Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Post Deadline Bucs

OK, the Bucs stumbled both before and after the deadline, and continue to stumble through September. But that doesn't necessarily mean that their player moves were clunkers.

None of the players they added were difference makers ala Chase Headley or Justin Upton, to be sure. But except for the bullpen, where they could have stood one more back end arm, they probably did make themselves stronger, or at least deeper.

What has hurt badly down the stretch is injuries; the team hasn't had Neil Walker's services since August 27th, Travis Snider has been on-and-off with hammy problems, and Jeff Karstens, who has been a steadying influence on the rotation, has just tossed a couple of starts. And now Pedro is on the list; who knows how long his "day-to-day" hand injury will linger?

So the new guys on the roster have been thrown into the fire, with a mixed bag of results.

Wandy Rodriguez, their centerpiece pickup, is 3-4 with a 3.57 ERA since arriving, and that's well within expectations. His drawback is that he doesn't really feature swing and miss stuff, and too many balls in play usually lead to bad things. Like most curve ball guys, when he can establish fastball command, things tend to fall into place, including Ks.

Gaby Sanchez took Casey McGehee's place off the bench and as a platoon first baseman. After a rough start with Pittsburgh, he's begun turning on the ball again, hitting .269 with 3 HR in 78 ABs with a 119 OPS+ as a Pirate. That's pretty similar to his Fish heyday lines.

Kyle McPherson has been strong on the bump; in six outings covering 10-2/3 frames, he's put up a 1.69 ERA, 0.938 WHIP and punched out ten batters. He's making a nice opening statement to be considered for next year's rotation.

Travis Snider, expected to add a little power jolt, has hit .261, but with only one homer. In his defense, he's been down twice with hammy tightness, and Clint Hurdle won't let him sit still for a couple of games to rest it, but keeps trotting him out as a pinch hitter. He's also been miscast as a two-hole hitter out of necessity, and has responded well enough with a career high .351 OBP at the cost of some thump.

Jose Tabata remains a question mark after serving time at Indy. JT has shown much better plate discipline since returning from his demotion, with a line of .276/.373 and a 13% walk rate with even righty-lefty splits, qualifying him as an everyday, top-of-the-order player. But like Snider, he has a history with sore hammys, and that affects his playing time - and play. His once plus speed is also fast approaching barely above average as he's bulked up, so next season will present the challenge of reestablishing his brand. We'd spend the winter stretching those legs if we were him.

Alex Presley has put up a .273/.351 slash since his call up, but still K's at a 29% rate and has a reverse L/R split, making him a poser to platoon. He's slotted himself into a bench outfielder role if he hits, with good range and an average arm in the pasture.

Brock Holt has lived up to his calling card as a stick first, glove second guy. Plugged into leadoff, he's hit .364, and while one walk in 47 PAs certainly isn't ideal, it's to be expected as he earned free passes at a so-so 9% rate in the minors. Like the man he replaced, Neil Walker, he's unafraid to hit with two strikes, and has a bit high K rate of 19% as a result. But his fielding % is just .941 and he's been part of 2 DPs in nine starts at second, both well below The Kid's standards. He could be a piece of the 2013 bench; bats always play.

Jeff Locke has rung up an 0-1 record with a 4.11 ERA working 15-1/3 innings. He's been a pleasant surprise with his Ks, picking up 13 while only walking one. But he throws a lot of pitches, preventing him from getting very deep in games, and the three long balls he's surrendered are a red flag. When he's working on the edges, he's a tough guy to hit, but when he falls behind or leaves balls in the middle of the zone, it can get ugly. So far, he hasn't shown much to separate him from the Maholm-Duke-Gorzelanny mold.

Starling Marte, after all the hype, is hitting just .231 and living up to his rep as a free swinger after a somewhat disciplined start. But he needs to get a season under his belt; he's just in the beginning stages of the adjust, readjust phase of his career. An oblique injury hasn't helped the process, and he's a kid that probably should have been called up sooner, back in the Drew Sutton days, to start the maturation process.

The court is out on Chris Leroux. He threw well in 2011 with a 2.88 ERA and 24 whiffs in 25 innings, and was a monster at Indy this season. But he's only tossed five frames in the show so far this year, and his ERA is a bloated 5.40 after a rough opening outing in Milwaukee. But he's a guy that can work out of the pen and as a spot starter, so he has a shot at breaking with next year's club, especially if the injury-prone Jeff Karstens is allowed to walk.

Chad Qualls (6.48 ERA) and Hisanori Takahashi (14.54 ERA) were late veteran additions to the bullpen, and neither has shown any particular reason to be part of next year's mix or even to be considered proper replacements for Jose Cruz this season.

The other minor league call-ups serve at the whim of Clint Hurdle, who has shown little inclination to use them. Then again, none of them have really presented much of a compelling playing-time case to him. When Walker and Snider return, they'll only be pushed further back on the bench. That's understandable; Pittsburgh has an active September roster of 36 players.

That's the double-edged sword of playoff contention and the 19-losing-years gorilla; the Pirates are involved in a September that for once isn't an audition, but crunch time. So the young guns are going to have to cool their heels until 2013 rolls around.

No comments: