First Pitch: Pirates Made Right Call With Hague

Back at the start of the season, when there was a debate about whether the Pirates should carry an extra bench bat or an extra bullpen arm, I pointed out that the actual decision consisted of a week’s worth of games. My preference was to carry an extra bullpen arm, figuring that it would be improbable for the starting rotation to begin the season going six innings every time out. The Pirates opted to go with an extra bench bat, allowing them to run a sort of platoon at the corner infield spots.

The move worked out, thanks to the strong start by the pitching staff. But now that Charlie Morton is returning, the Pirates had to send someone down. The player they sent down was Matt Hague.

Hague was the guy I would have sent down. He was the guy I would have sent down at the start of the year had they gone with an extra bullpen spot. The reason isn’t because I think Hague is the worst option of all of the current bench options. It’s the exact opposite, actually. Hague is a guy who I’ve always seen as a starting candidate. He might be a James Loney/Casey Kotchman starter, but he could still have value as a starter.

The Pirates have had slow starts from most of their hitters. The key starts have been Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones, and Casey McGehee. I wrote yesterday that I think it is too early to send any of the struggling players down based on seven games. But that doesn’t mean it is too early to be concerned, or think about backup plans.

At first base, in theory the platoon of McGehee and Jones should work. McGehee is doing his part, with a .364 average and a .909 OPS against left-handers. Jones, however, is struggling this year, with a .200 average and a .467 OPS, with all of his at-bats against right-handers. That’s down from his career .273 average and .831 OPS against right-handers.

If Jones reverts to his career numbers, and McGehee continues his hot start against left-handers, the platoon will work as expected, and will provide more value than Hague could individually. But if Jones continues to struggle, there would be a problem, as he would be receiving two-thirds of the at-bats in the platoon.

At third base, Pedro Alvarez is off to a slow start, at just 1-for-16 with 10 strikeouts. He’s also been in a platoon situation, splitting time with McGehee, while Hague spent time at first platooning with Jones. Alvarez draws the most concern from fans. Part of that is because his slow start follows a bad year. By comparison, Casey McGehee is also coming off a horrible year, but has silenced those worries with a good start. Some might point to McGehee’s success prior to 2011, but they’d also have to point to the 2010 numbers by Alvarez as a sign that he hasn’t always looked over-matched in the majors.

I’ve been saying that the issues for Alvarez are ones that need to be worked out at the major league level. I’ve never seen a good argument for sending him down. And “look at his numbers” isn’t a good argument. I think you have to look at why the numbers are bad to argue whether he should be sent down or not. Most people just want to send him down in a way to sweep the problem under the carpet. I believe his issues are that the league adjusted to him, and he hasn’t adjusted back. If his issues are adjusting to major league pitching, then I don’t know how facing Triple-A pitchers will help him make that adjustment.

At the same time, Alvarez shouldn’t have an unlimited leash on his major league struggles. If his struggles continue, the Pirates might want to consider sending him down. That shouldn’t happen after one week, but I don’t think they should wait half the season, especially if he continues to look over-matched.

So back to Hague. If Garrett Jones and/or Pedro Alvarez continue to struggle, the Pirates are going to need a starter at one of the corners. And that’s where Hague comes in for me. He’s the best option as a Plan B. If Jones struggles, the Pirates could bring up Hague to be the everyday first baseman, moving McGehee to third to split with Alvarez. If Alvarez struggles, the Pirates could move McGehee to third, move Jones to the bench, and start Hague at first, with Jones also getting some starts.

It was a good call to send Hague down now, as he’s not going to get at-bats in the majors in the double platoon. We saw that in the first week, where Hague got nine at-bats. Meanwhile, most of the starters in Indianapolis received 25-35 at-bats. It won’t kill Hague to lose those extra 15-25 at-bats from week one. But he can’t afford to lose those at-bats going forward. We’re talking about a difference of as much as 100 at-bats per month.

The best option is to keep Hague fresh, and the best way to do that is to have him starting in Triple-A. Then, if Alvarez or Jones continue to struggle after the “small sample size” window closes, it will be time to Free Matt Hague, only this time as a starter.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost their fifth straight game yesterday. Game story here.

**Prospect Watch: Gerrit Cole was hit hard, giving up two homers. In West Virginia, the offense came through again.

**The Pirates sent down Hague to activate Charlie Morton.

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.
  • Lee Young

    Tim….we continue to disagree with Alvarez. Clint says that PA looks good in batting practice, but can’t take it from there to the game. Therefore, send him to AAA until he does. He’s dragging down an offense in bad need of, uh, offense. Let Hague play 1b and Casey 3b.

