The Push is Officially Close Enough to Feel for Pirates Players

9-23-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

There I was last night, listening to the Indianapolis Indians game. Roansy Contreras was pitching, and pretty well if not a little short, 3.2 innings of 1 run ball. I know, you know, hell he probably knows he’ll be starting in AAA next year.

Then I heard and fairly quickly saw on Twitter what Oneil Cruz did with his second AAA at bat.

He’ll almost for sure be starting in AAA too.

Baseball is unique like this. See, the NFL doesn’t have a development system, oh sure they have college football and the QB on the worst team in the league knows who the top QB in the NCAA is, but it’s just not the same.

Hockey has the AHL and there are prospects to be sure, but they’re mostly waiting to replace the low man on the totem pole, someone who probably spends most of their time looking over their shoulder already.

When a baseball franchise finally gets to the point where real talent, the threatening kind, is right there on the doorstep, and the club they play for has just about zero financial commitment for the foreseeable future, well, it hits different.

I know a ton of you want to move Oneil Cruz from Short Stop, and that may well happen at some point, but for now, the organization isn’t budging. So if I’m a former number one pick who has the total sum history of one season as a threatening hitter who happens to play that position, man I’m thinking a bit different.

You no longer have a light hitting, also former number one pick playing behind you. No, now you have the organization’s number 3 prospect, raw power tool possessing, 6′ 7″ freak of nature who looks like Manute Bol playing midget football out there.

None of this means he’ll be a star, none of this even means Kevin Newman is in immediate trouble, what it means is there is finally real competition, right there, and it isn’t just a 3 year down the road pipe dream.

We’ve seen improvement from Mitch Keller, and it’s my sincere hope that the Pirates patience is rewarded, but they aren’t without options, not anymore.

There’s a good chance we get eyes on Miguel Yajure again on Friday, and this time in a Big League uniform. Roansy Contreras adds to that pressure from behind. For a guy like Mitch, maybe pressure helps him, maybe it hurts him, either way it’s there.

I’m picking on Keller here a bit, but only because he matters. I’m not sure I’d like to be the starter who gave up 28 homeruns this season either. I’d rather not be the guy who just couldn’t find a way to get through a lineup 3 times more than once in ample opportunities.

Options provide something the Pirates haven’t realistically had in decades. Yes, even the playoff years. A pipeline built by both the previous administration and backed by the new one. This is the first wave, one that still had no pitching before Cherington arrived, but with plenty of talent, even if undeveloped.

Look, I named two guys, but there are more, oh there are more. These two weeks aren’t going to reveal everyone who’s going to provide that push. Hey, some of them will ultimately feel this same pressure themselves from the next wave.

That’s healthy, in fact that’s really what all of this is about. Building a winner can be done a ton of different ways, on a team that simply isn’t going to spend to keep up with the Jones’ a few less avenues to be sure. Sustainable winning is constructed, built from the ground up, and the next time you think they have too many players at some spot, push that noise back in your head and remind yourself a conveyer belt is just a platform if it stops moving.

This is the part of the trip to the beach where you can smell the ocean, maybe see a few seagulls in the McDonalds parking lot. No turning back now, the destination is just right there.

Be excited, be realistic, but more than anything, enjoy this next part because it’s a whole lot more fun than the part we’ve been watching.

Mitch Keller Battles Through Pirates Win Over Cincinnati

9-22-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

Obviously the main goal for the Pittsburgh Pirates going into last night’s matchup with the Cincinnati Reds was to win; and by doing so, attempt to prevent one of their most hated division rivals from making the postseason, in what has been a pretty highly contested Wild Card Race. Although, at this point any loss by the Reds almost certainly guarantees that a team I hate almost nearly as much, the St. Louis Cardinals-winners of 10 straight-will be punching a ticket to face either the Dodgers or Giants in a one game, loser goes home contest. However, who is really to blame in all of this is the San Padres; team that is currently in the middle of an implosion, in spite of their recent off-season millions of dollars spending spree. But, I digress.

A secondary, albeit a more important goal of last nights game would be to get, and keep, Mitch Keller on track by hopefully stringing together a few solid starts to end the season.

Ever since Keller had those two hitless performances to end the 2020, while walking 10 batters I might add, it has been an ongoing battle between the bad and good Mitch Kellers for the entire 2021 campaign; even resulting in a demotion to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians for a stint, from June 12th through July 30th.

Since returning to the Big League Club, Keller has posted a 4.76 ERA and a 1.695 WHIP, as well as the 3.61 FIP that many seem to want to mention; still for me, we have been down the FIP rabbit hole with Keller before-7.13 ERA versus 3.19 FIP in 2019-so I really don’t want to do that again. Even though I will point out that he had a 2.91 ERA versus a 6.75 FIP last year, which in all honestly only makes me want to warn people once again to stop using predictive stats to make projections. That’s not how they work.

As I have written about before the main forecaster as to whether or not we actually saw good Mitch or bad Mitch, and whether or not steps have actually been made toward overall improvement, is Keller’s command of his fastball. All of his other pitches play off of his fastball. Even his slider, which he clearly can’t get batters to chase outside of the zone, and is only effective if it somewhat mirrors his fastball, plays off the accuracy of his main pitch.

For example in a game against the Cardinals on August 26th, where he gave up 7 runs on 6 hits while walking three and striking out 2, this is what his illustrator looked liked in terms of his four-seam fastball control.

Then again on a game against Detroit on September 8th-one in which he allowed 4 runs on 10 hits, but struck out 6 and walked only one-his fastball control looked like this.

Now, in a good Keller game, like the one against the Cubs on September 2nd, where he struck out 8, didn’t walk a single batter or give up a run on 6 hits, his fastball command was much more on point.

