First Pitch: No One Is Hitting, Let’s Over-React

Looking over some of the stat lines for the Pirates in the early part of the season is not advised. Some of the hitting numbers are just horrible. In fact, almost all of the hitting numbers are horrible. Andrew McCutchen and Casey McGehee are the only hitters with good numbers, and Michael McKenry if you count the 1.262 OPS he has in six at-bats.

Outside of those three, the numbers are horrible. Breaking down the guys with double digit at-bats:

Neil Walker: .048 average / .139 OPS

Rod Barajas: .059 / .176

Pedro Alvarez: .063 / .313

Garrett Jones: .143 / .357

Clint Barmes: .105 / .413

Jose Tabata: .190 / .418

Alex Presley: .269 / .538

Some of those numbers are so bad that they make Presley’s .538 OPS look amazing. Overall, we’re still in the “small sample size” period of the season. The sample hasn’t been good, but it’s hardly a substantial amount of at-bats to make a sound opinion. Alex Presley leads the team with 26 at-bats. Only three other players have 20+ at-bats.

That’s not stopping people from over-reacting to the early season numbers. Pedro Alvarez should be in Triple-A. Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes should be on the bench. Garrett Jones should be cut. Neil Walker…well, he’s from Pittsburgh, so we’ll ignore the fact that he’s the worst hitter on the team.

This gets said all the time, but if this happened in the middle of June, no one would notice. It’s a week’s worth of stats. It happens all throughout the season. One bad week doesn’t result in changes in June, so it shouldn’t have the same effect now. And really, what solutions are there?

As an example, what would happen if you sent Pedro Alvarez down? Maybe you replace him with Casey McGehee, but who plays first base? The people calling for Alvarez are the same people calling for Jones. And they’re probably ignoring the poor numbers by Matt Hague in the process. You’re still in a situation where one of your starters at the corners is putting up poor numbers. Only now you’ve got Alvarez in Triple-A, where he doesn’t get the chance to learn how to hit major league pitching in the majors.

The reasonable thing to do would be to allow more time for a better sample size to emerge. At this point, suggesting that a player be sent down is about as ridiculous as suggesting that McGehee should be extended due to his .313 average and .875 OPS in 16 at-bats. Maybe we should save the transactions for when we get to the point where we’re not talking about a week’s worth of at-bats.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost 3-0 to the Giants. Game story here.

**Prospect Watch: All four affiliates won, and Jameson Taillon had a strong start.

**Pirates Notebook: Presley and Tabata to share the leadoff spot.

**A Pitch F/X preview of the Giants’ starting pitchers.

**Jeff Karstens finds his role as a starter.

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/jlease717 John Lease

    After 19 consecutive years of under reacting by Pirate management, what do you expect?  A ticker tape parade for a pop gun offense?  Alvarez hasn’t been bad for 7 games, he’s been bad for a year and seven games.  How does he not even swing?  Craig Wilson may have chased sliders off the plate for years in a row, but he WOULD have hot streaks.  For as much money as he has gotten, and all the hype, Alvarez has been a tremendous disappointment.  He hit a ball into the parking lot in batting practice at Dodger Stadium though!  10 K’s in 16 at bats?  How bad does he need to be, 16 K’s in 16 at bats?  His defense is attrocious also, not ML level.  He is a worse 3rd baseman than Jim Morrison.  I’d never believe the Pirates could even FIND someone that bad. 

  • dropkickmurphys

    I’ve said the Pirates should send Alvarez down.  I don’t base that only on the first seven games of this season.  I base it on all of last season, his thoroughly mediocre AAA season last year, his terrible spring training, and his terrible start so far.  There is enough data there to come up with a good idea the Pedro is not able to handle major league pitching right now.  I Andrew McCutchen were hitting .063 with 10 whiffs in 16 ABs, I wouldn’t worry about it.  But its Pedro, who has struggled mightily for an entire calendar year now.

    There is an eye test that Pedro fails as well.  Aside from one home run seven games, which for one who should be a premier power hitter is awful, he looked completely lost at the plate.  He watches good pitches and flails at bad pitches.  He’s not even close.

    It is serving neither the Pirates nor Alvarez any good to keep him up here.  He has no clue at the plate.  He can’t be benched because he needs the ABs.  The only solution is to send him down.

