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Bucco breakfast: How much playing time did the Pirates give to bad players?

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Milwaukee Brewers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

I got a little curious how much playing time teams give to crappy players, so I decided to add it up. I used plate appearances and, for pitchers, batters faced. I looked only at the NL because, at least in theory, the DH should allow teams to minimize their use of the fringes of their rosters. So comparing the Pirates to the AL wouldn’t be apples to apples. My definition of “crappy” was an OPS+ or ERA+ below 80. I like these two measures because they’re park-adjusted. I didn’t use more advanced metrics, like xFIP, because I wanted to look at actual results, not more predictive measures. And I chose 80 as the dividing line because . . . I felt like it. (I didn’t notice until after I chose 80 that Josh Harrison’s 374 PAs produced an OPS+ of exactly 80, so the Pirates got a break there.)

Plate Appearances for Players Below 80 OPS+ (Pitchers Excluded)

Atlanta: 424
NY Mets: 571
Pirates: 634
Chi. Cubs: 801*
St. Louis: 811
Colorado: 884
LA Dodgers: 965
Milwaukee: 1058
San Diego: 1082
Cinncinati: 1135**
Philadelphia: 1190
Miami: 1337
Washington: 1514
San Francisco: 1573
Arizona: 2257

*Well over half of this was Addison Russell, whose OPS+ of 74, while bad, wasn’t that far below the cutoff.

**Nearly half of this was Billy Hamilton, whose OPS+ was a miserable 68.

Batters Faced by Pitchers with an ERA+ Below 80

Arizona: 304
Chi. Cubs: 319
Milwaukee: 355
LA Dodgers: 358
Atlanta: 475
Philadelphia: 739
Colorado: 930*
Pirates: 1150
Washington: 1163
St. Louis: 1193
San Francisco: 1380
Cinncinati: 1972
NY Mets: 2079
San Diego: 2455
Miami: 2506

*Over three-quarters of this total came from three pitchers who were only a little below the cutoff: Bryan Shaw (79), Jake McGee (73) and Chris Rusin (77).

I’m not sure this proves a great deal beyond showing that good teams don’t have many crappy players. It’s no surprise that rebuilding teams like the Marlins and Reds would have a lot of bad performers. For some teams — Nationals, Mets pitchers — the high totals were heavily influenced by injuries. Some teams with very low totals, though, ran through a lot of players due to injuries and other factors. The Dodgers, the Cubs and, especially, the Braves were at or near the top in most players used, yet they gave very little time to poor players. The Rockies, on the other hand, appear to have benefited from using easily the fewest players. (The Pirates were near the bottom in number of players, and especially pitchers, used. The numbers of players and pitchers used can be found at bb-ref.) So at the very least, I think this shows that strong organizational depth, as well as a willingness to go out and fill holes as they appear, is very helpful over the course of a season.

Daily Links

  • As was noted here yesterday, FanGraphs has posted Dan Szymborski’s post-mortem on the 2018 Pirates. I don’t agree with all of it, but on the whole it’s a very accurate take on the team and its tendencies. In particular, I agree with the concern that the Pirates’ risk-aversion has limited them to value moves that aren’t enough to get them into the thick of the fight. One statement in particular — “if you have a team of two-win types whom you’re paying like one-win types, you have a very efficient roster that will finish 10 games out of the playoffs” — succinctly defines the Pirates’ approach. What’s scary, though, is that it is, in fact, their approach. It’s not something that just happened, it’s exactly the way they’ve tried to build the team. Anyway, the article is well worth reading if you haven’t already.
  • MLBTR has posted extensive lists of available right-handed and left-handed relievers. These are more established major league guys, whereas I think the Pirates will probably be looking at minor league free agents for bullpen depth. I can’t help but think there are one or two guys on these lists, though, who’d be both helpful and realistic.