First Pitch: Why the Pirates Don’t Need to Worry About Disrupting Chemistry

With the trade deadline coming up in about ten days, we’ve heard a few comments about how the Pirates shouldn’t fix the team, in fear of disrupting the team chemistry. It’s almost a pointless discussion, because if we’ve learned anything from previous years, it’s that the Pirates will be active at the deadline. When they do eventually make trades and shuffling the roster around, the team won’t have anything to worry about. In fact, we’ve seen three examples this year of roster shuffling that haven’t led to some sort of chemistry related collapse. Here are those moves.

The Pirates didn't collapse when Clint Barmes was removed as the starting shortstop. (Photo by: David Hague)

The Pirates didn’t collapse when Clint Barmes was removed as the starting shortstop. (Photo by: David Hague)

1. Replacing Clint Barmes with Jordy Mercer at Shortstop

The Pirates gradually made the switch to Jordy Mercer as the starting shortstop this year. Around June 12th, Mercer pretty much took over the starting shortstop position. The Pirates were 38-26 at the time Mercer took over. They have gone 19-13 since Mercer took over. That is literally the exact same winning percentage.

I don’t want to say that Mercer hasn’t been an upgrade over Barmes. There are so many things that go into a record that you can’t point to one change and suggest it had any grand impact on the overall won-loss record. But the Pirates definitely didn’t start to fade because they went to a better option at shortstop. If they eventually go to a better option somewhere else (first base, right field) they won’t fade either.

2. Releasing John McDonald

John McDonald’s last game with the Pirates was May 14th. He went on the disabled list, and never returned to the team. He was traded about a month later. Obviously the team has continued with their success, even without McDonald’s veteran presence on the bench. He wasn’t adding anything to the team outside of the leadership.

It’s the same situation with Brandon Inge. He’s not adding any value to the team this year, and is only around for his leadership. But the Pirates have plenty of leaders without Inge, leaving no reason to keep him around when he’s struggling so much. Just like with McDonald, the Pirates won’t fall apart when they move on from Inge.

3. The Revolving Door of Starting Pitchers

I don’t know if you can really use the “chemistry” argument with the rotation. It’s hard for a rotation to get chemistry when they’ve had a revolving door for the first three months of the season. Sure, when A.J. Burnett or Wandy Rodriguez get injured they still remain with the team (until rehab time). So it’s not like they won’t have an impact in the clubhouse. But there has been so much disruption in the rotation this year that the clubhouse impact of adding another starting pitcher would just be a drop in the bucket.

The Pirates didn’t lose last year because the clubhouse chemistry disappeared after the trades. They lost for many on-field reasons, which I outlined a few weeks ago, most of which started before the deadline deals. Adding guys this year isn’t going to wreck the clubhouse. You probably won’t even notice the difference. Add a right fielder and you just move Jose Tabata and Travis Snider to the bench. Add a first baseman and you move Garrett Jones to the bench or right field. Add a starting pitcher and you move someone to the bullpen, or move Gerrit Cole to Triple-A as depth. It’s not like you’re totally overhauling the roster.

Every other contending team is going to be adding players in the next week and a half. Some of the moves might be big, and some might be smaller upgrades. If those contending teams can add players without fear of their clubhouse chemistry falling apart, then the Pirates should be able to do the same thing. You’d like to think that the thing making the Pirates contenders has been their talent, and not a Jenga tower of chemistry that can crumble to the ground if one small piece is removed.

Links and Notes

**Episode 3 of the Pirates Roundtable can be viewed here. This week’s episode features James Santelli as the host, along with Ed Giles of In Clemente WeatherMichael Waterloo of Pittsburgh Sporting NewsSteve Petrella of MLB.comCory of Three Rivers Burgh Blog, and Brian McElhinney of Raise The Jolly Roger.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates International Signing Tracker.

**Looking at the Pirates Starting Pitching Depth For the Rest of the Season.

**Pirates Are the “Team Du Jour” For Matt Garza.

**Prospect Watch: Sanchez and Bell Homer, Rodriguez Throws Six Shutout Innings.

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia Tries To Bounce Back From Tough Outing.

