When I read questions like the last one here, which asks if the Pirates scouted Andy LaRoche before trading for him, I get a little uncomfortable. This is a strange time of year, and the Pirates need to use their available playing time to look at their best young players without worrying too much about the results. They can't be too quick to draw conclusions, and the most important rule of thumb when watching these games should be this: minor league numbers matter.
An example that we all surely remember: at the end of the 2002 season, Tike Redman was at Class AAA Nashville and he was going nowhere. It was so bad for him that he was removed from the 40-man roster after the season. He went through waivers and no one claimed him. Then in 2003 he was better at Class AAA, but still nothing special. The Pirates traded Kenny Lofton in July, opening playing time for Redman, and he hit .330/.374/.483 in 230 at bats down the stretch. This was far better, even before considering context, than any line he posted at any point in the minors.
I remember one commenter at Primer quipping that if Redman's major-league performance occurred as the result of his having improved, he appeared to have done all his improvement on the flight from Nashville. The commenter was right: Redman's performance was a fluke. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the Pirates from treating that two-month stretch like it mattered and giving Redman nearly two more painful, painful years of playing time. Had the Pirates trusted his minor league numbers, that wouldn't have happened.
Yes, Andy LaRoche looks very bad right now. But minor league numbers matter, and every time LaRoche is down there, he kills the ball. Six weeks' worth of numbers, however bad they might be, don't mean a whole lot. I'm actually more concerned about his fielding, but I think that will also eventually come around. Comparing him to Jose Bautista is, frankly, a ridiculous exercise. Bautista was several years older than LaRoche and never looked like a future star at any point. LaRoche is 24 and was ranked as one of the better prospects in baseball coming into the season. So stop worrying about it and let him fail for a while, if that's what will happen. Eventually, those failures will turn into successes. And if they don't, let's revisit this again once he's had 600 or so at bats as a Pirate.
Anyway, what could you do with him? Send him back to the minors next year? He tears the cover off the ball every time he's down there, so why bother? He'd just hit well and would eventually have to be called back up anyway. The Pirates have few appealing alternatives at third base right now, and so they're going to give LaRoche a lot of at bats no matter what; he may as well get them right in a row, so that he can get used to major league pitching. The Pirates are right to pencil him in as their third baseman for the near future.
The Pirates need to apply the principle that minor league numbers matter to their outfield situation as well. I continue to be perplexed by how much Nyjer Morgan is playing. Generally, it's good for a team in the Pirates' situation to give playing time to youngsters, but Morgan isn't young and he has no future as a major league regular. It's right there in his minor league numbers, which show that he simply doesn't have the skillset to succeed as a major league hitter. There is virtually no upside there--none--and those who believe otherwise are either mistaken or are clinging to an antiquated idea of how baseball is played. Speed, without any idea how to use it and without power or plate discipline to complement it, simply doesn't cut it anymore. You can look throughout the majors and not find a single successful player whose career parallels Morgan's. I'd hate to think that the Pirates' management honestly believes that Morgan can start, because they've seemed to be able to see through these kinds of fantasies with regard to other players.
Morgan's continued presence in the lineup is particularly baffling because the Pirates have a player in Steve Pearce who loses out on badly needed playing time as a result of the organization's continued fascination with Morgan. Again, minor league numbers matter, and Pearce was named the Minor League Player of the Year by MILB.com last year. While Pearce is coming off a disappointing season in Class AAA and is far from a sure thing, his minor league numbers at least indicate that he has potential.
Check out the first question in Dejan Kovacevic's chat today:
curt_raydon_fan: Has Pearce pulled a "reverse Murtaugh" and spit on Russell's shoe? He seems to be marginalized this September. Or are they sending him to Mexico to learn to lay off the junk pitches?
Dejan Kovacevic: Someone asked the other day, and I didn't have a good answer: Has Steve Pearce hit a ball to the warning track in the majors yet? Maybe once we have the answer to that, we will have a better idea for how and why he needs to be much, much more selective at the plate to make use of that power he used to show in the minors.
Well, fine, but... first, Pearce's OPS in the majors this year is still higher than Morgan's has been. Why Pearce's performance is seen as the problem and not Morgan's is beyond me. (There is a question later in the chat about Morgan's baserunning, but nothing about his hitting, which is dreadful.)
Also, here's the plate appearances Pearce has gotten since being recalled:
Honestly, how fair is it to wring hands about Pearce's pitch selection against major league hitting? What opportunity has he had to find a rhythm?
Given that Morgan is taking the most playing time from Pearce, there is no reason not to give Pearce some playing time. He might turn out to be an effective big league hitter. Morgan won't.