Reviewing Five Things I Needed in July; Bench Barmes & Barajas in August

July has come and gone and the Pirates continue to be right in the hunt. If the season ended today, the Pirates would make the playoffs as a wild card team. They hold a 3.5 game lead over St. Louis for the final spot. That is wonderful news. It makes me happy.

Yet, I also can’t help but think that this team isn’t as good as it has been playing. I hate thinking that way. But I can’t help it. While the offense took the first two months of the season to get going, the pitching was outstanding, finishing third in April in the league in ERA and following that up with a 6th place finish in May.

The pitching regressed to middle of the pack (9th in both June and July), while the offense woke up and finished first and third in the league in runs scored over the same time period

The path to get the current record is weird. I like the end results. But it makes me question the sustainability of the performance. What happens if/when the pitching remains middle of the pack and the offense falters? Can this team stay in the race? I think it can, but some things need to change. More on that in a second. Looking back at what I needed in July:

1. Clint Barmes starts fewer than five games in the month. That’s a miss. The Pirates played 26 games in July. Barmes started 22 of them. He should have started no more than four.

2. Pedro Alvarez posts a .950 OPS. He had a pretty good month, posting an .820 OPS. I think he will homer on Sunday in Cincinnati. He hasn’t homered since July 22nd. Hopefully the day game Sunday will set him off on a hot streak that carries the club. This is also a miss.

3. Jose Tabata posts an .800 OPS. Tabata is in Indy. With Starling Marte and Travis Snider, Tabata might not ever be a regular in Pittsburgh again. Pirate left fielders come into today’s game with the worst OPS in baseball. They are 18th in MLB in OPS among right fielders. I think it is reasonable to expect Marte and Snider to help. Hopefully that help will come in 2012. I count this one even.

4. No regression from the pitching staff. Pirate starters have had their ERA increase each month. It was 2.69 in April. Then it was 4.16 in May. In June it was 4.59. I said before I didn’t want it the ERA to climb over 4.75. It was a solid 4.41. That’s a mark in the positive column.

5. No injuries to Cutch. Thank goodness he hasn’t been injured. The fastball that Aroldis Chapman bounced off him was nearly enough to start a riot. Today’s game will be interesting. Cutch staying healthy in July is also in the positive column.

Two things that the Pirates should consider for August. Neither of these is all that surprising or original.

1. Bench Clint Barmes. It is simple. He is terrible. He has an OPS+ of 48. He has an OPS of .529. That OPS value would make him the worst offensive player in a full season since Alfredo Griffin’s .512 OPS in 1990. He should be part of the Sunday lineup and maybe a late inning defensive replacement. If they don’t release him, he should be a bench player in 2013. Let’s see what Jordy Mercer can do.

2. Bench Rod Barajas. It is simple. He is terrible and there is a better option sitting on the bench in Michael McKenry. Barajas has hit above .200 in just one month of the season. Since June 10th, he is hitting .129. He should be part of the Sunday lineup. His option should not be picked up for 2013.

The Pirates are essentially giving away six or seven outs every game that these two guys play. If you toss in another two or three outs from the ninth spot, then you have about 1/3 of the game given away. Count me shocked that the offense was as great as it was in June and July with these two guys taking part in the majority of the games.

The argument for veteran presence doesn’t hold water for me. These guys are all big boys and should be able to play without having to be guided by an aging, scrappy vet. Don’t tell me that Barajas has deftly handled the pitching staff. Both of those arguments are the kind of nonsense that sportswriters think make good copy and team PR departments blather on about to justify a pair of awful free agent signings.

If the Pirates miss the post-season by a couple of games in 2012, it’ll be awful. Two simple and obvious changes can be made that will almost certainly aid the cause. Will Clint Hurdle bench Barmes and Barajas? My guess is that he will not. But he definitely should.

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  • http://twitter.com/domdidominic Dom

    Clap, clap, clap, clap

    • RandyLinville

      Is that a standing ovation or are you sitting? Either way, many thanks!

      • Lee Young

        Well….I’d stand up and clap, but then I’d hit my knees on the desk. I liked the article, but not so much as to inflict pain on myself….lol

    • Lee Young

      Randy…I agree with everything you wrote, too.

      .

      • RandyLinville

        Thanks, Lee.

  • John DiVito

    I agree with you on both counts here.
    Mercer has shown some ability in his limited playing time. He may not be as slick in the field as Barmes, but he will surely make up value with his bat. To be honest with you, a 48 OPS+ is truly awful. No amount of good defense can make up for that.
    McKenry has been really good of late. His bat will not continue to hit the way it is, but his defense is as good as Barajas. At least, there needs to be a platoon as McKenry is demolishing lefties this year. He is very average against righties. Then again, average is better than Barajas at this point.

    • RandyLinville

      Thanks, appreciate it.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    I think Barajas’s playing time is being whittled down correctly by Hurdle. I don’t think Barmes should be benched though. If you are going to do that, just cut him. And the Pirates won’t do that. He’s actually gotten SLIGHTLY better. Granted, that doesn’t take much. I’d continue playing Mercer and Harrison at short some. Barmes does play good defense, he has some value in that. Hated signing him in the first place, but now is not the time to cut bait.

    • RandyLinville

      I’m all for releasing Barmes outright. But I agree with you in that I don’t think it’ll happen. In the absence of cutting ties with him altogether, I’m in favor of sitting him and using him as Rafael Belliard.

      • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

        A Rafael Belliard with POWER… :)

  • Dave Parker’s Unfiltered Camel

    Great points. It hurts to see Barajas and Barmes in the lineup. It makes the bottom third of the order irrelevant. Mercer looked like he was starting to hit a little. I’d like to see him in there. At the same time, it’s kinda sad. by all accounts, those are two really good dudes. It would be nice to see them catch fire. Just don’t see it happening.

  • L G

    all good points, and i’m not sure why the team is stubborn to change these 2 players.
    Could it because of the money and not wanting to admit mistakes signing these two? In this stage of the season, with the team in a pennant race (who’d have even imagined typing that in August 2012???) , I think they need to get past that.
    I agree McKenry needs more starts, at least 3 to 2, if not 4-1.
    Just wondering if this is sustainable with such a small sample. But we’ve seen enough of Barajas to know he isn’t getting much better. Both are pretty bad defensively.
    Pitch calling / handling pitchers is over-rated by the fans and media imo. Just curious how those 2 compare in ball framing skills which is more important imo.
    Let’s get this out of the way, Barmes is just terrible. really really terrible. no amount of gold glove defense can make up for that OPS. and I’m not sure his defense is even above average at best. Makes good clean plays, but lacks range and arm strength imo.
    But is Mercer better? I really don’t know cause I haven’t seen enough of him. Is his bat really that much of an upgrade? How will is defense compare to Barmes? Guess he deserves a few more chances to prove he can handle the big leagues. What have we got to lose??

  • RandyLinville

    LG – thanks for the comment. I think a couple of things are in place. Flat out benching or cutting either Barmes or Barajas would be an admission of a huge fail by the FO. They won’t do that. I also think Hurdle feels obligated to Barmes because he played for Hurdle in Colorado. Makes no sense logically. But I think that is what is going on.

    I don’t know if there is a metric on pitch framing skills. Anyone have any idea?

    The only way to know about Mercer is to play him. Clearly he isn’t going to turn into Barry Larkin. But I also think he has to be given rana shot.

  • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

    Baseball Prospectus has done studies on pitch framing.

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15093