Pirates, Mid-February Report, The Unkown.

Spring training has started, and the beginning of the season is not far behind. Barring any kind of major injury problems, the Pirates should contend for the division title. There is not a lot of support for this opinion on the local scene and none on the national level. The most optimistic thing I have read about the Pirates in the national media is that the Pirates will be “pesky” in 2023. There are 3 unknown factors that will help determine how this season will turn out. I will take them in what I consider the least unknown factor to the most unknown factor.

The first unknown factor is will management try and win games this year. Last year there was no question, despite many people refusing to believe this, the Pirates lost games on purpose. I documented this all of last year and the Pirates accomplished their goal by getting the no. 1 pick in the lottery and delaying free agency until 2028 for many of their young players. It would be shocking if management did this again this year. They seem to have a major league roster this year but some of their most recent minor league contract signings could indicate that if things don’t go well in the first 60 or so games that they will have plenty of Josh Van Meters around to ensure that the season turns into a complete disaster. For that reason it is imperative that the Pirates get off to at least an acceptable start by playing around .500 ball going into June. I don’t think the Pirates are going to lose on purpose like last year, at least for the first 2 months of the season.

Next, will we find out what kind of manager Derek Shelton really is?. Last year he did what he was told and that is to contribute to losing games. He did the same thing in 2020. What did he do? He started strange lineups, made even stranger in game moves and at times “seemed” to fall asleep at wheel, during critical moments of many games. The Pirates of 2021 were a team in kind of a transition phase to start the season. They still had some veterans on the team, and I believe that management had some doubts that this team needed a total tear down. There was this brief time in 2021 where lineups were more consistent, Shelton seemed to be managing the bullpen well, and in game strategy made sense. However, as 2021 progressed, it became apparent that this team was going to need the total rebuild and the rest is history, with 2022 becoming the ultimate tanking season. One thing is for sure, this will be Derek Shelton’s make or break season. I will not be shocked no matter how it goes, but if I was forced into making a decision on what I think will happen, I think it will turn out that he is the man to lead this team to the promise land.

The biggest unknown is how will these Pirate players respond to playing meaningful games in August and September. The Pirates made it to the playoffs as a Wild Card for 3 straight years from 2013 to 2015. The 2012 Pirates were in the hunt and on July 22nd had a record of 54-40 to be .5 games out of first place. It was without a doubt a new experience for many of the players. This team did have some veterans that had some experience being in a pennant race, but it did not help. The Pirates had the worst record, 25-43, of any team in history that had been this far above .500 that late in the season. The Pirates gained from that experience, making the playoffs the next 3 years, including winning 98 games in 2015. If this team gets to that point this year, who knows how they are going to respond. Again, this team does have some veteran presence that has experienced being in a pennant race, but that is no guarantee. This is by far the biggest unknown factor for this 2023 season.

The next report will be mid-March when the spring training games will be in full swing and the opener about 2 weeks away. We should have a good indication of who will be going up north with the team by then. I had a small hope that one of the young catchers might be making the trip but that was dashed when the Pirates picked up all those garbage catchers in the last 2 weeks. Shelton had said as much during the winter meetings in December. I can’t imagine no matter how Henry Davis or Endy Rodriguez perform during the spring games that they will be on the team come March 30th. It will be an interesting spring training to see what team the Pirates will have to start the season.

Pirates Morning Report: Mid-January

The last time I wrote about the Pirates in late November there have been two big stories. Bryan Reynolds asked to be traded and the Pirates signed Andrew McCutchen to a one year deal to bring him back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates continued to unload dead wood during this time. The sent Bryce Wilson with his -1.1 WAR and Zach Thompson with his -0.3 WAR, both packing. They got money and a pop machine for Wilson. They picked up a minor league outfielder and 4000 yards of bandage materials for Thompson. They got rid of Diego Castillo and his -0.9 WAR for a minor league pitcher and 49 rosin bags. None of these moves were very surprising. I thought they might try both pitchers in the bullpen but the fact that they are gone is fine with me.

