the out clause to cut ties with a guy who led the team in HRs or the guys who were too inept to get a deal done for his services.
Polanco is a cautionary tale about the dangers of early career extension. When they work out, they provide fuel for your franchise for the best part of a decade, when they don’t, they’re an albatross that prevent you from making smart decisions. That’s not to say they shouldn’t do it again with another player, it’s instead to say, choose wisely.
Question of the Week
This week’s question comes from a new friend on Twitter.
First of all, thanks for reading.
Ji-Hwan Bae shouldn’t sneak up on anyone, he’s not just fast, he’s elite fast. Plays great defense and can handle the stick and because of what the Pirates have coming along in the pipeline, paired with who happens to already be here at middle infield he often gets glazed right over. There is no reason Bae shouldn’t wind up being a very solid MLB player. The biggest issue really might be that speed on the base paths matters less than ever in MLB, but his ability should give him flexibility to play elsewhere should competition dictate others can handle his positions better. He already has some experience in the outfield so it’s not something the club hasn’t recognized.
De Jong was signed to a minor league deal and because of the players the Bucs would have to jettison because of no options or 40-man concerns I believe he will remain a minor league arm at least to start the season. We’ve only seen one outing from him and he looked good, but I see no viable path to him being on the 26 man come opening day. Depth like this is crucial though to avoid the waiver wire hell the Pirates caught themselves in last season. De Jong is no different from a Sean Poppen or even Carson Fulmer before he was yet again DFA’d yesterday after having his own decent outing. Depth, depth, depth.