Brandon Inge was batting .150 in 18 games at Triple-A Indianapolis before getting called up Tuesday to give the Pirates another option against left-handed pitching. The Pirates have struggled against lefties, entering Tuesday the Bucs were batting .169 with two home runs against southpaws.
So what does Inge do?
He authors game-winning hits in back-to-back games in Philly. Not bad. Not a bad lever pull there, Clint Hurdle.
Now Inge can’t keep up this magic. No one can. (Can Pirates keep up this magic? 13-9 and winning three straight games started by Hamels, Halladay and Lee?)
The more pertinent question is this: can Inge be an answer against lefties?
Inge entered today with a career .802 OPS and .260 average against left-handers. Solid. But he’s also going to be 36.
I think the Pirates better long-term hope this season is that is Andrew McCutchen and Russell Martin‘s bats begin to warm, McCutchen’s will for sure, and Starling Marte keeps up his impressive early play. (Can that kid fly or what? Bat speed is there, too). And that’s a very plausible scenario. The Pirates were able to beat the Phillies in games started by Hamels and Lee this series. The Pirates have enough right-handed punch in their lineup not be completely silenced by left-handed pitching.
But what we are seeing with Inge as a possible platoon partner with Pedro Alvarez on occasion, what we are seeing more and more of in the game is platoon situations being maximized.
Specialization is where the game has been trending, oh, for about 100 years.
Most notably we’ve seen the bullpen become highly specialized. We’ve seen starting pitchers limited to 100 pitches, and teams like the Rockies have experimented with limiting starters to two trips through a lineup, as data suggests pitchers become less effective on their third trip through a lineup.
Teams like the A’s are taking platooning to the extreme, trying to pack its 25-man roster with enough versatility and mixture of right- and left-handed bats to maximize both lineups against right- and left-handed pitching.
Inge is not a long-term solution for Pittsburgh’s bench. He’s a short-term fix (and a good one so far). But he shows what a deeper and more versatile bench means for a MLB team. Team’s are trying to squeeze more out of their entire 25-man roster, with which to take advantage of positive platoon splits. Perhaps this offseason the way for the Pirates to maximize limited free agent dollars would be through an elite bench, through platoons and specialization.
Remember Josh Bell?
He’s the guy the Pirates paid over-slot money to in the 2011 draft, awarded $5 million bonus as a second-round pick, to get him off a commitment to play football for Texas.
Bell missed time last season due to a knee injury but he’s returned this year to show his tools, namely power (3 home runs), are still present.
Bell was destroying the ball in spring training and he’s off to a solid start in Low-A:
“I was a little rusty when I first got to Spring Training, and it took me a couple of weeks to get back and feel completely comfortable,” Bell told MiLB.com. “It’s one of those things where I’m feeling better every day and really feel like I’m getting into the swing of things.”
If Bell can stay healthy and turn tools to production, the Pirates will have another high-upside OF prospect to go along with Gregory Polanco, who is tearing up High-A ball. The system is healthy. The system is very healthy.