The Downward Spiral

8-18-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I highly doubt that New Castle, Pennsylvania native and Rock icon Trent Reznor was referring to the Pittsburgh Pirates when he named his band Nine Inch Nails breakout album, but man it sure would be fitting if he had.

The funny thing about spirals though, they create a path both up and down.

This team has just about ignored the spiral all together as they’ve simply nosedived post All-Star Break. Anyone that was hitting, now isn’t. Anyone who was pitching found themselves injured, fatigued or snake bitten at least.

Veterans have struggled. Rookies have failed. Management has squandered opportunity to grow youth and amplified the playing time of those who didn’t earn it. The General manager has provided little in the way of reinforcements, at least not those fans might actually want to see.

The Manager has had nothing to say beyond platitudes handed him by the GM he serves. He proclaims safety when it comes to his job, which even though completely true, put into the universe a complete lack of understanding that calls for his head are everywhere.

Worse and worse. Over and over. Piling heap of dung upon fresh piles.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Never did really.

The Pirates have ways to improve their season, even if only marginally. The trip up the spiral is never as easy a trip, but it starts with step one.

Let’s talk about a few right here and right now.

Train, but Don’t Overwhelm

I’ve heard the argument that the players are all horrible, and how could I or anyone argue really, they have been. They’re also mostly young.

There’s a time for training youngsters, refining their abilities and sharpening their pencils. Initial call up date isn’t it. Youngsters are filled with excitement, faith in their abilities, visions of how great the ride is going to be.

They’re also quickly met with pitchers better than most of what they faced in the minors, hitters who look like they could swing a telephone pole and catch up with 100 MPH, coaching staffs that don’t just catch on to how to attack a guy in game 6 of a series, but game 1.

The last thing they need is to be bombarded with information. Send a wide eyed kid up to the plate and you can expect poor results more often than not. Send a wide eyed kid up to the plate after filling his head with more information than he’s ever had given to him in his life before an at bat and expect even worse.

Kids take time. Wait for them to struggle before “helping”. Wait for them to get their sea legs before expecting them to stand tall on their own.

In a word, chill.

This isn’t just my opinion. The beauty of doing this stuff, well, minor league players don’t mind talking to people like me, and as you all surely realize, many of those minor leaguers become MLB players. The quote “information overload” has been unsolicited delivered my way no fewer than 4 times.

Enough Waiver Claims

Before I get into this, I don’t mean ever. In season, crap happens, and you have to do what you have to do.

I don’t want to see anymore of it in 2023 as an initial answer to filling out a roster.

That’s what Josh VanMeter was, a DFA’d player who the Pirates traded for so they didn’t “risk” not getting him.

I’ve made the argument they didn’t need to fill the role as they had plenty of options, but since they felt they did, get a real player. Get someone who has done something at the MLB level because anything less, well you might as well just play one of your own prospects. I mean if we’re learning on the job, let’s have it be one of the guys you claim has a high ceiling and you have internally. If not, spend some money and get someone.

Instead of getting a pitcher who used to be good five years ago hoping and praying they do well enough to get you a AA infielder in return come August. Go get a pitcher who was ok last year and get him for a couple seasons. You can still trade him if you like, but you won’t be forced to know in 4 months.

I don’t have some dollar figure I consider to be a magic number. I honestly don’t think certain positions are even up for discussion personally, but get real players either way. 2 year deal for a first baseman won’t stop anyone from doing anything prospect wise, but it might just help you score some runs. Spent 5 million on a catcher last year, do it again, and maybe 2 on another. Spent a couple million on a starting pitcher last year, do it again but get a 7 or 8 million dollar version too.

Basically stop saying you want to improve, then ignoring what you’d need to do in order to actually do it. Don’t depend on kids to fill a hole you have no hope of filling internally, or minimally give the kids something to beat.

Take the Win When it Presents Itself

If a player like Jack Suwinski comes along and hits a bunch of homeruns but struggles in other aspects, absolutely try to help him improve, but allow him to keep excelling at what he’s doing really well up here. In other words, that one thing he’s doing well is worth more to the big club than it is to the Indians. Train the player, but expect learning to be complete to take a minute. Keep waiting for the total package to show himself upon callup and doom yourself to never finding the 80% of MLB players who never master every aspect of being a big leaguer.

If you call up a 29 or 30 year old reliever and he performs, don’t assume some waiver claim will outperform him. The organization has spent plenty of time working with this player, maybe try to get more than 3 or 4 innings out of him before believing someone who just cropped up is better. Better yet, sign some MLB quality arms.

Put Your Best Lineup Out Most Days

A near constant Shelton complaint I know, but creating a consistent lineup gives youngsters something to break their way into. It rewards those who perform, it allows guys to settle in, and if affords the possibility of riding hot streaks.

As I said earlier, kids have plenty on their minds already when they get called up, eliminate one more by having them grow accustomed to their place in the lineup.

