Kovacevic: Will GM ever address Pirates’ hitting?
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Monday, May 21, 2012, 12:03 a.m.
Updated: Monday, May 21, 2012
DETROIT — Give it up for these Pirates. They've got to be the only team in Major League Baseball that strikes out 15 times against a pitcher with a 6.29 ERA — all swinging! — and still somehow stays in the game. At least until they bury themselves with a booted blooper, a passed ball and yet another strikeout by Pedro Alvarez, the day's designated oxymoron.
Tigers 4, Pirates 3.
Not an easy team to love, is it?
Or to believe in.
And yet, I couldn't help but take seriously something Andrew McCutchen was saying earlier Sunday at Comerica Park: “Look at what we've done so far without really having our offense yet. We know the pitching's going to be there. If we can get the offense going, even just a little, we'll be unstoppable.”
I wouldn't go that far. But thanks almost entirely to McCutchen's tour de force and one of baseball's best pitching staffs, the Pirates are 19-22. That's respectable, if not riveting, and it's just 3 games off the Central Division lead.
Anyone else think that at least a foundation is there?
Not for the future. Right now.
Here's an amazing figure: When the Pirates score as many as two measly runs, they're 18-9.
“We've already got the most important thing,” catcher Rod Barajas said. “If you have that pitching — and we do — then you've got a chance to win every single day. Remember the Giants a couple years ago? They won it all with their pitching. If we can hit just enough, we've got a chance.”
I wonder if the Pirates' management sees the same thing.
So far, based on the lack of any response to the worst offense in all of professional baseball — majors or minors, all the way down to A-ball — it's hard to say they do.
Here's the full list of moves made this season by Neal Huntington and the front office to address the offense: Gorkys Hernandez, a toothpick of a bat in the minors, was recalled for this series. That's it. (He then sat all weekend while Nate McLouth's latest futility streak reached 19 at-bats and should have him in peril of being cut.)
You already know this is a terrible hitting team, obviously excluding McCutchen.
But did you know it's a terrible hitting organization?
The Triple-A Indianapolis affiliate is fresh off an astounding week in which the offense scored — wait for it — one run over six games. Not much hope there. On that roster, only outfielder Starling Marte could be called a legit everyday prospect among hitters.
It isn't any better at Double-A Altoona, where the only prospects in that category are outfielder Robbie Grossman and catcher Tony Sanchez, both currently below .250.
Help is desperately needed.
But it sure doesn't sound like it's coming.
Huntington has cited a litany of reasons why he is unable to upgrade the offense, and he reiterated some yesterday on his weekly radio show: Few trades are made in May. Two wild cards mean fewer sellers. The offers are lopsided. The Pirates don't want to give up pitching. They don't want to part with elite prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
So, the hitting will wait until … what, 2014, 2015?
Consider this painful truth: McCutchen and Neil Walker, the Pirates' only regulars batting above .235, were acquired by Dave Littlefield. So was Marte.
What exactly do the Pirates have to show offensively for five years of Huntington's many moves that include $31 million on free-agent position players and $51 million on drafts?
The answer: Alvarez at the Mendoza Line, a handful of others keeping him company and a whole lot of crossed fingers.
That's not just disturbing for this year but for years to come.
Something must be done, and this is as good a time as any. The pitching won't get much better when Cole and Taillon arrive than the current 3.36 ERA that's No. 5 in the majors.
Claim guys off waivers.
Collect more minor league scrap like infielder Drew Sutton, added last night.
Hey, conduct open tryouts!
Better yet, be bold: I wouldn't push for a trade of Cole or Taillon, but I wouldn't rule it out, either. And I sure wouldn't worry about the top two levels. The Pirates will be seven starters deep once Jeff Karstens returns. In Indy, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke — promoted yesterday on an emergency basis — are banging down the door. That's plenty enough to trade without pain.
Look, I believe Huntington that a trade would be tough. But I've also believed him the many times he's said pitching is the most valuable commodity in the industry, especially prospects.
Is he offering enough?
Eight days ago, also on the radio show, Huntington said, “It's not like we're not trying.”
Sports is about results. And right now, the only acceptable result is to support McCutchen and this fine pitching staff by adding some bats.
