Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

9-19-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

A sweep of the Reds quickly followed by a sweep from the Mets. Progress negated in a single predictable series. Thing is folks, as I’ve said countless times, the losing is one thing, losing as badly as the Pirates did in this series, that’s what makes you feel like nothing is improving.

For instance, The Pirates lost to the Cardinals right before heading to Cincinnati and because they were fairly competitive games, it was easier to look at what went right next to all that went wrong. When you lose badly, and do things like strike out 33 times in two of those contests, how can you talk about anything else?

Sure, I remember Cruz hitting that 3 run shot to tie the game off DeGrom, I also remember the hitters striking out 20 times and the beaten to hell bullpen imploding. It’s really hard to find any joy in that one swing when it’s placed next to all that other awful.

Let’s do this.

1. Seed-Gate

Couple things. First, I’m not going to repost the video, you’ve all seen it and hardly need a play by play from yet another commenter. Second, I’m in no way excusing it.

I also don’t see things like this, or the Will Craig play last year, or Hayes missing first last year, or Rodolfo Castro’s phone falling out of his pocket, or whatever embarrassing play you can think of as reflective of the entire team.

On the Hayes play in which he clearly had an insatiable hunger for more seeds (hope they were a good flavor at least BTW), I immediately heard things like, of course he doesn’t care, the front office doesn’t.

Silly.

In that very play, Jack Suwinski ran all the way from left field to back up the slightest possibility of a wild throw to a base in which the likelihood of throwing there was next to nil. Mitch Keller did his job too, running over to back up the throw from the outfield and good thing he did cause the throw was awful.

Hayes did something that according to every single player I talked to, and my final count on this subject was around 14, was a bad look, but something each felt they’ve done something similar too, they just didn’t get caught and have it highlighted.

One player told me “I know for a fact I’ve tied my shoes more than once on a ball hit to right field.”

Again, this isn’t an excuse, and that’s precisely why exactly zero of those 14 players made up of past, and current players, not just from Pittsburgh refused to publicly excuse it. They all know it’s a bad look, and they all know if it happened to them they’d be embarrassed.

Derek Shelton being dismissive of it too is worthy of embarrassment.
“The people that watch us play every night know that our effort is never anything that comes into question. We’ve had maybe three times all year long where effort has come into question, and we’ve dealt with it,” Shelton said. “People that don’t watch us play on a nightly basis, I can understand how you may have an opinion on that, but the opinion that matters to me is in our clubhouse and within our group.”

The first thing I’ll say here is, when you’re shepherding a team poised to lose the equivalent of 100 games for the 3rd straight year, how many people do you really believe are watching every game?

Further, I have watched every game, literally, every one of them, every inning. I see something once a week easily that makes me cringe. Some of it on good plays mind you. Like Rodolfo Castro’s homerun the other day where he admired it and turned to the dugout to keep his competitive thing with Oneil Cruz going. Dude, that was a wall scraper. One gust of wind and you are either out or standing at first with an embarrassing single.

Hayes isn’t the type to need punished to understand he did wrong, others are. The problem with not punishing Hayes is that simple fact, now you have a double standard set up for the next time you want to get on a guy for not hustling or whatever the situation is.

At the end of the day, we’ll probably never see this again, not from Ke’Bryan anyway, and if they were poised to win 100 games instead of lose that many, we’re probably laughing it off.

One final piece of advice here for Derek Shelton, your target audience IS those people who don’t watch everyday. This team has made sure over the past 7 or 8 years that they vastly outnumber the people who watch game in and out. Perhaps instead of telling them they haven’t watched enough, acknowledge that it’s your job in part to make them want to. Things like this certainly don’t accomplish that.

2. 20 Strikeouts in One Game, but it Gets Worse

When your team is setting records, you certainly don’t want them to be for things like this. The Pittsburgh Pirates now have 1,382 strikeouts on the year with 16 games remaining. This is already the most in franchise history.

Let me say that again. In 135 years, this is the most strikeouts they’ve ever had. The all time record belongs to the Chicago Cubs who struck out 1,596 times during the 2021 season. That record is safe, but man it’s not something you want to flirt with either.

It’s not surprising that of the top ten strikeout totals for the franchise most occurred in the modern era. 2012-1354, 2016-1334, 2013-1330, 2021-1328, 2015-1322, in fact I have to jump all the way to 14th place just to reach one that wasn’t in this century, 1999-1197.

