10-3-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
The Pirates have managed to hold off 100 losses for at least one more day, and as usual, they do it in the most unthinkable way. Think of how bad this team has been in 2022, then think of some of the strangest things they’ve pulled off.
Sweeping the Dodgers, in LA. Just a year removed from not sweeping anyone, they back to back sweep the Reds. Yesterday, any Pirates fan from the past oh say 15 years knows that winning in St. Louis when Adam Wainwright is pitching is a tall ask. Add in winning when Albert Pujols hits a homerun against them and man you have a whole bunch of WTF.
As bad as this team has been, think on this for a minute. They’ve had 57 save opportunities in 2022, and blown 27 of them. That’s with a pathetic offense, and an underwhelming pitching staff if I’m being kind, and still it’s more than apparent how improving just one aspect of this team could tangibly effect the outcomes of these games.
I say all this because I think it should serve management to see that investment, even if minimal can make a huge difference. This isn’t a swing to suddenly being a contender, but don’t you feel better about what this team did in 2022 if they only added say 10 wins?
1. Why Should Fans Care?
As every Sunday throughout the season, Ben Cherington appeared on his weekly show on 93.7 the Fan. Jason Mackey was kind enough to transcribe a portion, the portion I want to discuss.
Now, before you go on reading, really let that run on answer sink in.
OK, let me boil it down.
Basically, fans should know young players aren’t finished products, and they should also relish the opportunity to watch them improve. You know, don’t you want to say you were there faithfully before they got good?
That’s not a whole lot different than the comments I challenged Derek Shelton on last week in this very space. This team simply doesn’t recognize that casual fans are what they’ve created, at best. I’m not blaming this management group for creating that culture, but they certainly haven’t done anything to change it either.
Casual fans, AKA, people who simply aren’t going to watch 100 Pirates games in a given season, aren’t going to see “progression”. They’re going to turn on the TV once a week and decide they’ve seen NCIS reruns enough, maybe flip over to the Bucco game, you know, they heard about this guy who hits the ball crazy hard. The team has maybe half an inning to capture someone like this.
If 9 times out of 10 that half inning is rewarded with a pitcher getting shelled, or three guys striking out, including the one guy they tuned in to see, guess what, you lost them.
Bottom line, the Pirates are selling to seagulls. Meaning, if you open a loaf of bread at the beach, you won’t need to attract “customers”, they’ll be all around you. Well, what the Pirates are selling right now is an invitation to a journey, and let’s face it, fans who are into that sort of thing, like me, and probably you if you’re reading this, don’t need the sales pitch, and to those casual fans, it’s quite simply road apples.
There are common denominators here though that the team could hit on if they only pulled their heads out of the sand long enough to take a breath. Fans who have been on this Lord of the Rings sized journey aren’t going to see a roster that has exactly zero first basemen as progress, and neither are the casuals. I could go on and hit the catching position, I could take this to actively having only 4 starting pitchers for the best part of a month. It’s easy for me to take it to cutting a player popular with both casual fans and the trudging masses 9 games before the season ends.
Another aspect they miss here continuously, they haven’t earned the one thing you have to have when inviting people on some epic quest, trust. Show a casual fan the record every year since this crew came on board with no context and you’ll be hard pressed to convince them you’ve even left the Shire.
I asked for honesty from this group when they came on board, and this certainly is honest. But if you really are concerned with not selling tickets or season tickets, the first thing to realize is the citizens, you know, the people who just go to a game because it’s Pittsburgh, it’s Summer, and their mom or dad took them, well you have maybe 7 innings to sell them. Cool videos won’t do it. More Pierogis won’t get it done either. Good baseball will get it done. Showing fans that guy you’re watching grow will be here longer than it takes to accrue value might help too.
Either way, wrong message. This one only is going to speak to people you already have, and believe me, even we are a bit pissed you didn’t mention filling a single hole.
I’ll also again call back to my Dad who filled my head with nuggets I never let go of. “Gary, nobody cares how hard you work if the result is garbage.”
2. Crying for Prospects
We all remember that half of 2022 was spent crying for Oneil Cruz to get called up to the Bigs. Roansy Contreras was much the same when he was sent down to “save his arm”. People are still championing Travis Swaggerty.
Before I get into the fan reaction, let me say this, the team is in charge of whether this stuff has a place in our conversations or not. For instance, this season they were actively playing inferior talents in front of them, had they provided, people probably are more apt to see the wisdom.
Let’s take one position, the starting rotation. If they start the season with say Keller, Brubaker, Contreras, Oviedo and Bryse Wilson, the immediate cries for Luis Ortiz, Mike Burrows and Quinn Priester will be loud and steady. If they go out and get themselves a quality free agent or two, people probably won’t do much of that.
In other words, if you want to “manipulate” and have a real reason to do so, maybe don’t leave a gaping hole.
No matter how many times fans watch prospects come up here and struggle to find a foot hold, there will always be a hunger for the next when whomever is at the MLB level is struggling, especially if struggling has been something they’ve watched that player do for 2 or 3 seasons.
Now, fans take this stuff too far at times too. In all reality, Luis Ortiz did every one of us a favor in his last outing. He showed that while he’s very talented, he also truly has much to work on. He needs to develop his changeup minimally, he needs to discover whatever mechanism he loses when his control goes awry, and correct it.
Until his last start, most of you simply couldn’t have been talked into believing any of that. He started better than anyone I can remember in recent memory, yes, even better than Roansy, and promise turns to expectation in a blink of an eye for fans desperate for something.