Finally here’s the one from last night’s 6-2 victory over the Reds. A 2 earned run, 7 hit, 4 walk and 2 strikeout performance.

So, tell me which one(s) this illustration is more similar to? Undoubtedly, there is a more direct comparison to the bad Mitch Keller games. Yes, he battled, which is something we have seen from him in the past, and something he absolutely needs to do at times to become a productive member of the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation in years to come. Yet, I can’t help but think that he has to do more, be more consistent and change from the all too familiar pattern we have seen from him him over his 37 career starts; earning a 5.90 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in the process. 4.31 FIP be damned.

News and Notes

  • Cole Tucker accounted for the game winning RBI with a single to centerfield in the top of the 5th. In the month of September Tucker is batting a career best .263, but still only has a wRC+ of 82 and is striking out a near team high 28.7% of the time.
  • Colin Moran on the other hand is having a downright awful September. For the month he is batting .175, with a 50 wRC+ and a 27.9% strikeout rate.
  • Over the last month, not surprising, the teams most productive at bats have come in the form of Yoshi Tsutsugo, Anthony Alford, Bryan Reynolds and Ben Gamel; in that particular order. Gamel did his part by getting the Pirates on the board last night with a solo home run in the top of the 4th.

  • With the Jacob Stallings on the shelf, Micheal Perez broke out of a 2 for 51 slump with a 2 for 4 night; including an RBI single in the top of the 8th. He now has a .143 AVG and a 40wRC+ on the season.

  • The Pirates on again/off again bullpen was mostly on last night, as they shutout the Reds over 3.1 innings.

The Pirates are looking for their 5 series victory in a row, only about an hour from now at 12:35 PM EST, as Connor Overton (0.00, ERA) takes the mound for his second Major League start of his career, in his 8th appearance of the season. AKA, here comes a bullpen game.

For the Reds, Luis Castillo (8-15, 4.08 ERA) is on the bump.

Gary Answers Frequently Asked Questions

9-22-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

We’re getting toward the end of the season so it stands to reason most of the questions I get are geared toward 2022 at this point, everyone is anxious to rush through the finish line here and start thinking about the future.

So, I figured let’s focus on questions from this season, and specifically about this season because the team has made it clear it still matters to them by playing .500 ball for a month now.

Who is the Worst Position Player on this Team?

This one is weird only because it’s very rare to have a question like this asked without a list of suggested ‘winners’.

I mean, right now, it’d have to be Michael Perez. Dude just doesn’t hit and more than that he barely looks like he’s even into the at bat most nights. Defensively he’s been more than ok, but I’m not sure how you look at this roster and pick anyone else.

It might be more fun to answer who was the worst position player all season long.

That’s a tougher question, again I’d have to at least mention Perez, but Ka’ai Tom who the organization finally released from AAA has an argument. Gregory Polanco has to at least grab some votes.

I think I’d have to go with Ka’ai Tom, nobody made me audibly sigh when seeing his name in the lineup quite like Ka’ai and maybe he wins for me here simply because of the opportunity he received for far too long. I guess you could say the same for Polanco but at least I felt Greg might run into one every now and again.

There are probably a few candidates on the mound too, like Kyle Crick, Trevor Cahill and this isn’t to be confused with most disappointing because that would be Mitch Keller.

Who Was the Biggest Surprise Positive Performer in 2021?

Whew.

I can’t say this without sounding like an A hole, so I’ll just say it, not much surprised me this year. For the most part if I thought there was a positive performer they performed as such.

That said, I do have one.

David Bednar.

I saw him as a guy with some big league experience who would most likely find himself starting in AAA for the club. I had nothing but his numbers and a few video clips of his stuff to judge, and on top of that he was lost in the shuffle of a huge deal that brought in larger names to the system.

Well, all he did is come into Spring throwing closer stuff. Entered the season after making the roster throwing closer stuff. worked all season pitching primarily in the 6th and 7th throwing closer stuff, and effectively finished his season as the de facto closer. Hell he even developed and added a curveball IN SEASON, and friends that just doesn’t happen often. At least not to the point where it becomes an oft used effective weapon.

Bednar went from a cute hometown guy story to a legit young star in the making and proof positive that you just never know when your team picks up guys who is and isn’t going to turn out.

If I had to pick a second, it would be Bryan Reynolds. I didn’t see him having 25 HR power, and I certainly didn’t see him having it while hitting close to .300. Just felt like low hanging fruit.

With the Way Derek Shelton Handles the Pitching Staff, How Can You Not be Calling for His Firing?

I’ll be honest, I hate the way the pitching staff was handled this year. I could say the same for just about every other team in MLB this season.

Let me put it this way, I think if they had a cardboard cutout in the dugout with a mic taped in the mouth of a baseball coach the handling would be almost identical. That’s not to say Ben Cherington is calling Shelton on the bullpen phone telling him what to do and when, but the organization so strictly set forth the inning and pitch count limits for every arm in the system that usage was largely scripted.

Shelton in a way has mentioned his hands being tied multiple times this year in his post game pressers. You hear it as “Yeah, we had him at 85 pitches today so that’s why he was pulled”. Some bold souls in the press asked a follow up like “But so and so was only at 74” and Shelton would fire back with something like “we were comfortable with his pitch count where it was”. Basically, yeah, but it was close and it wasn’t worth throwing him out there for one more batter.

In fact that very scenario led to the situation that probably frustrated me most. A starter reaches the 6th inning and gets himself two outs and is then pulled for a reliever after throwing 5.2 innings. If you’ve watched this game for any length of time that struck you as odd, but it was very much so pitch count driven. In fact this is probably when most of you sent me quotes from Nolan Ryan saying he’d never come out in that situation.

