Pittsburgh Pirates: Don't Let Mark Mathias Become Josh VanMeter 2.0

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals / G Fiume/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates could very well end up with Josh VanMeter 2.0 in Mark Mathias, thankfully he has been optioned to the minors

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired utility man Mark Mathias this past off-season from the Texas Rangers. With multiple injuries to the team, Mathias has been tossed into an unexpected semi-regular role. However, Mathias has been struggling as of recently, both with the glove and with the bat. The Pirates can’t let this spiral into a Josh VanMeter situation, and carry deadweight on the roster for a good portion of the year. Something must be done at least by the end of the month.

Mathias has only had 44 plate appearances at the time of writing this, racking up ten hits. However, most of that damage was done on April 17th against the Colorado Rockies. A .263/.364/.289 triple-slash doesn’t seem terrible for a bench utility man, but outside of that one game against the Rockies, Mathias has a .181/.308/.212. That’s an 82 point difference in batting average, and 56 point difference in on-base percentage.

A team might be able to live with a player with a .364 OBP if they can provide sound defense, even if he provides zero power. However, Mathias has given the Pirates zero reason to let him keep playing second base. Mathias has only lined up at 2B for 79 innings, but already has -3 defensive runs saved and -3 outs above average. That’s a pace of -19 DRS/OAA over the course of just 500 innings. Even a more primitive statistic like range factor (sort of the precursor to outs above average), has him making over one fewer play per game compared to the average second baseman.

It’s not as if the Pirates have zero options to turn to either. Top second base prospect Nick Gonzales is currently batting .273/.356/.442 with a .355 wOBA, and 102 wRC+ at Triple-A Indy. He is walking at an 10% rate with three doubles, two triples, and two home runs. Since April 13th, the second baseman has a .881 OPS, .389 wOBA, and 124 wRC+.

Now that’s not to say Gonzales is the second coming of Joe Morgan and is the savior to all the Pirates problems. Gonzales himself has some major red flags, specifically the 35.6% K-rate. But ask yourself this: who would you rather see? A 28-year-old journeyman who has never been given an extended look in the big leagues? Or would you rather see a 23-year-old (soon to be 24) former first round pick? 

A second option is Liover Peguero. The infielder has been on a hot streak recently, batting .333/.462/.476 dating back to April 21st. This includes more walks (10) than strikeouts (8), a .439 wOBA, and a 171 wRC+. Like Gonzales, Peguero isn’t the perfect answer, but it boils down to the same thing: it’s the difference between a 28-year-old journeyman vs a 22-year-old with a high ceiling. 

The Pirates need to do something. They can’t keep trotting out what could end up being Josh VanMeter 2.0. Sure, Peguero and Gonzales are far from perfect, but they’d be far better off in the long run seeing what they could do right now. Injuries have opened up a door for the Pirates to give their prospects a chance, so let’s see what they can do.

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