Signing Andrew McCutchen was a great PR move, and the fans seem to love it. Many cynics out there feel this move is going to precede the trading of Reynolds and was done to appease the fans. Many in baseball feel that McCutchen will do little to enhance the Pirates ability to win games. I find it interesting that there were reports that McCutchen was offered similar and even better deals, but took the Pirates offer because it included the opportunity for more playing time. I think coming back to Pittsburgh might give McCutchen a performance boost in all phases of the game. Even if he just performs as he did last year, he would be an average major league hitter, and this is something that the Pirates desperately need. They had only 3 players last year that were above average hitters. I think he still has a lot to offer and if he can stay healthy, he should contribute to a Pirate winning season. He looks in great shape and other than a freak knee injury in 2019 he has played in at least 130 games every year. There is no question he is an outfield upgrade.

It was not a shocker when Bryan Reynolds made public that he wanted to be traded. His name has been part of trade rumors for well over a year now. I have no emotional feeling over a Bryan Reynolds trade. They either trade him, or they don’t, and hopefully they get a return that would have an immediate impact on the club. I stated that if that is what it takes to get him out of centerfield then I am all for it. I felt that the Pirates would not have a winning season with him in centerfield. Since watching the Top Ten Centerfielders Now, on MLB Network, I have changed my mind. On the 6 human ballots and the infamous MLB The Shredder, Reynolds ranked anywhere from third to seventh as one of the best centerfielders in the game. It was brought up on the show how bad his defensive metrics were for 2022 but it was also mentioned that he was about an average fielder in 2021. It looks like the Pirates are not going to get a real centerfielder anyway, so I think the Pirates will do fine with Reynolds in center. Maybe he was just trying to help the Pirates lose games in 2022 like they wanted to. There is no reason to believe that he cannot make a comeback on the fielding side of the ball. Therefore, I no longer think that getting Reynolds out of centerfield is a prerequisite for the Pirates to have a winning season and contend for the division title.

With spring training to begin in earnest in about a month, the Pirates continue to make moves that are improving the ballclub. Although there have been some in the local media that have been putting out some positive vibes on the upcoming Pirate season, I have not seen anyone in the national media saying the Pirates may be a surprise or contending team in 2023. Most feel the moves that the Cubs have made are making them the main threat to the St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, there are lots of unknowns out there when talking about the Pirates, but I still feel that if they can avoid major injury and arm trouble that they will win 80 some games and make a run at the playoffs. However, I feel there is a minimum performance level, of at least winning 75 games. If this group cannot come up with at least this many wins in 2023 then this rebuild is in major trouble.

Pirates Morning Report: Good Early Moves

The last time I wrote about the Pirates I said they would contend for the division title in 2023. I did say a few things would have to happen for me to continue to believe that. Two of them have happened already. Kevin Newman is off the team. They have not one but two first baseman. None of the moves are earth shattering, but they made the team much better and gave more potential to the bullpen. Let us look at the new Pirates.

The Pirates acquired Dauri Moreta from the Reds when they traded Newman. At first glance it appears that the Pirates may have gotten another stiff. For the entire season Moreta had an ERA of 5.40. However, most of that was due to a horrible May. He was sent down to the minors and when he came back in mid-June he obviously found something. His last 20 appearances he had one bad outing where he gave up 4 runs. In the other 19 outings he pitched 23 innings, gave up 4 runs, 14 hits, walked 6, and struck out 22. If he can continue something like that into 2023, we may have found Dwayne Underwood Junior’s replacement. The fact that we got anything for Newman is pretty remarkable.

The Pirates signed a free agent and made a trade to shore up first base. They acquired Ji-Man Choi from the Rays and signed Carlos Santana to a one year deal for 6 plus million. Led by Michael Chavis and Yoshi Tsutsugo the Pirates had the worst WAR at first base, in the entire major leagues at -4. Both Choi and Santana had WARs of 1.2, not great but huge upgrades from what was there. For the first time in a long time the Pirates are going to have real first basemen. Choi is an average fielder, while Santana is an above average fielder. Santana gives added flexibility in that he is a switch hitter. His overall OPS+ is 100 which is league average, but his OPS+ against lefties was 124. They should be a very good tandem at the position, and both have experience at DH. Santana will be turning 37 but the Pirates are experts at giving players rest and this time they will have to.

I would say the off season has started nicely for the Pirates but there is a long way to go. They still need a catcher and a centerfielder if they are going to contend. Any pitching additions should help, as we all know, you cannot have too much pitching. The winter meetings are coming up and the Rule 5 draft. Hopefully the Pirates can maintain this momentum and get some more help to win the division. Yeah, baby.