He’ll be in the competition for a starting role next Spring, and there is every chance he goes out on that mound in Bradenton and looks like a world beater, but that one outing he showed why he might not be ready, and more than that, he might not even be the first alternate.
He could do the opposite too, he could bomb out in Spring as he tries to prove he has a handle on a third or fourth pitch that he’s throwing in anger for the first time and fans will run from him as an option just as quick as Sidney Crosby decides to go to the backhand. That too won’t be the end of his story, or his potential.
As the team fills with prospects loaded with potential and pairs them with more who’ve put their foot down already, the hunger for every prospect to be immediately called up will be replaced by trepidation. For instance, look at Nick Gonzales, he may perform like every bit a number one pick, but he also might have to wait until injury provides an opportunity. And when he gets it, you might not be thinking “thank god, the dude is here!” You might instead be thinking, “damn, Castro was killing it, hope he’s not out long, hope Nick is ok at least.”
Bottom line, if the team fills holes, the immediate cries for every top prospect to supplant whomever is here will quiet, and so will the complaints that the team is unfairly treating them. Instead they’ll either perform their way onto the team, or be forced into action.
Now, when that forced into action stuff crops up, the Pirates would do well to not allow those silly manipulation issues to crop up. That part of this thing needs to take a backseat moving forward.
The prospects are exciting, but now that we’ve worked our way through a couple seasons of seeing them arrive and do their thing, it’s time for us to recognize that now some of them will lose their job to better players, and some of them will excel and block the names we immediately assumed to be part of the future winning team. That’s baseball, problem is, we haven’t seen this really play out in Pittsburgh in decades. Think about it, once Neil Walker came up, who was pushing from behind? Once Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon were promoted, who was next?
This is different, and if you don’t see it now, you will soon.
3. What to Do with Kevin Newman
Trade him, cut him, bench him, start him, I’ve heard literally every single one of these put forward by fans and truth be told, any of them could wind up being accurate.
Kevin is eligible for his second year of arbitration and I’d expect him to get a couple million as an award. It’s very clear that with Oneil Cruz locked in as the short stop, Rodolfo Castro and Ji-hwan Bae with their sites set on second base, and Liover Peguero along with Nick Gonzales on their way too, the Bucs aren’t going to easily find at bats for Newman.
Let’s do a traditional Pros vs Cons list to help us figure out what we should do here.
Kevin is a top notch defender, both at second base and short stop, with the limiting of the shift, range and shear fielding ability is going to be key.
At .276, Newman leads the team in batting average
He ranks 3rd on the active roster with his OBP of .319
For a team that strikes out a ton, Kevin only struck out 16% of his at bats in 2020
Good teammate, veteran leadership.
OPS has not been Newman’s friend, for his career he sits at .661.
Being a bench player typically makes pinch hitting a skill set you much possess, Kevin’s lack of power makes that a very specialized role, and even if you grant him being an OBP guy, he doesn’t walk enough to believe he’d excel in those situations.
Inconsistent performance season to season. Changing and sticking with batting stance has been an issue.
Little trade value
All in all, I just don’t know. Part of me thinks they simply don’t have anyone else I’m comfortable playing at SS should something happen to Cruz, but if Cruz gets hurt, maybe it wouldn’t matter. Tough one here, and I could legitimately see them going either way.
4. Get a Look, Needs to Become Get a Guy
This team has fished the sewer of the waiver wire for 3 years running, and the time has come for that to end. Let Miguel Andujar be the last of his ilk, whether he works out or not. As we discussed up top, the Pirates have ver defined holes in the lineup and pitching staff, it shouldn’t be left up the the whim of other teams to fill them.
Players expected to play first base, well, let’s just say it’d be nice if they’ve played there before. Pitchers expected to pitch the 7th inning, sure would be nice if we knew they’d done it before.
The time has come for more bets educated by MLB experience as opposed to bets based on the supposed talent level scouts tagged a kid with 4 or 5 years ago. Want a good for instance? I thought so, Instead of an Erik Gonzalez who might be good, if only they can fix X, Y or Z, maybe get someone who’s established that he can do the job, at least to an MLB average level.
It’s one thing to build a team from prospects, they’re hardly the first to do so, but every team who’s turned that into a productive effort, they don’t rely on waiver claims. They are typically a nice thing on the rare occasion they work out, even more rarely they wind up mattering.
The Pirates can try to get lucky in a lot of ways, this one is simply not a good bet.
5. Three Games Left, What’s Left to Fight For?
This should be obvious, but on a team full of kids, they all better be fighting for their own future.
That said, they have a chance to not finish in the basement, and if they somehow swept the Cardinals who likely will be resting players for the post season, they can also avoid 100 losses.
I get it, both of those are really awful things to shoot for and if we were in April looking at goals like that I’d totally agree, but here we are. The end of the year and having anything team oriented to shoot for is worth exploiting.
Individual Milestones Within Reach
Jack Suwinski – Currently at 18 homeruns, so 20 isn’t out of the question.
Bryan Reynolds – Currently at 27 homeruns, 30 is a reach, but this is also a guy who’s hit 3 in one game.
Bryan Reynolds – Currently sitting on an OPS of .802, he could be the only player to finish above .800. (yes, that is sad) It will be his 3rd lowest figure in his 4 year career regardless.
Mitch Keller – One more start to go, his ERA currently sits at 3.92. Finishing under 4.00 would really help his arbitration hearing.
That’s about it, next week we’ll be wrapping up this season and the numbers are quite frankly going to be ugly. I’ll dig deeper than those of course, but we shouldn’t ignore what they put on paper. This team didn’t provide enough talent, but they need to be honest and ask themselves if they also didn’t provide enough quality training.