    Its not that difficult to replace his -18 OPS+ (something around 40 if you include all of last year) and his negative one WAR the past two seasons.  Play McGehee at third and platoon Jones and Hague at first.

    They can’t send everyone down, nor should they.  But they can and should send Alvarez down.  If we were honest about, it is very difficult to make an argument for not sending him down.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/C4R7JDYZ3XTE3XXTDKLEKDVQRQ Steveo

       ”If we were honest about, it is very difficult to make an argument for not sending him down.”

      You hit the nail on the head.

  • cocktailsfor2

    “The reasonable thing to do would be to allow more time for a better sample size to emerge.”

    Yeah, not gonna happen.

    • dropkickmurphys

      For the other players, I agree.  Its only 7 games.  However, for Alvarez, we can go back to last year and even this spring for a much larger than 7 game sample.

      There is enough quantitative data going back to last season, to make a reasonable assessment to send him down.  Qualitatively, one can see that Pedro is lost beyond the pale.  He seems to have no idea of either pitch location or type of pitch. He watches strikes and swings at balls.  He’s awful right now and keeping him up here is not helping the team or him.

      Truthfully, Alvarez did nothing to earn a trip north.  A bad seven games doesn’t earn him more time, when he didn’t earn the initial time.

      Its way too early on the other players.  We have had more than enough to know where Pedro should be playing.

  • John DiVito

    Amen

  • justafan22

    The offense is extremely frustrating right now but I have to agree that it’s such a small sample size that there’s no way it can continue to be this bad.  

    Pedro doesn’t look good right now but he’s putting together some decent AB’s and looks much better than he did in spring training and his time in the ML last year.  I’m willing to give him a few months to see whether he can sink or swim.

    If there’s any one of these players I’m truly concerned about, it’s Barmes.  Iv’e seen enough 1-2-3 K’s where he’s flailing at pitches no where close to the plate.  I understand that he was signed mainly for his defense, but if he doesn’t get it together his good defense isn’t gonna make up for how terrible his AB’s are.  Also, while he is very fundamentally sound and makes all the plays he should, where is his range?! There have been multiple balls up the middle that looked to be easy outs only to have him not be able to even knock them down let alone get the out.  That is very concerning.

    Also what’s up with Neil?  It looks like he’s getting decent wood on the ball but he’s not getting anything behind it.  A lot of what appear to be line drives that turn out to be flairs that are easily tracked down by infielders.

    • wtmiller

      Focusing on short term problems like whether to send this or that guy down misses the point. So does focusing on seven games. It’s not just seven games. It’s also last year and the year before . . . really Huntington’s whole tenure. He’s shown no ability to identify hitting talent. These seven games are just one more data point that’s consistent with all the rest of the data.

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

        I think there’s a lot of examples that either prove this wrong, or show that this opinion is premature. If we’re going to validate the seven games this year, or the Spring Training numbers, then we’d also have to give credit to Casey McGehee, who is hitting well, and who was added by Huntington. We can also point out the hitters that have been acquired, such as Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones (.778 OPS with the Pirates). Derrek Lee was a good hitter when he was healthy last year.

        Then there’s the issue of players not playing up to their potential in Pittsburgh. Lyle Overbay was added last year and was horrible. He went to the Diamondbacks and immediately started hitting. He returned to Arizona this year, and he’s currently 3-for-7 with two doubles and a homer (another small sample size). It was a similar situation with Eric Hinske. He was added to be a power bat, hit one homer, was traded away, and immediately started hitting homers.

        Is that an evaluation issue, or is that something totally different?

        The Pirates aren’t going to add a big hitter via free agency. They’ve got to do that through the draft and international markets. We’re just now seeing people arriving from the first draft. So I’d say it’s too early to make any claims, good or bad, on those results.

        • wtmiller

          If you look back at the “What Went Wrong” article I wrote after last season, I listed where the Pirates finished in OPS at the 4 corner positions the last 3 years. Simply put, Huntington has a terrible track record across the board at the very positions where he should be able to find some offense. Pointing to a half-season fluke by Jones, who’s been a well-below avg corner bat otherwise, or a few games from McGehee, hardly refutes that.

          And trying to parse the reasons why guys like Overbay, Diaz and Hinske always fail with the Pirates also misses the point. Huntington’s been GM long enough that it shouldn’t be necessary to dig through every move to find excuses, or just attribute it all to bad luck. At this point, the end results are a valid measure. In the case of the Pirates’ offense, the end results have been putrid.