The 2022 Pirate Season, Disgusting But Brilliant

The 2022 Major League Baseball season is officially over with the Houston Astros winning the World Series in 6 games. The only good thing was that Dusty Baker got that World Series Ring. The Astros proved once again that good pitching will shut down good hitting. The 4th and 5h games were the pivotal games, especially the 4th game when the Astros no hit the Phillies. I think it gave them the phycological edge. Winning the tight game 5 with some spectacular defense sealed the deal. The Pirates 2022 season ended on opening day. This is the season where management had 2 goals, get a top draft choice and keep player control until 2028. There was no question that the Pirates fielded a team that was guaranteed to lose a lot of games and then made in game decisions to cement loses. This was a team that lost games on purpose, and we will prove that point later. First let us look at what the Pirates could have done during the 2022 season and the most likely result.

The Pirates could have decided to put the best team on the field and win as many games as possible, with those new young players. We will even give them a break and say that Roberto Perez does not get hurt and plays the entire season. Oneil Cruz and Rudolfo Castro would have played full seasons. There would have been other young players who would have played a lot more games. If the Pirates had gone all out and tried to win as many games as possible this year, they probably would have come close to playing .500 ball, winning between 75 and 83 games. The bullpen was too thin, and the starting pitching was not good enough to do much better than that. They would have been drafting in the middle of the pack, unless they got extremely lucky in the lottery. The young players would have become free agents in 2027. We all know the Pirates did not do that; therefore they have control of these players until 2028. These players did gain considerable major league experience, but not enough to move up their free agency. Here is what the Pirates did do.

It has been hard for many people to get their head around the fact that the Pirates did exactly what they wanted to do in 2022, lose baseball games. They lost baseball games on purpose. As much I find this repulsive, I blame this on the MLB system, rather on the Pirates. The Pirates just played the game that MLB has set up and should reap the rewards with some pretty good seasons coming up. The Pirate management team could not come out and say they were losing games on purpose but there really is no other explanation for who they put on the field. They allowed certain players who shall remain nameless, because they have families and children, to make 1072 plate appearances. That is equivalent to two full time position players, or 22% of your starting lineup. This group of individuals had a batting average of .156, an on base percentage of .218 and slugged .230. To put this in perspective, in 2016 the San Franscisco Giants pitching staff had a batting average of .144. It was like the Pirates, instead of using a DH, let pitchers’ bat in two spots of the batting order. The Pirates allowed a group of pitchers to throw 31% of the team’s innings for an ERA of 6.31. I did not include position players pitching in that number. Many times, they put these pitchers in key moments of the game when there were much better choices. According to baseball reference the Pirates were fortunate to lose only 100 games. Despite management’s efforts, the Pirates were a respectable 21-27 in one run games. If they could have done that well in all their games, they would have won 70 games, but management made sure they did not. The 2022 Pirates did exactly what they wanted to do. The 2023 Pirates will contend for the division title. There will be a few things that will have to happen, but more on that tomorrow.

Pirates Morning Report, The Final Game

Final Score: Pirates 5 Cardinals 3

How The 2023 Pirates Did: As a group (7), they went 8 for 24 with 4 walks, scoring 5 runs, driving in 3 and striking out only 5 times. I’m not sure if Miquel Andujar will be part of the 2023 Pirates next year but I am counting him for now, had 3 hits to lead the way. Johan Oviedo could only go 4 innings but looked better than most starters lately giving up 2 earned runs on 5 hits. The bullpen, this time was able to protect the lead after the Pirates put up the crooked number in the bottom of the 4th. Who knows what the bullpen will look like next year, but I count their performance none the less. The fielding was sketchy again with 2 more errors.

Key Moment of The Game: The Paul De Jong line out to end the game. If this ball is hit a little harder or a little higher there is no telling how the game would have ended with this bullpen history. It allowed the Pirates to close the season with a win.

Next Game: March 30, 2023, Red in Cincinnati. The Pirates start their playoff run.

