Welcome back to the Nine Innings. It hasn’t been a great week for the Pittsburgh Pirates as they have lost five straight but are still 20-13 and lead the National League Central. Also, it’s not even the first month of the season anymore! Therefore, your boy is happy. Let’s spout some thoughts.
Checking in on those playoff odds
Before the Pirates’ current losing streak started, their playoff odds peaked at a little over 30 percent according to Fangraphs. Currently, those odds sit at 25.4 percent. To win the division, they have a 17.4 percent chance. To win the whole thing? About a half percent chance.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bit bummed the Pirates have lost five straight games. I’m bummed that they couldn’t sneak out a single win in Tampa Bay. That said, before the season started, the Pirates’ playoff odds sat at 6.5 percent.
If you would have told me before the season that those odds would have eclipsed the 25 percent marker, I would have been elated. So here we are. About a fifth of the way through the season. The Pirates still lead the division. The vibes are dwindling, but overall, they are still indeed good.
Since the Pirates' five-game losing streak began, the offense has scored six total runs. With the exception of Bryan Reynolds, almost every hitter has been completely terrible. Here is a look at how some of those hitters have performed.
-Jack Suwinski: 0-16, 10 strikeouts, one walk
-Ke’Bryan Hayes: 2-16
-Ji Hwan Bae: 3-14, two walks
-Andrew McCutchen: 1-12, seven strikeouts, two walks
-Miguel Andujar: 0-11, one walk
-Austin Hedges: 1-10, one walk
-Rodolfo Castro: 2-10, one walk
With how the offense performed in April, the Pirates were well overdue to regress at some point. It just hurts more when it's almost every hitter, all at once. The Tampa Bay Rays’ awesome pitching staff also plays into these numbers.
But sheesh, six runs in five total games is rough for any offense. I’m not sure exactly if there is a bigger-picture problem or if these hitters just need to refind their grooves again. That said, some of these games have been an absolutely rough watch.
The thing that concerns me most out of all these players is that the strikeout bug has yet again gotten to Suwinski. One would hope that Suwinski could eventually even out his high peaks and low valleys. That said, some players are born to be extremely streaky. Maybe that’s just who he is.
About Austin Hedges...
Personally, I like Hedges. When he was signed by the Pirates this winter, we all kind of knew what the deal was. Hedges does not hit at all. This season in 54 plate appearances, he has a pitcher-like slash line of .149/.250/.170. Of his seven hits, only one is of the extra-base variety, a double. For reference, his OPS this season of .415 is ever so slightly higher than Gerrit Cole’s career OPS of .393.
That said, he is fine defensively. His pitch framing is elite (100th percentile of all catchers this season). He is a vocal leader in the clubhouse. And most importantly, he works well managing a pitching staff. Overall, I like that Hedges has a spot on this team. I just wish he would play less. On the latest episode of Talk the Plank, I joked that Hedges is the Jake Taylor from the movie “Major League” of this team. There is value in having a guy like Hedges on the team. He’s just an automatic out.
Perhaps it’s time to give Jason Delay, who is currently fourth on the team in fWAR, a larger starting role.
I refuse to give up on Ke’Bryan Hayes’ bat
This season, Hayes has been otherworldly with his glove. We all know this. Offensively though, his slash line of .225/.282/.350 (131 PA) leaves much more to be desired. Let’s face it, Hayes has been unlucky. His xBA (.285) and xSLG (.441) are much higher than his current output. Hayes is in the 88th percentile of all hitters when it comes to average exit velocity. His hard-hit rate is in the 75th percentile. He rarely strikes out or whiffs.
Looking at his batted ball profile, Hayes is hitting more fly balls than he ever has (35.6 percent). And although he still hits way too many ground balls, this year’s rate is lower than it’s ever been (47.1 percent). As far as soft contact rate, Hayes has done an awesome job at cutting back. This season, that rate is at 8.6 percent, nearly cutting his career rate of 16.3 percent in half.
I think we just need to wait this out. Hayes makes too great of contact to be a sub .650 OPS hitter. He’ll be fine.
