You Want to Send Who Down?

7-6-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I rarely get into walls of stats, and I often try to show both sides of an issue, but some things I’ve seen recently, well, they just don’t have a place in reality.

Oneil Cruz going back to AAA for one, is simply insane.

Now, don’t get me wrong, he hasn’t been perfect, far from it in fact, but the idea of fewer than 60 at bats being enough to say screw it is just not coming from a serious place.

Know what else isn’t being serious?

Telling me or anyone else that he can’t be criticized cause he’s going to want to leave.

First of all, even if that were true, pardon me, but that really doesn’t matter. Nor should it. He’s a professional baseball player, and hearing or seeing a criticism of the product he’s putting on the field is part of the gig.

Additionally, lets not pretend that if this kid becomes what his ceiling leaves room for that he’s going to be in black and gold for 15 years. This has no bearing on that at all.

The kid is a specimen, and the talent is simply intoxicating, but he still has things to learn. Not to toot my own horn here but that’s exactly what I’ve been telling you from the first shrieks that he needed to be up here started.

He has power for days but a good pitcher, especially one with pinpoint control is going to trouble him. If you can hit your spot high and tight, he’s going to struggle to get extended and it leads to pop ups or whiffs. Now, we’ve seen him adjust to this type of pitching already a bit.

He’s started taking them more often which is a start. Umpires are less willing to call it a strike even if in the zone especially if they see a player actively look like they’re dodging being hit. More than that though, he’s started to adjust and pull his hands back in, trying to get leverage and see if he can’t manage some damage on those pitches.

This stuff is key folks. The league was ready for him, and had a plan. Not everyone can execute said plan but they have one. Oneil has to show that identified weakness isn’t weak enough to keep targeting it. That’s part of what we’ve been watching unfold and it’s simply not going to be learned in AAA. If 60% of MLB pitchers can hit that spot, maybe 30% can in AAA. Even fewer can pair it with a pinpoint changeup or slider away that makes him have to respect the outside at the same time.

His OPS sits at .638, an acceptable number especially given his batting average is all the way down to .193. He isn’t walking much, he is striking out quite a bit. A full third of his plate appearances actually.

All part of the learning process.

Now, these numbers from say Bligh Madris, yes, you’d absolutely have to consider sending him back down. I’d still tell you its not enough at bats to really know, but given that his ceiling puts him somewhere around borderline starter or 4th OF, you can afford to be less forgiving.

A guy like Cruz, no way. He has to play, up here. He’ll turn 24 right after the 2022 season, and by the end of this season he shouldn’t just be a year older, he should have a list of things he and the team have identified as focus points.

Keeping the swing short. Eliminating some extra movements in the field before throwing. Recognizing 2 seam fastballs that look like they’re going to hit his hip then break over the sweet spot for his swing plane. Pick your poison, there are plenty of them for any player.

The Pirates can afford to let him learn on the job because by next year, they can’t. Next year Oneil and many of the rookies who’ve gotten a shot will be expected to take a step. Some will succumb to the sophomore slump, others will put in offseason work and come back looking like they shed their cocoon.

Oneil Cruz has played 15 games and is already at 13 RBI. That puts him at 7th on the club for the stat. A pathetic amount really for this team as a whole but for perspective, Bryan Reynolds has played in 77 games and only knocked in 32. There is something to be said for that. Cruz isn’t even really hitting well, and he’s still producing.

Folks, that’s why he stays. Because even his failures and growing pains are more valuable than most.

2022 is, was, and will remain, all about learning. For the players, and for the decision makers. This season should end with a very clear picture of what the expected 26 man will be as well as the areas of weakness where the team could and should add more talent.

Think about what we’ve learned about all the rookies that have played up here so far, well, at least the ones who really were given a good shot.

Tucupita Marcano – Versatile fielder, solid glove at realistically corner outfield and 2B. Excellent bunter, fast, sneaky pop. Needs to cut down strikeouts and draw more walks to utilize his speed more often.

Diego Castillo – Can just about play anywhere but catcher and centerfield, and it’s passible. The power tool is real and it translates to MLB. Way too many strikeouts, way too few walks, nowhere near enough contact.