Pirates Noon Report, Losing No. 100 In Style

Final Score: Pirates 7 Cardinals 8 in 10 innings

How The 2023 Pirates Did: The Pirates brought out the lumber last night scoring 7 runs on 15 hits. The first 6 batters for the Pirates went 12 for 28, scoring 6 runs and driving in 4. Oneil Cruz led the way getting 3 hits. Ji Hwan Bae, batting 9th, had a nice game going 2 for 5, with 1 RBI and 1 run scored. The starting pitching continued their late season slump with J. T. Brubaker only going 2.2 innings giving up 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk. The bullpen could not hold the lead of 7-3 and the game went 10 innings before the Pirates lost 8-7. Cruz and Bae each made an error which contributed to the Cardinals scoring.

Key Moment of The Game: With score 8-7 Cardinals in the bottom of the 10 designated runner Kevin Newman was on 2nd base with one out. On a ground ball by Cruz that went off the first baseman’s glove and was retrieved by the 2nd baseman, Newman tried to score all the way from 2nd on the play. I do not know who made the decision, but it was a bad one and Newman was out at the plate. Instead of the Pirates having 1st and 3rd with one out, they had a runner on 1st with 2 outs. Cruz managed to get all the way around to third base, but Reynolds grounded out to end the game. The Pirates lost game number 100 for the season with some flare at least.

Next And Last Game of The Season: This afternoon, Cardinals in Pittsburgh. The last chance for the Pirates to put the 2023 Pirates on the field. On a personal note, I was in San Diego for the week, and it was fun to watch a team clinch a playoff spot and see the excitement. I got in very early this AM, which is why this is a noon report. After the season I will look at what the 2023 Pirates will do next year when they try and win games. Playoff baseball is right around the corner, and I can hardly keep my fingers still.

Pirates Morning Report, The Reds Are Our Friends.

Final Score: Pirates 8 Reds 3

How The 2023 Pirates Did: The Pirate bats went to small ball last night as they had 13 hits, 11 singles and 2 doubles by Jack Suwinski. The second Suwinski double drove in the 2uns that put the Pirates ahead 4-2. Oneil Cruz had 4 hits and scored a run. Ke’Bryan Hayes had 2 hits, scored a run, and drove in a run. Roansy Contreras pitched 4 innings and gave up 2 runs on 2 hits and striking out 2. The Pirates pulled away at the end and it was another nice win against our new friends the Reds. We won, even though we played Zack Josh Van Collins Meter, along with someone by the name of Jose Godoy. Van Collins Meter got a sacrifice RBI last night, as he continues to shine at the plate, with a batting average of .048, since joining the Pirates. Godoy has a batting average .000 and did not disappoint going 0 for 4 with 2 strike outs. Where do the Pirates find these guys?

Key Moment of The Game: The Zack Josh Van Collins Meter sacrifice fly in the 7th. You knew it was the Pirates night if this guy can drive in a run. The bullpen did well with a 4 and 6 run lead.

Next Game: Tonight, Reds in Pittsburgh. I can’t wait to see Jose Godoy again tonight and I am sure we will see him. Right now, the money line on him ever getting a hit this season is +567. The end of the season is at least in sight.

Pirates Morning Report, The Error of Their Ways

Final Score: Pirates 3 Cubs 8

How The 2023 Pirates Did: At the plate it was feast or famine for the 2023 Pirates. Reynolds, Cruz, Castro, and Hayes went 6 for 13 with 2 RBI’s and 3 runs scored. On the flip side, Bae, Suwinski, Mitchel and Delay, went 0 for 13, with 2 walks and 1 RBI. Pirate management couldn’t help themselves and had to put Zack Josh Van Collins Meter in the lineup. He added to his superb stats, which now total 1 for 19, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts. In the field the Pirates made 4 errors which contributed to 3 of the Cubs 8 runs. Cruz looked particular bad on a ground ball the allowed 2 runs to score. This is a team that looks like they would like the season to be over yesterday. They are the definition of lackluster. On a brighter note, Luis Ortiz had another solid 80 pitch performance only giving up 1 hit, while walking 2 and striking out 7. He was charged with a run and the loss thanks to Manny Banuelos’s incompetence.

Key Play of The Game: The top of the 7th was a disaster for the Pirates. DUJ came in and got hit hard to allow 1 run to score and then Cruz botched the ground ball which allowed 2 more runs. This quickly jumped the Cub’s lead to 6-1. Essentially the game was over. DUJ and Manny Banuelos had a total of 27 pitches, getting 2 outs, and giving up 5 runs.

