Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

8-8-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Busy weekend. I typically try to write at least one piece over the weekend but this one I just couldn’t make it work. Then again, why should I try harder than a team still employing Josh VanMeter and still digging around on waiver wires and AAA trade boards to find guys like Jose Godoy, oh, I mean “This Catcher”? I just refuse to learn a 59th name.

Just because you found Michael McKenry this way doesn’t mean it’s a path you must explore further.

I kid of course, if things like that were going to stop me, I’d have been done quite some time ago.

Let’s dig in today on the five thoughts and hopefully have some great conversations.

1. Conflict of Interests

The Pirates are in a weird spot heading into 2023. They do have a ton of youth they want to work through. They also do have a real desire to see the Major League record improve. Those two aren’t mutually exclusive, but they also don’t always row the boat in the same direction.

As a jaded fan base, well versed in the low expectations of having Bob Nutting as the owner, it’s really easy to believe that money is the root of all choices, but I really don’t think it’ll be the only motivator next year.

The funny thing is, they’ll have the same holes next year that we saw this year. First base, specifically left handed, Starting pitching, specifically left handed, and catcher.

Last year the Pirates went and got Yoshi Tsutsugo for 4 million, Roberto Perez for 5 million, and Jose Quintana for 2 million.

Whether they worked or not, they did spend some money on these spots. In 2023, it feels like they’ll have to do the same so it stands to reason if improving the record is truly a priority, that 11 million should probably tick up.

Those three positions are easy to call out because there still isn’t anyone really pushing from the minors to fill the role. Thing is, adding money isn’t enough, 1 year contracts are the real blockade here. In order to get better players via free agency, the Pirates are going to have to consider offering multi-year deals.

For instance, there aren’t many first base options they’ll find who are a better bet than Yoshi was who are going to come in here for that price tag and the expectation of being a platoon player. Since their best options for playing first from the system are Michael Chavis, Mason Martin and Malcom Nunez. Now if you add Nunez you probably have to add Shackelford as well. Two of those simply won’t reach MLB next year. Mason Martin isn’t even a lock to be protected on the 40-man depending on how he finishes.

There is room to sign someone who can help for more than 5 months of a season before being traded is the point. Some other spots, the Pirates can’t come up with a formula quite that simple.

In the outfield, they have Reynolds, Allen, Suwinski, Marcano (can also play 2B), Canaan Smith-Njigba, Travis Swaggerty, Bligh Madris (could also fit at 1st), Cal Mitchell and then other players who could push like Matt Gorski, Matt Fraizer, Bae is in there somewhere. Folks, that’s a TON of players to filter through. So while you’d like to see perhaps someone more established brought in to play outfield alongside Reynolds, there’s a very real reason not to do so, problem is, that also won’t ‘help them win more right now’.

Look, all I’m saying is this isn’t as simple as “get better players”. Not at this stage. Sign one expected starter out there like a Wil Myers who will assuredly have his 20 million dollar option bought out next season. You could probably reel in the 32 year old for somewhere in the 14-15 million dollar range for a couple years. He’s not signing for 1 season, someone will offer him more than that, and you aren’t spending that kind of money if he isn’t starting. That leaves 1 open slot for ALL those guys we mentioned. 2 if you want to consider the DH spot where the extra at bats come from.

Easy choice? Man not so much, but I can’t sit here and tell you a guy like Myers wouldn’t improve the team more than playing rookies/lesser experienced players.

If you don’t like Myers, fine, sub in another name and ask yourself the same questions. If you return a guy like Allen instead, you’re probably ok with him being beaten out. Myers, well, he isn’t going to get beat out, unless of course he has a Yoshi type season and even then, with a multi year deal, yeah, you know that’s not going to go easily.

I expect payroll to increase next season, but only marginally, and this stuff right here is why. Backtrack all the way to what I started with. Those three positions are where they can really spend money and you should hold them to at least that 11 million. Go get an Omar Narvaez or a Tucker Barnhart to start behind the plate. Spend on a position you haven’t filled. Go out and get Jameson Taillon for a couple years. Increase payroll right here on these positions by 8-10 million and the team is much better off.

