Pirates Progress Report No. 4: Things are suddenly very bleak
They are who we thought they were and it is really difficult to see much progress here.
The good news is the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates gave us about a month of exciting, better-than-expected baseball and kept things remotely interesting for a while.
The bad news is they are turning out to be exactly who we thought they would be, and not even the promotion of recent No. 1 overall pick and top prospect Henry Davis is going to significantly change that.
After getting embarrassed by the Chicago Cubs, 8-0, on Monday night the Pirates have now dropped seven games in a row (all within the division) and are just 14-29 since that 20-8 start in April. That 14-29 record would equate to a 110-loss pace over a full 162-game season, which is actually somehow worse than what they did over the previous two seasons and only marginally better than the shortened 2020 season.
The pitching staff has been decimated by injuries, ineffectiveness and a frustrating lack of development from the two most promising young pitchers on the roster. Roansy Contreras has been a disaster. Luis Ortiz has only been somewhat better. The only thing holding the rotation together is Mitch Keller, who has spent the past month rapidly regressing back to the mean.
The bullpen, a bright spot early in the year, is down to just two opening day players (David Bednar and Dauri Moreta) due to injuries and overuse elsewhere.
There is not much you can do about injuries, but even if the pitching staff had better health luck how much better of a situation are we actually talking about here? The bullpen is where the injuries are significant with injuries, and that is some bad luck.
But that is a more recent development. The rotation’s problem is simply a lack of talent, depth and development. Even if everybody had been healthy there you would have J.T. Brubaker and Vince Velasquez in there. They both stink as well.
They were very dependent on Contreras and Ortiz being good, or at least showing significant development, and it simply has not happened yet. Not saying it can not happen or will not happen in the future. It just has not happened now.
Then there is the lineup.
The kind way of putting it is the lineup simply has too many bums in it.
The mean way of putting it is the lineup absolutely sucks. Especially in almost any high leverage situation.
A few quick takes….
Andrew McCutchen has been about what we should have expected. Still a very good Major League hitter, but not an MVP, franchise cornerstone like he was his first time here.
Bryan Reynolds stormed out of the gate to open the season, got his long-term extension, and has been up-and-down ever since. Overall, I think his season has been a little below what should have been expected.
Losing Oneil Cruz has been a devastating development for the lineup — and the team as a whole — because he was supposed to be the guy to be a difference-maker and give you hope for the future. There is no telling when he will be back and what he will look like when he is.
Ke’Bryan Hayes is as good as it gets defensively at third base, and while he is prone to the occasional hot streak that gives people a reason to say “Hayes is hitting .400 over his last 10 games with x-number of extra base hits” his overall numbers always remain disappointing. I have said this many times before but I do not need him to be Mike Schmidt offensively over there. Just give me a .700 OPS and you have a fine player. But even that has been a constant struggle for him.
I like Jack Suwinski and Rodolfo Castro, but right now they are both platoon players. Castro absolutely mashes lefties from the right side, but is downright awful from the left side against righties. Suwinski can hit the ball to the moon against righties, and goes on home run binges where he looks like an All-Star, but is also prone to extended slumps where he struggles to get his bat on the ball.
It is very disturbing that Connor Joe and Carlos Santana seem to have a lock on the No. 3 and 4 spots in the lineup. It has to be the least intimidating 3-4 on any team in the Major Leagues (more on these guys in a minute).
It is even more disturbing that Austin Hedges continues to get a spot in the lineup every day. The guy might legitimately be the worst overall player in Major League Baseball. The Pirates top-two position prospects are catchers. They finally called one up and are proceeding to play him in right field and at DH to keep using the duo of Hedges and Jason Delay. The argument in Hedges’ favor is that he is good defensively and works well with the pitching staff. But there is very little evidence to suggest any of that is true. The pitching staff stinks no matter which catcher is behind the plate. And for all of Hedges’ praise defensively, he is one of the worst catchers in the league at throwing out base stealers, he has already committed five errors, and has somehow managed to be called for catchers interference four times. Almost all of his value statistically is tied into his ability to frame pitches and buy his pitches a couple of extra strikes per game. Whatever value that skill has, there is no way that it is so much so that it outweighs his massive failings elsewhere. I concede that Davis might not be a very good catcher right now. But neither are Austin Hedges or Jason Delay, and every night the Pirates have the equivalent of a pitcher from the pre-Dh days hitting in their lineup. Lately, they always seem to keep coming up in high-leverage situations.
Now let’s get into the real issue I have with the 2023 Pirates: It is not necessarily that this team stinks. The 20-8 start was nice, fun distraction for a few weeks but deep down you had to know it was going to be a mirage. The issue I have with the 2023 Pirates is that four years into general manager Ben Cherington’s rebuild I am not sure where the progress is supposed to be.
Let’s dig into that.
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