The Pittsburgh Pirates are 7-9 on the young season and it has provided a boost of confidence to a team that probably felt they were the only ones who believed they could do better than keep the seat warm for developing prospects.
As I wrote earlier today, this isn’t about undue optimism as much as it’s about allowing yourself to enjoy what currently is. The beauty of baseball is that teams are better than the sum of their parts at times, and others the individual pieces will just never add up.
Sure it works out more often for the teams loaded with players who should be great, but when a team plays like a team, overachieving is fun for fans and good for the soul of the club.
Let’s dig in to my thoughts this week and talk about baseball, you know, on the field stuff.
1. Tiptoe Through the Raindrops
The Pirates have lost more than they’ve won this year, so the fact optimism is even broached for a club with a losing record tells you something about the expectations this club had prior to one pitch being thrown. They’ve done this despite 3 starters being less than acceptable. Losing their star third baseman after game one. A rule five pick with a ton of promise giving up 7 runs.
They’ve done it with Kevin Newman providing very little to the cause. They’ve done it with two centerfielders with less offensive prowess than JT Brubaker has shown. They’ve done it with a backup catcher who hasn’t shown much.
The point is, they’ve done all this and it wasn’t because the entire team overperformed. They haven’t had everything fall right. If you really want to feel optimistic about what you’re watching, think of it like this, they really and truly with just a few improvements could actually be better.
That’s a hell of a thing. And I’m sure near impossible to digest for some, but it’s fact nonetheless.
2. Speaking of Kevin…
When I tell you Kevin Newman hasn’t provided much, it’s not just because he ground out once when I was watching last week.
He has been abysmal. No need to sugar coat this, Kevin would agree I’m sure. We just jumped out of a Spring Training effort that had Newman getting attention for hitting nearly .700 and while that average was incredible, the actual hits were more so. See it wasn’t about the average as much as the approach. He was taking balls to the opposite field with authority and his new batting stance allowed him to reach outside pitches with more contact and velocity.
Once the season started, seemingly everything he was doing this spring changed. His stance reverted to previous iterations. His contact numbers reverted and we jumped right back to hoping for what some of us refer to as “Kevin Newman Specials”, AKA slow grounders he can beat out with his 100th percentile sprint speed.
I mean, it’s pretty clear the league knows how to handle Kevin…
The vast majority of pitches to Kevin are down and away. This Spring, Kevin either laid off that ball or if it was in the zone hit it to the opposite field with authority. Now he just pulls off of it and pounds it into the ground at an alarming rate.
Yeah, that alarming. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player with a negative launch angle number in the top zone before. If you were trying to do that, it might actually be impressive.
This is a mechanical issue, one that should lead to a couple days off and some cage work. A productive Kevin Newman takes this offense to a level where they could actually survive more of those stinker starts we talked about. If he doesn’t, he’s going to learn first hand what a meritocracy looks and feels like.
3. Why Can’t Yajure Just Jump In?
First of all, can’t is a strong word. He could, but a prospect like Yajure isn’t someone you want to rush. His breaking stuff is electric, quite possibly the most advanced in the entire system, but his fastball command will bite him in the bigs if left unchanged.
This is a guy who actually needs AAA, and with the start of the AAA season being delayed until May 1st, it also isn’t underway.
There are several options I personally believe would be better than Trevor Cahill but if I’m the Pirates, I’m not going to try to make Miguel Yajure one of them, at least not yet.
He did well in his cup of coffee with the Yankees, but the Pirates aren’t looking for him to be a bullpen arm, they want him every fifth day, and make no mistake, he is one prospect the Pirates acquired who legitimately could do exactly that, and do it fairly soon, but there is nothing to be gained by trying to force it.
I’m not here to tell you Wil Crowe is less important or not as good, but I will say he has many of the things the Pirates want to see already there, he just needs to be more consistent with it. I say this to illustrate the difference in the two and why one is an immediate option while the other isn’t, at least not now.
4. Tough Love and Learning Together
Last week Derek Shelton used Luis Oviedo to preserve a tie game and to be kind it didn’t go well. To Oviedo’s credit, he didn’t change his demeanor or approach, just kept throwing pitches and fought through it.
After the game Derek Shelton plainly stated Oviedo just didn’t have it that day and he stood by his decision that he was the best guy for the job.
The next day Shelton owned his decision but backtracked just a bit. Saying perhaps pitching Oviedo in that situation after not using the youngster for 6 games was a bit much to ask of him and that he needed to find more situations to use him in so he didn’t just sit.
This might seem like excuse making to some but to me it’s an example of a coach learning about the limitations of a rule five pick and admitting he could have handled him a bit better. That’s not to say he won’t be used in leverage situations again, but I presume we won’t see stretches of 5 or 6 games where he doesn’t see the mound.
We talk an awful lot about development, but developing a rule five pick who has never pitched beyond Single A is not something most MLB managers have directly touched when they’re on their second year on the job. Development within the staff itself is almost just as important as the players. Being open to it is step one, and I’m encouraged to hear Shelton recognize it and move forward.
5. How Will the Pirates Use the DH This Week?
Nobody really jumps off the page as someone you’d want in your lineup just for their bat who isn’t already playing on the daily do they?
I think we’re starting to see some fatigue with Phillip Evans set in and Moran has only had one day off this season and that’s if you count pinch hitting as a day off.
I could see both of these players alternating playing first base and being the DH for the next six games which could give both a bit of a blow. Another option would be to see Ke’Bryan Hayes return sometime this week and maybe letting him focus on just hitting the ball could be a nice way to introduce him back into the lineup.
Some combination of those three players makes the most sense to me but I could just as easily see them using Wilmer Difo and throwing their hands in the air.
I’ve thought for some time interleague play is the downfall of having the rule on the DH not be universal. AL teams aren’t prepared to lose a player who is sometimes their very best hitter and NL teams aren’t prepared to suddenly decide someone who typically rides the pine is now a hitting assassin.
It’s the last season we’ll likely have these discussions but how NL teams handle filling a position they’ve literally never thought twice about is going to make things very interesting this offseason.
Thanks for reading everyone, and don’t forget to listen to my, well, newish podcast Gary Morgan’s Fan Forum over at DK Sports Radio and DK Pittsburgh Sports. Anyone that knows me recognizes how much I love talking baseball and this podcast is exactly that, great conversations with all of you. If you engage me in real, honest baseball talk, good or bad, don’t be shocked if I invite you on.
Have a great Monday Night everyone!