8-25-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
The Pirates have a bad season in progress. You all don’t need me to tell you that. 100 losses is still in the balance, but it’s also well within their reach.
I don’t see a way this club can return with the same staff in 2023, despite what the Pirates have said publicly.
And I’m not talking about replacing a fringe coach like Mike Rabelo, I mean I can’t see them returning with the big three, Derek Shelton, Oscar Marin, and Andy Haines. I might even throw John Baker the Director of Coaching and Player Development into the mix.
Even in a rebuild you can’t lose what could add up to 3 consecutive 100 loss seasons if you aggregate up what 2020 would have been if stretched out, and just return the management group that presided over it. Not if you want to be taken seriously anyway, which in and of itself is in question isn’t it?
One thing I’ve never liked is the absolute lopsided propensity to hire guys to fill roles they’ve never filled professionally. I’m not saying they need to hire all crusty old dudes to fill every role, but when almost none of your players have experience, it stands to reason you’d want your coaches to have some. It’s not as though the players being green was a surprise.
John Baker was a Mental Skills Coordinator with the Cubs in 2019 and he started his career in 2015 as a special assistant. When he was brought in by the Pirates to be the Director of Player Development in 2020 it was a big title for a relatively inexperienced administrator. When he had Coaching added to his responsibilities last season it became even more so.
I don’t know how you judge what Mr. Baker has done here if I’m honest. The actual coaches in the minors by in large are more highly touted than the Major League club, but results matter, and the system isn’t getting many good ones anyway.
Replacing the guy who has built the entire architecture of your system 3 years into a long range reconstruction plan seems a bit premature on the surface, but the list of players this system is producing that look to have BIG impact is pretty small. To be clear, I don’t think it’s fair to blame him for the players that have been brought in, but where are the guys who were largely under the radar who suddenly look like every other team was stupid for passing on them? Matt Gorski? Man that might be it so far and he’s not exactly a finished product either.
I’m also not sure firing Baker would count to many fans. He’s not a face they see every day, he’s not one of the guys who’ve been calling what you’ve watched progress for 3 years.
What about Oscar Marin? First thing I can say is, last year, I’m all aboard. This year, I’ve actually started to see some improvement, even if in many cases it’s been from getting out of the way when a player takes it upon himself to make some changes.
I can honestly say I’ve seen Mitch Keller improve, largely by adding a 2-seam fastball and reintroducing his curveball instead of exclusively using his slider. JT Brubaker has been a bit more capable of providing length and he doesn’t look like his arm is falling off as we get to the stretch run in 2022. He has always thrown a 2-seamer, but this year he’s using it to backdoor freeze right handed pitching and it’s been really effective.
Chase De Jong, Wil Crowe, Tyler Beede, I could go on. Point is if I had to pick pitching or hitting, I’d identify hitting as the biggest issue 10 times out of 10 and entering this season I honestly can’t say I saw it going that way.
Still, it’s been 3 years, and most of the improvements have been driven by independent instruction, hell, Keller admitted he has talked to Clay Holmes, currently with the Yankees, when adopting the sinker into his quiver. I also don’t know how much we should attribute to the hire of Dewey Robinson from the Rays organization to improvement.
Last thing I’ll say about the pitching, one thing you’d like to see from a pitching coach is some kind of ability to help stop the bleeding. The Pirates have now lost seven double-digit games this year and have allowed 10 or more in 11 contests. Some of that is having bad pitchers, some of it is position players pitching late in out of reach games, some of that is a pitching coach who isn’t getting through to his guys about how much better it is to get 3 outs while surrendering 3 runs in a tough situation than it is to give up 6 trying to prevent any.
All that being said, our next category doesn’t help with that lesson. How can you tell pitchers it’s ok to give up a couple when your team is highly unlikely to score 3 runs in a game?
Low hanging fruit time folks, Andy Haines.
The Pirates finished last in 2021 scoring 3.76 runs per game, under Andy Haines in 2022 the Bucs are sitting at 3.58. They struck out 8.20 times per game in 2021, in 2022 they are currently striking out at a 9.26 clip.
The Pirates finished dead last in homeruns last year with 124, this year they’re already hit 121 so they’ll clear that stat by a country mile. Problem is it has come at the expense of getting guys on base, in 2022 the Pirates have an OBP of .287 and a team AVG of .220, last year those figures were .309/.236.
Fact is, outside the home run stat, you’d be hard pressed to find an offensive stat in which the Pirates have improved, in fact most have overtly regressed. Not something you want to excuse when you’ve brought up offensive talents from your “highly touted” system all year and retained your two “stars” in Hayes and Reynolds.