Next Game: Tonight, Reds in Pittsburgh. The Pirates are giving away tickets for $10 for the final 6 home games. However, the Pirates are going to start Zack Josh Van Collins Meter, Greg Allen, Ben Gamel, Kevin Newman and the newly acquired Miguel Andujar for all 6 games. Cruz will be in the lineup for only 3 of those games. After all, what do you expect for 10 bucks?

Pirates Morning Report, 7 Innings No Walks, I Don’t Believe It

Final Score: Pirates 6 Cubs 0

How The 2023 Pirates Did: In what could be called the most surprising performance of the year, Johan Oviedo pitched 7 innings of shutout ball, giving up only 3 hits, striking out 7, and SHOCKINGLY did not walk a batter. This from a man who was averaging a walk per inning over his first 14 innings of work. I didn’t even care if the bullpen blew the 6 run lead, I was so stunned with that performance. Hopefully, Oviedo find something, and this was no fluke. If he can get control of the stuff he has, he could be a top of the rotation starter. The rest of the 2023 Pirates did quite well racking up 6 runs, with some clutch hitting. They definitely made the most of their 7 hits and 2 walks. Rudolfo Castro came out of his funk getting 2 hits.

The Key Moment of The Game: In the bottom of the 5th, when it looked like the Pirates would only pick up a couple of runs on the Ji Hwan Bae double, Jack Suwinski had a big pinch hit 3 run home run with 2 outs, to put up the big crooked number. With this bullpen, I think everyone let out a big sigh of relief. It was a big plus, that relaxed everyone especially the bullpen, in this case Zack Thompson, who shut out the Cubs the rest of the way.

Next Game: This afternoon, Cubs in Pittsburgh. The Pirates continue to play the rejects, this time putting in Gamel, Newman, and Allen to start the game. I am still waiting to see that dream team take the field, the 2023 Pirates. I would love just to get a taste of what 2023 can be like. The Pirates will be pitching another potential young stud, in Luis Ortz. In 10.2 innings he has allowed only 1 earned run, 4 hits, 5 walks, while striking out 10. Please Lord, keep these arms healthy.

Pirates Morning Report, Walk Don’t Run

Final Score: Pirates 5 Cubs 6

How The 2023 Pirates Did: Bryan Reynolds continues to have a hot finish to the year. He got 2 hits, including his 25th home run, drove in 2 runs, and liked everybody else walked. There were 16 walks in the game. The Cubs got 3 runs in the top of the 6th and put one ball out of the infield in the entire inning. The Pirates walked in 2 runs for the 2nd time in the last 6 games. The game took 3 hours and 33 minutes to play as there were 356 pitches thrown. Now that’s a pitch count. Jack Suwinski had his first productive game in a long time hitting a home run and walking 3 times. Ji Hwan Bae made his major league debut for the Pirates last night and had a good game. He went 1 or 3, walked of course, and stole 2 bases. In 314 minor league games he has an on base percentage of .373. The highest on the Pirates right now is Bryan Reynolds at .344. In a nutshell the Pirates tried to lose the game and the Cubs gladly accepted.

Key Moment of The Game: When Will Crowe was brought into the game. In his last 2 appearances he has gotten 1 out, given up 8 earned runs, and walked 4. Don’t you think it might be time to shut him down for the season. The Pirates should just bring up the entire Indianapolis bullpen. Even if you have to designate for assignment most of the Pirate bullpen do you think anybody would pick them up.

Next Game: Tonight, Cubs in Pittsburgh. Speaking of walks, Johan Oviedo starts for the Pirates tonight. In 4 starts for the Pirates he has pitched 13.2 innings and walked 14. Fans attending tonight’s game will have plenty of time to get a beer, check their cell phones and not miss any “action” of the game. Baseball is making rule changes to speed up the game next year, but 356 pitches is 356 pitches. Even with a pitch clock, the game would have been over 3 hours long. Here is a radical rule change that would certainly speed up the game. Make 3 balls a walk instead of 4. Let’s start making pitchers throw strikes for God’s sake. Between batters begging and pitchers nibbling, the game has turned into watching Daniel Vogelbach bat every time. Even though a walk would still be boring, at least it would happen faster. It’s like being in line at McDonald’s, it’s much better when there are only 2 people ahead of you, instead of 6.

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