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Monday morning mop-up duty: what to do about the Pirates’ missing offense

SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Even if the Pirates’ pitching staff continues its excellent work, the Pirates’ offense is really bringing into question whether there is going to be meaningful baseball played in Pittsburgh in September.

 

The Pirates’ OPS has dipped below .700, now resting at .675 (12th in the NL). The Pirates have a .299 on-base percentage as a team (12th in the NL).

 

Those are truly anemic numbers and it’s now nearly the middle of June. Even a slight dip in pitching performance could yield significant regression without offensive improvement.

 

 

There aren’t any impact bats in the upper-levels of the system riding over the ridge.

 

Gregory Polanco looks like an  future impact back but he’s probably not ready until 2015. Stetson Allie might become Chris Davis … in 2018. Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire might be All-Stars … in 2019.

 

There are few internal options … so what to do?

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS …

 

9.  The one clear alternative is to trade defense for offense at shortstop: play Jordy Mercer over Clint Barmes, as many of you have called for. Now, Mercer is not Manny Machado. Mercer has a 2% walk rate and a 23% K-rate. He’s a young player who is going to struggle some but he has more pop than Barmes.

 

Hurdle has begun to play Mercer more under the premise that it’s good for his development. It’s also about finding a way to jump start the offense.

 

8. I’d suggest Hurdle become more aggressive in taking advantage of platoons, but he’s already doing that at first base and and in right field. The Pirates simply need to get more out of the Travis Snider/Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez/Jose Tabata mix at the right-side corners.

 

7. The Pirates need  Neil Walker’s bat to get going, ditto for Pedro Alvarez. Andrew McCutchen needs to find some better luck. (I think McCutchen is going to be just fine and produce a .300 avg and 25 HRs).

 

6.The Pirates simply need internal improvement. Almost every bat is performing below expectations. Jay Bell must find some answers.

 

5. The other avenue is the trade market.

 

I’m not sure what kind of impact bats, if any, are available at the moment. Andre Either and Adrian Gonzalez could be, but they’re on the decline. And the Pirates aren’t going to be trading their top young assets. Unless …

 

baustita

Jose Bautista in a Pirates jersey? It happened once, is there a 2.3% chance it could happen again? 

 

4.  You know what would be fun, this: If the Blue Jays continue to struggle Jameson Taillon for Jose Bautista + plus cash? 

 

What club says no first? (Bautista has a fairly reasonable contract $14 in ’14, $14M in ’15 with an option for 2016).

 

3. It does bring me to the interesting question John Hart brought up in our discussion last week. Baseball has become a pitcher’s game. Hart noted how the Pirates have created a rotation on the cheap. PNC Park hides some pitching warts. Knowing that impact bats are growing sparse should they take the priority over arms early in the draft?

 

2. I think the Pirates did the right thing in taking  Meadows and McGuire. I loved their first-round. But I just wonder even if Taillon becomes a more affable Josh Beckett if the Pirates are going to regret passing on Machado in 2010.

 

1. This is always a fun read: ESPN’s franchise player draft. What’s painful for #BUCN is the Pirates had a chance to draft the No. 3 and No. 4 overall picks. Imagine a lineup with  Starling Marte, McCutchen, Machado and Buster Posey in it?

 

For what’s it worth, I’d go Bryce Harper at No. 1.  I like Yoenis Cespedes, but that’s too high, and Stephen Strasburg‘s ranking is too low.

 

HE SAID IT 

Indianapolis catcher Tony Sanchez on Gerrit Cole:

“I’ll go out there, and I’ll throw in some curse words and yell at him a little bit,” said Sanchez, who quickly finds it is Cole’s anger that is the problem. “I say, ‘Who cares? We’re in the fifth inning, there’s no score, there’s a runner on first, you have a 100 mph fastball. Give me that fastball, and we’ll get out of this.’ ”

 

MODEST PROPOSAL OF THE WEEK

When I watched Gerrit Cole’s start Wednesday a scout said Cole sometimes gets “too amped up.”

