The Pittsburgh Pirates despratley need a platoon at first base for Michael Chavis, but could Bligh Madris the the player they are searching for?
The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t gotten much out of first base when a right-hander is on the mound. Entering play on Friday, Pirate first basemen, when they are facing a right-handers, have managed just a .611 OPS, .275 wOBA, and 75 wRC+. Meanwhile, Pirate first basemen vs. southpaws are batting for a .905 OPS, .380 wOBA, and 146 wRC+. That’s because Michael Chavis has seen most of his playing time at first and against lefties, which he has absolutely crushed this year.
The Pittsburgh Pirates opened the season with Yoshi Tsutsugo as the left-handed platoon to Chavis, but Tsutsugo has not hit right-handed pitcher (or left-handed pitching, for that matter) well. First base prospect Mason Martin has also fallen into a slump. However, outfield prospect Bligh Madris has been seeing time at first base, and could he be the answer at first the Pirates are looking for.
Madris has hit exceptionally well this year. In 168 plate appearances, Madris has hit .299/.387/.517 with a healthy 11.9% walk rate and solid 20.2% strikeout rate. This has led to a .396 wOBA and 141 wRC+. Madris has done most of his best work since the start of May. In his last 129 plate appearances, Madris has hit .330/.419/.598 with a .439 wOBA and 168 wRC+. His strikeout rate is well below 20% at 17.1% while having a remarkable 12.4% walk rate.
All of this came before the big game Madris had on Friday night. In a victory for the Indianapolis Indians, Madris was 3-for-5. He hit his 14th double of the season and collected a pair of RBI for the Indians.
This isn’t Madris’ first rodeo at Triple-A. Last season he did solid, batting .272/.358/.434 with a .347 wOBA and 111 wRC+. Again, he had a walk rate above 10% at 10.4% and a strikeout rate below 20% at 18.2%. He was already knocking on the door of making the Majors, but his scorching start to 2022 has only made it more apparent he deserves a look.
Madris has demolished right-handers, too. He’s hitting .320/.407/.592 vs RHP compared to just .250/.340/.341 against southpaws. He’s still getting on base at a solid clip vs LHP but is demolishing right-handed pitching, something the Pirates desperately need at first base. Madris has consistently hit better vs RHP throughout his career, so his numbers aren’t a complete fluke.
Now, granted, it might take a while for Madris to get reacquainted with first base. It’s the first time he has played the position since college. Although he did play an ample amount of time at first throughout his amateur career, this is the first time he has gotten playing time as a professional at first.
The glovework might be a little bumpy at first, but the Pirates aren’t asking for Gold Glove-level defense. If he can make the basic plays, he’ll be good enough to platoon with Chavis. Even if his defense is well below average, he’d only be playing there part-time, and the Pirates could always sub-in Chavis late into games (assuming Yu Chang is DFA’d to make room for Madris on the roster).
The Pittsburgh Pirates need help at first base when it comes to facing right-handed pitching. Although Chavis has done extremely well against southpaws, the same can’t be said when he is facing same-handed pitching. With Madris on a hot streak and starting to re-familiarize himself with first base, he might be the answer the Pirates are looking for.