It goes without saying that Tony Watson needs removed from the closer role and probably needs the Daniel Hudson treatment of being sent to the middle inning for a while or even the Antonio Bastardo treatment of disappearing to the DL. However that is not what I am writing this little blurb about.
Watching Watson on the mound last night made me sad. Of course sad that the Pirates blew a late lead but just in general a sadness for Tony Watson. Watson was a tremendous pitcher for the Pirates to an extent where I think most fans don’t understand just how good he really was. I’m not going to bore you with stats but from 2013-2015 Watson was pitching at a level of one of the top 10 relievers in all of baseball. He was that good. Things started to fall apart a bit last year and have obviously continued this year.
The success of the Pirates is correctly largely accredited to guys like Andrew McCutchen, AJ Burnett and Russell Martin but it was the back end of the bullpen that really solidified those clubs as legitimate contenders. Seeing Watson fail is as hard for me as it is watching McCutchen struggle. It is just difficult to watch these once great talents play like shells of their former selves.
The Pirates must do what is best for the longevity of the club which is letting Watson and McCutchen both go in the near future but even though I fully agree those are moves that need to be made I’m not going to be happy about them. As for now Watson at a minimum needs removed from the closer role.
As for how I’d structure the bullpen. I’d move Nicasio to closer and promote Hudson back to a set up role where he and Rivero would be used in the 7th and 8th innings. Watson would take on Bastardo’s old role of middle inning lefty. Santana or Schugel should come up to replace Marinez. The final spot I would give to Kuhl once Taillon returns.
This gives the team LeBlanc and Kuhl for long relief (though I’d like to see Kuhl get a few shorter outings as well). Watson and Santana/Schugel for middle relief. Hudson and Rivero for late inning relief and Nicasio closing things up (perhaps let him try a few 4-6 out saves).
There are many reasons for it and many people to blame but the Pirates just aren’t a good baseball team and while there were some legitimate reasons to think they might be good enough to compete for a wild card at the beginning of the year we have enough evidence now to know that probably isn’t happening.
The first reaction of a lot of fans is to blame the ownership and the front office and they deserve to share some of the blame. One of my biggest pet peeves with this group is that they haven’t done enough insulating. What I mean by that is they always seem to be lacking depth in a key area. This year there were three or potentially even 4 areas including outfield, back of the rotation, right handed relief and depending on how you choose to view it shortstop (if you want to count Kang there they were probably fine).
The blame doesn’t simply stop there nor is that the primary reason the Pirates are struggling. The Pirates two best position players find themselves banned from the league right no because of their own actions. It is inarguable that the absence of these two has had a huge negative effect on the offense and will continue to do so. Very few teams can survive let alone thrive if they lose two players as good as the Pirates have.
There is more to the story then simply the front office failures and the poor decision making of a couple excellent players. Injuries are currently preventing the team from using the primary backups to those two great talents and another great talent finds himself with a potential scary medical diagnosis. Clint Hurdle has also made his share of poor managerial decisions and players the Pirates are counting on (and had reason to count on) are struggling.
The bottom line is the Pirates are lacking some of their top end talent, missing some capable guys due to injuries, have other guys struggling, have made a few poor personal and managing decisions and just aren’t getting any favors from the baseball gods. It is an organizational failure and there really isn’t much that can be done to fix it at the moment.
The team is not doomed to years of non-competitiveness though. Currently the roster has 9 rookies (a number even the Steelers struggle to reach) meaning they are an exceptionally young group that will grown. Brighter days are likely ahead but man is the present ever going to be rough.
Look I’m not going to say April went well for the Pirates because it quite clearly did not. In fact nearly everything that could go wrong did. The team lost its best player for a half a season to suspension and its best power hitting appears at the very least highly questionable to make it to this country anytime this season. Add in some terrible offensive and defensive play along with some bullpen and Glasnow meltdowns and you get a rough month.
Still despite all of that the team managed to go 11-13 in a month where a full quarter of their schedule was against the defending World Series champions and probable best team in baseball. Even outside those Cubs games the schedule wasn’t particularly easy. The team survived the month and there is something to be said about that.
My expectations of this team have undoubtedly changed. I was thinking they would stick around the edges of the wild card race all year with a chance to grab one and now I see them as a team just a step below that. You know what though there is no reason they still can’t stay in this thing.
It is less likely sure but the schedule softens up a bit here in the coming weeks and the starting pitching looks like a strength. The bats and the gloves likely won’t be great but they won’t be as bad as they were for the first month of the season (at least I don’t think they will). The team is going to start playing better and facing competition that isn’t quite as stiff.