          • dropkickmurphys

            Well put.I’m not sure a 49 AB data sample is any better than the 7 game data sample that Tim is criticizing fans for reacting to.

            You are absolutely correct about NH’s ability to find and/or develop hitters.  I like Tabata for what he is, a centerfielder/leadoff player.  As a right fielder, he’s not helping this team unless he gets on base at a .400 rate or develops power.  Right now, he’s doing neither.

            I love the way Presley plays but he suffers from the same issues as Tabata.  Simply not enough power as a corner OFer.  Personally, I thought NH should have tried to work a deal with the Nationals for either player.  They could use a center fielder/lead off hitter.

            NH’s top two hitting picks are busts to date.  Alvarez is nowhere near ready or able to hit MLB pitching.  Sanchez, who I said was the wrong pick when it happened, is struggling with the same offensive issues as most of the Pirates current roster; too many whiffs, too few walks and not nearly enough power.

            I personally think NH is of a pitching and defense, way before offense, mentality.  If I’m correct about him, that not only explains why he can’t find hitters, specifically power hitters, but he is also wrong GM in this era of baseball.  This isn’t the 1980s and no one is playing on astroturf.  The Pirates need hitters but they really need some power hitters.

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

            No one has a perfect track record, naturally.  But Huntington has failed time, and time, and time again at the one spot where there is talent out there.  Jones as the starting 1st baseman wasn’t good enough when they got Derrek Lee, why is he good enough for the new season?  And Pedro was rushed to the majors, and it shows.  He needs to learn how to identify breaking balls, at the very least, down in AAA.  You don’t have to have Willie Stargell and Mike Schmidt at the corners, but you have to have guys with SOME power.  I don’t care how much power Alvarez has in BP, in the game it’s been whiff, whiff, whiff.  McGehee should be starting at third over Pedro.  So should Navarro or Harrison.  An automatic out who plays terrible defense has only negative value.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_46YTB5OO4O7UM2OVB44UZSTXNA Nate

            Not apologizing for NH or anything, just bringing something up.  You asked if Jones wasn’t good enough when they got DLee why is he good enough now?  Easy.  Because we don’t have DLee. 

            As for picking Pedro in the draft…EVERY other GM would have made that pick.  I do not disagree with the pick, but I agree with you that he was rushed WAY to quickly to the bigs.   

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

            Alvarez was the consensus pick.  But the meddling with Boras, and rushing him has damaged him.  Maybe permanently.  Once it became obvious that Derrek Lee wouldn’t sign back here, it was time to move on to something else.  Jones as a platoon is better than Brandon Wood.  I’d rather see them sign an actual 1st baseman though.  Jones has always looked stiff, hasn’t improved there at all.  McGehee made a nice play there last night.  I’d go with him if you HAVE to play Alvarez.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/C4R7JDYZ3XTE3XXTDKLEKDVQRQ Steveo

       ”If there’s any one of these players I’m truly concerned about, it’s
      Barmes.  Iv’e seen enough 1-2-3 K’s where he’s flailing at pitches no
      where close to the plate”

      So you’re going to condemn Barmes for doing something, yet give Alvarez a free pass for doing the same things, but at a higher rate? Give me a break.

      • justafan22

        Just looked at the stats.  10K’s in 16 AB’s for Pedro. What!?! Ok I retract my statement on Alvarez. Both he and Barmes are very concerning.

  • CWPCWP

    Great post.  The only reason people are over reacting is because they had unrealistic expectations going into the season.

    • piratemike

      In all the Pirate blogs I’ve read the vast majority of fans expected another losing season with most people predicting 72 to76 wins. How is that being unrealistic?

    • wtmiller

      Actually, I had extremely low expectations for this offense. Seeing them validated doesn’t make me any happier.