They're laughably overdue.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- Penguins Insider: Time is right for Jokinen’s return
- Steelers quarterback Roethlisberger likes the revamped offense
- Steelers’ Polamalu trim, fit as he arrives for OTAs
- Kovacevic: Pens improve under microscope
- Neal’s solid play soon could pay off on scoresheet for Penguins
- Steelers notebook: Less talk, more work is Tomlin’s theme
- Snider’s grand slam pushes Pirates to late victory over Cubs
- ‘We did it!’ Peduto tells city, as he defeats Wagner
- Bilik DeFazio leads race on both ballots
- Rupert wins Democratic nod to run for sheriff
- Senators get vote of confidence
You must be signed in to add comments
To comment, click the Sign in or sign up at the very top of this page.
Who is Greg Ritchie anyway? I've followed baseball and the pirates in particularly religiously for the past 25 years and had never heard of him when he was named the Pirates hitting coach. It turns out he was a career minor leaguer then a minor league hitting coach and had never sniffed the majors in his life. Apparently, Ritchie was only hired by Hurdle because he liked that Ritchie was familiar with the hitters on the roster as the Pirates minor league hitting coordinator. I guess it makes a little bit of sense as a new manager coming from the outside to want a familiar coach to provide background knowledge of the hitters. But I digress. The hitters were horrible last year and the only true star (McCutchen) had his worst season as a professional despite being an all star for the first time. This offseason and spring training, Hurdle preached the importance of small ball (walks, stolen bases, bunts, hit and runs, taking the extra base on gap shots, solid defensive play, etc) for a light-hitting team to compete. What happened to that approach? Instead, the pirates strike out swinging 15 times against a poor starting pitcher like Max Scherzer. Scherzer was missing the catcher's glove position severely that entire game and strike 3 was in the dirt, yet the pirates still could not do anything but swing and miss. Sometimes its very advantageous for hitters to keep the bat on their shoulders when a pitcher is missing his spots. I saw that on TV and I wondered if Hurdle and Ritchie saw the same from the dugout. The hitters' lack of adjustments later in the game makes me doubt that very much. A walk can be a small ball team's best friend in terms of the old addage "get him on, get him over, get him in." Furthermore, their baserunning is bone-headed, stolen base percentage is autrocious, walks are non existent, sacrifices go unexecuted, and the defense is no better than last year despite defensive-minded additions like Barmes, Barajas, and McLouth. Maybe a team's biggest fans are its harshest critics and my frustrations are overblown because every team has flaws, even the Rangers. My point is, FIRE GREG RITCHIE. I hear that Mickey Hatcher is available now. He was only the hitting coach of one of the best small ball teams in major league baseball for the past 13 years. He might be able to help. But I'm just a dumb fan so what do I know? Go Bucs!
Submitted by: Paul on Monday, May 21, 2012
Why all the attention still to Pedro Alvarez? Sure he's not hitting as many hoped but he's far from the biggest problem this offense has. After McCutchen he and Garret Jones are the only other two players on the team contributing any offense at all. The top of the order has been an utter disaster, everyone Hurdle has plugged into the first two spots has failed miserably in every way but especially at getting on base. The entire team seems unwilling or unable to take a walk when offered one, even the guys like McCutchen and Alvarez who've been walk machines at every level of their careers are well below their normal levels, is that a coincidence? Doubtful. The Pirates as a team a have a majors worst 88 walks, the next closest team has 104. They have 345 strike outs giving them essentially a 1 to 4 ratio - no other team is even close with none even at 1 to 3 or above. That suggests something much deeper going on than anything the individual players are doing. The low walk totals and high strike out rates are reminiscent of the Lloyd McClendon/Rich Hebner days when aggressive hitting and putting the ball in play at any cost were preached endlessly. I'd bet dollars to donuts what we're seeing is the end result of the same hitting philosophy applied by Ritche and Hurdle. Alvarez and Jones can't hit 5 run home runs with empty bases in front of them but it sure looks like that's what they're trying to do at this point.
Submitted by: Josh on Monday, May 21, 2012
I'm with Wally. I would make a hitting coach change ASAP. It's not working. Yes, there is a deficiency of hitting talent. But where would this team be if everyone just lived up to their abilities?
Submitted by: Tony on Monday, May 21, 2012
I accept the notion that there is very little the Pirates organization can do immediately to bolster their woeful offense. I am more concerned about the organization's baseball intelligence and judgment. Aside from pitching, the organization made 4 major moves during the offseason: Barajas, Barmes, McGehee, and McClouth. All four have bombed. Not just one or two, but all four. Barajas was suppose to be a defensive upgrade over Doumit. What we have instead is an aging catcher that cannot hit or play the position consistently. Barmes was suppose to be a defensive upgrade over Cedeno and roughly the same offensively. Barmes has been shaky on defensive and a huge hole in the batting order (note his lack of walks and what that tells you). Do I really need to mention McGehee and McClouth. What makes me question the baseball IQ of NH and his staff is their approach to Pedro Alvarez and how this may have driven all other personnel decisions made in the offseason. It is now quite obvious that management chose to ignore Alvarez's pitiful performance at the MLB level last year, then at Indy and then at spring training. Despite his propensity to strike out at an alarming rate and thumbing his nose at the request to play winter ball, the organization handed him the starting 3B job anyway. Then at the first glimmer of decent performance the organization couldn't wait to promote Alvarez to the clean up spot where he has failed miserably with a strikeout ratio of greater than 1 out of every 2 ABs. Now the point is this, if NH and company were to have taken a more objective stance on Alvarez insofar as having to prove that he can consistently hit MLB pitching, then there probably would have been differenct personnel decisions made in the offseason. McCuthcen is right, despite the hitting woes the team has done well to be only 3 games under .500. A more accurate assessment would be that they are unlikely to be anywhere close to that level in 30 days.
Submitted by: Paul on Monday, May 21, 2012
I'm sorry, but I'm finding NH's excuse making a little bit hard to swallow. Okay so the second wild card makes teams less willing to part with players he claims; I can see that possibly being true as far as the major league rosters perhaps so let's give him that part of it. And I can definitely see where they don't want trade away top prospects like Cole and Tallion ... but really now are we to believe that there are no players in AAA slated to become minor league free agents at the end of the season a team wouldn't take something for? Dan Johnson and his 39 walks and 9 home runs in AAA, he can't be had for less than a former first round pitching prospect? Couldn't he help a little as badly as McLouth and Tabata are hitting? Clint Robinson, six seasons in the minors without a call up to the majors and Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler holding down the only position he can play and Kansas City won't listen to an offer? Give NH his due, he's done a great job with the pitching but the state of the offense, his dismal performance in the off season in assembling the offense and his inability to make a trade last season until it was to late calls into question whether he's up to the task. If he really has tried as he claims and circumstances are preventing him from making a move then I'd love to hear some of the demands other teams are making because frankly his story just doesn't pass the giggle test.
Submitted by: Thomas on Monday, May 21, 2012
I totally agree - we did pick up Derek Lee and he provided some punch - but, he did not want to return because I'm sure he realized there was no punch with this lineup. Sure, we picked up Barmes (career 240 hitter) and average defensively - but, no one else can hit. Bring up Marte and get him ready - Tabata is horrible - cannot hit or field! Is it me or do the Pirates swing at more pitches in the dirt or completely out of the strike zone and any other MLB team. I am from Beaver Falls and will never sway from my team, but Huntingdon and crew need to make some changes soon or this season will be lost. Also, don't expect the pitching to last all year...remember last year when the arms starting getting tired in July. Cole and J.T. and Allie need to be major league ready in 2 years.....and Sanchez has to be at least equal to Barajas now - bring him up and let him play. Baltimore did with Weiters! GO BUCS!!!
Submitted by: Wally on Monday, May 21, 2012
Dejan, the Bucs have two hitting coaches -- one hired as a hitting coach, and the manager, who used to be a hitting coach. They certainly aren't responsible for AAA and below, but is anyone holding them accountable for the Major League team? Didn't the Pirates hire Pedro because of his bat? I had a professor in college -- department of education -- who said, "A teacher has not taught if a student has not learned." A coach has not coached ...?