After 2023, most of these factors start to slip by the wayside. There will be enough locked in here by then to make filling the holes a priority. There will still be youngsters ready to make their way up, but the MLB club will be in position to no longer be able to allow them to play 3 months and struggle without injury causing the opening.

And I didn’t even talk about trading some of those prospects for established players, which should certainly be on their radar as well.

2. The Lineup

One thing I’ve noticed since the trade deadline passed, suddenly Derek Shelton seems to know how to build a lineup.

I’m joking of course, he’s always known how, but had at bat requirements for players that his GM wanted to see to contend with along with different position opportunities there was a desire to provide.

Some of that still exists like Bligh playing first, or getting Greg Allen at bats, but most of those things have been removed, we’ve seen lineups that dare I say, make sense. Some even look kinda, you know, like something you or I might post.

I’m happy to see it, and I remember it from the end of 2021 too, with obviously less ‘good’ options.

Now next year, maybe they should let him do it all year. Maybe bringing in more talent, or spending more on payroll aren’t the only things that could signal they care about winning at the MLB level in 2023. Perhaps just taking the reins off Derek Shelton and allowing him to manage to win as opposed to manage to filter could change around his reputation that has been building here in Pittsburgh.

Many fans won’t ever look past his first 3 years here, and just as many aren’t going to give him an out, but I’ve been told far too many times that much of this isn’t really on him to just pretend he’s a numbskull. I still don’t believe him him per se, but let’s let 2023 answer the question. There is little doubt, even if wrong, that the team will see 2024 as the first year they SHOULD compete, as opposed to COULD if everything went right. Perhaps it would be wise to know that the manager can manage to win, and effectively use the talent he’s given. The alternative could very well mean wasting a year of what could otherwise be prying open the window.

3. Balanced Schedules Will Change the Game in 2023, at Least a Little

It used to be common knowledge that if your division was incredibly tough, there was just no path forward. Think about Baltimore this year, they play in a division where the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays typically all can outspend them and the Rays by a factor of 4 should they so choose. Baltimore has managed to play to a game over .500 record and we just saw first hand, that’s not a bad team. In fact, plop them in the NL Central and they’d at least be in third so long as you kicked out one of the bottom 3.

Well, some of this is going to change next year.

Instead of playing 19 games against each division opponent now they’ll play 14, for a total of 56 games. The other 10 teams in their league, teams will face 6 times.

Interleague games were set at 16 per team, and now they will play 46.

All this adds up to teams within the same division now having 91% of their games in common, up from 84%. Teams in the same league will be composed of 76% of the same opponents an increase from the current 52%.

All this boils down to, we will no longer be able to say, this team has a good record but look at who they play in that division. I’d imagine it also will raise the importance of head to head matchups. Next year if the Pirates sweep the Brewers in a 3 game series it’s going to hurt more than it did this year.

I don’t think anyone really knows how this will shake out, but paired with expanded playoffs, this schedule change is going to at the very least shake up how teams compete within their division, and potentially open doors for some who felt almost locked in due to geographic realities.

It’s also going to ensure you get a chance to see every star baseball has to offer in your city as opposed to once every 4 years.

4. Use History to Inform You, Not to Blind You

Baseball is all about history. They like to say anyway, they aren’t so good at executing it though.

The game has changed, the way it’s managed has changed, the stats we hold dear today aren’t the same ones that general managers covet.

People who grew up on baseball in the 60’s and 70’s can’t fathom calling a player hitting under .250 ‘good’. Fans who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s can’t understand for the life of them why teams don’t steal bases anymore, or why nobody bunts to get that tying run into scoring position. Fans who are just growing into their baseball story today look at a 1-0 game and wonder why they spent 3 or 4 hours watching nothing, even as some of us 40 something’s were just talking about how much we liked seeing a pitcher’s duel.

I say all this because we’re all pulling together for a team, but depending on when you started watching, and your individual ability to adapt and evolve, man it can be frustrating.

