Pittsburgh Pirates spring debate – Rum Bunter Rumblings


As another week of spring training draws to a close, the debate began to rage among Pittsburgh Pirates fans.  The debate could be something as simple as whether or not spring training performances really matter, or something as complex as a long-overdue change to the rules that govern the game itself.  As for the Pirates on the field, it was an up-and-down week to say the least.  We saw A.J. Burnett get his work in but get knocked around a little bit, and we also saw some truly anemic offensive performances.  Of course, none of this matters until April 6.  Until then, we diehards can live and die with every spring performance and still know that this is all just a prelude to what is shaping up to be an epic season of Pirates baseball.  Let’s take a look at the very best from Rum Bunter this past week:

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New staff writer Justin Frazee and Rum Bunter founder Tom Smith got us started on the debate track with their opposing takes on the ‘closer’ role.  Justin floated the theory that with not one, but two dominant late-inning options, why not play the matchups and employ a closer by committee?  From his piece:

"We have seen for many years in the NFL that a Running Back by committee approach works rather well. In the NFL, It helps keeps legs fresh, preserves the body to help prevent injury and causes defenses problems. In comparison, a closer by committee approach could help keep the arms fresh by allowing match-ups and game situations to determine who closes and prevent injuries."

Smitty‘s rebuttal was a profile of Mark Melancon in which he reminded everyone of a simple fact:  Melancon is the very epitome of a closer.  From his retort:

"One key for Melancon was his performance when it mattered most–in August and September of 2014.  The Pirates got off to a rough start with Jason Grilli in the closer role.  The poor start made the August and September games vital as the Bucs came from the middle of the NL Central pack.  Melancon pitched 24.1 innings, gave up 17 hits and just four runs.  The right hander allowed just five walks, struckout 27 and stacked up 13 important saves."

Moving away from position-specific debate, I believe that I may have caused a small uproar when I put out the question:  “How would the Pirates benefit from the designated hitter being brought to the NL?”  I think the answer is a resounding yes.  From the piece:

"Pedro Alvarez could have taken some mental days off of third base when his throwing issues flared up without the Pirates losing his bad.  He could have taken a few days at DH.  Remember when Neil Walker had that injury in August?  The one where he was good enough to swing a bat but not to field his position?  He could have been slotted in at DH to see if he was truly good to go without adding to the risk of any in-field aggravation to that bad back.  Regular days off for Andrew McCutchen could have come without losing his bat. Obviously, this can apply to any regular but there is absolutely nothing but good that can be gained from such an approach."

Change is tough, but at least we can all agree that everyone should be playing by the same rules already.  #bantheDH?  No, I say #embracetheDH

Tyler Waite delved into a fun exercise:  Who are the best extension candidates on the Pirates?  His take:

"The Pirates see Polanco as the starting right fielder this season, and if he plays to his potential, he could be the missing piece to an already star-studded outfield that has had big problems in right field the past two seasons. It might be best to extend Polanco sooner rather than later, as his stock might be lower now than it will be in the future."

As we barrel through spring training, the endless debate about if spring training really matters rages on.  For the Pittsburgh Pirates, the focal point of these debates is often Andrew Lambo.  Last week we had a lot of back and forth on Lambeezy, but Jon Anderson has finally had enough, and penned an eloquent and emotional letter to Lambo.  From the Dear Andrew letter:

"I’ll be honest with you, there’s another guy. Okay, fine, there’s a few other guys. In the last couple of years, when you were in Indianapolis, I’ll admit, I went and saw some other guys. It’s just that… Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison just have something that you don’t."

Let’s give these two some space as they mourn the end of their relationship.

This week we debuted our “Know the enemy” series.  Each week leading up to spring training, we’ll preview each of the bad guys in the NL Central.  Matt Bower got us started with his preview of the Cincinnati Reds:

"Until recently, Joey Votto was a one of MLB’s brightest stars, having been on the MVP radar ever year from 2009-2013, and boasting a 35.6 WAR over eight seasons. Perhaps 2014 was an aberration. If Votto can remain healthy and recapture some of the vigor of his dominant years, Reds ticket holders may not be so quick to advertise their seats on Stub Hub."

Coming up this week, I’ll be previewing the hated Brewers.

Last up this week is co-editor Jacob Misener, who took a look at Neil Walker’s hot start to the spring:

"Two years ahead of a potential foray into the open market, Pittsburgh Pirates’ second baseman Neil Walker is off to a hot start this spring in Grapefruit League play – posting a .400 clip over his first three games."

That does it for this week in the best of Rum Bunter.  You may be wondering why there’s no episode of Rum Bunter Radio for your listening pleasure.  We took a week off this week due to sickness, but we will be back this week with a brand new show.  We can neither confirm nor deny that Jose Tabata‘s weak spring caused Jason’s illness.

As always, thanks to the best readers in the business!

Next: Projecting the optimal Pirates batting order