The game has trended this way and it hasn’t happened in the dark. Anyone who has watched this game since at least the 1980’s still can’t wrap their head around how anyone could strikeout this much and be “good”.

The 3 true outcomes of a strikeout, walk or homerun have turned a game that used to be about strategy and speed into a max swing at all costs at all times pissing match.

I mean, just look at that list, the Pirates won 98 games in 2015 while striking out 1,322 times. I watched it and still can’t wrap my head around how that total equaled a good team.

Think about this for a second, this awful team, the one we’ve watched all year is currently sitting at 17th in team history for homeruns with 148. If they hit 13 more in these last 16 games they’ll wind up in 6th.

Universally this is accepted as one of the worst Pirates offensive teams we’ve watched, and yet here they are, with one of the better power hitting teams they’ve produced.

In all their years since joining the NL, there are 2 Pirates squads that had lower OBP. Currently at .287, they’re only beaten by the 2020 squad at .284 which I’m not even sure should count and the 1888 squad at .264 which was probably made up of about 7 guys they found scooping horse crap off the cobblestone streets.

How abut batting average? Currently at .221, one point above the all time worst mark set in again 2020 with .220.

If all that doesn’t add up to a change in the hitting coach, I’m out of answers. This has been a historically bad offensive team.

I say all this because you can expect Greg Brown and company to make sure you know about that homerun number as we finish this thing out, but you should know, it only masks some of the completely off the chain awful they’ve produced at the plate.

3. Luis Ortiz is Back for Round Two

The JT Brubaker injury will likely spell the end of his season, and bluntly, that’s probably not a bad thing. In fact, only once (2018-154) has he thrown more innings than he did this year with 141.1. He finishes the year with an ERA of 4.58, his best since becoming a MLB pitcher to go along with his worst ever WHIP at 1.458.

He’ll be back in 2023, and really whether you think it’s wise or not, he’ll be in the rotation, at least to start. Look at him as a low bar for others to beat out and a dependable innings provider. That’s really all he’s earned at this point.

Luis Ortiz is just beginning his journey and probably wasn’t expected to see another inning of MLB play this year before the injury. We all saw what he did to the Reds who are at least in competition with Pittsburgh for the most pathetic offense in the league, next he’ll get a shot at the Yankees. Deep breaths kid.

No matter what he does, Ortiz is likely to start 2023 in AAA. I say that for a couple reasons, first being Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras and JT Brubaker are virtual locks. Next, they’ll absolutely be signing at least another starter, maybe two and then he has to get past Johan Oviedo who you just know they want to give a healthy shot to.

Ortiz will be firmly planted in the next wave, which thankfully this time includes more than just one pitcher. Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Cody Bolton, Omar Cruz and Ortiz himself will all compete for an opportunity and the thing is each and every one of them could legitimately be good.

That’s a far more promising list of possibilities to this year’s team.

For a player like Ortiz, this is an opportunity to give himself a leg up on his competition. He’ll head into Spring training with something most of those others don’t have, MLB experience, ok, and a 101 MPH fastball too.

He also represents something I think we all should keep our eyes on, if a player performs well, even if he’s in Single A, this team isn’t afraid to rocket them through the system. So maybe next time you see that highlight package of Po-Yu Chen or Anthony Solometo, perhaps shrugging it off like you won’t see them for 3 or 4 years is at least a bit cavalier.

We’ve seen already multiple times this club considers AA to be a step away from the majors, just like AAA. Now we’ve seen that they aren’t in any way afraid to let a kid scoot through the system like a hot knife through butter if their play warrants it.

There isn’t much to watch with excitement in these last 16 games, but Ortiz is one that I personally can’t wait to see more from. A franchise that in my mind still doesn’t have enough pitching in the system producing someone that I truly didn’t see being a factor yet gives me hope they have more that I simply haven’t acknowledged yet.

4. Amongst All the Bad…

As I think I illustrated in a fairly disgusting fashion up there, this has been a historically bad season. That said, they’ve found some kids who have at least bought themselves a chance heading into next year to be a part of this thing.