This Pirates team may not be what any of hoped for but it is what we have and it is still a pretty good team. For years we would have all loved a team anywhere near this talented but the last few seasons have spoiled us some. If this team is good enough to survive a terrible month where everything went wrong then it is good enough to compete once things start going well. It may not be pretty at times but I still feel we may be in for an exciting summer.
Battling Bucs is returning but just barely. I find myself wanting a place to journal my thoughts and here is as good as any. There won’t be posts every day and in fact there may not be any for an entire month. I expect absolutely no one to read this but I needed somewhere to write my thoughts down.
Not too long ago when you looked over the Pirates farm system you seen a lot of cows (prospects) out in the pasture (outfield) but now I find myself wondering just where did they all go. The Pirates have for some reason or other not just dried up their supply of outfield prospects but are barely carrying any at all on their minor league squads and it perplexes me.
MLB: Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen
AAA: Austin Meadows, Danny Ortiz
AA: Jordan Luplow, Elvis Escobar, Michael Suchy
A+: Logan Hill, Casey Hughston, Kevin Krause*
A: Ty Moore, Sandy Santos, Clark Eagan, Alexis Bastardo
Listed above is every true outfielder the Pirates have on the active rosters of their five highest levels. Note the top two levels have just two outfielders when there are three starting spots. Even down in A+ where they have three outfielders Kevin Krause is a catcher being converted to the position. The only level where there is an outfielder on the bench is in A ball.
It is a weird trend and there isn’t just one cause. The Pirates have had trouble signing quality Latin American talent lately and have also not done too well at developing college hitters which combined with a large quantity of infielders they are trying to find playing time for has led them to a development process where players are being developed to play both spots. This is fine in theory but the lack of outfielders will likely hurt the Pirates in the long run.
The Pirates do have a fairly large collection of young Latin American outfielders in the lower levels of the system and perhaps they will end up being the answer to this growing problem but early returns have not been promising. My suggestion is for the 2017 draft to be heavy with college outfielders. There needs to be a few quality picks early on but largely this is about a quantity approach. The organization needs outfielders to cover the middle levels of the system and will likely have to bring in more minor league free agents to cover AAA in the next one or two seasons.
It was a good sign to see the Pirates rely so lightly on minor league free agents this year but the downside of that is it has let them with a glut of utility infielders and a shortage of outfielders. This in turn has led to guys like Adam Frazier, Jose Osuna and John Jaso getting significantly more outfield time than they should. Solving this problem will likely have a ripple effect on another organization weakness in defense. These are issues that are slowly but surely rotting away at the solid foundation this front office has built and it needs addressed soon before everything comes tumbling down. So Neal Huntington go get us some cows.
As is probably pretty evident by now the frequency of my postings here at Battling Bucs has dwindled down to almost zero over the last couple of weeks. This is due to conditions in my life making it harder for me to find time to commit to blogging. I have a new full time job taking some of my time, I have a wedding I am in the process of planning taking some of my time and many other factors are pulling my attention away from this wonderful blog. Although it didn’t even make it two full years this blog has meant a lot to me, no it never got to be ultra-popular or anything like that but it provided me with an outlet to speak my piece and post my opinions on a franchise dear to my heart, the Pittsburgh Pirates. It has been a great run and I’d like to thank all my readers. Your site views have been much appreciated.
For the last three months before April began I pored just about everything I could into this site and that made it great I shot up the MLB blogs leader boards all the way into the top 30 and I was climbing. My desire is to go on and see if I can’t make a run at the top spot but I don’t have the time or resources to make that possible. I guess you could say LIFE is forcing this closure. It is the ending of an era for me and in a way kind of the end of my college days, yes I have been out of college for almost a year now but this blog was born from those days and kept me connected to them. I always say I am lucky in that my childhood still lives on and in some ways always will. I have two things left keeping me tied to it The Simpsons and of course the Pirates but even those two are in some ways fading. The Simpsons for as great as the show has been is nearing the end of its run and the Pirates very soon are going to post a winning season (maybe not this year or next but its coming) officially ending the chapter of poor baseball I have endured all my life. Being a little philosophical here for a moment life or more specifically time as it does with everyone has defeated me and now I must move on.
My passion for the Pirates still grows everyday and I catch as many games as I possibly can. My desire to write about them and share my opinions and analysis with others is still there as well. Make no mistake I’m not done blogging but I can no longer upkeep this site. As some of you are probably aware a short while ago I joined some other bloggers over at the Pittsburgh Sports Forum and started writing some posts for them. I will continue to do so and I hope you all will come over there and check out my posts. It is a better outlet for me in this transition time in my life. Who knows when things settle down and if life provides me with the opportunity Battling Bucs could one day rise again but for the time being it shutting down.
