The start to the season has had good and bad. We’ve covered all of it but the biggest positive I could take away might be the simple fact that they had a chance to win all three. That’s what a bullpen will do for a team. Despite all the warts this club has that one area is something that will keep the club in most games and early on they can afford to lean on them so heavily. Come July, if nothing has changed, we’ll start to see why they needed to stockpile so many arms in AAA, because they’ll simply kill most of the pen.
Baseball is at it’s core a story, one that unfolds all season long, and while what happens in game 2 isn’t as important as being in the thick of things come August, things that happen now have direct affect on clubs as they move forward.
Let’s dig in here and see what’s on the old noodle today.
1. Oh Mitch
There is no way to watch the struggles of Mitch Keller and not think back to the struggles of another young man who had incredible stuff and excellent control numbers in the minors but couldn’t figure it out when he made it to MLB.
That’s right, I’m referring to Tyler Glasnow. Before you tell me how tall Tyler is or that he has a better fastball, I’m not trying to make a direct comparison between the players side by side, I’m simply saying there is a lesson there that we should all pay attention to.
Glasnow was labelled the classic Quad A player. For those of you not well versed in the baseball insult world, it means he was never going to figure it out, too good for AAA, not good enough for MLB. Realistically though, he was a guy who came up and got roped all around the ballpark. He had never had his stuff hit like that at any level and it creates an immediate questioning of everything he ever learned or threw.
Things that worked in AAA like bouncing a curve a foot in front of the plate or throwing a fastball 10 inches above the zone no longer garnered swings and misses to get him out of a painful situation.
No this wasn’t a product of pitch to contact, this was a player who didn’t trust his electric stuff could get outs if he threw it in the zone.
That, is where the similarity is. Mitch too has incredible talent, he simply doesn’t buy it when others are begging him to trust it. He says it after the game. He says I need to hit the zone more, I need to throw more strikes, but ask any pitcher what a pitch thrown without confidence and conviction tends to come out like.
They have to fight through this together. That’s the bottom line. The answer remains up in the air on Keller but if they reach the end of 2021 and still aren’t sure if Keller is part of the future or yet another youngster who can’t make the final jump that is a failure this club can’t afford.
2. The Blue Was Brutal
The Pirates didn’t do enough to win this weekend in Chicago, but they certainly got no favors from the umpires. Game one was called pretty straight and the Pirates walked 11 times and happened to win the ball game. Games 2 and 3 were all over the place.
When you’re teaching patience to a young team and preaching the virtue of OBA for a club that is going to have to manufacture most of their runs, everyone in the game knows that approach depends on understanding the umpire’s zone. Calling balls as strikes isn’t in and of itself crippling, but not doing it consistently sure as hell is.
Don’t get me wrong, good teams overcome that. The Pirates as we all know currently are not in that category.
I know you think I’m probably gearing up to hammer the umps more or preach about the robo umps, but I’m actually heading to a different place here.
The Pirates need to do a better job of recognizing the issue in a given game before the 6th inning. 5 innings of watching Davies get 3-6 inches off the black seems like a bit longer than it should take to recognize the zone isn’t going to play to your advantage.
Why didn’t Keller get the same advantage? Well, simply put, when you spray the ball all over the place and are visibly frustrated, hell your catcher is visibly and maybe even audibly frustrated. You aren’t going to get that ball just off the edge on a 3-2 count.
Davies starts 8 inches off and backs it in inch by inch until he starts getting the calls. That’s control, that’s influencing an ump. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t good, but it also wasn’t something the Pirates should feel hard done by over. They have to change their approach to meet the demand of the day, and for that matter so do their pitchers. And I’m being kind by pluralizing pitcher, because only one really couldn’t adjust.
3. Colin Moran Has Matured
Look, we have no idea what role if any Colin Moran will have on this team in the future. He could be traded, or extended. We just don’t know. One thing we do know however, Colin isn’t taking bad at bats. In fact he’s taking a professional approach in every situation and every moment in the game. We just talked about the umpires and regardless of how bad they were, Colin adjusted. He knew and recognized that the outside pitch was getting called and rather than take a ball for a strike he just added that to his coverage zone ultimately leading to his first homerun of the season, an opposite field 2 run jack that made the game interesting.
That’s maturity. If you thought he was a terrible baseball player I can’t argue, he wasn’t great. But I invite you to have some virtual cataract surgery and take a look at what Colin does this season with fresh baseball eyes. I honestly don’t think he is the player many of us have decided he was.
If anything, I wonder how much faster this would have showed itself if the Pirates were able to give him a bigger role, not that I blame the Pirates, at third base he was an albatross.
4. Early Hayes Injury
It shows how fragile things are at times. All the excitement surrounding this club tends to start with Hayes and to suffer a weird and seemingly benign injury in game 2 really hurts. In game two of the series when Hayes went down you could actually see the air come out of the balloon for the club.
