5-1-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
That’s 11 games over .500 folks. If the Pirates were to go 2 games under .500 every month from here through the end of the season, they’d still finish a game over. That’s how incredible this start has been.
Even if they’ve overachieved and in reality are more of a .500 team, this buffer zone they built up would make their final record show a better squad than that mark. Just amazing stuff, and historically, well, just appreciate it friends, no matter how good a team you put together this is an uncanny start.
1. Hot Meets Hotter
The Pirates will embark on the next leg of their road trip on Tuesday when they arrive at the Trop in St. Pete to face the Rays, baseball’s unquestioned hottest team. The Pirates have been incredible, but in this matchup, they’re the equivalent of lighting a match in a forest fire, both are hot but one of them is burning the forest down.
Where do you begin with this matchup? The Rays lead all of baseball in homeruns with 61, and the Pirates are fifth in baseball having only given up 23. So there’s a key matchup right there. Unfortunately, the Rays also lead all of baseball in home runs allowed, having only surrendered 19 thus far.
Measuring sticks are always going to be there in baseball. Many wanted the Cardinals series to be that, but the Cards aren’t exactly playing like the Goliath they used to be. Some wanted the Dodgers to be the measuring stick, but since 90% of their team got busy during the All Star Break last year, they had some key pieces off on paternity leave when they came to town.
This one though, yeah, the Rays have far too many things going well to pretend they’re anything less than the best team going right now.
If the Pirates sweep the Rays, hold off on buying those World Series tickets. If the Rays sweep the Bucs, I wouldn’t burn your jersey either. What you’re looking for here is how do they look? Facing some really tough pitching, can the Pirates bats find a way to frustrate the Rays? Running and pressure has flummoxed most of the Pirates opponents, already with 41 stolen bases, the Bucs are a case study in stress management for opposing pitchers.
Do the Pirates have enough pitching to fight through this electric Tampa offense? Especially if it comes down to a bullpen game.
Early season gut check, and no matter the outcome, here’s the really good thing. These Veterans all know how to teach from it. No matter the record produced in this series, they’ll wind up with 2 or 3 lessons they had to play this one to learn.
Want to be seen as one of the best? Yup, you gotta play the best.
2. The Evolution of Jack Suwinski
Last season Jack was a kid with a lot of pop who struck out, especially against left handed pitching a ton.
This season so far, Jack is a kid with a ton of pop, who won’t chase outside of the zone and draws more walks as a result, even as he continues to K fairly regularly. The difference is he’s walking so much his on base percentage is damn near .400.
This is about the evolution of Jack, meaning, he’s still developing, but let me tell you the next step we’ll watch play out now.
Pitchers will start to understand Jack is in baseball’s 99th percentile as it comes to Chase Rate, meaning, Jack doesn’t swing if a ball isn’t in the zone, and in his case, I mean like hardly at all. They’ll see he’s 19th in Whiff% too, meaning in zone, he’ll still swing and miss and it’ll cause more pitchers to try to stop letting him hurt them via spitting on everything off the plate.
This is where he can really take a step. The walks are super great to see, but when pitchers start attacking him to combat it, he has to be ready and punish them. See, pitchers don’t want anything to do with his power, so they work around him, which in 2022, he’d help them with by swinging at trash.
If he can improve on the Whiff in the zone, there will officially be no good way to approach Jack. He’s already raised his OBP by 100 points from 2022 to 2023, but there is still more room, he’s that kind of talent.
25 Homeruns in 394 At Bats is just silly good. Every time you see a player do something really well, think of how the league will push back. For Jack, it’s going to be a recognition that he isn’t going to chase, but is susceptible to the Whiff in the zone. That’s his next challenge. If he conquers it, he won’t be seen as a platoon player now or in the future, he’ll probably be instead considered an All Star.
3. A Prospect is Ready, but…
It’s pretty clear Luis Ortiz the Pirates stud starting prospect is ready to move up. Many thought he and Mike Burrows would be additions to the rotation as the season rolled on but Burrows went down with TJS and now Ortiz stands alone.
In order to be ready, Ortiz needed to implement a changeup into his quiver and by all accounts, he’s done exactly that. The pitch has shape to it and life, and arguably more important than that, he has command of the offering. Still a bit to be accomplished on the arm slot aspect, but for a mere month in the minors and a few weeks in Spring, it’s impressive.
I have no doubt Ortiz will make his mark on this club in 2023, but this is a situation the Pirates haven’t shown us a whole lot yet, right now, they simply don’t have a place for him to pitch in the majors.
It’s huge to have a guy like this in your back pocket, but at some point the Pirates may have to choose “chance at great” over “provably good”. That time isn’t now, but if we get into June or July and he’s cruising, it’ll be hard to avoid.