Listen, I can’t make you believe in pitch counts, or innings restrictions. I certainly can’t sit here telling you it keeps everyone healthy because that didn’t happen either. All I can tell you is organizationally, this is what they want to do, Shelton is just the face of it. Training in baseball has more power than ever before, and it shows up in pitch counts, scheduled time off for stars, phantom IL trips and purposeful bullpen games.

Now, you want to say something like ‘Fine, but he isn’t bringing the right people in’. I’m sure Derek agrees, but he doesn’t have a stable of good choices.

There will come a time to evaluate how Shelton handles a pitching staff, and if we avoid a work stoppage this off season I believe that will be in 2022. I just can’t put this on him. I mean I can nitpick him, and have, but as a whole, I simply don’t believe we’re seeing the entire picture of how he wants to handle things.

Is There Evidence the Development System is Performing Better?

Maybe.

I wish I could be more bold here but I can’t distinguish between the improvement seen being based in having more systemic talent or an overall improvement in the development.

See, almost everyone who improved and moved up either credited hard work during the lost season of MiLB or were a highly touted prospect fully expected to make a jump anyhow.

I will say we’ve seen real change from players like Oneil Cruz who had a very long swing and has successfully shortened it while not losing any of that natural power. On the other hand we’ve seen Mason Martin almost repeat his last season of work, hitting a ton of homeruns and striking out a ton too.

I’d still like to see them turn someone from fringe prospect to MLB contributor, but at this stage it would be hard to credit a “system” because by in large the system is far less granular than that and again, how do I give the Pirates credit for Matthew Fraizer on his own developing power and bringing it into the season that way? How do I give the Pirates credit for Max Kranick jumping velocity from 93-94 to 96-97, on his own with his family where they built a pitching lab in their back yard?

To me, the question will probably be answered over a span of 4-5 seasons, by then we’ll see what a guy drafted comes through the system doing. How quickly does it happen. Are they prepared when they take the next step in their promotion schedule. Do they feel like every coach they encounter is speaking from the same pulpit?

I also pay particular attention to how they develop draft picks beyond round 3, because the goal is to become a team that isn’t pulling top 10 picks on a yearly basis, so I’d like to see how they develop lower round guys mainly because it will paint a picture of how this team will make chicken salad out of the number 24 pick instead of chicken scratch. If they can turn some 4th or 5th rounders into a player, maybe we can expect fewer swings and misses on late 1st round selections. That’s how teams like the Rays and Cards continue to have a viable pipeline even when successful almost every season at the MLB level.

It’s a process, both for them, and us as we evaluate a concept as big as systemic development.

Pirates Top 30 Prospect Trend Report

9-21-21 – By Justin Verno – @JV_PITT on Twitter

The big news of the day? While there aren’t any FV bumps for any of the Bucs prospects the Pirates system now ranks as the second best system on Fangraphs. The Rays had a few guys graduate making room for the Bucs system to jump up a slot. Hoy Park will be coming off soon as he too has graduated, so hang in there as changes are coming.

Greensboro and Bradenton’s regular seasons are done but the playoffs start tomorrow. Altoona’s season is over, but fear not as it seems the whole team got promoted to AAA. So we are really winding down here. Let’s take a look at how the week went!

1-Henry Davis – 50 FV         IL

BA/OBP/SLOPSISOwOBAwRCwalkK
CPX429/429/1.1431.571.714.6632830%28.6%
Season263/375/6841.059.421.42416216.7%33.3%

 2-Quinn Priester – 50 FV  ARROW DOWN

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Week2.216.879.023.00.33311.8%29.4%
Season97.23.044.084.261.24.28524.1%9.6%

3 – Roansy Contreras – 50 FV 

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Week3.18.106.821.20.22225%6.83
Season54.12.652.742.93.90.26234.9%5.5%

4- Liover Peguero – 50 FV 

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week304/385/348.732.043.33910811.5%15.4%
Season270/332/444.776.174.3381087.9%25.2%

5-Miguel Yajure – 50 FV ARROW UP

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Week60.001.87.83.25026.1%4.3%
Season43.23.094.354.161.05.23923%7.5%
MLB9.13.865.214.51.86.14323.5%8.8%

6- Oneil Cruz – 50 FV ARROW UP X3

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week278/316/7221.038.444.4281705.3%42.1%
Season292/346/536.882.244.3771367.3%23.4%

7-Tahnaj Thomas – 50 FV IL

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Week IL
Season60.25.196.495.801.58.28922.1%12.5%

8-Nick Gonzales – 50 FV- ARROW UP

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week412/583/7061.289.294.54623916.7%29.2%
Season302/385/565.950.262.40515010.8%27.4%

9-Travis Swaggerty – 50 FV – Out for the year

10-Bubba Chandler – 45 FV

BA/OBP/SLOPSISOwOBAwRCwalkK
Week000/667/000.627000.5362090%33.3%
Season167/324/300.624.133.3258013.5%43.2%

11-Ji-hwan Bae – 45 FV ARROW UP X2

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week296/367/593.959.396.40815610%30%
Season278/359/413.771.134.34311410.4%22.7%

12-Brennan Malone – 45 FV 

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBABIPK%BB
WEEK  
CPX10.15.234.153.461.16.19427.3%15.2%
Week – A3.20.007.619.122.45.33310%25%

13-Hudson Head – 45 FV  ARROW UP X3

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week-286/313/286.598000.386566.3%31.3%
Season-213/362/394.755.181.36411315.7%31.6%

14-Cody Bolton – 45 FV -out for the season

15-Maikol Escotto – 40+ FV ARROW DOWN

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week-100/100/200.300.100.133-280%25%
Season-234/354/347.701.113.34410014.2%30.4%

16-Anthony Solometo – Nothing Yet

17-Jarred Jones – 40+ FV 

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Week46.753.301.50.37536.8%15.8%
Season664.643.913.751.47.38534.1%11.3%