No, it’s not fair to judge him based on the overall stats alone. Those stats include Yu Chang, Josh VanMeter, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Tyler Heineman, Michael Perez, Greg Allen, Anthony Alford, I mean, do you want me to keep going? It is fair though to expect Bryan Reynolds to not struggle for two months to get his swing together. It’s fair to expect newly extended “face of the franchise” Ke’Bryan Hayes to not look like someone most fans would be screaming about had he been brought in from the waiver wire.
Assistants are, fair or unfair, judged by how the stars do. So, in my mind the same thing that saves Marin, damns Haines. Add in rookies that look far better before he has a chance to “coach them up” than after and this is an easy decision for me.
It’d be even easier if Derek Shelton himself wasn’t such a question mark.
I’m not going to go through Shelton’s history here, we’ve all heard enough of that noise. the only history that matters now is what he’s laid down here in Pittsburgh since 2020.
In that time, we’ve watched him not use the same lineup more than a few times. We’ve seen him lack the feel for when to and when not to pull a pitcher. He’s made rookie mistakes, but 3 years in he continues to make more.
Derek steps in to hitting instruction periodically with mixed results, and while the players on his roster aren’t his doing, there doesn’t seem to be an effort to start his best 9 often enough, even at home.
He’s signed for next year but even for Nutting moving on would be peanuts. Thing is, one thing you can’t get past when going after Shelton is how many of his decisions and choices aren’t his alone. Ben Cherington and the analytics department might as well be little guys with red and white suits on either shoulder telling him what to do.
That leads us to Ben Cherington. I see zero chance he’s fired, and while I didn’t expect this season to be good, I do think it’s fair to say fans had every right to expect better than this. They aren’t just losing, they’re losing big. They aren’t just losing because they have bad players, they’re losing because they have bad players they refuse to replace with younger players who have already shown an ability to at least do something well at the Big League level.
I’ll say again, zero chance he gets fired, but if he doesn’t feel flames at least touching his backside a bit then Bob Nutting isn’t doing his job, again. Thing is, Nutting already stepped in once and forced this GM to correct a misstep when he refused to accept Bryan Reynolds had to go through the arbitration process. Maybe stepping in again and explaining to this former World Series Champion GM that in 2023 this team HAS to show marked improvement is in order.
As an organization, they put forward a face of complacence, if not overt denial. That needs to change because while fans understand what this process looks like, and some even fully accept the problems are more about the league than the team alone, 3 years of it and the fact other teams in similar spots are actually making some progress conspire to at least require some audible and visual urgency.
No matter how this process has gone, should they produce a competitive team fans will remember the destination more than the journey to be sure, but let me ask you this, if you leave on Saturday to start a vacation stay on Sunday and don’t wind up arriving until Tuesday, you’d still have fun, but wouldn’t you still be a bit ticked off you lost 3 days of your stay just getting there?
The funny thing is, Boston or Toronto fans aren’t more patient than Pittsburgh fans, so you can’t give him a pass like it’s caught him off guard that fans are irritated. Maybe that’s why it’s so impossible to accept words like “progress” from him. We all know what progress looks like, and we all know it’s not this. Worse, we know he knows it’s not this.
Bottom line, the Pirates have to fire someone minimally, and while it’s not typical to remove an assistant you just hired a year ago, Haines is the easy choice to me, but I’d be tempted to pull the trigger on Shelton too. He’s a former hitting coach himself and he’s presided over 3 of the worst offensive seasons we’ve seen here in Pittsburgh, and I don’t need to tell you that’s saying something.
To change nothing would be the same as saying to every fan, we are happy with what this team did in 2022. I can’t see a path to that being acceptable, then again, acceptable hasn’t exactly been a qualification for talent acquisition so maybe we’re asking for more than they care to give. If so, trust me, this won’t work, with or without Nutting spending money.
Fans being unreasonable is kinda their job, that’s not what this is though. This is a franchise that has openly decided that those who don’t see the vision are simply not seeing things the right way. You can tell this is the case when you see quotes start with “what you have to understand”, or “that’s not how we measure…”.
Nothing could be more disingenuous than trying to blame fans for not getting it. First, 90% of fans don’t feel the need to care beyond Wins and Losses. If you want to sell to them, you better start talking to when that singular stat will improve, and they don’t even care about how, just when. The 10% who will accept marginal improvement to individuals, well they don’t want to hear those platitudes either, even they eventually want to see W/L improve and would love to hear when that’s a reality?
Urgency is missing, and until they have it and show it, I’m not sure how they can expect players to have or show it.
Weird element to lack, it’s the only one ALL fans share.