Should the Pittsburgh Pirates Have a Five Man Bench?

(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

Is it time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to stop playing a player short on their bench?

Through the first nine games of the 2018 season the Pittsburgh Pirates are 7-2. So, it is difficult to say their roster decisions coming out of Spring Training have not worked. That said, it might time for a change.

Currently, the Pirates have an eight man bullpen and a four man bench. This differs from the National Leauge norm of having seven players in their ‘pen and five players on their bench. Is it time for the Pirates to return to having five players on their bench?

Going short a player on the bench made sense in the season’s opening series. This was due to the Pirates opening their season at Comerica Park in Detroit, giving them the designated hitter. However, the team is now fully entrenched in National League play making it vital to have a full bench.

The reason the Pirates are continuing to carry an extra bullpen arm is due to the team not being sold on the ability of their starters to go deep into games, as well as question marks in the bullpen.

Well, first off, Pirate starting pitchers are averaging 5.7 innings per start through the first nine games of the season. While you would like to see this number eclipse 6 innings per start, 5.7 innings per start is still a strong start to the season when you factor in the conditions the Pirates have played their games in.

Secondly, the Pirate bullpen has a pair of long relievers in Tyler Glasnow and Clay Holmes. This makes the need for an extra bullpen arm lessen. Plus, Glasnow can also pitch in high-leverage situations, if Clint Hurdle would ever give him the chance, making him more of a swingman further lessening the need for an extra reliever.

Finally, does carrying an extra reliever do a team any good if that extra reliever isn’t any good? My answer is no.

This season Dovydas Neverauskas and Josh Smoker, one of which would be the odd man out if the team went back to having five bench players, have both been awful this season. They have combined to allow 11 hits and 4 walks, while having just a single strikeout between the two, in a combined 6 1/3 innings pitched.

Furthermore, 10 of the 39 runs the Pirates have allowed this season have either been surrendered by Neverauskas, or been an inherited runner that either Neveruaskas or Smoker has failed to strand. That is an astounding 25.6 percent of the runs the Pirates have allowed this season.

With neither Neverauskas nor Smoker being reliable at all are the Pirates better off with an extra bench player than both of these pitchers? Well, in my opinion, the answer is yes.

Another reason the Pirates should go back to having five players on the bench is what happened in Saturday night’s 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. With the game tied at 4 in the bottom of the 6th inning, Clint Hurdle sent pitcher Steven Brault to the plate to pinch hit. Why? Because he did not want to use his backup catcher, understandable, and Gregory Polanco was unavailable, also understandable. This left the team with just two useable bench players, and Hurdle did not want to burn one of them in the 6th inning of a tied game.

Brault would go on to groundout to end the inning. Had the Pirates been able to pinch hit a position player in that situation who knows what would have happened and it could have turned the game in the Bucs’ favor.

Say the team had Jordan Luplow, Jose Osuna, or Max Moroff on the bench, all three of those players are best known for their power. Each one of them would have been capable of hitting a go-ahead home run, or any sort of extra base hit to put the tying run in scoring position.

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For the reasons stated above, it is time for the Pirates to go back to having five bench players. That fifth player could be Jordan Luplow, Jose Osuna, or Max Moroff. Either way, the team is better served with one of them on the bench instead of having Dovydas Neverauskas or Josh Smoker in the bullpen.