18-Carmen Mlodzinski – 40+ FV IL

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Week IL
Season49.13.284.353.991.22.29832%9.4%

19-Canaan Smith-Njigba – 40+ FV

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week – (IL)125/417/125.542000.3129333.3%0%
Season274/398/406.830.141.37213216.1%25.8%

20-Lonnie White – 40+ FV ARROW UP

BA/OPS/SLOPSISOwOBAwRCwalkK
Week500/500/8751.375.375.6102520%37.5%
Seaon258/303/516.819.258.3641086.1%42.4%

21-Rodolfo Castro – 40+ FV ARROW DOWN

BA/OBP/SLOPSISOwOBAwRCwalkK
Week080/080/080.160.000.072-650%48%
Season242/295/425.719.182.311926.1%23.1%
MLB198/258/395.653.198.282756.5%29%

22-Diego Castillo – 40+ FV ARROW UP

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week300/429/300.729.000.34711121.4%14.3%
Season – AAA306/438/528.965.222.41715718.8%14.6%
Season – PIT282/342/445.787.164.3431128.3%7.4%
Season-NY277/345/504.850.228.3671288.4%12.7%

23-Rodolfo Nolasco – 40+ FV ARROW UP

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week667/714/1.5002.214.833.90442414.3%0%
Season284/409/552.961.269.43615015.9%26.2%

24-Jared Oliva – 40+ FV ARROW DOWN

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week150/227/200.427.050.206184.5%22.7%
Season261/329/377.706.116.316907%23.3%
MLB175/233/225.458.050.215207%23.3%

25-Endy Rodriguez – 40+ FV 

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week304/304/656.870.261.38612613%0%
Season294/380/512.892.218.41014011.5%17.7%

26-Mason Martin – 40+ FV  ARROW DOWN X2

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week095/167/238.405.143.18174.2%29.2%
Season242/318/481.799.239.3421138.1%34.2%

27-Jose Soriano – 40+ FV – Out for the season

28-Luis Oviedo -40+ FV – MLB

29-Cal Mitchel – 40+ FV ARROW DOWN

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week176/176/176.353.000.158-80%29.4%
Season280/330/429.759.149.3321065.7%16.9%

30-Eddy Yean – 40+ FV ARROW UP

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Week2.23.374.181.87.3647.7%7.7%
Season66.25.275.274.711.43.27423.3%13.2%

This is a pretty typical week down on the farm. Some guys headed in a good direction, some down. Greensboro and Bradenton’s seasons are over, and are headed to the playoffs. While we get to see some AA guys get a taste of AAA action.

As for my highlighted prospect let’s go with Nick Gonzales. He finished strong so he’s as good as anyone to talk about.

If I’m being honest I wasn’t overly excited about drafting Gonzales. Don’t get me wrong, he was picked right where he should of been and was in no way a “reach”. But there’s was something lacking here? Upside? He seemed to be the “high floor” but “low ceiling” guy we’ve seen too much of in the system. There’s an important thing to know here though, a good system needs these guys. Nick has extremely quick hands, as quick as I’ve seen. He is short and quick to the ball but I wondered if his power would play? So far it has.

On the season he has 98 hits and 45 of those are extra base hits. 18 HR, 23 doubles and 4 triples. That’s good for a .565 slugging percentage and an OPS of .950, his ISO (.262) and wRC (150) are both superb.

Another great sign is he hits to all fields. Pulling the ball at a 46% clip while going to the opposite field 28.1%. This advanced approach should pay off in AA next year.

The K rate was high to start the season, hitting as high as 33% at one point. That rate currently sits at 27.4% and since July 1st he had a solid 26.5% strikeout rate. Not sure if he made an adjustment or is just seeing the ball better but the results are exactly what we want to see there.

All of this should have Nick get to Pittsburgh in good time, assuming he stays healthy. And when Fangraphs releases their postseason rankings I would think he is guy who could see his name picking up steam and get that 55 FV, honestly, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t.

Pirates Lose 9-5 After Leading 5-0 Early to Reds

9-20-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates have lost a ton of different ways this season, but not often have they coughed up a blowout. Tonight, that’s exactly what happened.

Early in the game starter Dillon Peters was cruising, 2 clean innings while the Reds Vladimir Gutierrez was serving up batting practice. To the tune 5-0 entering the bottom of the third.

First Yoshi,

Then Reynolds hit number 24 on the season…

The two would combine again to knock in a couple more and everything added up to a healthy 5-0 Pirates lead with a cruising pitcher.

Peters came out and quickly got two more outs, then walked the pitcher, and then the Reds brought 4 runs worth of two out magic including Joey Votto’s first strut around the base paths of the evening, a night that would eventually bring him two dingers.

The Pirates bullpen couldn’t hold the slim 1 run lead for long, in the fifth they touched up Cody Ponce in his second inning for 2.

A scoreless inning from Overton was followed by Kyle Keller and Enyel (don’t call me Yerry) De Los Santos recently claimed off waivers combined to give up another 3 in 2 innings, one on a balk after actually getting the 3rd out first. Not kidding.

Yes tonight the Pirates bullpen looked like the United States trying to win the war on drugs. You know, they did their best but a whole bunch leaked in anyway.

Reds Defeat Pirates 9-5.

