6-8-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
This isn’t some traditional date on the calendar. June 8th holds no significant importance in the game, but somehow, following a series loss to the lowly A’s at home and on an off day today, it feels like for this team, this year, it’s somehow a pivotal point of the season.
This division is simply not good. Look around enough and you’ll struggle to believe any of them have a real shot to do much in the post season, even if one is guaranteed to reach the playoffs. Check out what Corey wrote about the division this morning.
So I figured, today, lets come up with a list of things this team could/should do. Not two months from now, not at the deadline, but right now.
Help the Rotation
Let’s start at the beginning. Trades right this second would be difficult. For most teams it’s just too early to decide to move anything of worth, and for those who are in position to make that call, they likely don’t have much you’d want.
Now, the Pirates rotation is young, and that’s ok, but with youth comes teaching moments, struggle, and inconsistency.
Mitch Keller has struggled a bit in his last few outings, but if you’re worried about him I suggest you should get in line, they have 99 problems and a Mitch ain’t one.
Rich Hill is anything but young, but he too has inconsistency baked into his track record. He is what he is, and what he is happens to be a valuable veteran that is holding much of this glued together with twigs rotation hold up.
Johan Oviedo looks brilliant for 95% of his time on the mound, but that 5%, oh my, he looks like he belongs on the Wild Things. I think they’ll solve this, and I’m confident enough about the process they’ve taken here to believe we’ll see fruit by just continuing to trot him out there. No, I don’t think an opener is needed, his problem would just follow him to the 2nd inning.
Luis Ortiz is a still very raw talent. He’s going to look unhittable at times, he’s going to look like he belongs in Greensboro when he doesn’t. Last season he came up with a super high velocity fastball and a wicked biting slider that came out on the same plane. This offseason, the Pirates and Luis added a changeup and implemented a 2 seam fastball. They also asked him to pull back on the velocity in the hopes of going deeper and gaining some control. Nothing to do here but keep letting him work. I truly believe there is nothing left to learn in AAA.
Roansy Contreras is on the struggle bus. His velocity is down, his command is off, his curve isn’t landing, his slider gets no swings because the fastball isn’t a threat. Contreras himself remarked after his last outing that “his arm didn’t feel like part of his body”. In other words, he doesn’t know what’s wrong, or how to fix it. Derek Shelton candidly said much the same “I don’t know” he added “Learning experience here. We have to sit down and talk about it. We go 0-2 to the first hitter, we walk him, we don’t execute with two strikes, he didn’t execute the breaking ball today … I don’t think we were gonna let him go over 40 or 45 pitches. As not sharp as he was, that made the decision.”
Of all the learning going on in this rotation, Contreras is the only one I think requires the team to do something, well something some of you might consider drastic.
As we sit here, the Pirates have a few guys they could call up for a few starts, and that’s what I think Roansy needs. The plan was for Roansy to head to the bullpen to work on the issues the team has identified, and Contreras himself has no answers for. In order to do that, I think they need to get someone else up here so he can work on these issues in the pen.
I’ll suggest some guys here in a moment, but first, the reason I’d go this route as opposed to AAA, I don’t think Ro will learn at AAA. His stuff is so damn good, he’ll get outs at that level, and he needs to learn how to do more than just throw stuff, he needs to learn how his stuff plays off each other, maybe add a pitch, refine a couple, add velocity, all of that will be well served in the bullpen with coaches who know him best at this point.
Ok, so here’s who they could call, and each one will require a 40 man addition, which is ok, they have 2 spots. One of which will obviously go to Ji-man Choi when he returns from the IL.
Osvaldo Bido is a system guy, he’s 27 years old, never really been super highly touted, but he eats innings and has more AAA experience than just about anyone they have who wasn’t an NRI in Spring. In 11 games (9 starts) he has a 4.06 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP.
They could go big, and get the ball rolling on getting Quinn Priester’s feet wet. The 2019 first round selection has experienced some success at the AAA level, but he’s experienced setbacks as well. Recently, he’s been sharper, but this is a kid who needs to pitch, he’s not going to blow anyone away with stuff. In 11 games he’s posted a 4.38 ERA and a 1.422 WHIP.
This one is probably a reach, but I’d consider it. Jared Jones is in AA Altoona and was the Bucs 2nd round selection in the 2020 draft. If you want to talk about a kid with filthy stuff, Jared might be the poster child. He’s not refined, but he has arguably the best stuff in the system. Much like Priester, the Pirates will need to get him protected for the Rule 5 come December anyway. I see little possibility they don’t protect him, so might as well consider him promotable. In 8 games he has a 2.36 ERA and a WHIP of 1.107.
One more, and it’s Kyle Nicolas. Also a second rounder from 2020 by the Miami Marlins, the Bucs acquired him as part of the Jacob Stallings deal. The numbers aren’t great, but he too is a big stuff guy, and could survive for a week or two potentially on a callup. He too will likely need protected, and if they choose not to, I think they’ll lose him. In 11 games, he’s posted a 4.35 ERA with a WHIP of 1.530.
None of this is ideal, and you certainly don’t want to damage another to try to help Roansy, but at this stage, especially for Quinn and Jared, it might be good to let them see where their repertoire puts them against MLB competition, and again, come December they’ll both be added to the 40-man regardless, so I don’t think this is delusional to believe they might add either now.