Sure they stayed in it but the at bats weren’t nearly as structured, and the team looked like a switch was flipped to playing out the game. As many of us were watching and waiting for news on the star’s status it was easy to almost read the same questions and concerns on the faces of those in the dugout.
No baseball players will tell you they think their team is anything less than a World Series contender, at least not in public until they’ve been eliminated, but a loss like Ke’ is something that can truly change the dynamic of the entire ball club.
It was good to see them come back out for game 3 ready to fight. They fell short but didn’t quit all game long and that gives me hope for a few things. First, it speaks highly of the coaching, because they didn’t just come back and try they jumped right back to the formula that worked for them on Thursday. Taking serious, professional at bats. Even Polanco walked twice. Next, it showed that Erik Gonzalez and Phil Evans are going to do a pretty good job filling in but the drop off is clear. Defensively Evans isn’t even in the stratosphere of Hayes but offensively he can at least provide some of that OBA minus the pop. Gonzalez has the defense on lock down but the bat is still just an also ran.
Now, let’s see how long this lasts, my guess is a decent amount of time due to the Difo call up vs someone they could send right back down. Difo will now have to clear waivers to go back down and since there are other choices that wouldn’t have required that it makes me feel this is either going to be longer term for Hayes than we hope or the Pirates aren’t terribly concerned with losing him potentially. We’ll see how this plays out, but I would assume a short term plug would be a guy the Bucs could use and send back without jumping through hoops. And I’m not even touching the DFA of Bashlor because he was a fringe 40-man member at best. (Thanks to my friend @KG_55VFTG as we navigate all this roster noise together)
5. No No’s Don’t Trump Pitch Counts
Yes, I too remember Nolan Ryan throwing 140 pitches in a complete game shutout. So when José Berríos was pulled after six no-hit innings against the Milwaukee Brewers I wasn’t shocked, even though he had only thrown 84 pitches.
See, chances are he had already pushed slightly past his agreed upon limit at that point and while I understand a move like this isn’t fun for the fans, all 30 teams would have done the exact same thing.
We all remember (well, most of us above say 25) when pitchers would go out and throw 125 pitches and come back out four days later to do it again. Times have changed and so has medicine along with training.
Like it or don’t. Think it’s babying players or not. This is the universally accepted best way to save arms. You could argue it isn’t working and I can’t really say you’re wrong but we also have to acknowledge that we aren’t asking arms to do what they used to be asked.
90MPH used to be a scary fastball as recently as the early 1990’s and now that usually doesn’t even get you scouted unless you happen to be 14 when you hit that on the gun. The human body was not designed to throw a baseball, at least not the way it’s done at the MLB level and it’s literally destroying elbows and shoulders.
I’ll agree with everyone that wants to complain that the fans were deprived a no hit bid, but I can’t see a way teams can preach pitch count to their staff then decide it doesn’t matter because of an arbitrary outcome that doesn’t affect the team itself. At least the last time I checked a no-hit win didn’t count for two.
Baseball is always changing, and not always for the better, but I also can’t argue with at least 30 head trainers and no doubt 30 independent surgeons and easily 30 GM’s and Coaches who think this is the best way to ensure these guys can stay on the field.
Fans used to really enjoy head to head collisions in football and slamming opposing skaters into the boards head first in Hockey too, but then medicine stepped in and revealed the damage being done. I can honestly say those decisions didn’t improve the product, but they just might save some careers if not quality of life afterward.
6. Late Breaking Bonus – Another Keller?
The Pirates acquired Kyle Keller from the LA Angels for Cash and in a resulting move DFA’d Edgar Santana. Now, I’ll remind you this doesn’t mean Santana is off the club but seeing him clear waivers seems highly unlikely. In fact you could see someone do exactly what the Pirates did and make a deal for him before he hits the process.
I’m high on Santana, but it’s very clear the Pirates aren’t. No, I don’t have any insider info here just a hunch. Santana and his skill set are exactly the type of talent this club has been moving heaven and earth to acquire. A fastball in the high 90’s and a lights out slider, even his Spring outings didn’t show a player who hadn’t recovered from his Tommy John procedure. Perhaps the Pirates were put off by his use of PED’s that lead to his suspension in 2020. This is one of those things we’ll likely never fully understand, but it could be as simple as someone asked him how he trained to recover and they didn’t like his answers prior to that news even breaking.
Bottom line, they at the very least have shown if they lose him they won’t lose any sleep.
As for Keller, beside the media’s fascination with his forkball (which he threw all of 3 times) he’s nothing special on paper. I always question when a team with almost no pitching cuts a guy but this is almost the exact path the Pirates took to get Chris Stratton and it’s safe to say he’s worked out. I also saw similar stats and skills for Duane Underwood Jr. and he too in the early going sure looks like a solid get.
At some point I suppose I should trust Ben Cherington’s eye but something tells me there is more to the story here.