News & Notes

  • Dillon Peters has been impressive since coming to the Pirates but he only lasted three tonight and got straight up touched up in the 3rd tonight. All in all he’s a positive story but this wasn’t a very good result.
  • Kyle Overton still has an ERA of zero.
  • Say what you want about Joey Votto, he’s a dying breed. A good player who had the ability to change his game to account for losing a step to keep himself valuable even at his age. He’s also done it all in one town. Not a common happening in today’s game. It’s also good to remember, the only reason he annoys us so much is because he’s been a part of like 4 distinct Reds units we despised.
  • Yoshi again, homerun and a big single and RBI too. What can you say, dude can hit
  • Jacob Stallings has been placed on the 7 day Concussion IL. Tyler Davis has been recalled from AAA to backup Michael Perez. So this next stretch of games might just prove my fear of returning with Perez next year out.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

9-20-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Hey, it’s too little too late, and yes, yesterday’s double painful loss in what would have clinched the team’s first sweep of the season is very fresh, but this team has been playing good baseball. They’re doing it with what I propose is their very worst bullpen of the season and easily their worst rotation, at least on paper.

Competition of course always is a factor, but let’s face it, playing bad or even equally to the Pirates bad teams hasn’t been a lock to secure victory. The point is this team is finally hitting, and it cures a lot of ills.

It doesn’t matter really, but they’ve at least given themselves a fighting chance to avoid 100 losses, and in the locker room especially for those who’ll return, trust me they’d rather not have every interview begin with “coming off a 100 loss season, how does it feel…”.

So let’s dig in on today’s five thoughts because there’s a ton going on.

1. The Pirates Promoted 8 Players to AAA

Well, first things first, here’s the list. Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell two outfielders who’ve had steady seasons with clear progression. Two infielders, one you know well already Rodolfo Castro, and one many of you have already filled out the Cooperstown ballot for Oneil Cruz. Three Pitchers, Roansy Contreras, Yerry De Los Santos and Osvaldo Bido, and finally a first baseman Mason Martin.

No real surprises here, everyone has earned this promotion and it starts to set up the picture for 2022 at the teams top development level. If any of them took me a bit off guard it would have to be De Los Santos, he had forearm injuries this season and only participated in 12 ballgames but his placement in AA was questionable to begin with.

This is exactly what I’ve been talking about, well, pretty much all season. This is what in my mind will make next season more fun. Next season when you’re yell typing at me that Oneil Cruz should be up here because so and so stinks, my first reaction won’t be to laugh. Next season real help is really and truly on the doorstep.

You may not have liked how they got here, but you can’t deny just that crop of 8 players alone makes things feel better next year.

It’s also worth mentioning that only two of these players were acquired by Ben Cherington, I mention that because when people including me say the minor league system was bankrupt under Neil Huntington, most of us very much so meant there was no help coming anytime soon. Welcome to “anytime soon”.

2. Can Tucker Do Enough?

People want Cole Tucker to succeed, he’s a genuinely nice guy and as I said on my Podcast last week, there’s nothing about Tucker that isn’t attractive except watching him play baseball. He had a good series in Miami and his numbers for September are better than what he’s been putting out there, but man 3 games does not a turnaround make. In September he has 16 hits in 85 PA, I’m sorry, I’m just not swayed. If he finishes the season out strong I can’t sit here and tell you I know what the Pirates will do, but it seems to me he’s competing directly with Wilmer Difo, Hoy Park, Michael Chavis, Diego Castillo, Kevin Newman and maybe even Rodolfo Castro for a role that each of them could fill. That’s a ton of hurdles to leap and I’m not sure much has potential to change.

I will say this, for the first time it looks to me like his swing change is really taking hold. He’s always done this weird (and in my amateur estimation, power robbing) rocking motion that made his swing almost all hands. Now he’s transitioned to using his lower half to generate power, yes, power is a thing even if it doesn’t translate to home runs.

It makes me think, if the hitting plan was simply not working for Tucker and guys like him, did the Bucs waste a year, hell did they potentially waste the talent of someone like Cole by stubbornly holding onto a hitting coach they clearly didn’t feel was getting through to guys, or worse didn’t like what he teaching?

All we as fans have to look at is what we’re seeing on the field, so when you see Tucker both in MLB and AAA doing nothing different, then suddenly see him change things once the hitting coach is gone, you have to ask, what in the actual hell were they doing letting this go on as long as they did?

By now you can probably tell this isn’t just a Cole Tucker question, he’s just the vehicle for discussion. You have to ask the same about guys like Alford, Newman, honestly even Hoy Park. This is why it matters so much that the coaching staff is evaluated even when they don’t have as much talent as you’d like. If you wait until they do you may be in a very bad way, playing a game of chicken or the egg.

3. Sorry, 2022 is Not the Time to Guess

I know some of you really want to see the payroll take a big jump in 2022, some of you even assign that to goodwill, but I’m not there. Take a look at those 8 names I listed up there as having just been promoted to AAA. Take a look at the team that will return most of what is currently here.

There are spots where they can, and should improve the roster. Back up catcher, corner outfield, pitching, all of it, but if you go out with the intent of patching holes you don’t have yet, it would be like randomly replacing 30% of the shingles on your roof and hoping you caught the problem spots before they showed themselves.

Again, the point of bringing in this glut of prospects is to have them reach the Pirates and be the solution. The free agent aspect of this whole thing comes when you feel you’re 75% there and you simply don’t have answers coming.

Mason Martin is a perfect example here. He’s got power, he’s also got a strikeout problem, and while that doesn’t matter as much in this game today, it does still matter. Could even prevent him from ultimately being an answer. Doesn’t mean he won’t get a shot, but you also don’t want to Will Craig the guy by going out and signing an Anthony Rizzo or whomever your flavor of the month first baseman is.

Decisions like that come when the team is close and you look over at first base and say, damn, it’s just not good enough, let’s get a guy and patch that hole. The rest of the payroll is low enough that you can easily do it and you have plenty of prospect capital to buy it.

Be patient my friends, spending is much closer to mattering than it was when we started this journey, but not quite there yet.