My grandma has passed, god rest her soul, but she taught me about the game. She shared all the stories about Kiner and Maz, Roberto and Parker with me and even though she’s been gone for a while, I can’t fathom her taking something like “batting average doesn’t matter” very well. I mean she grew up when a man named Ted hit .401 in a season. He was the best, and she had that number to point to as proof. Now you aren’t just going to walk up to her and say it doesn’t matter. Even if you followed it up with No No Mrs. Brown, Ted was still great! His career OPS is still 1.116, he’s still really good.

Sorry, she didn’t need your fancy number to tell her.

Many of you feel that way too. Many my age were at least influenced by men and women like my grandmother, so it sends a shiver up our spines as well. Plus we had Tony Gwynn, he of the lifetime .338 batting average who in today’s game would be a good player, but hardly celebrated, what with his career .847 OPS. A good player, maybe even great, but not the unstoppable hit machine most of us saw him as. Now you have to create damage.

Pitchers don’t own a singular game the way they used to. ERA supposedly doesn’t matter anymore. Wins and Losses are just fatally outdated as metrics of success for a starter. Imagine saying those words with a straight face even 10 years ago?

Honestly, everyone really just needs to take a step toward each other a bit.

There’s room for moving on a bit. OPS is a wonderful stat, for instance, that everyone can understand.

See, average isn’t gone, it’s just been kinda, absorbed. It’s potential flaw may be that without extra base hits, your number can only get so high without extreme performance in on base percentage. It’s why Tony Gwynn types (not that many are quite his type, c’mon he was one of my idols) can have a career OPS of .847. A fine number, but somehow not reflective of his astronomical .338 career average. AKA, OPS breaker(s).

The game isn’t cultivating players like that anymore unfortunately. More and more, to be considered a great player. Specifically GREAT, you have to hit the long ball, at least a little. And more and more it doesn’t matter if that comes with a .250 average.

Just remember, disliking where the game is trending is different than refusing to acknowledge it’s changed.

Wins and Losses for starters, lets just make a deal, until MLB finally changes how they’re awarded, and or eliminates the stat, let’s just stop fighting over it. The statement that they don’t matter is valid and vapid at the same time. The statement that they do is as well. It used to matter, and I NEVER want to stop celebrating guys who got 20 of them in 39 hard nosed 7 or 8 inning outings over the course of a hard fought season and pennant race.

But, I can’t continue to pretend that it matters that Chase DeJong is 4-0 out of the pen. I mean it’s better than 0-4 right? That’s about all it’s worth.

Let’s figure this stuff out together. We should all be talking ball from the same reality.

5. Creating a Problem Where One Need Not Be

The Pirates are on a stretch of 13 straight days playing baseball games. On the second game of that stretch they chose to knowingly enter a game with Tyler Beede, who’s been really good largely this season, this isn’t a criticism of the player, as the starter.

Tonight, they plan to open a series in Arizona against the Danger Noodles with the same thing.

This is a team that at the very least, should be using this time to evaluate young players. What could possibly be more valuable than starting pitching? Don’t we want to know about these guys?

For whatever reason, the Pirates have Roansy in AAA. I understand the caution, I understand the manipulation aspect, I understand the building up and shaping of a few pitches that has been broached and shown to be taking form in AAA. The thing nobody can grasp is why do innings in AAA somehow not risk him, but in MLB they do? Stress? I mean, ok.

Move on then, who knows. Yajure? We’ve had weeks now to get him on schedule? Nope they’re still busy asking the kid I legitimately think has the most evolved breaking pitch in the system throw 90% fastballs in a game.

They could go to Oviedo they just got from St. louis. I can see wanting some time with him first, and he’s been a reliever for a while. But if it’s just stretching out and you think he has MLB stuff, maybe start him in a game like this. See if he can go 3. Next time 4.

This is just foolish, and a very poor reflection on the pitching they feel ready to contribute.

It’s not about wins or losses for me either. In fact they wont the first game they did this if you recall. It’s just a foolish thing to do both from a bullpen health standpoint and a wasted development opportunity for a non-existent prospect that they deem worthy of gracing this roster. If Yajure is worthy of a 40 man spot, surely he’s worthy of pitching up here. Set yourself up for problems when you trade assets and have no plan to replace them.

That should sound familiar Jacob Stallings fans.

