Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

4-3-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates have had one 3 game series so far, and if it was open to pedestrian traffic, I’d suggest sending extra law enforcement to the Clemente Bridge just to be safe.

Folks, if the Pirates had swept the Reds, I’d be saying largely the same thing. You don’t know much about this team yet. Neither do I, neither does anyone else. Baseball is not a sport that tells you much in 3 games.

Does that mean there isn’t anything worth noting? No. Does it mean you have to like everything you’ve seen? Oh, hell no.

And don’t get me wrong, fans are overreacting all over the country. Some see their 3-0 team and are completely convinced despite what they thought before the season started, they were wrong, and now the World Series is right there for them. Others are 0-3 looking to see who follows Dylan Crews for the top pick in the draft in 2024.

For this team though, even optimistic people thought they’d lose 85-90 games, so unless you thought they were going to start out with 70+ wins first, this was kinda always coming.

Now, let’s go.

1. This Lineup

Let’s start with facts shall we? I always like to start there.

First, Derek Shelton is probably never going to be a manager who leaves well enough alone. He likes to find spots for certain guys, special guys and he simply hasn’t had many of those.

Next up, statistically it has been proven that lineups don’t matter, but I’ve never once talked to an actual player who believes that. They’ll all say the right thing if their manager bounces them around, but I ask every single one I talk to and they’ll each tell me, they’d rather have a fairly consistent spot.

And still more, in today’s game, Baseball, not the actual on field action, and according to all analytics wonks, the very best hitter in your lineup should hit leadoff. Look around, almost everyone is not starting some speedy water bug, instead they’re starting off with guys like Cruz, or Acuna, even Schwarber. The theory being you want your best hitter to come to the plate more than anyone else and the only time the leadoff hitter is sure to actually lead off is the first inning. Like it or hate it, this is a truth in today’s game.

When talking about a lineup, it’s always smart to check out the opposing pitcher. For instance, on Sunday, Graham Ashcraft the Reds starter had some pretty stark reverse splits. Meaning this big right hander was easier to hit for right handed hitters.

All well and good right? Like we can agree all of those things are fair and true I hope.

Every single game a lineup will be posted, and every single day the same complaints will be registered. He’ll probably make 150 of them this year, and all 150 will have something someone doesn’t like, maybe even just playing Austin Hedges, lol.

To make good decisions with the roster, you have to know what you have, and that takes playing time. If you like your starters so much that the bench isn’t going to get much you don’t fill it with youngsters because they have to play.

That doesn’t mean anyone involved is smart enough to make good decisions with the information, but that’s the idea.

Can we please start having some better lineup discussions? Some of the complaints are just tired and boring at this point, and they simply won’t find a coach that doesn’t believe in most of this list of facts, because of the biggest fact of all, this is what the GM wants.

2. Playing Time Lessons

It’s only 3 games, but I’ll be completely honest with you, I’ve been shocked by a few things. Let’s go through them, let me know what you think the team is trying to accomplish.

Ji Hwan Bae – On the bingo card of what is this team doing, I didn’t have Ji Hwan playing every day, even against a tough lefty. He’s played 2B twice and CF once, pretty smooth at both of them, one ill advised play at second. Thursday he was the locomotive of the offense, Saturday and Sunday, he was really pretty bad, especially against Lodolo. Another oddity here, Cruz absolutely is more comfortable with Castro there, maybe that doesn’t matter, maybe it shouldn’t if it does, either way, just sayin’.

Rodolfo Castro – Feels like you can’t mention Bae without also talking about Castro. He’s for sure gotten the bench treatment in the early going. His swing and approach from the left side were being worked on this Spring, like they had him up on the lift in the shop trying to see what they can do mechanically to help this kid who topped a .900 OPS from the right side unlock something from the other side now. A right handed only platoon player is much less valuable than a power hitting switch hitter. Is it possible they are tinkering and just don’t want him trying it out in game at the moment?