Of all the interesting things 2023 will bring, watching how Ben Cherington and crew deal with this aspect will be fascinating. We’ll learn a ton about this GM by the choices he makes, and the timing of when he chooses to act too.
4. Steven Brault’s Next Chapter
After nearly 2.5 years of trying to rehab and get into pitching shape, Steven Brault is moving on with his baseball career in the Independent League. He’ll be playing for Frederick and he won’t be pitching, instead, he’ll be playing in the Outfield.
From Steven’s Instagram…
“Life has a funny way of making everyone feel like they have the worst luck at times. My career as a baseball player has been filled with so many ups and downs, but I for one consider myself extremely blessed to have been able to pitch against the best hitters in the world in the #mlb for about 5 seasons.
Unfortunately, injury has taken away my ability to stay healthy pitching, and rehabbing consistently for two and a half years now almost took away my ability to love and appreciate this game I’ve adored my entire life.
But I’m not done. After I signed with @frederickalpb in the Atlantic League, my manager Mark Minicozzi gave me the opportunity to try to revive my career as an outfielder, and I couldn’t be more thankful.“
We all remember Steven could hit, so I’m sure he’ll handle that aspect well, but at his age to attempt working through Indy ball and making a comeback is at the very least a long road. I wish him all the luck in the world, Brault was a truly kind and open Pittsburgh Pirate and he’s talented in so many things it goes to show how powerful the baseball bug is.
I know this is a bit of an odd piece for me in 5 thoughts, but when I came across this story, I couldn’t help it. I easily had 10 people argue with me that the Pirates should have signed Brault who was a free agent when Jarlin Garcia was injured in Spring.
Just because you recognize a name, doesn’t mean its a good fit, or the player is capable.
Something tells me one way or another we haven’t heard the last from Mr. Brault.
5. Mitch Keller Gets More Expensive Every Outing
With 2 years of arbitration remaining after this season, the Pirates simply have to have Mitch Keller at the top of their priority board for an extension.
Rightly so, all the extension attention has been squarely aimed at Bryan Reynolds, he was not only their best player, but a barometer for just how seriously this management group was. I’d also add in here, to not extend Bryan would have been like admitting someone was a huge liar. Bryan wanted to stay, the team supposedly wanted him to stay, both sides publicly agreed on the money, so to fumble at that point, well, there’d be no what to see it but one side lied.
Many fans immediately jumped to Oneil Cruz as the next target, but slow down a bit, Mitch Keller is going to force a decision long before Cruz.
You’ve seen the impact of starting pitching as the beginning of this season has shoved it right in your face. The Pirates have developed quite a few top of the rotation arms, but rarely have they retained them.
In the last successful era of Pirates baseball they truthfully avoided this, or got lucky. Francisco Liriano was getting a shot here, and opportunities weren’t exactly beating down his door. To his credit, he was phenomenal for a time, but his 3 year extension didn’t exactly help the club.
Charlie Morton was acquired, struggled, finally showed good, was extended but not for long, eventually having his best years winning trophies for other teams.
AJ retired, but be real, they got cheap to have him leave even for a season. Cole was never going to extend here, or anywhere because of his representation. Taillon was too hurt, too often to trust with it. Musgrove was developed and it took almost all his control to get him where he eventually landed. Toss in poor timing and he wasn’t part of the plan.
Now Mitch really should fit right into what they want to do. Buy out his arb years and tack on 3 more, I’m totally happy. He’ll still be a good pitcher when he leaves likely, but a team like this can’t afford to have a guy with his arm lifelessly dangling next to his body still owed 50 million or whatever.
This to me though, is a must.
They’ve simply worked too hard with him, and given him far too much opportunity to not be the beneficiary of his peak years of performance.
Go buy them.
What better veteran could you ask for, to help youngsters understand that the struggle bus gives everyone a ride, the key is making sure you get off at the right stop.
Before you inevitably hit me with “why not both?”, nobody is saying they can’t or shouldn’t here, I’m just saying they have time to mess with Cruz, they don’t have that luxury with Mitch. If he even just stays on this track he’ll approach 10-12 million in arbitration next year, 15-18 the following year, now I don’t need to tell you that would top the AAV of Bryan Reynolds, and folks, this is just arbitration. Once he sees numbers like that, it’s a really low mental jump to see what your market might be.
Go 5 years, 80-85 million, see if he’ll go for it. If not, figure out who is going to be your rotation anchor for this push, I can promise you this, if it comes internally, it won’t be someone as polished as Keller, not for a while anyway.
One thought on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five”
Keller #1 of bucs rotation, keep what you have. Bucs aren’t big spenders. I’m sure Keller would be happy to negotiate here. He is well liked and respected by his teammates.