First Pitch: The Pirates Are Really Trying to Avoid Another Martinez/Nix/Morel Situation

A lot of things had to go wrong last year to get Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix, and Brent Morel on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ active roster at the same time.

Andrew McCutchen went down with an injury on August 3rd, and didn’t return until August 19th.

Neil Walker was injured on August 1st, returned for a game on August 5th, and then was out until August 15th. He didn’t return to daily action until August 22nd.

Jordy Mercer missed four games from August 15th through the 18th.

Clint Barmes was on the disabled list from the end of June until the end of August.

Pedro Alvarez had struggled at third base all year, and wasn’t considered a viable option until the Pirates absolutely needed him at third.

From August 3rd through August 18th, the Pirates saw 17 starts from Martinez, Nix, and Morel. There were only two games where two of those guys made a start, and only two games where none of the three made a start (those games saw Alvarez starting at third base, which wasn’t a good situation). The Pirates went 5-10 during this stretch.

You can imagine what might have happened if just one of the things that went wrong didn’t go wrong. You probably only have two games that see one of the trio of Martinez, Nix, and Morel starting, and one of those three players would have been in Indianapolis.

It’s hard to fault the Pirates for this series of events. Injuries happen, and certain players will have down years. Sometimes too many of these events can occur at the same time, leaving a team weak for a short stretch like the Pirates saw for those two weeks in August.

That said, it doesn’t look like the Pirates are planning on having this happen again.

They started the off-season by adding a ton of utility and infield bench options through waiver claims and minor trades. As the off-season continued, they made bigger moves, bringing in Sean Rodriguez and Jung Ho Kang. Corey Hart was also added for first base and the outfield.

Today that process continued when the Pirates acquired Steve Lombardozzi from the Baltimore Orioles for cash. The move was in line with the minor moves at the start of the off-season, and it’s no coincidence that the move took place today. Last night we learned that Jake Elmore, who was one of the minor additions earlier in the off-season, declined his outright assignment to Indianapolis and elected free agency. Lombardozzi looks to be the replacement for Elmore.

The current bench options in Triple-A include Justin Sellers, Alen Hanson, Gift Ngoepe, Gustavo Nunez, Deibinson Romero, Brent Morel, and Lombardozzi. A big difference this year is that there would need to be a lot of injuries to get one of those guys in the starting lineup (not counting Hanson, who is in a different class than the others). If two infielders go down, then Rodriguez and Kang could start. If a third goes down, then Alen Hanson could be called up. If an outfielder joins that list, then either Andrew Lambo or Corey Hart could step in. If both players are performing well, then that means two outfielders could go down and you still wouldn’t see the Triple-A depth starting.

That’s a very optimistic scenario, assuming that Rodriguez, Kang, Hart, Lambo, and Hanson would all be capable of stepping in. Then again, it’s unlikely that the Pirates would lose five of their eight starters at the same time. If that does happen, they’ve got several options ready to step in before they get to the minor league depth. And that minor league depth looks to be better than the depth they had last year.

The Pirates saw an extreme combination of injuries and poor performance stack up over a two-week span last year. It looks like their plan this off-season is to build up enough depth to counter another such event, were it to occur in 2015.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #4 – Josh Bell. We have arrived to the cover player for the 2015 Prospect Guide. Only three more to go in the countdown, which will conclude this week. Buy the 2015 Prospect Guide to get write-ups on the entire top 50 prospects, along with profiles for 200+ players in the system.

**Pirates Acquire Steve Lombardozzi From Orioles. Keep in mind, this is NOT the PTBNL from the Travis Snider trade. All of the details, plus my thoughts on the move are in this link.

**Is Clayton Richard the Next Pirates Reclamation Pitching Project? He is already working with Jim Benedict and Ray Searage, and the article looks at how he compares to previous reclamation projects, most notably Vance Worley.

**Winter Leagues: Hernandez Stars in Caribbean Opener, Kennelly Going to Finals

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Forgot to mention I really like the formatting Tim.

Lee Foo Young

Personally, I think that, after Lambo, they would move Tabata or JHay to the OF before Hart (and bring Morel up for 3b?). I think, after reading some stuff from the Seattle blog, that Corey’s knees are shot and that his RF days may be over. Think Gaby in RF.


I hope they give Deibinson Romero a shot before Morel. But hopefully we don’t find out.

Lee Foo Young

Tim….I like the new look. The pics are a little stretched out, but overall, I love it!

I have one question: Where is the “Home” button? I used that a lot. Thanks.


Depth is obviously good, but it still strikes me as odd that the team is so concerned about the 2014 middle infield shortage while doing relatively little to prevent a 2011 catching shortage situation.

The Cervelli/Stewart pairing is tenuous as is, and the major league-ready depth drops off a cliff from there.


Between Sanchez, Valle, and Diaz, I’m feeling pretty comfortable with the depth at AAA. And there’s even still Wilkin Castillo, who I would think is at least not quite Dusty Brown/Wyatt Toregas territory.


I think they figure TSanchez as first depth option for the first month or 2 and after that, either Diaz or Valle could fill in capably (though not above average). 5 deep is pretty good, catchergedden 2011 notwithstanding


And that’s where my problem lies. They clearly think Sanchez is an adequate backup, at least early on, and believe one or both of the prospects you mentioned will be Major League ready relatively soon.

I’m not nearly as confident.

Gunner Prince

Excellent observation about the catching.


Hey Gunner, hope all is well!