4. #Fair Ball

Members of the Mets and Phillies minor league system were seen wearing wrist bands that said #Fair Ball over the weekend and the cause is fair pay and treatment of minor league baseball players. In fact Andrew McCutchen was seen wearing one in an MLB game for the Phillies too.

First, let’s mention how rare this is. As someone who interacts with my fair share of minor league players, most of the relationships develop as such; 1. They speak incredibly positive about the organization. 2. They begin to trust that you don’t have a big mouth. 3. They open up about how hard it is to be an MiLB player.

This can look like little complaints about not being communicated with, not understanding expectations or it can be things like sleeping in a van, working a part time job instead of training during the off season, not being able to afford the fuel they need to train. In other words, they can afford McDonalds but need fresh, healthy produce and protein.

This is a bigger deal than just a few players speaking out, with the upcoming CBA, MiLB players hope to get a seat at the table and some form of union representation. Any MLB player taking up the cause is big, especially a former MVP. For years MLB has successfully lobbied Congress to prevent themselves from being held to the minimum wage standards in the United States and the chickens may soon come home to roost.

Some organizations do it better than others, there is no regulation, well, none that matters anyway, but some organizations don’t even provide all the equipment these guys literally need to do their jobs. Imagine the equivalent of playing high school football for 5 years.

OK, so Henry Davis will be just fine no matter what he gets paid, he’s got a cool 6 million to take him through his journey, but if you signed for $25,000 as a 16 year old kid and gave 75% of that to your family before going off to turn your dream into a reality, let’s just say you aren’t going to exactly grow your bank account.

It’s a problem, and has been for a long long time. Good to see some support for it and here’s hoping none of the players involved pay a price. One thing I know for damn sure, they all fear the team hearing them complain, so we, and more MLB players need to do it for them.

5. What Could Have Been

I can’t and won’t make excuses for this team’s performance this season, instead I’ll lament the opportunity to learn the Pirates missed out on with some key players.

Travis Swaggerty almost certainly would have been in MLB at least for a while, Miguel Yajure one must imagine would have pitched at least as much as Max Kranick, Michael Chavis could have really taken hold of second base.

Injury is that part of the game you can’t ever truly account for, and when it happens to prospects you expected to get eyes on, man it really stinks. I didn’t even give you a complete list, but you know the names. And it was inordinately built with players who had a real shot at getting a taste.

Again, this wouldn’t have helped the record, but it sure would be nice to head into 2022 knowing Travis Swaggerty is potentially an answer instead of just hoping. Sure would be nice to know Yajure is what we saw in his few spot starts after he got a consistent look.

You really can’t control that stuff, but what an unfortunate turn of events.

The Pirates Offense Comes From Unlikely Places As The Veteran Arms Let It Slip Away

9-19-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

I guess it has to be addressed again…the Pirates still have have not swept a series on the year, which honestly only becomes a storyline because because the team is now 56-93; and this lack of a winning streak only brings more emphasis to an unsuccessful season. If the Pirates had won 40 of their 55 series on the season, while not sweeping one in the process-but still accumulating 75 to 80 wins in the process-this wouldn’t even be a conversation.

Obviously this a hypothetical scenario, however, in every other season the same could be said about an 0 for 15 sweep situation; especially since there are only six other teams without a series sweep since 1961. Needless to say, this is not a regular occurrence.

Yet to me, the manner in which this most recent example of futility transpired sticks out more in my mind than anything else.

Leading 4 to 3 heading into the bottom of the 9th, the Pirates called upon their new closer Chris Stratton, who shut the door on the Marlins in the first game of the series. Unfortunately, the same outcome was not in the cards as Stratton didn’t really implode, but allowed the equalizer to score nonetheless on a walk and an eventual RBI single; setting up the disaster of an 10th that seemed destined to come.

Enter former opening day starter Chad Kuhl for the Marlins walk off 2-run homer, to erase the gimme run in the top of the 10th. Game Over.

News and Notes

  • Chad Kuhl and Chris Stratton are two of the more veteran members of the team. You should be able to count on them to shut down an inept Marlin’s offense. This didn’t happen as the game was ended by a .203 hitter with 41 career games under his belt.
  • Cole Tucker had himself a series; going 6 for 11, scoring 3 runs and driving in 2 runs. He is now batting .265 for the month of September. I still expect the Pirates DFA him at the end of the season. Nothing he has done jumps of the page. He is a career .214 hitter, His Minor League average is .262. End of story.
  • Hoy Park was nearly the hero of the day, thanks to his two-run go-ahead homer in the top of the 9th. Park had a hit in every game of this series; along with 4 RBI, three walks and no strikeouts. Still he only has .184 AVG and a 70 wRC+ on the season, which makes him yet another player on the 40-man roster bubble.

  • Max Kranick was really hot, striking out 6 Marlins in a row, but then turned luke warm; ending the day with 3 runs on 4 hits, with those 6 Ks and three walks over 5 innings. Not bad, but not great.
  • Banda, Mears and Miller put up three scoreless innings to give their team a chance; one they almost took.
  • Anthony Alford has continued to hit as well; ripping a triple to bring the Pirates within one in the 7th. Much like Tucker and Park, Alford has heated up as of late. If it continues, this is going to be a very interesting off-season as his average now sits at .283 for September.

The Pirates last road trip of the season continues at Great American Smallpark in Cincinnati; a place that has not been kind to Pittsburgh this year. It all began with a 4 game sweep-one in which they were out scored 34 to 11-in the second series of the year; continuing with a second sweep in the beginning of August, as they were once again pummeled 31 to 9.

For Pittsburgh, Dillon Peters (1-2, 2.66 ERA) takes the mound for his sixth start in black and yellow. Opposing him is Vladimir Gutierrez (9-6, 4.25 ERA) for Cincinnati. The same Gutierrez that the Pirates roughed up for 4 run in 3.2 innings less than a week ago.

