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Upset alert: Sometimes spring training stats do matter

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates’ 25-man roster is taking shape as the club made a number of cuts this morning, the most surprising being that of Andrew Lambo, who was sent to Triple-A after being perceived to a clear favorite to make the club, barring a trade or free agent signing before Opening Day. (Kendrys Morales is shaking his head somewhere).

 

Lambo was the Pirates’ version of a No. 2 seed who couldn’t make it to the second weekend of the tournament. The Pirates’  double-digit-seeded Cinderella is non-roster invite Travis Ishikawa, who now looks like he’ll make the 25-man roster as a potential platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez and/or left-handed bench bat. I assume Sanchez will play quite a bit vs. RHP early, but we’ll see.

We always say, we always hear that spring training stats don’t mean anything, that we shouldn’t put much weight in them. And that’s generally a golden rule to follow in March as spring training is a small-sample size. Moreover, spring numbers are the product of facing many milb players and MLB players working on one aspect of their game, working on the process not necessarily concerned foremost with results.

 

But sometimes spring training stats matter.

 

… especially if it’s an errant or positive process leading to those results.

 

Case in point is Lambo vs. Ishikawa.

 

PTR-Bucs01-032614

 

(The first-base combatants exchange high fives after a Ishikawa home run this spring – Trib photo by Chris Horner).

 

The Pirates were in need of a left-handed bat at first base, at least a left-handed bench bat. Lambo hit .095 without an extra-base hit this spring and GM Neal Huntington said today he struggled to handle off-speed pitches in fastball-ball counts. The Pirates even began batting Lambo in front of Andrew McCutchen, ostensibly for Lambo to see some more fastballs.

 

Ishikawa’s major league track record is suspect. He has a 96 wRC+ vs. right-handed pitching for his career. The 30-year-old has a .737 OPS against RHPs. (Sanchez has twice posted .742 OPS vs. right-handed pitching in his career in seasons where he was an everyday player). But Ishikawa clearly had a better process and better results than Lambo.

 

He sprayed line drives around the field. He walked six times in 34 plate appearances. He posted a .333 average and 1.100 OPS. More than anything, he looked like a veteran hitter able to execute a plan at the plate and Lambo looked like a young player who had only 400 or so at bats above the Double-A level – which he is.

 

I still think we’ll see Lambo get a shot at some point. There is real power in his bat and the Pirates don’t want to let that walk away without seeing what’s there in an era of depressed power. Moreover, Lambo will get regularly playing time in Triple-A, something that might not happen in Pittsburgh.

 

***IMPORTANT REMINDER: Today’s move doesn’t mean the Pirates will not further look to upgrade the position. Huntington said the first base situation might not clear up until after the season begins. This doesn’t mean Sanchez will not be an every day player. It simply means the Pirates trust Ishikawa more than Lambo on March 25th and that judgement is apparently based largely upon spring performance.***

 

This is not a team in development mode. If it was, Lambo might get the nod over Ishikawa. This is a team that is expected to contend, that would do well to build upon last season’s momentum, that it is projected to be on a precarious place on the win curve this season. This is a team for which every early-season game matters so March stats did matter in one of the few areas on the club where there was  true, open competition this spring.

 

Note: Among the other noteable roster cuts were Jaff Decker and Jared Hughes to Triple-A. See Rob Biertempfel’s full report on our Pirates page. These aren’t surprising moves as Travis Snider and Jose Tabata were always expected to share right field in some capacity (I think Snider sees lion’s share of work there). The club will carry four outfielders into the season. The last thing to shake out will be a crowded bullpen.

– TS

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