Jack Suwinski – Developed power, perfectly suited natural bat plane for hitting them out. Plus defender in both corners and centerfield can handle the job. He’s striking out too much but he’s worked his walk numbers up into the acceptable zone. Flair for the dramatic and an ability to work an at bat to see something he can use. Still needs to improve contact numbers to really take off.

Cal Mitchell – Still a small sample size here but Cal showed the stage wasn’t too big for him. He plays a capable outfield but his arm is something opposition offenses will exploit. There are some technique things that they can work on, and he can overcome this shortcoming, much like Corey Dickerson once did, but he’s simply never going to beat out someone who has gifts god didn’t grace him with. I think his bat will play, but I also think, and heard, he was really getting down on himself before his demotion, which is entirely natural for some, but not something the team is forced into playing out in MLB.

That’s just a few, but that’s the type of stuff you aren’t going to learn until you give guys a run at this level. It’s also done for a very simple reason, most of them are going to struggle. The major leagues are the pinnacle of baseball for a reason, the best of the best make it. Most of those best of the best struggled at some point or another once they got here. This season is when you need to see that. Because as you sprinkle in more next season you need to have a base of confident young players starting to take shape, and despite this team’s record, that’s what’s being built.

So, no, Oneil Cruz isn’t going down to AAA, and yes he might continue to struggle. If it continues the team may very well have to think about a different strategy for helping him become all he can be, but shipping him back to a league he’ll destroy over a full season isn’t one that’ll help.

He may not be a polished MLB player, but he does enough things only an MLB player can do that he’s sticking. And no, he won’t ride the bench 3-4 times a week for Kevin Newman. If I really wanted to I could just make this entire column a list of idiotic takes about this one player. I’ve focused on the negative but the shouts that he’s generational or a lock for rookie of the year even as his own teammate has a firmer grasp than Oneil is likely to reach this season has to be up there too.

Pretending it’s just fine that he crow hops a routine grounder into a needed 97MPH fastball to get an out is silly too.

We can love watching this special talent and still acknowledge there is work to be done. Looking back, I wish I had been smart enough to do the same for players like Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte and more. Special talents, well they just require special glasses to view their progress. The results don’t matter nearly as much as seeing the changes that need to happen start to show signs of changing.

Seeing Oneil the second time facing a pitcher lay off pitches that had him hook line and sinker just a couple innings ago is to me far more important than seeing him drill a homer off a bullpen guy that the Cubs probably wish they didn’t employ. Oh, one is more fun for sure, but you have to see the little incremental things, or you’ll not understand what changed when the numbers start to match the effort.

This club has no right to ask this fan base to remain patient. That said, the players aren’t guilty of what the franchise has put you through. Try to find it in yourselves to allow a bit for them.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “You Want to Send Who Down?

  1. I think RBIs need more context. They’re extremely dependent on what situations a hitter bats with. Among MLB players, take Kevin Newman, Hoy Park, or whatever relatively light hitter from another team you want. If he’s coming up with runners on second and third and no outs every time, he’s going to get more RBIs than any guy who always comes up with bases empty, whether Alonso, Cron, Goldschmidt–whoever. I know that’s an unrealistic extreme, but I use it only to demonstrate the limitation. (I’m pretty sure I’m just paraphrasing Bill James or one of his contemporaries anyway, hahaha.)

    To your point about Haines in a prior post–and maybe about the hitting system at large–it’s ominous to see rookie after rookie have decent or better power but poor contact, and I don’t think adding others to the list in this post would meaningfully change that trend. I know nobody’s perfect, but the way insiders around the leagues sing Nunnally’s praises (to my knowledge), I can’t help but conclude these rookies have learned what they needed to in the minors–and therefore the MLB coaches need to put on the finishing touches at the top level. Maybe *Haines’* off-season improvement is key, ensuring he has approaches for each of the hitters (especially young ones) to maintain that power (or close to it) while boosting the contact and on-base rates. Heck, Shelton is responsible for that too, of course.

    Apologies for leaving the main premise as somewhat of an afterthought, but I really don’t have much else to add. All I can really do is shake my head and laugh at some of those “hot takes.”

    Liked by 1 person

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