**Locke, Pirates Eke Out 3-2 Win Over Reds to Avoid Sweep.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • emjayinTN

    Tim: I agree that this edition of the Pirates has many leaders, but examples like Mercer for Barmes, John McDonald, Brandon Inge – these are softballs. When we get down to it and start sending guys like Michael McKenry down, or trading prospects to get a player who has to bump someone from the lineup and down to AAA, then it is getting serious. McK had a nice game yesterday and I would not doubt that Hurdle told him how serious it was for him to do well. Jones hits a HR and that is big news. Let’s get a guy like Neil Walker – he used to play for the Pirates and was a .280 hitter with nice extra base hit stats and RBI’s last year. If we could get somebody like that cheap and hope that he re-discovers his stroke, it could be a real positive for the Pirates. Or, Tony Sanchez – why not 3 Catchers? If it is my decision, rather dump Inge than McK. If we need pitching help, how about a guy like Wandy Rodriguez? Jeanmar Gomez? I know this is stupid, but the Pirates have better talent in-house than in the outhouse. Get a guy like Gaby Sanchez like last year and I will love it – see that DP yesterday?

    • impliedi

      “Or, Tony Sanchez – why not 3 Catchers? If it is my decision, rather dump Inge than McK. ”

      If Tony Sanchez comes up, the Pirates have zero need for 3 catchers and it would be a complete waste of a roster spot to carry McKenry (at least until the expanded rosters), because of his complete lack of position versatility and the fact that Russell Martin is NO Ryan Doumit (Martin has played less than 120 games only once in his career).

      So I disagree completely, if you’re going to carry a guy that can’t hit, it should be Inge over McKenry, because he can actually play other positions. If I were Michael McKenry, I’d be shagging fly balls and taking grounders every spare minute I could, otherwise his Pirates days will soon be over.

      • BostonsCommon

        McKenry should be working on throwing the ball to 2nd base with a little more urgency, velocity, and consistency before he attempts another position. His current .565 OPS will not play at any position on the diamond, so his glove and arm need to carry his value. Only 6/41 throwing men out attempting to steal. I’m actually surprised there haven’t been more attempts in his 234 innings caught. That’s barely over 1.5 attempts/9 innings. That’s ridiculous after Brewers went 6/6 against the Fort earlier this season.

        • impliedi

          Naturally, you’re right about that. But, I’m not so sure that McKenry’s problems are fixable.

          I guess I just look at it this way:

          McKenry – isn’t hitting and can’t play one position well.

          Inge – isn’t hitting and can’t play multiple positions well.

          Barmes – isn’t hitting, but can play one position pretty well.

          I imagine that now that Mercer has assumed a starting role, when Walker returns (today???) that Barmes becomes the new swing man (a la Inge) and Inge gets let go.

          McKenry gets cut loose when Sanchez is ready.

          So, Inge will probably get cut before McKenry, but I think that McKenry actually has less value to the team than Inge (strictly on the multiple positions.)

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      1. What kind of moves do you think will happen outside of swapping out McKenry (which might not happen until September)? I could see them adding a 1B or RF, which would push Tabata/Snider to the bench and bump Inge off the roster.

      2. The bulk of your argument is based on a conversation between Hurdle and McKenry that you just made up for this scenario. I think everyone, McKenry included, knows the situation. He has been horrible throwing out runners all year, and hasn’t been hitting. If Hurdle is talking to him, I don’t think he’s going to imply that McKenry just needs one good game. And I don’t think McKenry would think he’s safe after just one good game.

      • emjayinTN

        2. first – one good game will not keep him there, but another bad game could have been the last straw – he is better off today than he was yesterday before the game.
        1. We bring in a 1B we have to move either Gaby Sanchez or Garrett Jones, and that would be a mistake. Jones has the track record to turn it on down the stretch, and Sanchez is one of the best fielding 1B in the NL, and a guy who can put the ball in play. A RF? Was that Jose Tabata who drove in the winning run yesterday? He too can put the ball in play and is very comfortable hitting the ball up the middle or to RF, which is something we need more of from others in the lineup.
        Hurdle would have definitely talked to the Fort – not to say “you need to show something”, but to tell him to just settle down, play his game, keep Jeff Locke in the game, and just see the ball to the bat.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          I think if you bring in a 1B, you move Jones to RF. Gaby stays on the bench and you could possibly use him at 3B against lefties, or for the occasional start at 1B.

          • impliedi

            Agreed. The nice thing about moves like adding a 1B, is that you improve two areas simultaneously (1B & bench). Would love to have an everyday bench of Jones, Sanchez, Barmes, backup catcher and one more bat – be interesting to take a flier on a Eric Hinske-type (who was jsut released and contemplating retiring) to see if he can give you something off of the bench for just a couple of months before heading off into the sunset.