One last time I would like to thank everyone who has read my site these last almost two years. It has been a pleasure to share my opinions with all of you. May our Pirates do something truly special this year and may this year be the start of a magnificent run.
Let’s Go Bucs!
Once again the Pirates find themselves with no hitting to begin the season. This year if you can believe it has actually been worse than the start of the 2012 season. It is mind-boggling that a team can hit this bad at the start of the season but it is happening. Once again though people are overreacting some, the Pirates are not this bad of a hitting team. Make no mistake they aren’t a good hitting team but they aren’t a historically bad hitting team either. In the coming weeks the Pirates will likely rebound some and becomes the below average offensive team they are but that still leaves us with the question of why we are once again seeing such a poor start.
Any number of factors could be in play here. It is possible the team did an inadequate job getting the hitters ready during spring. It is possible the collection of hitters the Pirates have assembled could be prone to poor starts. It is possible it could just simply be bad luck. Or it could be something else or some combination. It is impossible to figure out just what is at play here but I’d like to take a deeper look at the mix of hitters the Pirates have in their lineup.
The Pirates lineup is loaded with high strikeout guys. The major league average strikeout rate for non pitchers last season was 21.4% so keep that in mind when looking at these numbers.
Russell Martin: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Garrett Jones: 20.0% K rate in 2012
Gaby Sanchez: 17.2% K rate in 2012
Neil Walker: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Pedro Alvarez: 30.7% K rate in 2012
Clint Barmes: 21.5% K rate in 2012
Starling Marte: 27.5% K rate in 2012
Andrew McCutchen: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Travis Snider: 25.9% K rate in 2012
Jose Tabata: 15.5% K rate in 2012
The above are the Pirates 10 regular players. A fair number of them were below the average K rate last season but only two Sanchez and Tabata were significantly lower. What does that mean? It means on days when Snider and Jones both starts which should be against just about every right handed pitcher the Pirates are fielding an entire lineup of players who are going to strike out in at least about 1 out of every 5 at bats. In theory that isn’t a big deal but of course the strike outs don’t come exactly 5 at bats a part. Players get cold and when average to high strike out players get cold guess what they strike out a lot. Not exactly rocket science there. Strike outs in return limit the number of balls put in play and limit the chances of getting a good bounce. Without a good bounce hitters continue to hit without runners on where they see fewer pitchers to hit so they continue to struggle and the strike outs continue to mount. It’s all a cyclical effect. A couple hitters start off cold and struggle to put the ball in play creates fewer good hitting opportunities for the players hitting well so they in return get cold and start hitting fewer balls and striking out more. What this Pirates lineup lacks are some low strikeout guys who can work counts and get on base or even players who just manage to make contact a lot.
The Pirates find themselves in a tough cycle to break out of. Ideally a lineup like this would have a different type of bench supporting it but the Pirates really don’t have that. Sanchez and Tabata can mix things up a little bit but McKenry and McDonald are largely useless to change much. The last bench player Harrison is an interesting player though. Harrison won’t work hardly at all but he won’t strike out much either so having a bat like him who will make contact in the lineup could be a good thing. Problem is unless you are facing a left handed pitcher where do you play him? The Pirates really can’t sit Walker or Alvarez against right handers and Harrison isn’t good enough defensively to warrant starting him over Barmes, Marte or Snider. I thought this past weekend when facing two left handers in a row was a perfect opportunity to play Harrison for a couple games and see if his contact skills couldn’t ignite some sort of spark but alas that didn’t happen. In reality that is all Harrison brings to the table the ability to make contact on a consistent basis and that is something this Pirates team desperately needs.
With all that being said the Pirates non pitchers currently have a ridiculously low .169 BABIP. Simply put that isn’t going to continue forever and in time more balls will begin to fall in and the Pirates will in return score more runs. Still even with bad luck playing a huge role in this current offensive mess it would be nice if the Pirates lineup had or at least could be complimented with some good contact hitters who can manage to get on base at a high level. The front office has done a fair job of assembling some decent arms and some decent power hitters but it has been a miserable failure at balancing out the lineup and providing it with any kind of useable depth.
I must sadly report that with life catching up with me I am going to have to trim back my posting here at Battling Bucs. I have been doing everything I could to try to keep up my post per day rate over the last month and a half but I will no longer be able to do so. The site won’t end as I’ll continue trying to do a couple of posts per week and I’ll chime in with my thoughts on important Pirates moves. You can still follow me on Twitter and I’m doing some blogging on Pittsburgh Sport Forum so you can also check me out there. I’m not going to disappear from the online Pirates fan community but I will have to scale back. I guess life catches up with all of us in time. Thank you to all of you who have stopped by and read my blog and I hope you continue to do so even if it will be running at a reduced pace.