Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 6-14-21

A 7 game losing streak isn’t fun, and it’s not possible to watch it, even if you expected it, without at least asking a few questions. This isn’t a good baseball team, and if you ask me the frustration is ramped up because for the first time since game one, this team has most of their best components. So of all times to go on a stretch like this, it seems at the very least odd. It also doesn’t help bad decisions were partially responsible, this team doesn’t need help from the instructors to fail.

1. Is Derek Shelton the Coach of a Winner?

First of all, I’d actually be surprised if he was still here when this team competes. This isn’t a new thought, it’s pretty rare to see a coach hired to oversee a rebuild last with the organization to actually see the results of what the team has been putting together in the lower levels.

We’ve seen this before here in Pittsburgh, John Russell and Jim Tracy preceded Clint Hurdle. We’ve seen this in Chicago, with Dale Sveum, Rick Renteria and ultimately onto Joe Maddon. Hey, we’ve seen it in the South Side of Chicago too, with Rick Renteria (hmm must be a type), ultimately giving way to Tony La Russa who I personally don’t think will be the right guy either, but that’s not really the point here.

Why is this? I mean why not just get the “right” manager at the beginning?

Well, if you spend 2 or 3 years trapesing through horse manure, don’t be shocked if you smell bad when you’re no longer doing so. That tends to linger, and fair or not this is a starter job. There’s a reason they don’t go get a Dusty Baker type, or whoever you thought was better. Those guys know what this is, and they know what they’ll smell like when it’s over.

Clint Hurdle for instance is the only Pirates manager since Chuck Tanner to have an above .500 record, and it’s partially because he wasn’t the one asked to do the doo doo dance. That went to his predecessors. He just got to come in wearing his cape to “reconnect this team to its fans”, but it sure was nice having an Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker to help.

This isn’t a perfect science, in fact sometimes teams just get their guy and stick with it like Terry Francona in Cleveland. Thing is though, the Indians haven’t had a full on blow up rebuild during his tenure, so they never had the bottoming out, reputation damaging period.

Shelton’s job is to shepherd the rebuild and supposedly build up the talent currently here. I’m sure he believes he can prove himself and be the guy, I’m sure the GM has left room for that too. I’m equally sure they aren’t of the belief it’s likely he survives it. Maybe that’s not fair, but a foot in the door is still a foot in the door, he’ll land on his feet one way or another.

2. Mitch Keller in AAA, What to Expect

Hard to say.

This could be looked at so many different ways. Tell you what, let’s start by figuring out what went wrong, and I promise I’ll go a bit deeper than he stinks.

Fastball command and movement. This is different than control. His 4-seam fastball has almost zero movement, and on top of that he can’t place it with pinpoint accuracy. This is public enemy number one. His velocity shows you the lack of consistency, ranging from 97-91, and not game to game, within one at bat. As Mitch came up in the minors that sort of thing wasn’t going to get him beat up, in fact it probably acted as a pseudo changeup to inferior batters.

So, they need to work on consistency, and they need to introduce some kind of movement. Maybe it’s as simple as introducing a 2-seam like Mitchell Nagy suggested on my Fan Forum Podcast on Saturday. No matter how they do it, what he needs is something to keep hitters of balance. A good changeup, or movement on his fastball to keep people from picking up spin and simply taking the ball resulting from his slider.

It’s also been fairly obvious he isn’t mentally strong out there. Let me put it this way, you start a new job and nobody really trains you. They just look at you, hand you the employee handbook and tell you they liked what you did in college, so go get it. Some people will take that as a sign of trust and go about making their job work for them and excel. Others will feel they’ve been set up for failure and spend so much time fretting over it they fail to ever really do what they know how to do.

These are athletes, but it’s still a job, everyone is different. I’ll tell you what I see though, a guy who needs to be retrained, a guy who was already in MLB when the regime change happened, and maybe shouldn’t have been. More than anything, a guy who the club failed on the way here. If you must blame someone, have fun, I’ll focus on fixing it now.

No they won’t DFA him, not yet. No they won’t trade him, not yet. This league is absolutely littered with pitchers who took a while to find success, and of course failures as well, it’s not time to decide which of those Mitch will be, but if I’m Oscar Marin I’m heavily invested in his day to day in AAA, zero chance his time in Pittsburgh isn’t tied directly to Keller.

3. Good Chance Payroll is Lower in 2022

With the likely ouster of Gregory Polanco after this season along with his salary, the likelihood that payroll actually goes down is really high. Toss in the likelihood that Adam Frazier is gone and you have even less payroll.

All the big guns are either pre arbitration or in arbitration and there is very little chance any free agents making more than 5 million are signed.

