2-13-23 – by Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
This week, pitchers and catchers officially report to camp in Bradenton, Florida. Although, many players are already down there working, it’s still an official start to Spring activities and the switch has been flipped from Football season to Baseball season.
I love just about all sports. The NFL, and college football. Hockey, soccer, college hoops, but nothing hits me quite like the reset that every baseball season feels like once the middle of February comes along.
This one feels especially good, because for the first time since at least 2019 I don’t look at the roster thinking about which of the top 5-6 picks in the draft the Pirates might qualify for.
1. The World Baseball Classic
First thing to know is which Pirates including NRI players are going to be involved?
There seems to be some confusion about why the Pirates didn’t want Ji-man Choi to participate, but allowed all these other players to be involved. As I wrote in last week’s 5 Thoughts, Choi is recovering from an injury. He’s in the finishing stages of rehab, and the Pirates simply don’t want to off shore that stewardship to someone else. They want to decide when he’s ready to do X, Y and Z.
But they have no real issue with players participating. In fact, MLB itself is extremely intolerant of teams protesting anyone’s participation, that’s why the Choi case was news. The Pirates had a legitimate concern and MLB agreed with their appeal.
I’m seeing quite a few local baseball fans who aren’t interested in this event at all, and I can see that, it’s traditionally poorly covered here in the states, lets talk about the event a bit, how you can watch, and why they’re trying to do this.
This graphic is from MLB.com and it gives you a quick glance at the bracket itself.
This tournament will be televised on Fox, FS1, FS2, the Fox Sports App, and Fox Deportes.
This is all part of MLB’s initiative to promote the game worldwide, but as so many sports tend to do when trying to gain international traction, they forget the already existing fans.
What this is, is a collection of some of the best players in the world, playing baseball in a quick tournament format and it’s geared toward building some national pride as well as introducing some of the game’s stars to markets that may or may not even know who Bryce Harper is.
The Olympics used to help with this, but collectively bargaining participation of everyone in the middle of the MLB season has been difficult to keep steady. For instance it last happened in 2020, and is expected to return in 2028 and even then, it may be more prospect laden than star studded.
Watch if you like, complain if you must, but do keep in mind, to some parts of the world, this is quite literally one of the most exciting events on the calendar. In America, who is starting 3B for the lowly Reds is probably more exciting.
These things take time to take hold, if they ever do, but talk to a player who’s participating and you might at least see why it’s important to them.
2. Speaking of Catchers, There’s One More Now
Because the Pirates signed Austin Hedges to be the clear starter at catcher, most of our conversations surrounding the position have been about the backup role.
The Pirates brought in another for that competition, Kevin Plawecki. Add him to Tyler Heineman, Jason Delay, Carter Bins, and if you’re still someone who thinks the Pirates weren’t serious about Endy and Henry starting in the minors, them too. They’ll all be there, but the competition doesn’t really involve all of them.
Plawecki has an established relationship with Rich Hill, and while that alone won’t earn him the gig, his experience just might.
He certainly didn’t have a good 2020, but his career numbers do look like an offensive upgrade. OBP of .313 and a .654 OPS is superior to anyone competing with him.
Keep in mind too, the Pirates are very likely to carry a taxi squad catcher for the majority of the season, while that’s not likely to be Plawecki, it certainly could be Heineman or Delay.
Defensively, he’s a pretty good framer, but his pop time is brutal. How brutal? Well he’s in the 1 percentile. Of the 84 catchers who were measured in 2022, Plawecki comes in 82nd. For perspective Tyler Heineman clocks in at 72 and ranked 19th for this metric and his framing is comparable.
With baseball’s new rules, especially the larger bases and limiting the number of step offs a pitcher can have, a catcher who’s quick to second might outweigh the 10-15 percentage points in batting average or OBP.
Add in Heineman’s elite exchange time of 0.63, which literally led the league, and defensively, I’m not sure Heineman can be beat back there for the role.
Now if you just want to add some offense, knowing you have Hedges back there for the defensive stalwart, maybe that’s how you make this call, but if it comes down to which one gives you more back there, at least historically, Heineman is far superior.
One more thing about Plawecki, he’s slower than Moses in January. I add this in because if I’m giving him credit for having a better OBP, I feel I have to point out he’s a station to station runner.
Either way, I appreciate bringing in another veteran option on an MiLB contract. We of course don’t know yet if he has an opt out but the fact the team built in a structure for paying Plawecki much more should he make the MLB roster, my assumption would be yes. That’s all it is though, an assumption. If it turns out he does have that option, it may effect the decision they make, but if the defensive differences between he and Heineman are as stark as they look on paper, the club really needs to just make a good decision here.
3. It’s Just Not the Same
I’m not one to preach to you about how all your memories of pitchers racking up 20 wins in 275 innings are worthless. I’m not going to beat you over the head with the fact few are going to break into MLB by hitting .325 with 95% of those hits being singles.
That said, folks, it’s just not the same game.
MLB has changed the rules every single year for decades now, but more than anything, players chase money.
The big money in baseball is hitting homeruns, and kids know it. It may not make for the best team, it may not make them the best player they can be, but it will get them paid.
Look at a guy like Luis Arraez who was just traded from the Twins to the Marlins. He’s played 4 seasons in MLB, just won a batting crown with a .316 batting average and has a career AVG of .314. he doesn’t really steal bases or hit for power, but he hits and gets on base. He’s a really good hitter.
But be really honest, do you consider him to be one of the best players in the game?
He’s been a Silver Slugger, a batting champ, a 1X All Star, plays a bunch of infield positions, but how many guys do you name before you get to him on your list of “greats”?
