There Has to be a Difference Between Stink and Learning

Friday Focus

9-3-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

You know, it’s funny when you’re watching young players how quickly many jump to saying they suck. I mean, let’s be blunt here, baseball is hard and if you lean toward them being terrible as a default, you’re going to be right more often than not.

Oh this isn’t about chastising you for being negative or trying to convince you to have more patience, I just thought maybe we should talk through it a bit and see where we come out. I mean look at me, why do I think Cole Tucker stinks, but want to see more time for Mitch Keller? They’ve both been bad, if anything Keller has has way more time in MLB to show what he can do, yet I still can’t shake it.

So how do we tell the difference? Or, since we already relatively established that it’s fairly subjective, what makes us feel differently for different players? It’s at the very least odd right?

I mean, Jim Stamm my co-host on the Pirates Fan Forum on DK Pittsburgh Sports Podcasting Network, and I have a running joke going on about Kevin Newman. He wants to be done with him, but would happily be wrong. I want to see more, but half expect to be disappointed.

I’d have to say, I love these conversations. This is really at it’s core what fandom is all about. As I was watching the White Sox beat the Pirates the other day, I couldn’t help but think about how many Sox fans probably had the same types of conversations about some of their players.

I guess, the first thing here is you really have to be open to seeing the bits of good you do see. It’s not unlike going house shopping, you visit 10 houses and half of them are blank canvas, while the other half are staged, filled with furnishings and fixtures. Some are going to see that staged house as the only answer for their family, others will see the potential in that blank canvas, even if it’s going to take work.

Again, the goal here isn’t to get all of us on the same page, or create some formula that unlocks what baseball scouts have been begging to understand for over a century. It’s more about understanding some of the things that lead us to form our opinions.

David Bednar is a perfect example. Over two seasons in San Diego, he pitched in all of 17 ball games, posting a 6.55 ERA in 2019 and 7.11 in 2020, his stuff was good, not sharp but good. Obviously here in Pittsburgh he’s had 56 games and has a 2.26 ERA and has become the clear cut closer. Now, I’m sure there were Padres fans who were still upset to see him included in the Joe Musgrove deal even given that poor track record.

I can tell you right now, I wasn’t excited about his inclusion from the Pirates end of the deal. In fact I wrote “A young hard throwing bullpen arm who could turn into something if he can control his stuff, but I don’t expect him to come North out of Spring”. Now, once we got eyes on him in Spring, of course my mind was changed, this simply wasn’t the guy I read about, these weren’t the clips I watched.

To fans here in Pittsburgh he was a “steal”, fans in San Diego are still trying to figure out how they missed this guy.

The point is, you pay attention to the skills, you pay attention to what’s developable, you also pay attention to what isn’t.

For me, that’s why I struggle with Cole Tucker. I can’t find anything to build on. His swing, well to me it’s just weird. He can generate power like we saw the other night against the White Sox where he flicked a ball opposite field off the top of the wall, but his mechanics have so many moving parts and he’s so lanky I can’t find a way to make it repeatable.

In other words, it’s not like I don’t see that he has talent, or ability, I just can’t find an anchor to build on. Left handed, right handed, contact or power I just don’t see anything to build from. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s why I feel the way I do.

I keep feeling like he needs to bulk up, needs to find a way to build extension into his swing but somehow keep it from getting long. In other words, I see the things he has to do to be daunting, if not impossible. All of this leads me to say, he ain’t it. Way more than his batting average, or hard hit rate, for me it’s all about what I think he needs to do versus how plausible I see those changes being.

Turn to a guy like Mitch Keller. He’s flat out stunk the majority of his time here, so why do I want to see more? Well, I guess because I feel his issues are fixable. He needs to learn to pitch inside, and while this sounds as simple as telling Jacob to put the glove there until he gets it, pitching inside while necessary is also dangerous. Pitching inside is the very definition of the razor’s edge, too far in you hit the guy, not far enough you get clobbered. Don’t do it and none of your breaking stuff plays or you sacrifice half the strike zone.

He needs movement on his fastball, it’s just too flat, and more than anything, needs to command his fastball. That’s some pretty important stuff, and that’s the key word, stuff. He has stuff in spades, now he just needs to learn how to use it.

Will he? I mean your guess is as good as mine, but I do think he’s close to figuring some of that out and giving up on him now would be short sighted in my mind.

Some of you see this differently, he’s had 30+ starts now in MLB and while that’s been spread out over 3 seasons, to you he’s a lot closer to Carson Fulmer than David Cone. Thing is, I can’t even disagree really, you’re right. I happen to think he gets more time, and should, but I can’t sit here and tell you not to trust your eyes, that’s how borderline some of these discussions are.

As we watch young players make up the majority of this roster over the next few seasons, remember, these conversations can be healthy. Let yourself see things from both sides.

Sometimes you have to stink now to shine later.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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