Even if the Pirates get an extension or two done, it’s likely they won’t add much.

I also think there are few areas that make sense to bring in players from the outside at this stage. They’ll need at least one, probably two Tyler Anderson types. An insurance policy in the outfield, and a better option at the backup catcher position.

AAA is going to undergo a change. This year it’s a holding tank for failed prospects aging out, and little else. As Altoona players graduate like Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Mason Martin, Roansy Contreras, Braden Ogle, we’ll start to see more players ready to come in and contribute. Players like Miguel Yajure, Max Kranick, Travis Swaggerty, Jared Oliva and Nick Mears will either make the opening day roster or be close. These guys might not be the answer either, but development doesn’t happen if you don’t graduate players.

Point is, payroll isn’t going to really be a thing in 2022, and if you truly believe in rebuilding, at some point you have to play the guys you’ve brought in.

If I felt the Pirates were one good player away, this is a different conversation, they just aren’t there, nor were they trying to be. This is why right this second, I couldn’t care less about Bob Nutting. He’ll matter again, absolutely, but right now, I honestly don’t see any one area I’d recommend spending big on. Maybe I could make an argument for DH, but if I’m honest, I’d almost like to keep that open so we don’t see prospects blocked positionally. For instance, If Oneil Cruz’s glove hasn’t come along, I sure would like to stick him in the lineup anyway. What if you still have Colin Moran and Mason Martin is ready, wouldn’t it be nice to have that spot?

If you’re already on the payroll is everything train, I’m probably not someone who’s writing you enjoy anyhow, but honestly tell me, where would you spend the money? Maybe a big name starting pitcher? If so it better be with some length. I could see a need for an AJ type veteran presence with all these kids. Maybe someone like Alex Wood would be worth a shot. The top end of the market is loaded with guys who are too old and will want way too much and that’s even if you believe they’d help. For instance, do you want Justin Verlander? Does he have anything left in the tank? Even if he does, he’s hunting championships at this point right?

4. Control Isn’t Everything

The Pirates will trade some players, and we always talk about team control dictating that timing. Something I think we’re going to see this offseason is some players leaving even while they have some left.

So who am I thinking here?

Erik Gonzalez is the first that comes to mind. He’s cheap, 1 million this season and if he gets more than 1.5 in 2022 I’d be shocked. He has one more year of arbitration but if I’m the Pirates, I like my options coming up to fill a utility role more than him. His defense is good and he can play 3-6 but is that enough to keep him and his no bat? Not to me, but I’m not the one putting him in the middle of the lineup regularly. I just don’t see them getting anything in a trade for him, so keeping him seems pointless to me.

I guess you could feel you’ve seen enough of Kevin Newman, but that’s a whole lot more control than Erik has, I might just move to him being in the Gonzalez role.

Ka’ai Tom I’m not even sure if he’ll survive this season.

Who do you got here that fits this mold? If you’re just going to be jaded and say everyone, again, I’m not sure why you’re reading.

5. Can We Discuss Slippery Balls Without Laughing?

Chad Kuhl probably had no business complaining about the baseballs in the Milwaukee series, but that doesn’t mean what he had to say wasn’t true.

MLB has decided foreign substances on baseballs is an issue they need to crack down on, and while we wait to see what they decide to do about it, not rubbing up the balls does make an immediate impact. For guys who maybe only used bug spray and rosin it changes everything. Guy using spider tack it’s a minor annoyance.

It sounds like MLB will be looking to do in game inspections of balls and pitchers themselves. They may even take it to position players. If they couple that with using “pearl” balls, meaning not rubbed up with the Delaware River mud they’ve used forever, instead using straight from the manufacturer balls, we’re going to see more than pitchers getting touched up, we’re going to see more hit batters, walks and short outings.

Things will swing back to the offense, which isn’t the worst thing, but it also should get some pitchers to pull back on how hard they throw the ball.

This is a perfect example of letting things get out of control.

A little pine tar or bug spray helped the pitchers control the ball better, and then a few guys took it too far, taking it from assistance to dominance. That made more guys realize they couldn’t keep up naturally and since the league wasn’t doing anything about it, why not jump on board?

As this evolves, watch how the game changes with it. As if the last two seasons haven’t been weird enough. I’m all for rooting out cheating, but as they’ve let this go as long as they have, at this point I’d prefer these enforcement efforts wait for the off season.