Kids see this even at the very lowest levels.
Recently I spoke to Scott Seabol on my podcast and we broached this subject. Scott has been an hitting instructor with both the Yankees and the Marlins and played the game at the MLB level himself so I value his thoughts here. He essentially said, no matter how much you try to coach guys into looking for contact more, even while pointing to MLB success stories like the Houston Astros who make contact more often than most, they still see that guy who just got 18 million with a 29% K rate.
Maybe these rule changes will start to chisel away at some of this thinking and increase the value of playing the game differently, but for right now, it’s not just coaches asking everyone to be the same. It’s not just organizations feeling everyone needs to swing out of their shoes.
Players themselves need to believe more contact by way of sacrificing power will still get them paid.
Scott went so far as to tell us a story of a player who was clearly about to get cut due to age and K rate. When trying to get him to hunt a bit more contact, he told his coach, “we’ll have to agree to disagree”.
Folks, the game has changed, and so have the players.
Look back fondly at all the greats you grew up with, but understand, there’s a different definition for “great” today. Especially to the players.
Doesn’t make it right. Doesn’t mean that a team won’t come along and revitalize some of the small ball doctrine many of us grew up with, but just like it didn’t get here overnight, it isn’t going back overnight either.
4. Pirates Early Schedule
Almost every year the Pirates seem to start on the road, and every season the Bucs seem to have at least one day off per week for the entire month of April.
Well, still starting on the road against Cincy March 30th, but after that, they’ll be off March 31st, and April 6th before the home opener on the 7th. They won’t be off again until April 24th.
Typically the Pirates have no need for a full five man rotation at the beginning of the season, but with that aggressive start, they simply can’t enter the season hoping weather spares them having it sorted.
Bottom line, there won’t be much to be gained by starting out with an extra BP arm, but my guess is someone like Velasquez just misses his first turn or they just give everyone extra rest and stay on a 5 man rotation regardless.
Opening the season against the Reds, Red Sox and White Sox, man you could definitely start harder. Those opening 9 games are quickly followed by a significantly harder stretch featuring the Astros, Cardinals and Dodgers.
April looks like it could be a very up and down experience for the club, but if they manage to come out if it with a decent record, I think we’ll all feel a bit better about the overall predictions for 2023.
5. Plans for This Season on the Site
Before we get into it, let me start by saying, thank you all for following along with us here at Inside the Bucs Basement. Everything we do here is free, we don’t put ads on the site, it’s just been our goal to provide as much unbiased content as Craig Toth and I can possibly pull together. Over the years we’ve added other writers like Ethan Smith, Anthony DiFilippo, Corey Shrader, Joe Boyd, Justin Verno and very recently Michael Castrignano.
Last year, Craig and I felt we couldn’t adequately cover every game and we decided to scrap it rather than handle it poorly and ultimately not meet our own standards. You spoke though, and this year, we’re going to bring it back.
We’ll leverage all the writers we can as well as Craig and myself to get back to delivering game in and game out coverage of the team.
I’d also like to talk about our editorial schedule a bit. Every Monday since this site has launched I’ve put forward our signature Five Pirates Thoughts at Five that you are reading right now, and Craig has always posted his Through the Prospect Porthole pieces as well. This year, we want to formalize that a bit.
Mondays we’ll have 5 at 5
Tuesdays we’ll have Craig’s Top 5 Prospect performers (or any specific trait he wants to cover)
Wednesdays Justin will return with his Top 15 Prospect report and I will start a weekly Q&A
Thursdays Craig will be all over his Through the Prospect Porthole piece, a deep dive into a specific prospect or group of prospects
Now that’s what we want to lock in on, but we’ll of course have Justin and Corey or Justin and Joe or hell maybe all three of them put together their very popular Two Guys Talkin’ Trades pieces. Probably closer to the deadline, but who knows, maybe we’ll be talking about picking up something this time around.
Ethan and Michael will contribute some editorials, player portrait type pieces, and I’ll of course keep trying my best to write random opinion pieces and news entries.
Very soon, Craig and I will start working on our season preview piece where we formally predict the record and some things we see happening as the year plays out.
It’s a busy little site and while it remains pro bono we certainly hope it doesn’t feel that way. We take this site seriously because quite frankly, we started it to try to provide information not guided by what got clicks, but what needed to be said.
You have made that count, because this little site has grown exponentially over the years and everyone who has contributed and continues to, well, your dedication to an endeavor that brings you nothing but work, can’t say enough about you.
I should also add, Craig will continue his long running podcast Bucs in the Basement, I’ll keep making my Pirates Fan Forum with Jim Stamm on DK Pittsburgh Sports. Ethan Smith is the host of Locked on Pirates, and Michael Castrignano hosts 412 Double Play Podcast.
Follow all of us on Twitter or Facebook, and get me your questions whenever you think of them. Making those Q&A pieces work requires you staying engaged.
Happy Spring everyone, MUCH more to come.
4 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five – Pitchers & Catchers Incoming”
Your work on the site is very good. This is probably the Pirate Blog that I enjoy the most. I don’t know if you are considering monetizing your investment of time but I’d pay a subscription for your content.
BTW, you ruined my day with your analysis of Plawecki. LOL
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Sorry about that, I shattered my own thoughts writing that one if I’m honest. Happens more than you know. And no, not right now. If we ever did anything we’d probably just introduce ads. Appreciate the kind comment though for sure.
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Sell some Merch!! I would buy some Inside the Bucs Basement gear. Especially a hoodie and a beanie.
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