        • IC Bob

          I would ahve hoped Hurdle would have spoken to Mckenry sometime during the last 75 days while Ft mac has produced zero results. Alos when you point to the big hit yesterday by Tabata should you also not point out the lack of big hits the previous two games from him and Ft Mac? Those were one run games and whos to say that another RF couldn’t have gone 3-4 or 2-4 (Like Rios did Saturday and Sunday) and we win one or both of those games. Upgrading your team sends the right message to the team which is we are in it to win it. Doing nothing but waiting for Wandy and Sanchez tells your team your to cheap to play for the playoffs. They may or may not be true but teams want to know the FO is trying to address obvious issues. I have said this before and will say it again, I am not speaking of trading Polonco or some of our top guys but their is nothing wrong with going after a Morse, a Willingham or any number of outfielders who have a history of getting big hits. Personally we could probably get one for Snider and a grade C pitcher and nothing else.

          I would hate to think that the Bucs were one hitter away form an opportunity to be in the WS and we decided that adding a rental wasn’t worth trading a guy that would be exposed in a year to the rule 5 draft.

      • http://www.facebook.com/daryl.restly Daryl Restly

        Tim,

        A bit of a question. Could the Pirates realistically obtain a guy like Kevin Frandsen of the Phillies, who I believe is one of the better pinch hitters this season. I doubt the Pirates would have to give up a lot to get him. I could see a guy like him replacing Inge as the utility infielder. I think a guy like Frandsen would work wonders with the Pirates. He can play 3B, SS and 2B. He could spell Alvarez, Mercer and Walker. Clearly Inge is past his prime as far as playing goes though I don’t doubt he offers some “clubhouse leadership.” We need a guy or two off the bench who can consistently get the Buccos base-hits. They don’t have to be home runs or even extra base hits. They just have to be able to get on base. We need a guy who can come in as a pinch hitter when the pitchers spot in the line-up is either leading off around the sixth or seventh inning, on the on-deck circle, or in the hole who can get a clutch hit that can drive in runs, or start a rally. Watching the first two games of the recent Cincinnati series, this was so obvious a need. Once the Reds got to the meat of their bullpen with the lead, the Pirates were done. We’ve been able to do that to most teams this year, but the Reds got the best of us those first 2 games.

  • skliesen

    “Jenga tower of chemistry.” Now that’s funny!

    I agree with your position, Tim. With that being said, it’s likely the player(s) the Pirates bring in between now and 7/31, and/or 8/31, will be veteran players anyways. Most likely players with post-season experience who will help during the stretch run and beyond. Hence, leadership should be enhanced even if Pirates are replacing (in every day lineup) Tabata, Snider, Jones and Sanchez.

  • http://www.facebook.com/carl.reagle Carl Reagle

    Tim

    Why is de jesus jr not the everyday 2b right now? It seems like the pirates are really weakening the team with putting barmes in at ss and pushing mercer over to 2b. Just frustrated by how bad some of these lineups look when we have better options at AAA/AA. Inge coming in to ph last night just looks moreand more rediculous.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I keep hearing he has hands of stone, but I have never read anything ‘official’ about it….just hearsay from us readers.

      Foo

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      When you look at the stats De Jesus is putting up in Triple-A, keep in mind that Josh Harrison’s numbers were better, and Harrison is a few months younger.

      I keep hearing “why isn’t De Jesus in the majors” and it’s mostly based on the Triple-A stats. But with Harrison, everyone ignores the stats, probably because he hasn’t done that in the majors. De Jesus has also struggled in his limited time in the majors. Also, every team had a shot at him this off-season when he was waived and outrighted to Triple-A. So his value is pretty universal. He’s a depth option for the bench, and not much more.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Well De Jesus hasn’t had much opportunity, so without opportunity, anyone can say that anyone isn’t good enough. They could have said that with David Eckstein or Dustin Pedroia or of course with Garrett Jones. You can make a huge list. The point is, he produces at every level and hasn’t had a real shot, yet he seems to have earned one. harrison has had shots and hasn’t performed, so why not give him a chance?

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          They could also say that with the tons of other players who never made the majors, or made the majors and failed.

  • rburgh

    Inge needs to get his hands loaded before the pitcher releases the ball. Right now, he doesn’t move his hands back to the load position until the ball comes out of the pitcher’s hand. Impossible to hit that way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      maybe he just needs to GET ‘loaded’?

