9-6-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Good afternoon and Happy Labor Day everyone. We’ve just pushed through in my estimation the very bottom of the curve when it comes to this rebuild during this abysmal road trip. It’s not the first time they lost a stretch of games, it probably won’t be the last, but something about this was worse.
What some readers like to paint as positivity, I prefer to characterize as simply not negative by default. I’d prefer to see what someone has before I claim they have nothing. That in no way means when I see nothing is actually what they have I won’t point it out. When Craig and I started doing this we sat down and talked about what we wanted to be, and more importantly what we didn’t want to be.
We don’t want to be seen as positive, or negative. We don’t want to be attackers or defenders. We just want to be honest and fair. Sometimes that’s going to read negative, sometimes the opposite, as long as you come out of it feeling we’ve treated the subject fairly, we’ve done our job.
Now, onto today’s Five Thoughts!
1. A Problem, Self Created
The Pirates brought in more pitchers than I could wrap my head around this season in an effort to get through the innings this team required. The goal was to keep the majority of hurlers from going down to injury as they ramped them back up to regular work load levels.
Every player had a plan. You get this many innings this season, you get this many Sir, and even when a player has shown they were ok, or even excelling through it they’ve stuck to those convictions.
They’ve aggressively held firm to how many pitches they could throw in a set amount of days, how many back to back appearances they could go, and in some cases taken it even further to factor in high leverage situations as being more taxing.
Look, if the goal was health and nothing more, bravo, they largely pulled it off. If the goal was development or even pushing the limits of what a guy could do, they’ve taken that opportunity off the table for themselves for the most part.
I’m staying open minded that what we watched was a direct response to COVID. Next year needs to be different, because there is no bullpen that would survive what this team asked of it in 2021. On top of not having a very good bullpen to begin with, they beat the hell out of them all season trying to protect starters.
As baseball fans, we’re used to starters early in the season only going 5 innings, 6 tops, the Pirates just never got past that point, and it wasn’t always performance based. Those times when they pulled a guy after 5 innings with 72 pitches are the types of decisions that ultimately overtaxed an already busy group.
Here’s hoping next year is managed differently, because if not I fear we’ll see a repeat performance regardless of personnel.
2. Meritocracy Simply Isn’t Sustainable at This Stage
Oh, they can say it all they want, and I’m sure they’d love to have it ring true, but the very idea of “seeing what so and so has” doesn’t jive with the idea of a Meritocracy.
First lets define that term a bit, not because any of you are too stupid to know but because we need to make sure we have the same definition or we can’t have a conversation about it in an educated way.
Meritocracy is the principle that playing time is earned.
So, on a team like say the White Sox, yeah, that could be true, but a team like Pittsburgh, well, let’s just say David Bednar and Bryan Reynolds need some help.
One player I often get asked about is Kyle Keller. People will often ask me what he’s done to earn playing time, well, nothing. You have to have options to really apply this principle and while this club brought in a bunch of arms as we talked about in the first point today, they didn’t bring in nearly enough quality arms.
3. If Players on This Roster Truly Matter, 2022 Can’t Look Like 2021
I understand some prospects will be pushing their way onto the roster at some point next season, but this club can’t simply allow things to play out naturally and expect the guys who matter to continue to play well around it.
Hayes, Reynolds, Wilson, Bednar, Stallings and anyone else you think matters or might be here when it matters deserve to have their efforts rewarded. It’s time for them to matter. It’s time for a competent bullpen at the very least. It’s time for a real free agent to play somewhere.
It’s not about payroll, there isn’t much they could really do about that right now, they could buy a starter, a few BP arms, a back up catcher, an outfielder, but realistically, it’s not a big payroll year and it doesn’t have to be.
What it needs to be is more professional. Give this club credit, they never stop fighting, and if you want it to stay that way, on occasion you have to reward them with the desired result.
4. The Hitting Plan
People, me included, spoke a lot about the firing of Rick Eckstein the Pirates Hitting Coach, but what really got fired was his hitting plan, a hitting plan that was being executed all throughout the organization.
The plan focuses on making the strike zone smaller, essentially saying, I can hit the best in this square, if it’s not in that square, I take it. There was not much of a 2 strike approach to it, not much of a situational disclaimer built in, like hey dummy the pitcher is up next, a walk isn’t a good thing.
The reason you don’t point at the success or failure of a guy or two is simple, players own responsibility too, but over the course of a season you’ve seen enough of this approach show itself.
Derek Shelton a former hitting coach himself will now implement his plan, the and the next hire will be someone who manages its widescale implementation. That’s going to take a unique hire, probably someone Shelton, Cherington or Sanders have worked with before.
I’d advise they go with someone more seasoned than who they chose to be the pitching coach because one thing this team needs is to understand simple things that an older ball coach will come baked in with, like you don’t swing at borderline pitches up 2-0 or 3-0. You don’t swing at the first pitch with two outs after your side has only faced 2 or 3 pitches.
That get me over fastball is plenty good to get in the air to collect a sac fly, rather than working the count. An injection of old school would help greatly to go along with all the analytics these guys are eating for 3 square meals a day.
5. Ben Gamel Character Guy
The future will belong to many guys in the system, it’s no secret with one season left of arbitration Ben Gamel isn’t in those plans, nor should he be, at least not as a starter like he’s been needed to do this year, and likely next as well.
What he is and can be is a spark plug. Someone who can start 2-3 games a week and give you 100% every inning he plays. He’ll take a professional at bat, hell he’ll even bleed for you. Teams need guys like that, think Craig Counsell, Matt Joyce, RJ Reynolds even, that type of guy is valuable and the Pirates would do well to see about having him help usher in their team of the future. I bet it’s not much, and I guarantee he more than earns it.