    JMHO of course. :)

    • Lee Young

       Tim….not sure if you saw this:

      http://www.bucsdugout.com/2012/4/14/2948862/a-very-depressing-look-at-pedro-alvarezs-demonstrated-skill-in-mlb

      I have thought this since seeing PA in the minors. He just K’s too much, minors or otherwise.

      • http://twitter.com/rinsana11 Ross

        mark reynolds, drew stubbs, ryan howard, austin jackson strike out a lot too, should they be sent down to the minors too?

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

         He was rushed to the majors as the ‘big signing’, and can’t handle the adversity.  Liked the analysis, he’ll never hit at all if he can’t stop whiffing at this rate.

  • dropkickmurphys

    I’m not advocating sending Pedro down based on 7 games.  No one should do that.  I’m advocating sending Pedro down based on his body of work.  He strikes out 36% of the time now and he’s getting worse.  As I wrote in another thread, there is now a season’s plus worth of data that shows Pedro should not be in the majors.  There was enough quantitative data to show Pedro should not have made the team out of spring training.  Just because it was a mistake to bring him up then, doesn’t mean its a mistake to send him down now.

    The right move was to send Pedro down, move McGehee to third full time and platoon Hague and Jones at first.  McGehee’s career splits are almost identical against right handers and left handers.  If Jones still isn’t hitting play Hauge more.  Hague, I believe had better reverse splits in the minors.

    Generally, I agree with your position to let the player work it out at the major league level.  But, this one is the exception to my rule.  Its not just that Pedro needs to learn to adjust, he needs to re-learn his approach.  He has no clue to what he’s doing.  That’s not just a failure to adjust to pitching adjustments, its a complete failure on Pedro’s part.  He needs to go down, if for nothing else, to remember what its like to make contact with a pitched baseball.

  • st1300b

    Some solid considerations you point out Tim, and I concur. I’d also say that I think it was important for Matt Hague to make the club out of ST, foremost because he deserved it, but also because I think it helped salve the wound of not getting the September call last year. 

    You are also right on with the need to get AB’s for Hague, I’m not sure that requires AAA to do so though. Hague was 1 for 11, but he also showed good pitch awareness and ability to make solid contact. Frankly I think you overstate Pedro’s case a bit. His issue is simply pitch recognition, period and I’m pretty sure you can work on that in AA ball and AAA ball. 

    Put plain, I am a fan of Pedro’s future, but he is not putting together “Quality at bats” he is not going to the plate with “Bad intentions” – but Matt Hauge was. If Pedro Alvarez needed to tweak his game, then you do it at the major league level; But if you need to rebuild your swing you do it in the minors. 

    McGehee 3b, Jones/Hauge 1b – is clearly the best current option for this team – at this time. 

    • dropkickmurphys

      Good post.  I don’t think Pedro needs tweaking, he needs a complete overhaul.  He is completely and utterly lost.  

      Pedro’s spring training numbers and numbers to date to validate the argument that Pedro is lost and he was getting lost even last season.  Last year, Pedro whiffed about 35% of the time in the majors (80 in 235 ABs).  At AAA, he whiffed at a 33% rate.  While spring training numbers don’t count, those numbers do reflect an ongoing problem.  He struck out 22 times in 53 ABs (42%).  To date this year, he has whiffed 10 times in 16 ABs.  That’s a season’s worth of data to show that Pedro should not be playing in the majors right now and that failure to make contact shows how far gone he is right now. 

      Pedro is clearly showing that he can’t learn at the major league level.  There is no reason to keep him here when he shows no sign of moving forward at this level.  He’s not just failing to move forward, he’s moving backward at an increasing rate.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

      its not that Hague deserved to make the roster, its that Alvarez may not deserve to make the roster.

      seriously, this is not JV High School baseball, guys.  Pedro, despite his struggles, has a huge ceiling while Hague, and I’m being nice here, is the carpet.

  • http://twitter.com/BuccoInc Bucco Inc

    I have never heard a good argument on why Pedro does not need any more time at AAA. A lot of players make it to the show then have to go back down to AAA for fine tuning.  A whole year at AAA could save this players career.

     He has only really hit for a 1.5 month stretch. Since he has been a sub-par .200 hitter (yes .200) this is counting 2011, spring training 2012, and 2012 this year with a a pitcher like K rate. 

    Matt Hague has earned a spot on the 25 man roster and a chance to help this team win games. Good teams tend to keep the best players on their 25 man-roster, no one can make any type of argument that Pedro is even close to being one of them.. 

    • Lee Young

       Bucco,INc….I agree. Why do other players have to go down ‘to work on things’, but Pedro stays up in the bigs? Does he have pictures of NH? :)

      Makes NO sense at all.

      .

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

      youre so wrong on many different levels.  Hague has not earned a spot on the 25 man, he did however earn the shot.  His pedigree is no where near Pedro’s, which is why you give Pedro chance after chance after chance.  If Hague continues to hit while in Indy, then he’ll get another shot.