      • dropkickmurphys

        Understanding it is only 7 games but this is really bad:
        The Pirates are averaging 5.5 hits per game. The Tigers are averaging 6.7 runs per game.After yesterday’s game, both the Bucs and Giants have played 7 games. The Pirates have 39 hits. The Giants have 38 runs scored. The Pirates have had 50 base runners in 7 games. The Pirates are averaging 1.57 runs per game. They’ve been shut out twice and scored one run or less 5 times.   But the worst of all is that they strike out 8 times more than they walk.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/C4R7JDYZ3XTE3XXTDKLEKDVQRQ Steveo

       I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect MLB players to make contact with the baseball more than 50% of the time…

    • dropkickmurphys

      Actually, I did not.  My expectations were very low.  I wrote often about the failure to acquire offense.  The only thing that I missed was that they were going to be putrid. I thought they would just stink.

  • szielinski

    I don’t believe the current troubles of the ML club reflect well or poorly on the Huntington regime and its ability to identify hitting talent. The current team reflects the opportunities, constraints and player resources Huntington had over the last years. Only Pedro Alvarez and his struggles appear to validate the claim that the Huntington regime cannot evaluate hitting talent. Yet Alvarez was consensus top-five player in his draft class, and was so because of his bat. If Huntington missed on Pedro, nearly everyone else did as well.

    If the Huntington regime can be criticized for its failure to produce hitters, this criticism should focus on the players on the low to mid minor league  teams. Sanchez now looks to be a mistake, and will continue to look to be a mistake until he hits enough to justify his top of the first round selection. Worse still is the fact that paying Sanchez slot money in order to take Von Rosenberg, Cain, etc. has not worked out as well as Pirates fans hoped they would. Only Cain looks to be a player who will make the majors.

    Neither Mercer nor d’Arnaud look like strong starting position players on a championship team. Grossman, on the other hand, may well become such a player. Curry is now hitting well, Dickerson, on the other hand, is not. Rojas and Maggi are now hitting well, Chambers and Freeman are not. It’s the position players now at WV who undermine the claim that the Huntington regime can’t evaluate hitting talent. But they need to perform at a high level for a whole season before one can use them as counter-evidence disproving the Huntington regime cannot evaluate hitting talent.

    I believe that, at this point, one can reasonabley evaluate the Huntington regime’s competence by focusing on its draft picks and international free agent signings. The Pirates have had their freest hand in these areas. This focus currently but weakly favors the Huntington regime cannot find hitting talent evaluation. This evaluation gets its strength from the fact that the Huntington Pirates appear be 0-2 in their position player first round picks.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3G6S3MLR7RKSHPBY62TA5KKR4A michael

      A few years back, in a five game stretch, a guy went 2 for 19 !  A .105 average.  Shoulda sent him down right ?  Oh wait, that was Ted Williams the year he hit .400

      • piratemike

        What does that have to do with this Pirate team? Besides Williams was an established veteran with a history of fine hitting in the ML.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3G6S3MLR7RKSHPBY62TA5KKR4A michael

           just sayin that 6 games (against some of the best pitchers in the league) is way too small a sample size to be panicking the way some posters are.  I’m seeing: “send him to triple A” ;  “drop this guy” ;  “bench that guy” .  Maybe after about 25 games some of that could be warranted, but not 6.  Plus nobody’s giving any credit to the opposing pitchers the Bucs have faced.

          • piratemike

            In the first place Tim is wrong ….. fans are not over reacting they are simply reacting and you are wrong, people are not panicking.,,,
            ,
            There were people calling for Pedro to start the year at AAA and I read posts that called for Jones to be gotten rid of before the season started and other posts saying that Barmes and Barajas were bad choices when those deals were made.

            Fans are the same in every city even in NY and Boston….. have adversity and they want the other guy.

    • dropkickmurphys

      I disagree, every general manager, program manager, project manager, executive is evaluated on how he/she manages resources, produces, manages risk, exploits opportunity, and works within constraints.  NH is not doing that.

      NH wasn’t constrained into picking Tony Sanchez, that was a failure to exploit an opportunity.  He could have selected Mike Minor, Jacob Turner, Mike Leake, Drew Storen, or Mike Trout.  But NH got his defensive oriented catcher instead.  His failure to exploit that opportunity may have cost the Pirates a high pick.

      I think your narrow focus is much to narrow as a means of evaluation.  He is the GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates and its subordinate organizations.  He must be evaluated not only on the subordinate organizations but the primary organization.  He is in his fifth season and has yet to produce a team that approached a .500 record.  Even if he gets a weakly favorable review for the minors, he gets an abject failure overall.  If this were a school setting his C and F- would result in a failing grade.