Enmanuel Mejia May Have Signed Late, But He Is Quickly Catching Up To Speed

When evaluating baseball players using statistics there are usually two main trains of thought; the old school driven evaluators, where win-loss records, ERA, Batting Average, RBI and Home Runs rule the day, and new age analysts that dive into FIP, Spin Rates, OPS+, wRC+, Launch Angles and Exit Velocities dominate the conversation.

I, myself, fall somewhere in the grey area that exists somewhere in between; except when it comes to wins and losses for pitchers. Until it gets to somewhere around 20 or above, I pretty much check out.

To me, some old school statistics; such as ERA and batting average still have their place, when used intermittently in discussions; or at the very least utilized within the correct context. And while advanced analytics like FIP, or xFIP and maybe even SIERA, can all be great predictive stats to a certain degree, they are not full proof projections. So, until that positive or negative regression comes, good old ERA is king concerning how a pitcher actually performed. Or, if you are akin to my train of thought, WHIP often holds more value; because if you don’t let many guys on the base paths, there is less of a chance that you will runs.

It’s actually pretty simple.

That’s why, when I look at a relief pitcher like Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Emmanuel Mejia, I often try not to fall directly into the trap/argument concerning his unusually high FIP in comparison to his impressive ERA, or his consistent-yet not ideal-WHIP. In the end the results are what will ultimately matter, and thus far the results have been pretty darn good.

Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates for an undisclosed amount-players that receive a bonus of $10,000 or less do not count against the allotted pool-on February 20th, 2019 at the ripe out age of 20 from the Dominican Republic, Mejia was promptly assigned to the DSL Pirates 2 to begin his professional career. In 18 games and 20.2 innings the 5’11 185 pound, less than projectable right-handed reliever posted a 1.74 ERA and a .823 WHIP with 37 strikeouts for one of the most dominant DSL teams I have ever followed.

As 2020 began the plan was to get Mejia stateside, but obviously this didn’t happen; as he would have to wait until 2021-this year-to put on the Bradenton Marauders’ black and gold, but he barely had time to get his uniform dirty. After 18 appearances and 26.1 scoreless innings, with 37 strikeouts, he was on his way north to Greensboro.

However, this was also when the analytical evaluation of Mejia truly began.

In spite of having a 0.00 ERA, questions arose concerning his actual ability to maintain success due to his 3.08 FIP and his even higher 3.78 xFIP; albeit my prevailing apprehension came directly from his 1.215 WHIP, with the Walks playing into the FIP to a certain degree.

As his time in Greensboro began these inquires only got louder as his FIP and xFIP climbed even higher, to 5.37 and 4.87 respectively; mostly because two of the nine hits he allowed went for homers. Still, his ERA still sits at 1.10 and his WHIP has remained constant at 1.29. So, I can’t help but wonder if his 93-95 mph fastball, accompanied by a solid curve just plays.

Based on this purely amateur evaluation, and barring any implosions and/or injuries over the final few playoff games, it seems to reason that Altoona in 2022 could be the next on the docket, with a potential stop in the Dominican Winter League in between as he was selected by the Cibao Giants in the 13th round of their draft.

Pirates Clinch Yet Another Series Victory

9-19-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

The Pittsburgh Pirates are 56-92 on the season. This equates to being a full 35 games back of the now playoff bound Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. Their run differential of -204 run is second to only the Baltimore Orioles (-275) for the worst in the league. They are currently battling the Texas Rangers for the #3 Pick in the 2022 MLB Amateur Draft. The Pirates have also secured their fourth series victory in a row with a 6-3 victory over the Marlins in Miami on Saturday night.

Clearly, one of these things is not like the other. Sure, the competition has not always been top notch as three of the four teams they have bested are under .500 as well; with the Marlins and the Nationals only being a few games ahead of the Pirates in the standings, However, the same could be said about the Cubs, who swept them out of Wrigley; although each of the games were fairly close, and could have gone either way. Yet, they didn’t.

So, what does it all mean? Honestly, I’m not sure if it really implies anything beyond the Pirates being constructed of a group of professional ball players, that have made it this far in their careers by being competitive, and trying their best not to lose is what they do. I mean, I guess it could be that at least a few guys on the team are possibly playing for their respective baseball lives (ie. a spot on the 40-man next year or possibly showcasing their abilities for another team that would be interested in their services). Or maybe, Derek Shelton is just a good motivator,

Whatever the reason(s), the fact is the Pirates are winning, and that always feels better than losing. So, for now I will enjoy it for as long as it lasts, which won’t be that long either way as there are only 14 games left in the season.

News and Notes

  • Bryse Wilson looked solid all night; hitting his spots on all but one pitch that ran right up into Nick Fortes sweet spot for a 2-run homer. His final line: 5IP/4H/2R/0BB/2K
  • Hoy Park essentially put the game on ice with a 2 run triple in the 5th. Since being acquired from the Yankees, Park has seen a lot of action with the Pirates; totally nearly 100 MLB at bats, with sporadic success. He is batting .182 with 2 homers for Pittsburgh.

  • Cole Tucker is having what has to be the best overall series of his career. He is 4 for 8 with 2 RBI, which could have actually been slightly more if Colin Moran was a bit faster, which we all know he is not, and it’s not due to lack of effort. Dude is just slow. In his last 13 games Tucker has batted .239, which is slightly above his career average. With only 14 games to go, I’m not sure there is enough time to salvage his spot on the 40-man, unless the Pirates are seeing something I’m missing.
  • The Pirates bullpen has performed pretty well as of late. Chasen Shreve, who closed out the game, has allowed only 1 earned run in the month of September, in 9.1 innings pitched.
  • Anthony Alford is another player who is making a late case for the 40-Man; especially on a team with no real answers in the Outfield, aside from Bryan Reynolds and hopefully Ben Gamel. Since being called up from Indianapolis, Alford is batting .264 with 5 homers, in 99 at bats.

Yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates are going for their first sweep of the season, yet again, in what seems like their hundredth attempt this year if I had to guess by following the ongoing saga on social media.

For Pittsburgh, Max Kranick (1-3, 7.66 ERA) is set to start, with a move on the active roster due to come. Sandy Alcantara (9-13, 3.10 ERA) will take the bump for Miami.

So, What Should the Pirates Do in 2022?

9-17-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

It’s kind of a vague question isn’t it?

When covering a team you can sometimes get so caught up in what they probably will do that you forget you have your own mind and it’s time for the word should to creep in. Last year for instance I knew they would only bring in guys to compete for an outfield spot, but I also thought they should target a guy like Ben Gamel, and yes, I named him specifically.

Instead they trusted Polanco and Reynolds, ok batting .500 so far, and stuck with Alford as a possibility. They added Brian Goodwin on a veteran tryout contract that had a baked in out clause and picked up a waiver claim in the form of Dustin Fowler.

So on and so forth as the season progressed. Ka’ai Tom, Troy Stokes Jr., I’m almost positive I’m not thinking of everyone, not that I’m trying.

Point is, there’s a difference between telling you what I think they’ll do and telling you what I think they should do, and that’s what this is all about.

Must Have Additions

New Backup Catcher – The no passed ball record is cute, and the defense of Michael Perez at the plate has been admirable by the club, but .143 or whatever god awful figure it is after his dismal performance yesterday has no place on a club like this. Jacob Stallings will be back despite a whole bunch of you overthinking this thing, and while he’s not ancient, it’s a lot to ask to expect two straight seasons of no IL trips. To me this is a clear upgrade opportunity, and Carter Bins isn’t ready and quite frankly hasn’t shown he’s even on his way yet since being acquired.

This needs to be a guy who can comfortably play 50 games and hit .200. I’m not asking for Gary Carter here. Sorry at some point, Perez just isn’t good enough.

Corner Outfielder – Now this one is tricky. Bryan Reynolds is the only lock in the entire outfield, and next season the AAA picture will shift to more viable candidates working there way up. Travis Swaggerty in my mind has to play at least a little AAA before landing a gig. I’m not sure how you could go into next season thinking Alford is a lock.

Start by retaining Ben Gamel. He’s arbitration eligible, and exactly what you’d hope to find on the open market anyway. He also provides a low water mark for prospects, want to be a Pirates player, you must be at least this good to ride this ride.

See about retaining Yoshi Tsutsugo, I’d much prefer him as a DH option but he’s worked hard to improve in right field and honestly, his bat makes him look better out there.

If for some reason they can’t retain him, I’ll probably just write something about how silly it was to bring him in first of all, but in that case I’d strongly advise grabbing another, someone like Michael Taylor.

Another option is to take a flyer on someone who could really be fun. Cody Bellinger has stunk out loud for LA, and he’s not getting regular playing time. The former MVP and Rookie of the Year has been lost, but he has 2 years of arbitration left and I think could be acquired on the cheap. The Pirates need to clear some 40-man headaches anyhow so see if LA will take anyone off your hands and let Bellinger bring some of that Championship Swagger to a place that has none. If he is ultimately what he’s become, he’s Polanco, if he is what he was, the Pirates get a cheap star and a huge trade chip should they so choose. Win, win.

A Veteran Starter – I’m not naming names here, but someone not unlike Anderson was for the Bucs. Hey maybe I’ll name one, how about go and get Tyler Anderson again? Only this time give him 2 years.

He was steady, healthy, and absolutely solid as a bet to give you 5 innings every time out. That might price him out of town, but he seemed to genuinely like his role here and maybe he’d embrace it more if he knew he was going to get to settle in.

Bullpen Help – Has to happen. Either convert some starters like Crowe, Kranick, whatever, or find some guys in free agency, probably both, but they have to get better here.

Purge the Washouts

AAA must turn into a real training ground and members of the 40-man have to have a much more viable chance to help this club.

2022 isn’t going to start much different than it looks right now, the difference will be when they need an outfielder instead of pouring over the waiver wire they’ll be able to call up a Cal Mitchell, Travis Swaggerty, Canaan Smith-Njigba type and that’s what will make next season more fun.

In order to do that, the Pirates are going to have to say goodbye to quite a few guys that simply aren’t part of the plan. We should start to see some of this in December when the club has to protect a bunch of guys and to make room they’ll part ways with a whole bunch of dead weight. Some of this culling might even be premature, but bringing this much talent into the system has to go somewhere.

Some of these guys will wind up finding success elsewhere so if you’re one of the many fans who love to gloat every time the club makes a ‘mistake’ you’ll be plenty happy.

Coaching Needs

I know some of you are all done with Shelton, but the team isn’t, and honestly I’m not sure how you could be either, he hasn’t had much to work with, and he hasn’t really shown us how he’d handle a non COVID influenced pitching staff. It’s just too early.

That said, I think they need to bring in another dedicated pitching assistant, it’s time for another voice in the room.

Obviously they’ll need a hitting coach, and I’d recommend replacing the assistant as well. Time for a clean slate.

Be Realistic

This team isn’t going to be remarkably better in 2022, but youngsters will improve and by the end they’ll have real prospects getting their first taste. That to me sounds fun, but it might not show up in the win column. Again, I could blow smoke up your rear but this is how I see it going, and while I’d strategically add some pieces, I wouldn’t go insane, the pitching just won’t be there and looking at the Free agent board, I don’t even see it there if they spent 60 million acquiring it.