      Good teams have guys on the roster that play excellent for most of the season.  Do  you think the Phillies see Schneider, Mayberry, Galvis and Wigginton as long term fixtures?  Do you think the 9-1 Dodgers  believe Loney, Uribe, Ellis #1 and Ellis #2 are going to put them over the hump?  Absolutely not.  They are hoping guys like Loney have better than average or career seasons, if not then their time on the roster is in jeopardy.

      EVERY team has below average players.  The teams that win have players, especially pitchers, that play above average even if its just for one season.  Good teams do not necessarily keep the best players on the 25 man.  they play the system just like the pirates.  if this were the truth, guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Trevor Bauer, Hak Ju Lee, Shelby Miller and dozens of other players would be in the majors RIGHT NOW.

      And for the record, not one single professional scouting outlet has Hague in the Pirates top 10 for prospects.  Most dont even have him in the top 20.  They have guys like Dickerson and Curry in front of him.

      So if Hague is the next coming, and if hes truly deserving of starting at 1B for the pirates, its not because hes earned it, its because the pirates have no other option.
      and thats not a good thing.

  • BabeAdamsforHOF

    My question is why the Pirates need so many light-to-no hitting middle infield types on the bench. Why not send down one of them when the offense is in such dire need of…well…hitters right now. Makes no sense.

    But then, these are the Pirates. So…

  • salempirate

    Pedro’s gotta stay just to get him out of everyone’s system. If he gets it, great. If he doesn’t we can reminence about Andy LaRoche being better. Problem is Hague and McGehee suffer, as does the rest of the team, if PA continues faltering. But, this regime doesn’t care if they have winning baseball at PNC because they’ve convinced everyone the winning is at A ball.

    • Lee Young

       There’s a better way to get him out of my system.

      Oh wait, that won’t work either….I have MiLB.tv…..rats

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

      utterly ridiculous.  and i’ll tell you why…  and its really simple…

      if the pirates are winning, they will make ALOT MORE MONEY!!!!

      boom.  done.  next.

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

    You’ve never seen a good argument as to why Pedro Alvarez should be sent down? How about… He’s not good enough to be a major league player. Over his last 90 games, he has a higher K% than Mark Reynolds had the year he shattered the record for strikeouts in a season (35.8% to 33.7%). That’s not a small sample size. Pedro Alvarez is historically bad.

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

      Strikeouts don’t matter. The year Reynolds did that he had an .892 OPS and hit 44 home runs. It’s what you’re doing when you’re not striking out that matters. And that’s been the issue with Pedro. I’d take his strikeouts if they also came with power and a decent OPS.

      • azibuck

         This is getting kinda silly.  You’ve never seen a good argument as to why Pedro should be sent down because you don’t want to.  Your assertion about adjustments is vague and simplistic.  A good argument has been presented at Bucs Dugout, and I’ve given a good argument here before.  (Hey, if you can just declare you’ve never seen a good one, I can just declare mine is good).  dropkickmurphys has given a good argument in these comments.  It may be as vague and simplistic as your idea, but it makes a whole lot more sense (that it’s not about adjustments, he has to rework his entire approach).

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

          I haven’t read the Bucs Dugout link. I usually don’t get a chance to read other articles. I saw the link posted in the other thread, but I’ve been out of town this weekend.

          The strikeout argument doesn’t do anything for me. Alvarez was striking out in 2010, but put up decent numbers.

          As for the “rework his entire approach” argument, there’s still the 2010 season. It’s not like he’s never had success in the majors. If he didn’t have that 2010 success, I’d agree with you. But he came up and did fairly well, including going on a tear in the final two months of the season. Then he looked bad in 2011, and hasn’t looked good this year. So what changed between 2010 and 2011-12?

        • dropkickmurphys

          I tend to agree.  Strikeouts do matter, no baseball person would say that they don’t.  They reflect the player’s ability to make contact and they are a reflection of the player’s pitch identification and selection ability.  If you look at the whiff numbers, then look at video of Pedro, you can see what they numbers show.  Pedro has no idea what pitch is coming, nor any clue of its location.

          While there are always outliers like Howard and others, there are dozens, if not hundreds of Chad Hermansons and Doug Frobels who simply struck out too much.  They struck out a lot and lacked the other skills necessary to make them successful in the majors.

          I’m not saying Alvarez belongs to the outliers that Tim identified or the players like Frobel.  But Pedro’s strikeouts coupled with his inability to draw a walk or hit for more power aren’t good signs. 

          He is struggling so much right now, that almost no good can come from continuing this level of futility.

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

    Free Pedro Alvarez.  Although if he can stick around to the next homestand, I’d like the opportunity to let him hear my boos in person.