Ji-man Choi – He’s appeared in 2 games, but one was a last at bat pinch hit, and the other he was a DH. Now, this one surprises me because he was in my mind a bench player, and I’m shocked that the team might agree. OR, is he just not quite recovered to the point they feel comfortable putting him in the field? Either way, Carlos Santana playing all 3 games of the first series in the field, not exactly what I thought would play out.

Canaan Smith Njigba – He doesn’t have to be a starter per se but if he’s not going to get at bats, just swap him with Mathias. Then again, maybe they think he can handle not getting regular at bats and this is the exact reason he was chosen over Swaggerty. I have no problem with Joe getting at bats, he’s done fine, but I’d like to see him find himself in the lineup a bit more. Sadly the next trip, to Boston isn’t a great park to showcase his skills anyway.

3. The Rotation Likely Won’t Hold Up

The more I think about this rotation minus JT Brubaker, the less I think they’re going to avoid some really messy situations. There are some names you want to see here that could buttress this rotation like Luis Ortiz or Michael Burrows of course, but hear me out.

Luis isn’t ready. He has a changeup, he’s working on it. It’s got good shape to it, but he doesn’t yet have the tunneling or command of the pitch. It’s a needed pitch for him, because while his slider is crazy good, and his fastball is equally impressive, they’re similar velocities. He must have a change of pace to keep people off the velo. I truly don’t believe his handling to be manipulation. And honestly if you wanted to, he could be right now one of their better bullpen arms, but if he can be a starter, wouldn’t you prefer that?

Burrows is mature, I think he could probably do well up here for a bit before he gets scouted, then good hitters are going to take advantage of him a bit. I think it’s fair to want to see him succeed a bit in AAA, but again, if they had to grab someone, he’d be my pick, so long as you don’t think he’s the type to get scarred by what’s eventually coming his way. I don’t believe him to be that fragile.

Priester probably shouldn’t be in this early season talk. He’s not a guy to rush. Sounds like the 5 pitches he used to tout “having” he now, well, has. It’s been a long road for him but it’s starting to look like it’s going to be worth it. Maybe we’ll revisit this though mid season and see how this changes.

Osvaldo Bido is one of the more seasoned options in AAA and he could be an option. After that, you really start to drop off. Again, I’m not talking overall talent in the system, I’m talking early need here folks. Come June, I can probably add some options here but early on, you’ve got to know what’s really there.

When I say it could create some uncomfortable moves, don’t be shocked if Caleb Smith would get a call before anyone I named here. If only because they could turn around and DFA him without “losing” anything they value.

Know what, let’s just hope they stay healthy. lol

4. Haines Hitting Philosophy Takes Too Much Expertise to Thrive Under

That headline right there, that’s how I look at the Andy Haines system. I think very good, very accomplished hitters, especially those with a really good eye at the plate can do fine under Haines, and execute his philosophy well.

See Daniel Vogelbach last year. He’s not a great hitter, but he’s a noted pitch seer. He takes a ton of pitches, and when he gets what he wants he puts a good swing on it. Andrew McCutchen this year has started out looing like this year’s poster boy for Haines philosophy.

Walks are of course a fine outcome for a good at bat, but if you don’t have that eye, the chances you strike out instead are just as high.

I swear folks, I’m not going to rail on this all season long, but Haines and the things he instructs are never going to work with youngsters by in large in my opinion. It robs them of aggressiveness, sets them up for hitting in pitchers counts and makes every offensive rally seemingly have to have a pitcher who can’t find the zone or an ump who is squeezing the pitcher.

It’s part of why I was happy to see them bring in so many vets. Good luck telling Carlos Santana to hit differently than he has on his way here ya know? More than that, I’m hoping over time here he pipes up to some of the youngsters that they don’t have to take that approach if its not working for them.

Don’t get me wrong, if Haines is as poor a coach as I believe him to be, it’s on the team for not recognizing it. But veterans know damn well how hard it is to have a long career, and they all know that being led in a direction at some point it’s up to you to buck. Push back and find what works for you.

When your team is younger, and going to get younger still, it doesn’t pay to have a hitting philosophy that requires the eye of a veteran at the plate to succeed.

