Although the Pittsburgh Pirates had a rough 2022 season, the biggest lesson they need to learn is to stop relying on depth players regularly
The Pittsburgh Pirates had a rough 2022 season. They finished the campaign at 62-100, but there are certainly lessons to be learned from the year. However, the biggest lesson the Pirates and management need to learn is to stop playing bad players.
Now, of course, that seems pretty obvious. Don’t play bad players, and you’ll win more games, simple as that. Duh. But to me, there’s a difference between a bad player and a player doing badly. There’s a difference between Josh VanMeter’s .558 OPS and Tucupita Marcano‘s .562 OPS. One is a 27-year-old depth guy who somehow made it to September on the Pirate active roster. The other is a 22-year-old who skipped three minor league levels before making his debut and was considered one of the organization’s top 30 prospects going into the 2022 season. VanMeter was never going to be part of their future plans, whereas Marcano has the chance to become a semi-regular utility guy.
The Pirates had a total of eight position players who received at least 100 plate appearances and had a negative fWAR. Some were rookies taking their lumps, like the aforementioned Marcano, as well as Cal Mitchell (who showed some improvement down the stretch) and infield utility man Diego Castillo. But you also had guys like Yoshi Tsutsugo, Bligh Madris, VanMeter, and Michael Pérez.
On the pitching side of things, the Pirates had guys like Eric Stout, Anthony Banda, Heath Hembree, Tyler Beede, Dillon Peters, Chris Stratton, Duane Underwood Jr., and Aaron Fletcher. Each of those eight players had an ERA of at least 4.28. These aren’t guys the Pirates are planning on keeping around long-term, but why did they even get the opportunity to reach double-digit innings pitched?
Look, it’s impossible to fill every single 26-man roster spot with a highly-productive player, and even the Los Angeles Dodgers had a few negative WAR guys. But the point is the Pirates need to move away from this philosophy of throwing things at the wall and hoping something sticks. Most of these guys, like VanMeter, Beede, and Hembree, are 40-man roster fodder and depth options that really shouldn’t be called upon unless it’s an emergency to fill a roster spot.
I get that its part of the rebuilding process that you’re going to go through these phases, but the Pirates should be moving out of that phase in 2023. The Pirates have no excuses to keep a Josh VanMeter 2.0 on the roster through August. If the Pirates need to fill a utility bench role, then it should go to one of the young prospects like Diego Castillo or Tucupita Marcano. Not another retread brought in on a minor league deal.
2023 has to be the end of this. I am not expecting the Pittsburgh Pirates to have a roster filled with high-end players, but I expect fewer depth guys to get extended looks in the major leagues. Of course, you need depth guys, but if JVM only got 80 plate appearances and was designated for assignment or optioned after May and only saw playing time when there was a short-term injury, we wouldn’t be talking about this issue today, months after the Pirates DFA’d him and let him hit free agency after the season ended.