4-23-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
OK folks, let’s go ahead and get the prerequisites for a positive Pirates piece out of the way. Yes it’s early. Yes Bob Nutting grumble grumble. Yes bad players. Starting pitcher something something.
Alright, so let’s move on for the day.
This team is projected to be in the bottom third of the league, that’s more than true since most predicted they’d be in the bottom 4 or 5 teams overall, but when it’s this early I like to look at it in thirds.
So when they play a team in the bottom third with them, it’s nice to see them make hay. So far this season the Pirates are 6-2 against the “bad” teams and 1-5 against the “good” teams.
They’ve done that largely by playing most games like they matter, which in year three of Derek Shelton I can legitimately say is an improvement.
They’ve done it by hiding some of their biggest problems, namely the starting pitching, and using a perceived strength, their bullpen. Not just the amount of innings, but usage as well. If there is a key moment, David Bednar the universal best reliever they have is coming in to get the out. If that’s the 7th, fine by him, fine by Shelton. If he has to go multiple innings, he’s ok with that too. If the heart of the lineup is due up in the 8th, chances are Bednar will be the guy.
This is selflessness by the players and I think that’s been a theme too. We take this stuff for granted, but it’s more than just a decision by a manager. Imagine a guy like Bednar for instance. He knows what he is, and c’mon, everyone on the team does too. Still, this isn’t something a manager is just going to do without having a conversation. Not having saves to point to will effect David’s wallet at some point. Academically you and I can say it doesn’t matter, we can say everyone will just look at his ERA and stuff and they’ll know he’s worth money, and to a degree, they will, but in baseball, right or wrong there is still a belief that skill also has to come with a certain, well, gumption.
That gumption is something that needs proven to many, and for players to not worry about that all that much, well, that takes another kind of gumption.
Starters being given rare chances to go beyond two times through a lineup is another weird one. It’s going to on most nights give them a chance to pick up a loss, but rarely net them a shot at a win. Now, part of the issue there is they haven’t pitched well enough to win in the first place most of the time, but pulling them early removes it from the equation all together. Think that helps them on the market or arbitration? Again, this is their team, and most of them are too young to really have much of a say. More than anything none of them have done enough in this league to make a big stink, but still you’re asking 13-14 guys to put their own stats aside, and instead think of the team. Think of the overall game to game situation and matchup. Be ok being told even though you feel like you have more to give, it’s time to come out.
Be willing to hand the ball to one of your brothers and know you’re also handing over a W, that is still sure to come up as a deficiency one day when you try to get paid.
That takes more than just a charismatic manager. That takes an organization convincing everyone involved that they’re going to not use these decisions against them. They aren’t going to look at their stats next year and say things like “well the starters need to go deeper” or “David needs to show he can lock down whoever he faces in the 9th”. Hey this touches the hitters too, they have to convince a guy who’s never played outfield like Diego Castillo that should he struggle out there they aren’t going to use it against him. If a switch hitter only faces right handed pitching, they won’t critique his average in the 10 at bats he racked up against lefties.
Beating the bad teams is something teams actively getting better do, and managing to win is something I don’t think we saw in 2020 or 2021 nearly often enough. If you want to be a winner, you better practice winning. The overall record this year is still not likely to be pretty, but if they can find a way to creatively bump themselves to the top of the bottom third, well I’ll take that as progress, and chances are, they’ll have found a few more permanent answers during that process too.
It’s nice to see the coaching and management thinking differently, just don’t forget the buy in it took from the guys on the actual field.