I’m not going to name them all here, you know who’s on this team and it’s up for you to decide who gets you excited and who doesn’t. Next year they have a real shot to add in as many as 5 players in MLB’s top 100 prospect list. Endy Rodriguez, Henry Davis, Quinn Priester, Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero. Depending on which list you like, you could even toss Mike Burrows in there.

None of them should be seen as the savior. None of them should be counted upon to single handedly alter the course of this franchise. Collectively though, they all will add to the talent level, and competition to make this club a better and more competitive team.

I’m very aware that some of them had poor seasons or at least were injured, but this wave of talent is what we’ve been pointing to since they started amassing talent back with the first trade of Starling Marte.

I’m skipping right over some other players who we haven’t really even seen yet like Travis Swaggerty, Ji-hwan Bae, Matt Gorski, Matt Fraiser, Mason Martin, Malcom Nunez. Point is, there is even more talent on the way than there was this year, and despite the record, it’s hard to deny that youngsters had a positive impact this year.

Roansy Contreras, Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, and you go as far as you want, again, personal preference for who got your juices flowing, but it’s kind of insane to see so many decide this whole thing is stalled with that much talent right there within shouting distance.

I absolutely get that in 3 years you’d expect to see material evidence of improvement on the field, and I truly believe with minimal investment they could have produced that for you. They chose not to do that, or more accurately those they chose to help that effort for reasons of ineffectiveness or injury didn’t produce that, but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water here.

5. Words I Don’t Like Using and Why

We see all kinds of buzz words thrown around, especially in all the hot take producing sect of Pirates media and honestly, I hate it. Today I’m going to name them, and explain why I don’t like them with one overriding reason that applies to each one of them, they’re lazy.

Tank – This is just stupid, and it was stupid before baseball put in a lottery system for determining the first pick overall. To “tank” one must believe that from the Winter preceding the season, everyone in management looks around the room and says, say, if we just get rid of this guy and that guy, we might suck enough to get that top pick! Think about that for a second. Imagine doing anything in life and deciding before you even start you were going to aim to be the worst at it. Now, Imagine doing it while rostering 7-10 players you honestly feel will play a role in a future winning team. It’s losing, not tanking. That’s it, The word and the sentiment are lazy beyond measure, so I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked to see it used routinely.

Punt – Define it. Calling what the Pirates will do next season a punt is so simplistic it’s literally impossible to be wrong. If they sign 2 starters, a catcher, a first baseman and a DH and still don’t get above .500, was it a punt? Well, if you said it was going to be the answer will of course be yes. That’s because there is no tangible definition for the word as it applies to baseball. It also has an inherently negative connotation and since it comes from football perhaps we should mention that while it’s not a thrilling play there certainly are times when it’s the best play to make. To some, punting could literally be not firing the hitting coach. To others, it could mean giving someone another chance in 2023, you know, cause if everyone had their wish Mitch Keller might already be somewhere else.

Competitive – I hate this one because you could lose every game by one run and lose 162 and be more “competitive” than they’ve been this year. What does it mean? To some, it means being within a game or two of the division lead in September, to others it means in the conversation for a wild card berth. Just say what you mean. If you think they need to be in the fight for the division to reach this designation, just say that. All this word does is give people room to argue.

The reason I hate all these things is pretty simple, it’s the same reason most of you hate the vagueness of everything the GM says, they all leave room for interpretation and really mean nothing.

I’m not being entirely serious here, but I always think we do better when we understand the way we’re being manipulated. The blowhards that use these words as part of their hot takes are doing so for one reason, there is always a way they can spin their way out of it. They’re tanking but finish 4th or 5th in the league, well they can’t even do that right. They manage .500 next year and you were told they were punting, well of course they were right, if they didn’t punt they’d have won 90.

When you see these silly things, force them to be more specific, you’ll see what I mean as soon as they absolutely go out of their way to not elaborate. Or they’ll try to turn it around on you, something like “so you’d say they aren’t tanking then?” which of course sets you up for being a shill.

It’s all a game. Don’t play if you can avoid it.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

2 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. I won’t leave a glut of comments or long ones as I catch up, but this post I must commend. Every point I thoroughly enjoyed, thank you.
    Regarding accusations of being a shill, Greg Brown and his colleagues are literally paid to be shills like every person in outward-facing roles in any organization, so that always dumbfounds me when people make him a lightning rod. I’ve better avoided playing the dumb game in recent years and agree that it’s much better.

    Liked by 1 person

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