If I had to pick one, I think I’d go with Bido. It’s low risk and he has a track record of at least being consistent. You may not get the highs, but you might not get the lows either. After all, if the guy you choose only gives you 2 innings cause they get bombed, it helps nothing. Jones as a fan would be the most exciting to me, I think he might even get some thinking about just keeping him up here.
Sure would be nice to have a Brubaker or Burrows.
By the end of June, Roansy goes back to the rotation if he’s found something, and if you’ve managed to stay healthy, you move out whomever is the low man. Everyone but Hill and Keller could be chosen. If he never gets back to the rotation, hey, it was always a possibility.
One thing you can’t do though, is just keep letting a kid go out there and get his brains beat in, it’s killing his soul and you can see it on his face. This isn’t a kid who’s experienced a bunch of failure.
Patch a Hole
The Pirates have gotten precious little from first base or catcher. Carlos Santana has played the position incredibly well, but the bat is just not playing right now. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s just hitting left handed too much, either way, it isn’t working.
Nobody needs me to tell you about the catchers at the plate, even if you’re still a believer in Delay and his Kevin Newman like batting average with underlying stats that say the opposite.
It’s Endy Rodriguez Time.
Overall, Endy’s numbers aren’t impressive at the AAA level, but he’s also been spending so much energy focusing on improving behind the dish, it’s hard to really know if he’s struggling or just not as focused on hitting as he’s been.
Endy all year: .247 AVG .735 OPS
Endy in June : .364 AVG .849 OPS
He’s found it recently, and if Super 2 is truly the reason he’s down there, the time is just about here.
Calling up Endy would potentially add some weight to 1B and Catcher. The Pirates need another stick and even if he needs to go back down, at some point the Pirates have to get his feet wet.
If you want to add Davis to this discussion, you’ll have to do it yourself, I don’t think they need to be up at the same time, and honestly, I’m not sure it’d be good for the MLB team do anything like this in bulk.
Bring up Endy, play him at first base a couple times, and once behind the dish, play it by ear from there, and do it for the Mets Series. They’ll want to bring him up for a home stand (yes, for ticket sales, it’s still a business) and after this series they’d have to wait until the 19th.
Is he ready? Hey, maybe not, but he’s going to come up this year, and bluntly, there’s no way to avoid having a kid play an important position. The more he does in 2023, the more you’ll trust him, or know you can’t by 2024. Let’s get this process started.
I’d keep both Delay and Hedges around. Yup, you heard me right.
Send down Mark Mathias (Endy can play 2B too) and keep 3 catchers so there is absolutely no pressure on Endy to “be ready” to handle the staff on his own. Pop him back there, have Hedges in the dugout to help coach him up, help him learn to call a game, work with him on technique, yet feel no pressure to be sure he’ll stick, at least for now.
Once he does get to the point where you’re more comfortable, assuming you do this year, then call up Henry, then move one of the catchers, maybe both.
This process is going to play out from the time one is called up all the way through 2024, get it started so we don’t have to wonder about 2025 too.
Embrace Your Best Lineup
Man, this one is simple. When a player shows you a place they shine, let them.
Ji Hwan Bae is their best Center Fielder, and while he plays a good second base too, let’s be real, he’s been incredible in Center. The best defensive alignment they have is Reynolds in Left, Bae in Center and Jack in Right, and I can’t really imagine anyone persuading me otherwise. If Jack is a platoon player, Connor Joe has been really good in right negotiating the Clemente wall and making smart decisions with the ball.
Tucapita Marcano has for now, taken short stop. He’s the best they have at the moment, and Castro is the 2B. All the shuffling is cute, and I appreciate the flexibility, but it’s time to clamp down on defense and I just think they need to start being more consistently placed in order to help them settle in and start to improve as opposed to holding a place.
I’d try to do this against right handed and left handed pitching. We must stop deciding guys are platoon players before giving them a real shot to prove otherwise.
Tweak the Hitting Philosophy
The Pirates offense has more ability to hit than this philosophy will ever allow to emerge. What they do isn’t’ necessarily small ball, it’s certainly not the Earl Weaver 3 run homer offense either.
What it is, is a near constant effort to not swing at balls off the plate. Sounds smart, can look smart too, but when it’s rigidly applied it creates called 3rd strikes with guys in scoring position, or kicking the can down the lineup to someone who has less skill to decide what they’re going to do up there.
How many times have you seen this team have runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody or 1 out, only to watch one of the boppers seemingly try to work a walk?
Run producers don’t do that. Run producers recognize they have an RBI standing there, and all they have to do is make some sort of contact to likely pick it up. Far too often they don’t seem to be willing to take the run, instead opting to try like hell to load the bases.
I understand the theory of the philosophy. More guys on base equals more runs, but that’s not what it’s creating.
Instead it’s creating what my grandfather’s root cellar used to create. A whole bunch of product (walks) that nobody wants to eat.
I’m not suggesting they start swinging at crap, I’m suggesting instead of taking that borderline ball, take the bat off your shoulder and try to do something to knock that run in. In this A’s series the Pirates scored runs via the walk but man, it takes one well placed batted ball to turn that 1 run into 3 and THAT is how you beat a team that’s actively trying to give you the contest with awful pitching.
It’s not a novel concept. It’s not like I made it up for this piece, but all the discipline stuff, all the making the pitcher work stuff, all the waiting for your pitch stuff, none of it matters if when the turkey is on the table you refuse to even pick up the knife, let alone start carving.