 

He can overthrow, lose command of his fastball and have it flatten out in the upper part of the strikezone. We wrote a whole store about Cole needing to stay in the moment, which is going to be awfully hard in a big league debut Tuesday. But my advice to him would be this: whatever you channeled, Gerrit, in your 2011 CWS start in TCU. Channel it again.

 

STAT THAT MIGHT ONLY INTEREST ME: 23

Jeff Locke’s strikeouts over his last four starts covering 21 1/3 innings.

 

Real growth?

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION

Found some new tunes via Alt Nation on XM en route to Indy last week. Enjoy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GMQLjzVGfw

27 Comments

  1. Absolutey no idea how the Jones/Sanchez platoon gets called out as part of the problem for combining to hit 282/335/483 at 1B while Starling Marte is spoken of as part of a dream lineup. Marte is a problem. Guy hasn’t hit a lick in over a month. Combine that with his time as a rookie and April is clearly the exception, not the rule.
    .
    RF is the obvious spot for improvement. Travis Snider needs to regroup. He’s reverted back to swinging at more pitches and hitting more fly balls. Both are hurting him big time.
    .
    Otherwise, improving the offense by means other than players simply hitting at career norms is going to take some tough decision making.
    .Rob’s column alluded to the lack of hitting prspects being a problem. Sure. Now who are you going to get rid of even if you did have a prospect to plug in? Neil Walker? Pedro? Starling Marte?

    • Marte has most definitely be mired in some struggles this past month. I’d imagine his final line for 2013 will be somewhere in between that tremendous April and the less inspiring May. Perhaps around the 279/348/408 line he’s currently sporting. His OBP is of coursed buoyed by a whopping 14 HBP, you probably not like that to continue, as odds are at some point that might result in injury.

      None the less his defense in LF still provides significant value.

      RF seems like the most obvious spot to upgrade. As you mention the Jones/Sanchez platoon is doing its job when utilized properly and Marte and Pedro have enough upside that you have to continue playing them. While you can still dream on Snider’s upside it’s looking increasingly less likely he’ll ever approach it. Jose Tabata wasn’t performing badly pre-injury but his staying healthy is far from a guarantee–based on recent history.

      If you were to trade for a RF who would be available and how much would it cost. I’d don’t have a clear sense of how the trade market will shape up nor what it would take acquire the following players but here’s who might be available, based on which teams currently look to be out of contention come July (this could obviously change). Almost all come with at least one negative if not more (in terms of declining performance, salary, or both).

      RF – Andre Ethier, Alex Rios, Norichika Aoki, Michael Morse, Michael Cuddyer (if the Rockies were to fall out of contention),

      LF (who could potentially play RF at PNC) – Carlos Quentin, Alfonso Soriano, Josh Willingham, Melky Cabrera

      The option that might best fit the Pirates needs is Aoki I think, but would the Brewers trade him (within the division no less)? Rios is an interesting option. He’s owed $12.5 million through 2014 without a team option in 2015. If he does become available I’d think he’d be one of the more sought after bats on the market, so it could conceivably take quite a bit to get him.

      • Really appreciate the response, Brendan. Great job on the possible trade list.
        .
        Aoki is a poor man’s Shin Soo-Choo. Under the radar guy who gets on base, flashes some pop, and has plenty of speed. Can’t imagine the Brewers letting him go with four cheap years of control left.
        .
        Morse is the easy rental player option and I believe has the kind of power that can play even in PNC as a righty.
        .
        My choice would be Josh Willingham. He’s cheaper than Cuddyer, isn’t an absolute butcher in right field, and has the OBP/power combo the Pirates seem to be set up for.

        • You’re likely right regarding Aoki. I’d looked at his salary info on baseball reference and noticed their was a team option for 2014, so I assumed he was a free agent after that season.

          “2 yrs/$2.5M (12-13) & 14 team option”

          But you’re right, he’s not arb eligible to 2015 or eligible for free agency to 2018. Not exactly sure how the contract is structured since it was purchased from Japan. In any case he is 31, so if the Brewers do decide to rebuild it’s possible they might trade him, he’d certainly have a lot of value at that price.