Reward a rookie for doing well by immediately giving them more playing time. Picking who is and isn’t a good matchup for them every game eventually creeps into a player’s head. Am I not good enough to face a lefty? I always was in AAA, man, I thought I was anyway. Don’t invite doubt, young players aren’t immune to it yet.

If You Make a Mistake, Identify and Move On

When you sign players in the 2-7 million dollar range, you aren’t always going to win. When you miss, admit it, and move on.

You don’t do any favors for the team, or the players in question when you refuse to move on from a mistake.

Blame the scouts if you want, hell go ahead and fire two or three of them if they’re leading you astray, but take care of the field first. Proving yourself right is nowhere near as important as moving the ball forward.

This year they were pretty quick with Hembree, inexplicable with several others. Just make sense and be consistent.

If All Else Fails, Tell Us How You’re Fixing It

Depending on that former first rounder to finally make it and make an impact this year then look up in July only to find he isn’t doing either? Who’s next? Do we need to sign someone?

Pitcher doing everything well but giving up too many homeruns bloating everything else out of control? At least tell us there is a plan. Tell us you’re working on something that should address it. Don’t just keep telling us it’s about execution while you continue to see the same results night after night. If a guy is making an adjustment, that’s ok, just tell us he’s working through something, but you don’t want to give details for obvious reasons.

If you just want to see how someone does against lefties or righties even if you know it might be a struggle, fine, just tell us.

Just Stop Being Evasive

Despite their behavior on social media, most fans are smart.

We know what you say is at least half crap, and honestly, we’re just tired of it. We notice that the only time Bob Nutting talks to the media or fans is after signing a team record deal.

We notice that Ben Cherington keeps bringing in guys other teams have given up on and expects his staff to make moon pies out of cow pies. We notice it because we haven’t seen any indication this staff is capable of it.

Admit that there is pressure associated with your position. Even if it’s a lie. Even if you know for a fact Nutting isn’t firing anyone for X amount of years, fans don’t want to hear anyone presiding over 100 loss seasons to confidently proclaim they’re “safe”. F that Sir, you don’t get to feel safe.

Nobody who hit under .200 should feel safe either, but plenty of them do I’ll assure you.

Nobody with an ERA over 5.00 should feel safe, but I again assure you, plenty do.

See, when you create a culture of no pressure, it’s going to trickle to your players, and if you put no pressure on baseball players to perform, every so often it will become OK to fail. Especially when you provide no veteran leadership to make sure everyone knows that MLB don’t play like that homie.

Creating a culture only happens when the example is set at the executive level. Start with Bob. You only have to talk when something good happens, you’ll wind up with execs who feel that way. Which leads to coaches who don’t think they owe you an answer on a subject. which leads to players who think you don’t deserve to ask because you never played the game.

Never spend money unless the attrition of arbitration forces your hand, leads to executives who fear losing prospects and fear an extension that doesn’t work out more than they fear losing. All that leads to coaches who are afraid to push the envelope with a starter because they know they can’t possibly expect the team to spend prospect capital or money to recoup the loss. Then it leads to players waiting to get paid, expecting it to never really happen until they’re in their next stop.

Sign some guys to extensions, and pick up some quality free agents, executives will start making smarter decisions with call ups and signings because the sphincter isn’t quite as tight. Coaches feel more secure that they can rely on who’s here while they focus their attention to onboarding and training youngsters. Players know they could be next to earn that belief from their team. They know performance does matter and they know they could win here.

Again, no dollar figure, no set list of needs, just culture.

Build a culture from the top down and maybe, just maybe things will start to turn around over time. Right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates are an organization that is going to have a small but rabid fan base when they win, each and every one of them will in the back of their head know when it all falls apart.

Culture can abate that to a degree, so long as the culture includes spending like a major league baseball team, even a bottom third level spending baseball team.

This fan base isn’t stupid, so don’t expect us to believe 60 million is the best you could do. More than that, don’t expect us to believe that’s how it had to be so this whole rebuild works. That’s an absolute farce.

There is no reason this couldn’t have been better this year with even an increase of 15 million in the payroll.

Back to culture, maybe include getting the fans to buy in.

Give them a reason to cheer, they’ll deal with growing pains. Give them something mediocre but acceptable, they’ll believe in that rookie that much more should he beat your first option out.

Build a culture of trying.

We aren’t dumb, and we’ll accept this league isn’t fair. What we won’t accept is that this city is so poorly supporting their MLB franchise that this is what we deserve. I know we won’t accept that because it’s flatly not true.

This fan base has supported this team since 1979 with next to nothing to show for it and not a single hall of fame player who spent more than 3 or 4 seasons in Pittsburgh.

I’d say we’re supporting this team a bit better than they’ve deserved actually.

Don’t tell us it’s different, show us. You’ll be surprised how patient we’ll be if you show us you’re trying while we wait.

Do things like this and maybe, just maybe you’ll start to make that slow and steady climb back up the spiral. Maybe instead of digging yourself deeper into the ground you’ll find your way closer to what you want to reach.

More than anything, maybe someone will be there to watch it.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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