9-22-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
We’re getting toward the end of the season so it stands to reason most of the questions I get are geared toward 2022 at this point, everyone is anxious to rush through the finish line here and start thinking about the future.
So, I figured let’s focus on questions from this season, and specifically about this season because the team has made it clear it still matters to them by playing .500 ball for a month now.
Who is the Worst Position Player on this Team?
This one is weird only because it’s very rare to have a question like this asked without a list of suggested ‘winners’.
I mean, right now, it’d have to be Michael Perez. Dude just doesn’t hit and more than that he barely looks like he’s even into the at bat most nights. Defensively he’s been more than ok, but I’m not sure how you look at this roster and pick anyone else.
It might be more fun to answer who was the worst position player all season long.
That’s a tougher question, again I’d have to at least mention Perez, but Ka’ai Tom who the organization finally released from AAA has an argument. Gregory Polanco has to at least grab some votes.
I think I’d have to go with Ka’ai Tom, nobody made me audibly sigh when seeing his name in the lineup quite like Ka’ai and maybe he wins for me here simply because of the opportunity he received for far too long. I guess you could say the same for Polanco but at least I felt Greg might run into one every now and again.
There are probably a few candidates on the mound too, like Kyle Crick, Trevor Cahill and this isn’t to be confused with most disappointing because that would be Mitch Keller.
Who Was the Biggest Surprise Positive Performer in 2021?
I can’t say this without sounding like an A hole, so I’ll just say it, not much surprised me this year. For the most part if I thought there was a positive performer they performed as such.
That said, I do have one.
I saw him as a guy with some big league experience who would most likely find himself starting in AAA for the club. I had nothing but his numbers and a few video clips of his stuff to judge, and on top of that he was lost in the shuffle of a huge deal that brought in larger names to the system.
Well, all he did is come into Spring throwing closer stuff. Entered the season after making the roster throwing closer stuff. worked all season pitching primarily in the 6th and 7th throwing closer stuff, and effectively finished his season as the de facto closer. Hell he even developed and added a curveball IN SEASON, and friends that just doesn’t happen often. At least not to the point where it becomes an oft used effective weapon.
Bednar went from a cute hometown guy story to a legit young star in the making and proof positive that you just never know when your team picks up guys who is and isn’t going to turn out.
If I had to pick a second, it would be Bryan Reynolds. I didn’t see him having 25 HR power, and I certainly didn’t see him having it while hitting close to .300. Just felt like low hanging fruit.
With the Way Derek Shelton Handles the Pitching Staff, How Can You Not be Calling for His Firing?
I’ll be honest, I hate the way the pitching staff was handled this year. I could say the same for just about every other team in MLB this season.
Let me put it this way, I think if they had a cardboard cutout in the dugout with a mic taped in the mouth of a baseball coach the handling would be almost identical. That’s not to say Ben Cherington is calling Shelton on the bullpen phone telling him what to do and when, but the organization so strictly set forth the inning and pitch count limits for every arm in the system that usage was largely scripted.
Shelton in a way has mentioned his hands being tied multiple times this year in his post game pressers. You hear it as “Yeah, we had him at 85 pitches today so that’s why he was pulled”. Some bold souls in the press asked a follow up like “But so and so was only at 74” and Shelton would fire back with something like “we were comfortable with his pitch count where it was”. Basically, yeah, but it was close and it wasn’t worth throwing him out there for one more batter.
In fact that very scenario led to the situation that probably frustrated me most. A starter reaches the 6th inning and gets himself two outs and is then pulled for a reliever after throwing 5.2 innings. If you’ve watched this game for any length of time that struck you as odd, but it was very much so pitch count driven. In fact this is probably when most of you sent me quotes from Nolan Ryan saying he’d never come out in that situation.
Listen, I can’t make you believe in pitch counts, or innings restrictions. I certainly can’t sit here telling you it keeps everyone healthy because that didn’t happen either. All I can tell you is organizationally, this is what they want to do, Shelton is just the face of it. Training in baseball has more power than ever before, and it shows up in pitch counts, scheduled time off for stars, phantom IL trips and purposeful bullpen games.
Now, you want to say something like ‘Fine, but he isn’t bringing the right people in’. I’m sure Derek agrees, but he doesn’t have a stable of good choices.
There will come a time to evaluate how Shelton handles a pitching staff, and if we avoid a work stoppage this off season I believe that will be in 2022. I just can’t put this on him. I mean I can nitpick him, and have, but as a whole, I simply don’t believe we’re seeing the entire picture of how he wants to handle things.
Is There Evidence the Development System is Performing Better?
I wish I could be more bold here but I can’t distinguish between the improvement seen being based in having more systemic talent or an overall improvement in the development.
See, almost everyone who improved and moved up either credited hard work during the lost season of MiLB or were a highly touted prospect fully expected to make a jump anyhow.
I will say we’ve seen real change from players like Oneil Cruz who had a very long swing and has successfully shortened it while not losing any of that natural power. On the other hand we’ve seen Mason Martin almost repeat his last season of work, hitting a ton of homeruns and striking out a ton too.
I’d still like to see them turn someone from fringe prospect to MLB contributor, but at this stage it would be hard to credit a “system” because by in large the system is far less granular than that and again, how do I give the Pirates credit for Matthew Fraizer on his own developing power and bringing it into the season that way? How do I give the Pirates credit for Max Kranick jumping velocity from 93-94 to 96-97, on his own with his family where they built a pitching lab in their back yard?
To me, the question will probably be answered over a span of 4-5 seasons, by then we’ll see what a guy drafted comes through the system doing. How quickly does it happen. Are they prepared when they take the next step in their promotion schedule. Do they feel like every coach they encounter is speaking from the same pulpit?
I also pay particular attention to how they develop draft picks beyond round 3, because the goal is to become a team that isn’t pulling top 10 picks on a yearly basis, so I’d like to see how they develop lower round guys mainly because it will paint a picture of how this team will make chicken salad out of the number 24 pick instead of chicken scratch. If they can turn some 4th or 5th rounders into a player, maybe we can expect fewer swings and misses on late 1st round selections. That’s how teams like the Rays and Cards continue to have a viable pipeline even when successful almost every season at the MLB level.
It’s a process, both for them, and us as we evaluate a concept as big as systemic development.