          I’ve not seen Willingham play much of late but per the available defensive metrics he looks to be pretty bad in the field (-9 UZR in 2012 and -4.3 this year).

          His line so far this year is 214/361/421. Obviously it’s early and he had a career year last year but his age–34–makes me wonder if he might be in decline. If so I’d be hesitant to pay him $ 8 million next year.

          Michael Morse is also pretty terrible in the field, worse than Willingham. My concern is adding offense but giving up defense (Snider and Tabata are at least adequate to slightly above average in RF) so as to mitigate the improvement in runs scored.

          • Wow, 31? I had no idea he was that old. With the Brewers in rebuilding mode, you never know. Corey Hart might also be an interesting rental player. You’d think the Brewers would be more willing to trade him knowing he will hit free agency this off season and the Bucs aren’t likely to be able to afford him.
            .
            My Willingham pick was based on wrongly believing he was a bad trade option in 2011 before the team went with Ryan Ludwick. In hindsight, they should’ve traded and extended him that offseason. That being said, you might be right regarding age.
            .
            I’m in agreement with you on defense, generally speaking. Same reason I was not in favor of trading for Chase Headley and making him an outfielder just because he played some three years ago.

      • Brendan’s list includes the types of names the Pirates would be more likely to investigate rather than a big-ticket item like Bautista. That’s a good list, though the pictures is still a little murky this far out from the trade deadline .. I’ve always liked Willingham’s swing – compact, simple – and approach. Morse has rare power and could fit at first, too.

    • The Pirates’ 1B platoon isn’t chief among their offensive issues but having a sub. 800 OPS at 1B is still less than ideal. … Marte’s last month has been dreadful, but I still think you believe in the tools and ride out the valleys. …. I also think there’s always room for an impact bat. In two to three years, Alvarez and Walker could have new addresses as they become more expensive.

      • Bautista is not the hitter he was the last few years. Maybe he peaked and has started to slip a bit. Also, Toronto’s stadium seems to be a launching pad that has probably boosted his numbers. That said, he is still a solid power bat and would help the Bucs a great deal. I think some contender is going to make a big time play for him. Giving Taillon up for him would be a bold, gutsy move, and might really give the offense a boost for a playoff run. The emergence of Kingham and Glasnow this year might give the Bucs more confidence that one of their young arms could be traded for an impact bat like Bautista.

  2. Locke also had 34 K in 34.1 IP last year with the big club. Now if he could only stop walking so many people. Where is that coming from, anyways?
    .
    I, personally, would trade Tailon for 3 years of an elite hitter. I would not trade him for a guy who will be 36 years old when that contract ends, as Bautista will be.
    .
    Tons of good conversation starts today, Travis. Loving it..
    .
    By the way, how much are you getting per John Hart plug? :)

  3. For a while I have started to believe that one of the answers to the Pirates offense is Alex Gordon. A true OBP guy that would fit great on the #2 spot between Marte and Cutch. The problem? I doubt the Royals will trade him. Maybe the Pirates can throw Polanco in if they sign Meadows.

    • Interesting name. Gordon’s contract is pretty team-friendly, but the Royals do need arms among other things (like a rebounding of their entire offense). … Gordon is also a plus defensive outfielder and could fit in very well at RF. He could also play 3B in a pinch.

    • “Throw” Polanco in to get Alex Gordon? Do you know how well Polanco is now thought of? He’s going to be a star in a few years. This team cannot afford to do things like that. Gordon would be a nice addition, but not at that price. I believe Polanco is more important to their future than Meadows, who has all the talent in the world but hasn’t played a game in a MLB organization yet.

    • If Marte is hitting anywhere near the top of the order it won’t matter who is hitting behind him, the offense will be hampered 75-80% of the pitchers in the majors throw right handed, he can’t hit right handers so keeping him up there is just needlessly generating outs. He and Snider should be in a platoon in left and even then hitting 7th or 8th when he does play. 21 straight seasons now and once again all the Pirates have managed to do is prove speed alone can not create offense.