      Foo

  • nikknice

    Tim,
    I saw on mlbtraderumors.com that aybar on the angels should be on the block. I think he would be a good fit and he’s signed for 3 or 4 more years. Haven’t heard rumors attaching his name to the pirates, but what do you think it would cost the pirates to obtain him?

  • buccotime57

    I thought it was funny how during the broadcast they were discussing how everyone knows Mckenry cant throw anyone out running the bases. Not to mention when he comes up with his sub 200 average. The upgrade is simple bring up T sanchez. The minor league schedule only has so long left anyway if you want him to get more AB have him play winter ball. I think he would clearly benefit more from time with Martin and the bucs coaching staff than one month in the minors. IT MAKES NO SENSE.

    • piraterican21

      I wouldnt stop there, the team has ten days to upgrade, before that, bring up Matt Hauge, A. Lambo and Tony Sanchez and see what we have, not sure if we have the room, all 3, with out dfa the fort, Inge and Snider, but if there is a way, I will like to see it. Matt is a name that completly fallen off the map, but 2 nights a go wen the team had Fort pinch hit for Jones it highlighted just how weak the bench really is, Matt will also free up Sanchez to pinch in sooner if need it since he is able to cover 1st and 3rd.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      NH said that Tony has to get his throwing ‘together’. It’s his last ‘check box’.

      • emjayinTN

        or, did he mean Czech Box? Was his arm not the best part of his game when he was drafted?

    • steelpro

      Bucs are 16-9 when McKenry starts. That is a .640 winning %. He is having a bad season statistically both offensively and defensively but he isn’t costing them games. Sanchez hasn’t been good defensively at AAA either.

      • buccotime57

        Sanchez is better than Mckenry on the defensive side of the ball, he was always viewed as a strong defensive catcher until he has had this recent slump of bad throws. I have seen him play several times and he blocks everything in front of him, and in the lower levels there are a lot of bad pitches. And if that is his only problem how would not working with martin and the bucs coaching staff be more beneficial.

        • steelpro

          Of course Sanchez is the more talented both offensively and defensively. But playing once a week will not help him fix his issues. McKenry is more suited for a once a week role than Sanchez. There is something to be said for McKenry knowing the staff a little better, and more importantly knowing the competition in the division. The record bears it out. McKenry is not costing them wins.

          • buccotime57

            Mckenry is also not helping them win games either. If you look at barmes and gaby, both are solid defensive upgrades at the end of a game and can provide you with an occasional spark. inge I am sure we both agree is worthless and needs to be released. I think Sanchez could provide something off the bench and be better on Martins offdays. i am sorry but how many times are we going to see mckenry be the pinch hitter in the ninth inning when the game is on the line when you know he has nothing to offer.

            • steelpro

              The backup catcher shouldn’t be coming off the bench to pinch hit that much. If they had a better option than Brandon Inge you wouldn’t see so much of McKenry in that role. Ignore it if you want. The Pirates have a .640 winning % this year in the games McKenry starts.

    • IC Bob

      No one would take Ft mac either of we sent him down. Getting him everyday ABs might get him to a point he could actually help the team in the future.

      • buccotime57

        I agree..what would be the harm in sending him down to work on his hitting? Winning % does not reflect what one player is doing. I feel we are hurting the team now and in the future by not playing sanchez.

  • jaygray007

    You’d think that major league players would be big boys and not throw fits if their buddies are traded or sent to AAA.

    If trading Casey McGehee and Brad Lincoln is REALLY what caused the collapse, like a select minority have indicated, then NH assembled a roster of guys with really s***ty makeup.

    But yeah i think NH has just tried to take the blame, like Hurdle said. Baseball is barely a team sport, anyway. Just a series of individual efforts.

  • http://pittsburghinnocents.com Pittsburgh Innocents

    From a psychological perspective, I think the players view the farm system as part of the team (especially since most Bucs players are not so long removed from the farm system), therefore, those examples of not disrupting team chemistry are comparing apples to oranges.

    Also, competition on the bench is what it is. The only thing that would disrupt team chemistry is if a bench player became the starter when it was obvious he should not be.

    As for team chemistry concerning outside additions to the roster – that has everything to do with the incoming player’s personality, disposition, and whether they want to be there or not. From Huntington’s comments, he is aware that this needs to be closely considered with additions. My bet is that incoming players last year were not excited about being traded to the Pirates, therefore, they didn’t bring positive energy to the fold. This year, my bet is anyone being traded to the Pirates will be excited about the opportunity and will have a positive attitude about it.

