First Pitch: How Long to Give Barajas and Barmes?

A lot of Pirates hitters have struggled this year in the early part of the season. A big focus has gone towards Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas. Not only are they struggling, but they’re two of the highest paid players on the team, and they don’t have much of a future with the organization. If Alex Presley starts hitting, the Pirates have him under control for five more years. Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes are only under team control through the 2013 season.

It’s still early in the season, and too early to make a move for either player. Barajas is hitting for a .133/.200/.183 line, and looks bad at the plate. Of course it was only two weeks ago that Pedro Alvarez had a stat line that was worse than the one Barajas has right now. Barajas won’t do what Alvarez has been doing, but it shows that early season numbers can wildly fluctuate in a short time span.

I’m more concerned with Barajas than Barmes. Both have a low BABIP compared to their career numbers. Barajas is at .160, compared to his .244 number. Barmes is at .194, compared to his career .278 BABIP. The difference is that when Barmes is hitting, he’s hitting for power. His .153 ISO is in line with his career numbers, ranking third on the team, and ranking ahead of the league average. Barajas isn’t seeing that. His .050 ISO is much lower than his career .174 mark, and lower than his .200 and .208 marks in 2011 and 2010 respectively.

When it comes to a low BABIP, there are usually one of two things taking place. Bad luck is one of those things. But it’s not always bad luck. There could be a genuine problem. If I had to guess, basing my opinion mostly on the power numbers, I’d say it’s luck for Barmes. As for Barajas, I think it’s concerning that he’s not only seeing a low BABIP, but when he is hitting, he’s not hitting for the power that we’ve seen from him the last two years. And that’s not a “he’s a right hander in PNC Park” thing, as he’s been bad on the road as well.

Before considering how long to give a player, you have to consider the options to replace that player. Unfortunately, there seem to be more options to replace Barmes, and not as many to replace Barajas.

The Pirates have Michael McKenry in the majors, who has fallen back to earth after a hot start in the early part of the season. McKenry isn’t great with the bat, with a .210 average and a .584 OPS in 473 career major league at-bats. He is good defensively, but the offense wouldn’t be a major improvement over Barajas.

Eric Fryer is a similar story. He’s hitting for a .203/.247/.275 line in 69 at-bats for Indianapolis. He’s got good defense, with a great arm, but he won’t provide a lot of offense.

Jose Morales is a dark horse candidate. He has a career .289 average and a .709 OPS in 218 major league at-bats. So far this year he has a .259/.375/.407 line in 27 at-bats for Indianapolis, after starting the year with an injury. He also has a good arm, and showed decent defensive skills when I saw him at Pirate City earlier in the year. The best backup option the Pirates seem to have is a combination of Morales and McKenry, although that combination won’t be a big improvement on offense over Barajas.

The shortstop situation is a different story. I’ve got more confidence in Barmes to rebound his numbers than I do with Barajas. But I’m not sure that I’d want to see Barmes blocking a legit prospect from playing the position. The Pirates don’t have anyone ready to take over right now, although Jordy Mercer is starting to heat up. He’s got an eight game hitting streak, going 13-for-33 (.364) in that stretch. However, Mercer isn’t hitting for a lot of power, which was his signature last year, leading the minor league system with 19 homers. So far this year he has a .273/.357/.400 line in 110 at-bats.

Mercer has been on fire during the first week of May, hitting for a .346/.370/.462 line in 26 at-bats before going 2-for-4 tonight. If he can keep that up, he might force the Pirates’ hand by mid-season. Last year Mercer got off to a rough start in April, then caught fire in May and carried it through June, earning himself a promotion to Triple-A.

I’d give Barmes and Barajas at least another month. If they’re still not hitting, that’s when I’d move on to other options. Unfortunately, I could see a situation where Barajas is still struggling with no replacement, while Barmes is playing well with a potential replacement in the minors. Funny how it always seems to work out that way for the Pirates.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Prospects has teamed up with Draft Street for another fantasy baseball free roll. It’s a one night fantasy baseball contest which is FREE to enter, and you compete to win part of a $250 prize pool. CLICK HERE to join.

**The Pirates were off today. They resume their schedule tomorrow against the Washington Nationals.

**Prospect Watch: Jordy Mercer extends his hitting streak to eight games, while Willy Garcia hits his sixth homer of the year.

**The transcript of this week’s prospects chat.

**Prospect Trends for the Week Ending 5/6.

**The Rundown of how the draft prospects did over the last week.

**Pirates Notebook: Pitching Staff Racking Up Punchouts.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • http://twitter.com/Mornacale Dude Nudity

    I think the most obvious replacement for Barajas is someone you didn’t touch on: Jake Fox. He’s certainly not a defensive upgrade, but according to the smart Orioles fans I know he is at least capable of playing the position. Obviously he’s pretty much a AAAA guy at this point, but we’re hardly getting even AAA production so far.

    • Lee Young

      What’s really sad is that Sanchez is the only one of the Top 10 picks that were college players from the 2009 draft that hasn’t played in the majors. Of course, we won’t bring up Weiters…..

    • Kevin_Creagh

      Fox could play C for a game here and there, but over the long haul he makes Doumit look like Johnny Bench.

  • ecbucs

    Both players were signed with hope that they could repeat what they did in 2011. Many Pirates fans were glad that Adam LaRoche was sent packing because his slow starts were helping to bury team at beginning of each season. I hope that somehow the Bucs are able to upgrade at both short and catcher for 2012. Both Barmes and Barajas are looking like Jeromy Burnitz type signings which calls into question the scouts who recommended signing them.

    • dropkickmurphys

      Anything would be an upgrade over the B&Bs.

  • dropkickmurphys

    I have no problem with getting rid of both now but waiting another month is not an issue either as this team is going nowhere. More than a month, that’s out of the question.

    I disagree that bad luck is a reason for either player. Qualitatively and quantitatively both players are their own worst enemy for their poor performance. Barmes hasn’t left three low and away sliders pass without swinging this year. He is swinging at 45% of the pitches outside the strike zone this year. That’s up from his career norm of about 30%. He is missing 42 percent of those pitches when he swings. Also much higher than his career norms. As a result, his whiff rate is the second highest of his career and he’s hitting more ground balls than ever. Simply put, its not luck, its Barmes creating his own problems.

    Barrajas is more difficult to assess quantitatively. Qualitatively, he seems to be hitting a lot of infield fly balls and soft outfield flies. Quantitatively, he may be suffering from randomness but i don’t think that’s it. His career contact numbers are at or better than his career norms. His plate discipline isn’t any different this year than other years. The only troubling number that is up is his infield pop up percentage.

    I predicted failure of these two, as I did with Iwamura and Overbay. There is a reason these guys come to the Pirates. Everyone else recognizes that they are done.

  • http://twitter.com/jamesmvargo James Vargo

    I am nuts for saying it, but I say bring up Sanchez. Face it, he can hit no worse, and maybe the defensive gaffs can be attributed to the weirdness of AA. I recall how he killed his early minor-league years, even at Altoona, then they wanted him to concentrate on handling pitchers — now, who knows. I don’t think he can grow down there and is possibly bored. Can he hit major league pitching? He had no problems the last two spring trainings. Sometimes you just gotta move them up and screw it. (see Alderson too.) What are they waiting for them to do?

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

    Barajas is a 2 year deal also? Oy vey.

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

    Barajas is one with an option.