I’m certainly not a hitting expert. I’m just a guy who watches baseball very closely, and I listen to the players. They’ll tell you what the plan is if you listen enough because they fall back on their mantras in interviews.

Patience. Waiting for my pitch. Swing with purpose. Do damage. All of that stuff can fall under baseball cliche but when you hear them almost in the same order you kinda know it’s coming from somewhere and I doubt it’s Crash Davis on the bus telling them to get out a note pad.

At this level, patience is of course important, but when everyone in the league knows your entire lineup is going to sit back and see what you have, you’re going to start 0-2 more often than not.

Another thing about his philosophy that bothers me, it prevents the offense from taking what’s right there in front of them. Runner at third with one out, yup, that next batter is still going to hunt a walk. I want that guy swinging. Your job is to get a ball in the air in that situation, but far too often it turns into hunting a walk which pitchers are far too happy to give to set up a double play.

This story isn’t going to go away until we see guys doing something as a unit offensively, if we do.


5. Not a Minor Deal

The collective-bargaining agreement for minor league players is officially ratified. The owners voted unanimously in favor of it, and players ratified it too. It carries a five year duration and more than double the players pay along with various other benefits.

This is a good thing folks.

I don’t talk to as many minor league players as Craig Toth does, but the stories these guys tell about real hardship just trying to live a dream are everywhere you look.

When you see parents at an MLB ballpark watching their kid throw their first pitch or get their first at bat and you see them instantly burst into tears, it’s usually got a lot more behind it than just being proud of your son, it’s also probably been 4, 5, maybe 7 years of helping to support them, worrying about them, watching them try to make sense of making less than most grocery store cashiers while trying to start a family.

Living in vans, not being able to even work in the offseason because of non paid training plans and expectations.

The list goes on. The trip from being drafted through actually making it to MLB should you be so fortunate is the single hardest trip in all of professional sports.

It’s become a barrier to entry when it comes to talent as well. If an athlete has a choice because they are just a really good athlete, baseball is very often not the choice.

Before you start in about the bonuses they make and how we shouldn’t cry for them, I’ll remind you, beyond the first or second rounds of the draft, these kids aren’t getting big signing deals. And even if they do, think of how stupid you were with money when you were 18, it doesn’t hold over and many spend a good chunk just trying to help their teammates at their first stop.

Being a minor league player still isn’t a career, they’ll never get rich from it, but at least now it’s not a risk that sets you up for being 40 before you recover and start your non athlete life.

This is good for minor league players, and good for baseball. Kudos to everyone involved for getting it done.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

4 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. Your best OBA guy can bat first but if your best OPS guy is someone else, that guy should bat 2,3, or 4. This is particularly true if your 8 and 9 guys in the lineup are poor hitters.

    Yeah they are gonna need to bring another starter up soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, that’s my first thought too on lineups. Sometimes the best hitter is an OBP guy anyway. I think the best order enables everyone to work best in succession: 2 fits well after 1, same for 3, etc. In the same way that pitchers batted last because that’s also least, I firmly believe Austin Hedges should be penned ninth barring some miraculous offensive breakout this late in his career.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 2. They all struggled in ST, so I’m not terribly concerned about Bae and Castro PT even now, commenting late. It’s a bit moot with Cruz injured. I wonder at what point Castro and the team might consider scrapping the left side, if the difference is that disparate.
    I think Choi is just now getting past the injury. He looked so uncomfortable in the first series but less so now.
    CSN will get chances, but I’ve gotten the feeling the team sees him as a bench guy. Just a feeling from how he has been deployed in limited-time MLB action. He’s gotten some more action since, though.

    3. I couldn’t agree more, absolutely no problem throwing some 33-year-old never-was out there as long as he can pitch enough innings, rather than rush top prospects. This isn’t a year to “throw away,” but it is still a rebuild year.

    4. It is just astounding to me that anyone tries to coach hitting with a one-size-fits-all philosophy past the high school level, and even that is a stretch.

    5. Overdue, honestly. Glad it finally happened, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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