The Pittsburgh Pirates had one of their worst weeks of the season, going 1-5 since May 17th. The poor week dropped the Pirates back into 3rd in the NL Central with an overall record of 27-22.
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. The good, the bad, and the ugly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s the theme of this series – shout out to the Italian man himself, Francisco Cervelli, for the inspiration. Let’s jump into the week that was!
The good and the bad sections will be self-explanatory, looking at both the good and the bad of the week. The ugly will simply be a section that covers all of the other random notes of importance from the week.
For the second time this season I am moving the bad section up to the top of the order (some would say Hurdle is doing the same with Gregory Polanco, but we will address that later). The Pirates looked just flat-out bad this week. Playing two of the worst teams in the NL, the Padres and the Reds, the Bucs seemed to revert back to their 2017 season form going only 1-5. I rescind my statement from last week about the Pirates doing well at beating the teams that they should beat.
Taken as a whole, a good many of the losses last week were complete team losses. I mean this in the sense that almost every aspect of the Pirates’ game regressed and cost the team wins. The starters generally struggled (except Chad Kuhl who has struggled every other start and Nick Kingham who isn’t even on the roster anymore), the bullpen started giving up runs again, defensive woes surfaced, and successful situational hitting became non-existent.
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Out of all of the points mentioned above, the one that sticks out to me the most is the lack of situational hitting. I can think of three separate times this past week alone when the Pirates had bases loaded with less than two outs and failed to bring home a base runner. One of the biggest successes for Hurdle and the Bucs up to this point has been the exact opposite. While the rest of the League is striking out at a historic rate, the Pirates were doing a fantastic job at putting the ball in play. The inability to continue this success led to multiple losses over the last seven days.
I think a good name for the next section could be: Do we have a problem? After an overall poor week, Pirates fans may be asking that very question about a number of players.
Gregory Polanco – Do we have a problem? I would say yes. In fact, an emphatic yes. Up until this past week I have not had a problem with playing Polanco everyday in right field, however, I have now seen the light.
In economics there is a well-backed theory called the “sunk cost fallacy”. In a nutshell, the sunk cost fallacy claims that an individual will continue to chose a sub-optimal course of action because they over-value the emotional investment and time that they have already invested in that course of action. Even if a better course of action is available.
The Pirates are suffering from the sunk cost fallacy of Gregory Polanco.
There comes a point in time when it doesn’t matter that Polanco was a top 50 MLB prospect. It doesn’t matter that Polanco has the ability to be a five-tool outfielder….someday. What does matter is Polanco’s .220 batting average, his well below-average fielding ability, and his continual ability to find the worst possible times to either strikeout or to hit an infield pop-fly. Honestly, historical trends don’t help Polanco either. Over five seasons he is a .249 career batter, a .405 slugger, and -1.4 defensive WAR player. At the very best, these are average statistics for a bench player, which is what Polanco should be.
Felipe Vazquez– Vazquez has blown his last two save opportunities and currently owns an ERA of 3.60 as the Pirates’ closer. Do we have a problem? Probably not. Vazquez is certainly not dominating batters like he has the past two seasons for the Pirates, but he also isn’t struggling enough to raise any Tony Watson size red flags.
A big difference between Vazquez and Polanco is the next best available option. There are players that can easily replace Polanco and do better than him on the Pirates’ roster, however, this is not the case for Vazquez. Vazquez still has the best raw stuff out of any pitcher in the Pirates’ bullpen, and his past experience and success as a closer are huge pluses.
Jameson Taillon – Honestly, I could talk about any Pirates’ starting pitcher in this spot, but I think Jameson is the most important out of the bunch to cover. Going into this season, everyone expected Jameson Taillon to step into the “ace” role of the starting rotation. Sadly, Taillon has not lived up to that calling.
The first red flag is the innings pitched per game statistic for Taillon, 5.1 innings per game. Jameson has only reached the 7th inning in one start this year, and that was in his second start of the season. It can easily be argued that Taillon has not had a quality start since April the 14th. Since April 14th, Taillon has given up 24 runs in 31 innings.
Even though these stats paint a scary story, I am not hitting the panic button yet. Taillon’s xFIP (a variant of fielding independent pitching), strikeout rate, and walk rate are where they need to be. At the moment, Taillon has the 2017 Gerrit Cole syndrome, where it seems like every fly ball ends up being a home run. Once Taillon’s absurdly high 14.6% fly-ball to home run ratio comes back to earth, there is a good chance quality starts will follow.
Welcome back Josh Harrison. Harrison has been sorely missed by the Pirates since he left the game with an injury on April 15th. Hurdle was never able to find a suitable replacement at the top of the order with both Adam Frazier and Sean Rodriguez struggling. Harrison is already showing Hurdle why he belongs at the top of the order by collecting 8 hits in 15 at-bats since his return. Once Starling Marte returns to the lineup, the battling Bucs should be able to fully field that potent offense that got the team off to a hot start at the beginning of the season.
Top hitting prospect, Austin Meadows, was called up by the Pirates this past week and boy did he look good. With a .440/.880/1.320 line, Meadows has had an impressive debut. Oh, he also hit three monster home runs including this one which was his first.
It’s hard not to ask if Meadows would be a better everyday starter than Polanco. After the week that Meadows just had, I think that the Pirates would be crazy if they didn’t give him an extended look.
Joe Musgrove is making his Pirates debut Friday against the Cardinals and could provide instant relief for an ailing Pirates’ starting rotation. Musgrove has looked pretty good in his rehab games accumulating a 4.58 ERA. However, Musgrove’s non-ERA related statistics from these starts look really good. He struck out 17 batters while only walking two in 17.2 innings. His WHIP is sitting at 1.075, which is also pretty decent. It’s a small sample size, but Musgrove definitely has the tools to succeed in the starting rotation.
Like I mentioned earlier, the Pirates are not playing their best baseball at the moment. Hopefully that ended Thursday night – because the Pirates have their most difficult stretch of games in the entire season starting Friday. The Bucs play ten straight games against the Cubs and the Cardinals. Those ten games are followed by a single off-day before the team faces the Dodgers, Cubs, and Diamondbacks in succession.
This stretch presents a challenge, but also an opportunity for the Bucs. Winning all four series against the Cubs and Cardinals would continue a streak of NL Central dominance and put the Pirates as the clear number one or two team in the division.
Even though the Bucs may not have shown up to play this week, a 10-year old Bucco fan certainly did. Check out this awesome catch!
The catch adds itself to a season where Pirate fans have truly amazed with their in-stand catching abilities. Earlier in the season another fan made an equally impressive catch using nothing but a cup.
That’s all for this week guys! Hope you enjoyed, and as always, feel free to leave comments and suggestions below. Lets go Bucs!
The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:
May 25th – Cardinals @ the Pirates 7:05
May 26th – Cardinals @ the Pirates 4:05
May 27th – Cardinals @ the Pirates 1:35
May 28th – Cubs @ the Pirates 1:35
May 29th – Cubs @ the Pirates 7:05
May 30th – Cubs @ the Pirates 7:05
May 31st – Pirates @ the Cardinals 7:15