You can like the return, and hate the lack of preparedness too. If you and I knew he was being traded from the minute he signed, so did they, AND they’ve been incredibly lucky with the health of their rotation this year. Imagine if a major injury were to have taken place.

It’s this dumb and bad, and still, not quite as bad as it could have predictably been.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

3 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. I think payroll goes up more than expected with some Key like, front heavy extensions. It may be a way to extend Reynolds. I can see Cruz, Keller, Bru and Roansy getting offers like that as well. It’s really pretty smart as it increases payroll now and leaves room later on to have flexibility for outside acquisitions that require more.

    Like

    1. Makes sense to me, definitely something teams in other sports have succeeded with. I am a little surprised it doesn’t happen more, though there is a vague (often overblown, in my opinion) concern that effort will diminish along with salary. But because the contracts are guaranteed, I don’t see what difference the order makes from an effort standpoint. Whether Heyward’s deal was frontloaded, backloaded or neither, he could have mailed it in all the same.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great intro! It reminds me of the late 2000s when Rocco DeMaro dragged “Pirates Extra Innings” to its peak, in my opinion. They’d plug the postgame show around the sixth inning with a live sound byte from Rocco. I was listening on radio one time when Freddy Sanchez dawdled so much on a routine grounder to second that the batter beat it out for an infield “hit,” which I think allowed a run to score. Greg Brown and … I want to say Bob Walk … conveyed their dismay in their usual collected and subdued demeanor while still appropriately describing how Sanchez definitely should’ve made the play. Upon return from the ensuing half-inning break, Rocco bellowed something like, *Why even bother with a postgame show at this point?* He ended with “If they don’t care, why should I?” Absolute legend. I miss his postgame show to this day.

    1. Tricky timing indeed. As we’ve been wondering, why didn’t they give longer looks to more of these guys sooner? Why make the 4-9 positions logjam even thicker? Ideally most stick, making for the good kind of difficult decisions on the next wave of prospects. Who goes and who stays?

    2. Absolutely. I confess I’ve been a little surprised by the starkness of the shift, which makes it pretty obvious the GM’s office was calling lineups in, akin to Moneyball. I get it, but man, it’s yet another bad look on the PR front in terms of not letting a manager manage, albeit one only so many fans will notice.

    3. I have wondered since 1997 why they’ve been so slow to have everyone play everyone–like all the other leagues have for quite some time. It mostly boiled down to tradition, from what I can tell. I am actually concerned about this development, because it should make those blatant economic imbalances even starker, but I expect that’ll just get dismissed with gaslighting circular logic of “Well, now it’s more balanced scheduling, which is fairer, isn’t it? I thought that’s what you wanted.” Complaints against the Centrals will rise as their playoff chances shrink further–good luck keeping pace with more than one of LAD, SD, and SF, as well as the NL East with literally all top-10 markets in the U.S. (though Miami isn’t an enthusiastic pro sports city). Phoenix and Denver aren’t exactly small either, the former growing massively. As ever, I can’t help but see the deck stacking more and more in large markets’ favor until it isn’t anymore.

    4. While I understand you were just using devices, bunting to get the potential winning run over definitely happens, especially in extras. Data fully support that. I’ll also note that I thought from a young age that wins and losses as pitcher stats were unhelpful, and I wasn’t alone. That said, yes, your observation is correct. I understand where the “meet in the middle” desire comes from, and I’ve felt that way on things through the years. I don’t consider this one, and if that makes me somehow an alienator of fans from the game they love–because I embrace the reality that statisticians know a great deal that I can learn from and have proven what wins ballgames and will pursue that to the greatest extent–so be it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to howl at everyone who ever talks about pitcher wins and losses, but I can’t deny that I lost all ability to take seriously a guy who said he’d rather sign the free agent who went 18-6 with a 7.50 ERA than the free agent who went 6-18 with a 2.50 ERA. *And that’s not even getting into any “advanced” stats at all!*

    5. YES! THANK YOU! Why on earth are they making Yajure something he’s not, just like Morton? All roads lead back once again to “Why won’t you just give young guys long looks and get them significant MLB experience?”

    Liked by 1 person

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