    Those who think positive energy or team chemistry is overblown are wrong. When the margin between winning and losing is so small, it is a very important factor. Speaking as a manager of people in my career, it is evident that as goes the direction internally, so will go the direction externally.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Tim- I’d love to see an update on Sanchez’s throwing the past month- any news you can share?

    • http://pittsburghinnocents.com Pittsburgh Innocents

      Y2 – great question. I am very interested to hear what the scouts say. I saw Sanchez play last month in Norfolk. There he aggressively attempted to pick a guy off at 1b and threw the ball into RF. I didn’t think the throw, though, was that bad and the first baseman should have caught it.

      In his last ten games at CA with Indianapolis, he has allowed eight SB in ten attempts (20%) with two throwing errors (one on a pickoff attempt) and involved in starting one DP. Curiously, he has thrown out two of his last four attempted stealers. His throwing errors on stolen base attempts don’t seem too bad, but only a 20% CS rate (in last ten games, 22% on the season, 24% in his career) is not great. Of course, I wonder how much of this can be attributed to pitchers’ abilities, or lack thereof, to hold runners close to first.

      • leadoff

        Holding runners on is important but here is a simple way to figure it out!
        If the throw is right on the money and the stealer beats it, it is usually the pitcher, if the throw is off target by more than 2 ft. it is usually the catcher most of the time. Martin does not get very many people out if his throws are not on the money. This, he got a big jump stuff does not guarantee a stolen base, how fast the player gets to base in his slide is important, sometimes they slow down a lot, something you can’t pick up watching a normal game. In Marte and McCutchen’s case they have a problem at times of looking at the catcher instead of putting their heads down and running to the bag. I would think Walk and Waner would know a little more about this stuff than they tell people, with Walk is almost always the pitcher, Waner does not give an opinion very often.

  • smurph

    I never followed Inge’s career that much, but it is obvious to me that he is not currently a major league hitter. He cannot catch up to the 94-95 MPH fastball, and his reactions (hands) are not quick enough to adjust to the offspeed pitch. So basically the only possible way he can get a hit is to start his swing early and hope he gets a fastball in the general vicinity of where he is swinging.

    • leadoff

      Why Inge is still on the roster is something that only the Pirates know and they are not telling anyone why.
      If I had to wager a guess, I would say it is because of Hurdle, Hurdle loves the old vets, look how much Burnett gets away with compared to the other pitchers on the staff. Do you really think Burnett comes out of the game yesterday after six if he is doing what Locke was doing, I doubt it.

  • leadoff

    Speaking of chemistry, the guy that really controls it is Hurdle. He babies the vets and kicks the kids in the butt, the fine line he is walking has everything to do with chemistry.

  • http://pittsburghinnocents.com Pittsburgh Innocents

    I know Tim doesn’t like fan generated connect-the-dots trade scenarios, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves. Rumor has it the Tigers want a closer and rumor has it they might part with major league ready 3b/OF Nick Castellanos to get one.

    Would you all support parting with Mark Melancon to acquire Castellanos?

    • smurph

      I would trade Grilli (36) before I would trade Melancon (28).

  • CalipariFan506

    Hurdle does not want Sanchez is what it comes down to. In Anaheim he DH’d Sanchez and caught McKenry. To me that was Hurdle telling NH I don’t want Sanchez showing his defense because I don’t want you dropping Fort off my team.

    That is just my 2 cents and doing a lot of assuming, but IMO Hurdle’s passive agressive actions there spoke loudly.

    • http://pittsburghinnocents.com Pittsburgh Innocents

      I think the Pirates have shown a propensity to give young players very small doses during their first exposure to the big leagues. Just enough to make them hungry and help them get over their initial butterflies.

      Having Sanchez catch over McKenry could have resulted in a #2 catcher controversy which would might not play well with team chemistry since the Bucs always attempt to keep all their depth, even at the expense of the 25-man roster.

      Sanchez will be called up at the end of August so he will be eligible for the post season, but allow them to hold onto McKenry too.

    • smurph

      Also I think Hurdle wanted to make it a little easier on Sanchez. Being a major league catcher is the toughest position on the field other than pitcher from a mental standpoint.
      I believe that they have one more option for McKenry. If his bat doesn’t come alive, I would send him down and Sanchez up on Aug.28 or 29, as you don’t want 3 catchers on your post-season roster. That doesn’t mean that’s what the Pirates will do. I would have sent Inge packing a month ago, but they haven’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.ransom.5 Jeremy Ransom

    Tim, here’s kind of a random question. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Marte and his cannon arm in RF?