Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

Baseball is such a unique sport. You can literally do nothing all game long and suddenly with one swing of the bat score 3 runs. I say this because as Pirates fans, you almost forget how quickly runs can come in this game.

You can win so many different ways in baseball, but there is no better mechanism for immediate offense than the power stroke. The system has some power but there is need to find some closer to the show, if not already here, lest risk wasting time that could be pretty productive.

Let’s dig in here, Five Thoughts has really grown since we started doing this feature and the interactions after posting have been nothing short of incredible.

1. Finding Answers

All of the losses. All the trial runs of waiver claim pickups. Every instance of watching guys try to fill roles they probably weren’t quite suited for, were an effort to find some answers. Not necessarily answers for the team that opens the window, but the team that might shove a two by four under the jam to start letting some air in.

What have they found? Well, not as much as they’d like if we’re being honest.

Ben Gamel has carved out a nice niche for himself and having one more year of arbitration and probably no more than a 2-2.5 million dollar price tag means they’ve found a guy who on a good team would be an excellent 4th outfielder. Being that the Pirates have exactly 1 real prospect who could conceivably make the jump relatively early in 2022, he’s essential to the cause.

That’s an example of the type of discovery they’ve accomplished.

Now, if anyone thinks that was worth going through Tom, Alford, Fowler, Oliva, Stokes, Evans, Vargas, or the like, I rather think you might be drunk.

Above all what I hope they’ve learned is that Gamel could have been had in the off season for the exact same price tag and they could have taken swings on guys who might have actually pushed him instead of presenting him with the zero competition he was met with.

Next season, don’t leave gaping holes, it’s not worth the hope you’ll find a plug.

2. Wil Crowe Reminds Me Too Much of Trevor Williams

I’m not ready to move on from Wil Crowe, as I’m sure most of you recall, I was more than done with Williams. I like Wil’s stuff, his mix and his bulldog style, but I simply can’t tolerate pitchers who take almost a full minute before throwing each pitch.

Now, I say that and you probably think this is about length of the game, nope, I just think it causes certain guys to give themselves too much time to think. Thinking is kryptonite to some players, especially those worried about getting their stats in line.

“In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted, if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.” – Tom Seaver

Consistency. Man what a concept Tom Terrific hit on there. Wil would do well to focus much more on that aspect than all of his rituals and delay tactics.

While he’s up there thinking and over thinking, the batter is too, and most of the time what he’s thinking is this guy is scared of me. It’s not true most of the time to be sure but at some point, you will it into existence.

I’m not ready to give up on Crowe, but there are forces of nature headed this way named Roansy Contreras and Miguel Yajure who will turn his underachievement into a bullpen role and an opportunity for them before too long. He has time, he has ability, it’s time to execute, because one thing he doesn’t have is limitless opportunity.

3. Backup Catcher Needs Addressed

176 plate appearances. That’s going to be the excuse if the Pirates choose to let it ride and keep Michael Perez in the mix heading into 2022. They like his glove, and they claim he’s been prevented from getting traction due to inconsistent at bats.

OK, I can buy that, so why not use the rest of this season to flip the script and have him start? Lets get this question answered.

I think I know the answer, and I also think we know the next potential backup Carter Bins is both too far away, and as of yet, not good enough.

I’d rather head into next season with something a little more solid than hope and speculation. First of all, Jacob Stallings can’t be expected to catch 130 games a season, he’s not ancient, but he’s also not a kid, that’s asking for trouble, and I’d rather not be turning to a guy who is clocking in with a .143 batting average.

You can deal with a defensive only catcher at backup, it’s done all over the league, but it becomes more difficult to swallow if you’d rather watch Steven Brault hit than that player. Look, this is a team that struggled mightily on offense this entire season, but I never like spending an entire season learning what a guy can and can’t do then ignoring it and doing it again anyway once you’ve seen it isn’t good enough.

This club is a Jacob Stallings injury away from learning a valuable lesson that I hope they’re smart enough to see before it’s taught.

4. Accountability, Meet Rick Eckstein

Something that never seemed to happen under the last regime was accountability. Nobody paid the price for underperforming. Nobody was ever expected to find a way to make their voice, long since tuned out, start hitting ear drums again.

Today the Pirates brought accountability to the doorstep of the coaching staff, relieving Rick Eckstein of his duties as hitting coach.

As many of you know, I’ve been calling for this going back a couple months. There were just too many instances of players coming here hot and falling off, only to never find their way back to where they started.

Streaks in baseball are a thing, but time after time players came from other organizations or even AAA swinging a good bat. As soon as they ran into trouble, there were no answers.

Kevin Newman is a perfect example. During the Spring he worked with Jon Nunnally the hitting instructor for AAA Indianapolis. It was a revelation for Kevin, standing up ever so slightly straighter and pulling his hands in just a bit created a much better bat plane. One that allowed him to hit the ball in the air to the gaps. Exit velocity has not been Kevin’s biggest issue, launch angle has. For over 4 months of the regular season we watched Newman go back to what he had done before. Hands out a bit, crouching again ever so slightly. Able to touch outside pitches, but only just. Able to get to inside stuff but only to drive it into the ground.