  4. So long as Marte is hitting lead off and getting significant playing time against right handed pitching there’s little hope of the offense improving. The guy can’t hit right handers, never has been able to, never will be able to as evidence by his continued inability to control the strike zone. Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington are so desperate to justify not making the trade to acquire Choo last year and include Marte in the deal that they seem intent on running him out everyday in situations he’s shown no ability to perform in. These guys look at Snider and Jones and recognize their limitation against left handed pitching yet their own arrogance and/or sense of self preservation won’t allow them to do it with Marte. The first thing the Pirates need to do is start utilizing the players they current have better… Snider and Marte need to be in a strict platoon in left, Jones needs to be in a platoon either in right with Tabata or at first with Sanchez and the front office need to correct it’s biggest mistake of the off season in losing Robinson on waivers and find a left handed first basemen or right fielder to play wherever Jones isn’t.

  5. Jordy Mercer should be the regular ss, rather than Barmes, who is very good defensively,
    but can’t hit a lick. Bring Barmes in to play short in the late innings for fresh defense. Marte
    should not play against right hand pitching. He should be platooned with Snider in left.
    Also, Walker should bat lefty all the time-hits into double plays batting right. Pitching is great
    as is. Locke usually doesen’t walk as many as he did against Cubbies. If Pedro can continue to improve at the plate, that will help. We will be a great wild card team, because
    the Cards are as good as in for this division. That’s all, folks!!

  6. Travis, I really love your blogs , a great addition this year to the Trib’s coverage. A few thoughts:

    1. Locke has been the KEY to the Pirates success thus far (yes, PUN intended)… the Pirates rotation was wobbling a bit, I think early May, when Clint declared that pitchers were pitching for their rotation spots… Locke since then has taken off, has a ton of confidence, and he gives the Bucs a stabilizing force in the rotation.

    2. Jones needs to play against every RHP, and Gaby is a decent option vs. LHPs, both are playing very good defense at 1B…I don’t think that is an area of deadline acquisition…..

    3. RF is a spot the Bucs can and should upgrade — no to Willingham, he just feels like Ludwick circa 2011…. it may not be popular, but I’m for Soriano in RF… I think Snider can then get some starts in left field to spell Marte vs tough RHPs….

    4. If I’m Neal, I’d also look hard at lead-off hitter types… I don’t think Marte is the answer at the top of the order in 2013 (maybe next year)…..

    • Wouldn’t your leadoff hitter also have to be your right fielder?
      .
      I don’t believe any shortstops in all of baseball are prototypical leadoff hitters and the rest of the Bucs lineup is theoretically set.

    • Thanks, cmat.

      1. Locke’s been great, and like so many of the Pirates’ starters, I think Russell Martin has a lot to do with that

      3. RF at least needs an upgrade in performance: and there might be an in-house option arriving in June 2014, Gregory Polanco

      4. I think Marte should hit further down the order. But this is still 24-year-old, who is improving as a player, and is hitting .290 and on pace for 50 steals. Not a bad package. Streaky? Yes. But loaded with tools.

  7. You can’t teach intelligence. Marte is, at least, a standard deviation below the norm.

  8. Mercer is hitting .237 since his 2 HR game. Might not be the answer.

    Bautista is 32. Is it good business to buy his declining years and give up a prime prospect to get him?

  9. Travis,

    Just catching up here on the plane. Great work mentioning the offense’s recent dearth of runs, and, voila, 8 runs and most hits in weeks.

    Now can you do something about mlb’s blackout policy of blacking out Pirates games on MLBNetwork and mlbtv in Central Ohio. We can’t get RootSportsPit!

    Haha. Thanks, and keep the good stuff coming.

  10. We could have and should have won Saturday’s game with the Dodgers. What was the
    Fort thinking-swinging at the first pitch? Many things could have developed; a wild pitch, a passed ball or even a better pitch to hit. Anyhow, it seems every time the Reds lose, we lose also. GO, BUCS!!!

  11. Polanco is gonna be a stud. However, I think the future allstar bat comes from Josh Bell in Low A. The guy missed all of last year with injury so I can see how he slid under the radar. However, he mashes and already has 50 rbi’s and is putting up Jorge Soler type numbers. If Josh Bell can lower his K rate, watch out!

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