Imagine being a team looking to add pitching at the deadline. You’ve got a guy like Richard Rodriguez targeted and you know his spin rate is a bit reason for his success. You also at least know it’s been rumored he didn’t come by it naturally, and now he’s going to be under a microscope. How does that affect your value placed on him? He’s just an example, obviously every pitcher is going to be seen with new eyes. Odd timing to say the least since they plan on rolling out these new enforcement rules in a few weeks. Even hitters will tell you this is not something they’re entirely comfortable seeing right now. Believe it or not, they like pitchers controlling their pitches too.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

5 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 6-14-21

  1. Great thoughts and agree with them all. While I think 2021 and 2022 are going to be lost years due to Labor trouble and the Pirates shifting gears from the old to the new, they are crucial with respect to how BC handles all the Rule 5 guys and how development goes in the minors. Will we get more KH’s coming down the pike in 2023 and beyond?

    I agree that Shelton won’t probably be here to see any resurgence. He has some strengths and seems to be taking after Hinch by having the team play aggressive on the base paths but his pitching management definitely doesn’t seem to be a strength. Not that he has a lot to work with but still, I am not seeing him taking the Pirates all the way after the rebuild.

    I think Keller is slowly slipping into “let someone else figure him out” territory. I want him to be a piece of the puzzle but nothing so far this season is instilling me with confidence. Still hoping for the best!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Of course payroll will be lower next year or by the end of this year once frazier cahill Anderson are traded Gonzales and Polanco are non tendered / options not picked up ……can easily think of 5 or 6 open slots on 40 man rosteronce the above actions are done we lucked out not losing any key minor leaguers I say give one of the few spot to up coming OF in low A ball OF Lolo Sanchez deserves a spot ….I also see low payed control guys getting cut guys like Ka’i Tom ( Jose Soriano Im still undecided on right now – your thoughts )

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    1. Soriano could stay on the IL all year, in fact he absolutely will. So he doesn’t matter for next year. Lolo is a good example, Braden Ogle, Swaggerty, Mitchell, Martin. …

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  3. In my opinion, you are “spot on” as it relates to Shelton and his handling of the starting pitchers. May I take this a step farther as it relates to the starters and their roles. Numerous times now a starting pitcher has performed well, as has already been discussed, but Shelton insists on taking them out even when their pitch count is quite good, the innings pitched are quite few, and the quality control they have demonstrated is quite commendable. There is a mental side to Shelton’s pitching changes that is not being considered and that is the frustration he is creating in each of his starters, and this can be evidenced by the way they react whenever Shelton goes to the bullpen. I know pitch count and all the other factors play a role in a manager’s decision, but from a starter’s perspective, being substituted for so early in the game does not help develop positive reinforcement to that pitcher; instead, frustration because at the very moment they are reaching a quality performance and gaining some confidence, boom, time to sit down. I know that the game is a team effort, but if the individuals – whatever position they may play – are removed and/or substituted for, this is not conducive to building a winning unit. How often do managers have a game plan that does not co-inside with the actual game. Which is more important in winning – making the player, in this case the pitchers -fit the plan, or allowing the plan to fit the course of the game? As someone who taught senior high English and coached both baseball and basketball, I had a plan, but some days the plan did not work, so I had to adapt for that kind of day. Often the class or game proved to be more successful than if I had refused to adapt to the situation. Perhaps it is situations like these that Shelton needs to consider more. He may want his pitcher to complete only 5 innings, but the quality of those 5 innings may warrant an opportunity to pitch more, instead, adapt to the performance not just the plan. As has often been expressed, “If it ain’t broke(n), don’t fix it!” For goodness sake, if injury or other special needs are not a factor, a manager needs to manage “outside the box” at times. Starting pitchers, if they are in need of pitching deeper into games, then let them do it and help stimulate, encourage, and reward them for their performance, not remove them which only adds to their frustration and not their confidence, Could it be that this is just what is happening to the 2021 starting pitchers under Shelton’s game plans? I know Sunday whenever Brubaker was hurling a gem performance, he was removed after only 77 pitches, it was clearly evident that he was carrying out Shelton’s plan, but was frustrated that in spite of his performance and confidence, he was removed. My concern as the season progresses is just how long are the starting pitchers going to accept this kind of role before becoming completely frustrated, thus leading to more negative than positive pitching performances, especially since the bullpen continues to be overtaxed? These are just my observations and may be disputed quite vehemently, but are some key points to the handling of the starting pitchers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First, all excellent points, many of which I’ve written in fragments or mentioned on my podcast. I try not to bury the guy when the decisions are choice oriented like “why did you use that guy” or the like but my issue is primarily more simplistic than what you pointed out. I just want him to say why they’re doing it. Pitch count isn’t what everyone wants to hear but if it’s the reason, say it, we’re adults. If it is an injury concern like Brubaker said after his last outing, ok, say that. I just don’t need the double talk

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