Finally he emerged about a month ago, when somebody changed his approach. It’s not clear to me if Shelton did, or someone else but that’s not important, what is however is the fact even if it was Eckstein, why’d it take so damn long.

It should never take 4+ months to diagnose something like that.

That’s one example, and if you watched players like Hoy Park come up here and look electric only to fall off the face of the Earth, you start to wonder if more harm was being done than good.

Eckstein’s success here came with assistant coach Jacob Cruz, currently an assistant with the Brewers, and nothing has been the same since.

I’d also like to throw out there that while this might seem rash being that there are only a few weeks left in the season, I felt this brewing last year in September. Shelton a brand new manager and former hitting coach eventually found himself incapable of idly standing by while Josh Bell continued to look absolutely lost at the plate.

You remember, he looked like he’d change his stance 6 times during an at bat and moved like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever in the box.

Someone was filming Eckstein instructing Josh and during the session, Shelton came into frame and took over the session.

If you are military, or a former player, even if you work in an office setting, you know nothing good ever comes from the boss having to step in on your project.

For now the Pirates will stick with Christian Marrero, Don Kelley, Shelton himself and whoever else they find running around with idle hands, and won’t name a formal hitting coach to finish the season.

Here’s what Cherington had to say in a press release. “We are grateful for Rick’s dedication to the team and our players. This was a difficult decision as we have a great deal of respect for Rick. Making the decision now gives us the opportunity to use the rest of the season to focus on improvements in our hitting program while also starting the process of looking for a replacement. We wish Rick all the best moving forward.”

That’s a mouthful. But it says to me the hitting plan will be Shelton’s, and whoever comes in here will augment, not develop, that system. (Stay tuned, Derek’s

It can’t get much worse, this will go down as a historically bad offensive season. Worst in so many categories that it would be a wall of stats that serve to only back up your eye test.

Good to see this, and don’t expect them to sit on other moves either. We wanted change, and this is what it looks like.

More than anything, firing the hitting coach is rarely about the individual performances of any one guy. Instead it’s about the organization no longer believing in the overall philosophy and or method of implementation, as Derek Shelton said this afternoon to the press, “That was the reason why. To say it was specific hitter-based or group-based, it was more about how we want to move forward with our hitting program and finding a different leader to do that.”

I say this because many will point to Reynolds or Frazier and ask why he doesn’t get praised for them? If your philosophy is only working for a couple guys (assuming of course those guys didn’t just help themselves) you might want to evaluate your philosophy.

Even if they fail to hire the right guy next time, it won’t make it a bad call to move on from something you don’t agree with.

Good luck Rick.

5. The CBA Looms

There literally are no topics you can bring up that don’t have to be met with, well, if we play in 2022.

Want to talk about prospect development? OK, but what if there is no MLB next year. Want to talk about Yoshi being a great DH candidate? Fine but you’ll first have to know it’s happening, and again, if we’re playing baseball.

Literally everything.

As a writer and podcaster I’ve had to largely ignore the elephant in the room. I can’t have every story or podcast end with the caveat that the CBA could change everything. But rest assured, it is the single biggest story there is in MLB.

When all is said and done, I expect both sides to give little things and avoid the big problems. I know most of you hate the Billionaires and don’t care too much for the Millionaires either, but the reality of 2020 was that many of those people didn’t make as much as they expected to and while it’s easy to cast that aside as nothing to worry about, it also casts a pall on these negotiations. I don’t get the impression either side is anxious to not play next year.

Selfishly, I’d love a lock out and cap system. I’d happily write top ten lists and record remembrances of the lumber company everyday if it meant the game was truly fixed on an economic scale, I just don’t see it.

If anything, let’s hope they don’t sign a 10 year type deal. I’d rather see 3-5 so this is right back on the table. Momentum is picking up for what will really fix this game, and I’d rather not brush it under the rug until 2030.

Bonus – Personal Note

Recently my podcast Pirates Fan Forum which has already been on DK Pittsburgh Sports Podcasting Network for 6 months if you can believe it, was picked up and included in the launch of a brand new lineup. It’s a who’s who of Pittsburgh Sports Podcasting like Around the 412, Yinzhers, Steeler Nation, The Ramon Foster Show, Mad Chad and Eddie and so much more.

I’m humbled to be involved and grateful to everyone who’s helped us get this podcast off the ground. Jim Stamm will become my permanent co host and I truly have to thank my friend Graves who along with Jim helped me find my voice and lent me theirs.

To everyone who’s been on the show don’t think this new format will get in the way of that, I plan to continue having regular “non-experts” on every week, because at the end of the day, this show has been and always will be for you and about you.

If you’d like to read all about this new platform, here’s a free article. Hope to see you all there and thanks for listening, it means a lot to me. If you want to talk about the show, have any ideas or want to possibly participate email PiratesFanForum@yahoo.com.

Lets Go Bucs!

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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