Bryan Reynolds is awesome so that’s good
Reynolds started the season white-hot hitting .424/.432/1.000 with five dingers through his first 37 PA. Over his next 57 plate appearances though, Reynolds cooled off as he hit .212/.246/.269 with no home runs and just three doubles.
Then he signed the biggest contract in Pittsburgh Pirates history (an eight-year extension worth $106.75 million).
Since signing the extension on April 25th, Reynolds has been awesome again. In 35 PA, the Pirates' long-term outfielder has hit .394/.446/.606 with seven doubles.
In total this season, Reynolds has a healthy line of .322/.361/.568 with five home runs, 12 doubles, and a triple in 133 PA. His 1.1 fWAR leads the team. His wRC+ of 144 is second among qualified hitters on the team behind Connor Joe. We know that Reynolds is awesome. It’s nice saying that while also knowing that he won’t be traded anytime soon. As a fan, I’ve never felt such ease about a player, well, ever.
The Vince Velasquez news isn't as bad as it could have been
We have placed RHP Vince Velasquez on the 15-day Injured List with Right Elbow Inflammation.— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) May 5, 2023
We have also ended RHP Chase De Jong’s Rehabilitation Assignment and activated him to the Major League Roster.
In addition, INF Drew Maggi has cleared waivers and was outrighted to…
First off, it’s great news that the Velasquez injury isn’t as serious as it could have been. We were all thinking about it. Tommy John. Luckily, that is not the case. Hopefully, in a few weeks, Velasquez will be okay to return.
Chase De Jong was brought up to replace Velasquez on the roster yesterday. It should be noted though that the Pirates will not need a starting pitcher until Tuesday, so perhaps they will bring up a starter then. When De Jong was put back on the roster after returning from injury, I initially speculated that he would be the one chosen to get a few starts. But, in yesterday’s game, he tossed an inning of relief so it seems as though he will be a bullpen arm.
Unless the Pirates go towards the route of having a few bullpen games in Velasquez’s absence, there is only one name that makes sense starter-wise to replace him. That would be Luis Ortiz. This season with Indianapolis, Ortiz has a 2.23 ERA over 32.1 innings pitched. He has 29 strikeouts to 11 walks. No other starter on the Indianapolis roster has an ERA below five. Last night, Oritz threw three scoreless innings and 42 pitches before getting pulled. Perhaps with a lighter workload last night he is being prepped to start for the Pirates Tuesday.
The Pirates have the best reliever in baseball
His name is David Bednar. He leads all relievers in fWAR (0.9). He has allowed just one earned run over 14 innings pitched this season. His strikeout rate of 35.8 percent is elite. His walk rate of 1.9 percent is even more elite.
Has he been lucky? No, not really. Bednar’s BABIP against of .242 is close enough to league average. Opponents in general are hitting .154 against him. Michael Baumann at Fangraphs recently went in depth about how Bednar has been so dominant. I would recommend giving that a look.
How many All-Stars could the Pirates realistically have this summer?
Believe it or not, the start of MLB All-Star voting is right around the corner. Last season, the voting began on June 8. I would assume it will be around the same time this year. Realistically, how many Pirates could be an All-Star this season?
The way I see it, Bednar is a lock. Look no further than one section above this one. Reynolds also has a decent chance. Currently, he has the eighth-highest fWAR among National League outfielders (1.1). There are some names above him that I believe are passable such as Brandon Marsh and James Outman. Among starting pitchers in the NL, Mitch Keller currently has the seventh-highest fWAR (0.9) so I would give him a chance. Right behind him is Roansy Contreras (0.7). I also refuse to give up on McCutchen’s chances as well.
If I had to guess at this very moment, I would say the Pirates will end up with three All-Stars. They will be Bednar, Reynolds, and Keller.
The coolest thing I saw this week
Colin Holderman threw an immaculate inning during the seventh inning of the Pirates-Rays game yesterday afternoon. It was the fourth time in the Pirates’ long and rich history that that has occurred. Here are all nine strikes, via Pitching Ninja.