Monday, August 4, 2014

Jayson Nix: Part of the Pedro Domino Effect...

The signing of Jayson Nix in itself isn't a big deal. Nix is a 31 year old super utility guy with a lifetime .226 BA who's been around; Pittsburgh is his seventh team since 2008. He's played third, second short and even a little OF.

The Pirates have a couple of those already in Josh Harrison and Michael Martinez, with Clint Barmes temporarily on ice until his groin tear heals. And that's what makes this a storyline. The Bucs wouldn't sign a player of Nix's pedigree for a spot that's already covered, unless one of those guys was moving. And reading the tea leaves, it sure looks like the little engine that could, Josh Harrison, is becoming Pittsburgh's new full-time third baseman.

It hit the fan Saturday night, though it was a long time in coming (it was only Alvarez's fourth start in 13 games, although there were a lot of lefties on the hill), when Pedro was pulled for Brent Morel in the fifth inning. El Toro went 3-for-3 with errant throws to first, two of which Ike managed to grab and one that sailed over his head. For a team that emphasizes ground ball contact, El Toro's yips have gone beyond an occasional head scratcher to an untenable situation. It appears that he's lost Clint's trust to play the position.

What to do with Pedro?  His hitting is pretty much what it is. He's improved his SABRmetric standing, with a career low in strikeout % and career high in walk rate, but that really hasn't nudged his other numbers much from his norms - this year, he's hitting .238 with a BABIP of .284, an OPS of .724 and wRC+ of 106; lifetime, he has a .235 BA, .296 BABIP, .744 OPS and 105 wRC+.  In fact, the biggest difference may be in his power stroke - this is the first year he's had an ISO of under .205, at .167. So his more patient, all-field approach may be a feel-good sidebar, but it hasn't translated into shinier numbers.

His paycheck is $4,250,000 with two years of team control remaining through arbitration, which sounds good until you look at his WAR of 0.1, per Fangraphs, which is hardly above Brent Morel's -0.1. His throwing woes have garnered a -10.1 defensive rating at third base per Fangraphs, 132nd out of 132 MLB third basemen.

The pity is that he has worked hard at becoming a good fielder and has only made one of his 24 errors with his glove. But he's lost more baseballs with his arm than with his bat, and that puts his trade value, as the Pirates found out during the deadline, pretty close to non-existent. And despite his scatter shot rifle, Pedro still has upside because of his bat, and the Pirates would like to rebuild his value, not give him away.

The public clamor has always been to switch him to first base, and as a bench guy, he could get some work there now. The ideal situation would be to let him learn the position at Indy or Pirate City, but his options are burned. The club could ease him into a position change beginning right now, but Pittsburgh is reluctant to do that during the season, seeing it as a distraction during a pennant race.

So they'll keep him as a bench bat/spot starter for the time being and play it by ear. No matter what, Pedro should spend the winter acclimating to first base, and the Bucs would have a springtime decision whether he or Ike is the better fit, if not sooner as both are arb-eligible.

For Josh, it's a return to his primary position, one where he's logged over 150 innings this year and played 100 times as a Pirate super sub. He's earned a Fangraphs' defensive rating of 0.8, and he should only get better working at one spot. The Cincinnati Kid has outperformed Pedro in virtually every offensive category and has earned his a shot at the job; there's certainly no one in the system ready to step into the position.

As for the whole Nix-Martinez thing on the bench, that's a non-story. The odds are that one will go when Starling Marte returns and the other when Clint Barmes is ready for action (and both could be ready some time next week), so they're just patches.

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