Ten Things We’ve Learned So Far in 2022

5-14-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates have played 32 games, hardly a sample size anyone should be basing anything on, but still enough to be able to talk to some situations. What have we learned?

10 – Michael Chavis Looks Like a Major League Player

Now, that doesn’t mean he’ll have a super long Pirates career, it just means, the guy looks the part and I feel very comfortable saying he’s not someone who should be worried about getting called into the manager’s office. The Pirates in my mind focus far too much on position flexibility, but that shouldn’t mean having it is a bad thing. Especially if you actually do it well.

On a team with multiple options that play his positions, and countless others in the minors, but Michael has something most don’t, he’s producing.

9 – The Rotation Might Have No Holdovers

It’s incredibly early, but as we sit here, the only starter who’s looked like a viable starter is Jose Quintana, a 33 year old free agent here on a prove it contract who will absolutely not be extended and if he isn’t traded will have surely proven himself untradable.

Everyone else, man they’ve shown nothing but flashes. A good start here, a nice outing there. Maybe a 5 inning outing where 4 2/3 were good and they still gave up 4 runs during the short lapse. It’s just been really bad.

There is some relief coming, but these questions (players) need sorted first.

Zach Thompson is already an older prospect. He has plenty of control, but even if he proves himself a decent starter, he’s probably not someone who’s going to be here shoving 3 or 4 years from now, at least not in the rotation. On top of that, he’s been pretty bad, which if we’re honest, was much more of his track record than his stretch of success in Miami. I could see him moving to the pen, but as you’ll see as we go through this, not everyone can.

JT Brubaker has good stuff, looks good for most of every start, but the inning or two he doesn’t are total disasters. He too is no spring chicken, and he’ll officially not be a really cheap option next year. If it weren’t for his propensity to give up gopher balls, I might suggest the bullpen.

Bryse Wilson was given up for peanuts in the form of Richard Rodriguez from the Atlanta Braves. They sent him up and down from AAA to Atlanta 33 times. Atlanta is a brilliantly run organization. Let’s just say, that wasn’t a mistake. Wilson pitches like he sees himself as Roger Clemens, but unfortunately he has Bryse Wilson stuff. Should I mention the pen as an option again? I mean, if you want a selling point, he’s young, like real young for as much MLB experience as he has, but he’s been the worst of the 5 and on this team, holy hell is that saying something.

We all know Mitch Keller. The velocity is real, the stuff is real, he’s even got movement this time, he’s got everything but results. That’s because he rarely puts every aspect together. He has excellent control tonight, well except that one sequence. He has the slurve really working tonight, well except that one he hung right in the sweet spot to Mike Moustakas. It’s always something, and the biggest something of all with Mitch is that if he doesn’t prove himself this year, he’s probably going to go the way of Chad Kuhl. In fact that’s very much so a terrific comp, Kuhl is really doing well early this year, but that took 5 years of the Pirates trying to make it happen with Chad before deciding he wasn’t worth it even if it happened with one year of control remaining.

Point is, until I see something, not one of these players would be in my rotation in 2023. Opportunity is still there, but one of them maybe two are about to find out that expires when Roansy and potentially Dillon Peters replace them.

8 – The Management is an Issue

I know some are hesitant to blame Derek Shelton or Oscar Marin because they haven’t had the talent to really coach, but they’ve had enough to show us something in my eyes. I think you can show fans you’re going to use what you have effectively even while acknowledging you need much more. We’d get that right?

So if Marin has one or two pitchers really take to what he’s laying down, maybe I could buy he helps them, just needs more. If Derek Shelton didn’t regularly make head scratching decisions and seemingly sacrifice the balance of a contest in the name of rest, again, I might be more willing to accept it’s not fair to judge.

This isn’t just poor choices, that stuff happens. Here’s an example I’m talking about. It’s imperative that the Pirates understand what a player like Diego Castillo is, yet he starts maybe half the games. I gave him a pass because he had other guys to look at too but when it still wasn’t a lock he’d start most nights once Newman got hurt, man, I’m sorry, what are we doing?

Nice guys, I’d love to be proven wrong and more than that I’m sure they’ll get more time, but I’ll caution, this is an awful lot of work to do only to come to find out your coaches can’t coach. Better start evaluating at some point, might as well be now.

7 – Catching is a Quandry

Even given the Starting Pitching, Catching to me is far more of an open question. I’m not saying that Henry Davis can’t make this club in 2023, but I am saying it’s a bit much to ask of the kid. He’s coming along fine but even if he makes the club next year, I can’t see it being as an immediate starter and if a kid like that isn’t starting, he shouldn’t be here. Needs to play.

This all leads me to say, I think the Pirates are going to have no choice but to look back to Roberto Perez. He’s likely going to miss most of the remainder, if not all of the season now, so he might resign cheap. Bluntly, this is a guy I want helping bring my stud number one overall catcher along.

6 – Ke’Bryan Hayes is the Real Deal

Power is the only thing you can say you need to see, but honestly, even if it doesn’t come he’s simply been good. Hitting to all fields with authority and looking confident at the plate, he’s easily the most balanced hitter in the lineup and yes I’m including pinch hitting All Star Bryan Reynolds.

Hayes hits them where they ain’t because Hayes can and does legitimately hit the ball where it’s pitched. He pulls what he should, he goes oppo with what he should. It’s been a clinic of decision making and efficiency at the plate. ANNNNDDD, I still think power will come.

Ke’Bryan just signed his 8 year extension with the Pirates and so far, it’s been the only no brainer good decision they’ve made.

5 – Bryan Reynolds is Visibly Frustrated

He’s, at least on the baseball field, usually very reserved. He’s not Colin Moran out there, he’ll crack a smile or slam a bat here and there, but this season he’s wearing it on his sleeve a bit more.

First, he’s being aggressively shifted and in the past, that never happened to Bryan Reynolds because he happily would beat one if it were ever employed. Now, well, it’s productive to do against him. I can say that because he hasn’t beat it often.

Additionally his underlying advanced stats paint a picture of a player who is doing what he’s always done. Very little variation from history to 2022. His May has been good so far, but I get the impression he thinks he should be doing more.

I agree of course, but as I watch him this season look out of sorts (for him) at times I thank god he had his breakout under Hurdle, because my guess is he’d already have been reduced to 4 games a week under Shelton if he wasn’t so established.

4 – The Pirates Have a Good Shot at 3rd in the NL Central

I know it doesn’t feel that way as the Reds keep beating the Pirates, but the Reds and Cubs aren’t done tearing down, while the Pirates largely are.

We all know what’s happening to this team as the youth movement is really getting into full swing. They’ll move some guys, but nobody earth shattering, and eventually they’ll get players like Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras and more up here. I said it before the season, this team will look better at the end than the beginning. I still firmly believe that, but the part I didn’t account for was the ineptitude of the start both those clubs would get off to.

Oh the Cubs and Reds have guys who will come back from injury and prospects of their own, but they’ll be moving established heartbeat of the club types, such as Luis Castillo, Wilson Contreras and more. Until and if we get a pennant race, this will have to be our substitute.

3 – Cole Tucker is Likely a Failed Number One Pick

There’s just nothing there folks.

Super nice guy, wonderful locker room mate, really energetic performer who tries his ass off. Of all he is, unfortunately he’s also just not a hitter.

He was recently optioned to AAA where I’m sure he’s going to play and presumably only hit from the left side moving forward, but I’m honestly surprised he didn’t find his way to a DFA this time.

If he performs at AAA, well it’ll be news worth reading, because he literally never ever has. It’s proof that number one pick doesn’t equal MLB player, but more than that, it’s proof that if a kid never does it in the minors, you’re a fool to expect he will at the MLB level.

I’m pulling for the person here, but part of me hopes he just stays in the question answered department. I’d rather spend time learning about Castillo, Castro, Cruz, Bae, Marcano, Peguero, and yes even Kevin Newman, at least he’s hit once.

Enough is enough.

2 – The Quest for “Good at Bats”

The Pirates have struggled like hell to hit with runners in scoring position. Part of that is talent of course, but part of it too is the overall approach from this club.

Almost to a man they are seeking a walk or at least a very deep at bat and honestly, it’s maddening to me.

It works to a degree, they get guys on base, but when it comes time to score, man it seems like they just would rather walk than look for something to hit.

Let’s use a scenario to explain what I mean here.

Say the game is 2-1 Reds in the 7th inning. Ke’Bryan Hayes leads off the inning with a double. Next up is Voglebach who’s been really good so far really. He always is looking for a deep count, but situationally here you want him to do his damnedest to hit a ball to the right side to at least bump Hayes to third. Instead, Vogey be Vogey, he goes deep and either strikes out or walks. Now, that’s not entirely fair cause he’s come through some too but go with me here because he could be anyone there really.

Next up now with runners at 1st and 2nd after the walk, Yoshi comes up and he takes one right down the pipe, then does what he does, leading to an eventual strikeout.

Move on to the nest guy, he swings for the fences panicking that the runners now need a hit to score likely and of course doesn’t get one. One more guy, one more out. No runs on a leadoff extra base hit.

All started by that one “good at bat” by Vogey. That’s what this team preaches, and again, I do get it, but if you want to start turning more of those runners in scoring position into runs, I suggest you look at what you have in this lineup and start teaching situational ball.

There is no reason with one out and a runner on third that a guy like Yoshi, or anyone really, comes up there hunting a walk. Ball in play is the goal there and yes sometimes that’s gonna be a lineout or pop up but a walk to set up the double play doesn’t seem to be working.

Funny thing is, you see some of the young guys understand that urgency more than the vets. Castillo seems to get it, Suwinski too. Seems to me the fundamentals come to Pittsburgh to die at times and I’d suggest watching the young guys to see if they come to Jesus and start seeking “good at bats” instead of scoring runs as we move forward.

1 – The Pirates Might Value 25 of Their 40-Man

I don’t get the impression the Pirates are high on the bottom third of the 40-man and bypassing it for pitching call ups more than once really illustrates that.

This speaks to the turnover of this roster I expect to see this year.

I mean let’s just do the 26-man as it sits right now. I could see Yoshi, Heath Hembree, Chris Stratton, Jose Quintana, Kevin Newman, Josh VanMeter minimally being gone and I’m not even digging. I could easily add Gamel (if I didn’t openly hope they’d keep him), and one or both of the catchers.

Kids are coming and we are continually seeing this team doesn’t care if the kid is on the 40 or not.

That puts a ton of guys on the table. Cal Mitchell, Mason Martin, Madris, Bolton, Fraizer, keep going, you’ll think of more.

The door is open for anyone who wants to kick it in. I expect the Pirates to make sure its not going to offer much resistance when they do.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

3 thoughts on “Ten Things We’ve Learned So Far in 2022

  1. Excellent list, top to bottom. Only quibble I’d have is calling Wilson the worst starter. That’s not been my assessment, and both simple and advanced stats tend to back that up. I agree he’s been meh at best, but meh to me is better than Brubaker and Thompson, as well as Keller apart from his two acceptable starts. I don’t see any of them sticking at SP, at least not under Marin.

    Tucker was significantly “off the board,” if I recall correctly. It’s one thing to reach 10, 15, maybe even 20 slots down. But man, if you’re reaching into the second or third round, you’d better be darn sure he’s going to make it and well.

    Fundamentals have long been lacking in Pittsburgh. I genuinely cannot recall a time in my life when I thought the Pirates had consistently sound fundamentals, though I’m struggling to think of particularly egregious instances under Littlefield, and my standards might be high, to be fair.
    -The ball popped out of Jose Guillen’s glove when he tried to catch it without the throwing hand, and then a homer didn’t count because he’s involved in a baserunning blunder wherein the batter-runner passed him on base. Nobody knew why he’s running back to first while Kevin Young was in his home-run trot.
    -Jose Castillo looked like he was guessing what to swing at.
    -Even contact wonder Freddy Sanchez occasionally couldn’t be bothered to do more than go through the motions in the field–which resulted in at least one runner beating out the throw on a routine grounder to second.
    -I think it was Jason Jaramillo who botched a throw back to the pitcher (over his head halfway to second base), allowing the Cardinal on third to score.
    -MVP Andrew McCutchen’s insatiable hunger for bad slides in the outfield and Gregory Polanco’s indescribable bad slides on the bases.
    -The Will Craig play, my goodness.

    The physical ability is certainly difficult to master–some say the most difficult in all of sports–but the concept of hitting is pretty simple:
    -Swing at pitches you can drive (unless fooled and it’s too late).
    -Protect with two strikes (but don’t take GIDP bait).
    -Let the rest go, with some situational exceptions.
    Let’s not get this twisted as some smartest-guy-in-the-room strawman result of following advanced stats. It’s never been that. It’s just bad coaching, plain and simple, or players who are defying instructions to stop doing these things. With Tsutsugo and Vogelbach as examples whose approaches have changed (T a lot, V maybe less so) from the start of this season and the clear pattern emerging throughout the lineup, I struggle to believe it’s defying instructions.

    Liked by 2 people

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