Gunner Prince

Doing well, NMR. I am quite optimistic about the Buccos this upcoming season.


NMR,everything else does look really solid, so I hate bring any negativity, but I’m really inclined to agree with you. I am a huge Diaz fan, but he isn’t ready yet, and Sanchez’s arm just won’t play.


Absolutely, leo. It would be robbing Peter to pay Paul, which really comes down to a matter of preference.

With the amount of effort and resources the team dumped into utility infield/outfield depth, there’s simply no doubt they could’ve improved the catcher position *if they wanted*. They didn’t. Their preference is clear.

I, personally, would’ve put more emphasis on the more important position, which I believe to be catcher.


NMR, I think that maybe we ought to just sit back and give them a little more time to see what happens. With P & C Report day 15 days away yet, there is still plentyof time to see if the FO makes another move. I doubt very much if everyone involved hasn’t already taken a look at that situation.


I agree with the concern. However being devil’s advocate would have cash considerations, Buddy Borden and Justin Wilson, really worked given the trades that occurred for catchers?


Conger went fairly cheap I believe


And that’s without considering that they were apparently willing to commit roughly $60m to the position over the next four years, as evidenced by their Russell Martin pursuit.

Again, only my opinion, but there’s a pretty steep drop between that and what they ended up with. Hopefully Cervelli *is* the “next Russell Martin” and *doesn’t* actually have issues staying healthy.


Again agree on Hanigan, I think I’d prefer Justin Wilson to Middlebrooks.

Not to excuse it but my rationalization is every team is going to have holes, it seems to parallel all the mediocre 1B trade options discussed last year.

Obviously catcher is more important than a LHH 1B, just have to hope that the defense is adequate and the offense is made up elsewhere.


Absolutely a fair question, and the Grandal/Montero tier most certainly wouldn’t have cut it.

I do, however, think the team could’ve matched and exceeded Will Middlebrooks value without doing any damage in the short or long term, and he was enough to get Hanigan.

Lee Foo Young

who do you suggest? there’s been some pretty poor signings out there like Olivo, et al. The C Market is very, very thin.


Deal. The Giants, Red Sox and Tigers have some guys blocked up.


Vasquez please


His name was one of those I was thinking about. Hector Sanchez, a good receiver, is blocked with the Giants by Andrew Susac’s better bat also.


Please! The catcher-market-is-thin narrative died when Montero, Grandal, Rivera, Hannigan, Conger, Jaso, Corporan, Norris, etc all were traded.


Hannigan &/or conger would have been sweet


Hannigan is the one that really hurts for me. I’d comfortably put him on par with Cervelli, giving the team a 1a/1b situation.


Subtitle to this article should be. Aka, who?,what? And where’d he go !


I think the only difference between quality of depth this year & last is hanson is thought of as being ready for the majors.. lambo was injured last year as well


From August 3rd to August 18th, the Pirates went 7-7. Schedule here:

The rough slide began with the trip to Colorado on August 9th and ended on Aug 29th against Milwaukee. Obviously, that doesn’t exactly correlate with the Pirates rash of injuries, but correlates with the available replacements.

Over that time frame the Pirates went 7W – 12L. Included during that time frame were 4 extra inning games and 13 of 19 games played on the road, 10 on the west coast. Finally, during that time frame the Pirates only had 2 off days (Aug 12 and Aug 26), despite criss crossing the country 4 times.


The best part of this topic is the assumption of being in the same position late in the summer for these moves to be relevant. As a fan, I just love the confidence with which management is operating. It sends the message to all, from the 25 man roster to the fans and everyone in between , that they perceive this roster to be elite and believe in the talent so much so as to take for granted being competitive down the stretch. I agree , you don’t fix something that works… kudos’s to management , for without getting in the way asking ,’how can we make things easier, how can we help?’ LET’S GO BUCS ’15 ! !


Now if they could only get their pitchers to hit a little better. Last year’s batting lines for the Pirates starting 5/6:
Gerritt Cole – 8 for 46
Brandon Cumpton – 2 for 17
Francisco Liriano – 5 for 45
Jeff Locke – 5 for 45
Vance Worley – 2 for 32
Charlie Morton – 2 for 40
AJ Burnett – 8 for 60 (better than Volquez’s 2 for 53 but still)

32 for 285 (0.112 BA) Ugh


Keep in mind that the average NL pitcher only hit .124 last year and .112 doesn’t sound all that awful.


Keep in mind that Volquez’s 2 for 53 is not included in that .112 number.

Taking out Burnett’s 8 for 60 and adding in Volquez’s 2 for 53, Pirates starters last year were a combined 26 for 278 = 0.093 AVE – Double UGGHH..

Even with the slugger Burnett in the lineup, the Pirates pitching staff still projects as one of the worst in the NL.


The average numbers of runs created by NL teams last year was -7 for pitchers. Pirate pitchers accounted for -14.

The best hitting clubs – Dodgers(+6), Cubs (+5), and Cardinals (+1) – produced 1-2 more wins than the Pirates.

I can understand apprehension on assuming those 15-20 runs actually directly equated to 1-2 wins, but regardless, that’s essentially the same difference as having Hanley Ramirez at the plate instead of Jordy Mercer.


There was a fangraphs article about this very thing last year.. the buccos were used as the example I believe.. hopefully cole gets a few more ab’s this year… lol


Looks like Hurdle will be scheduling more batting cage sessions for the pitchers heh.
Probably going to need to break out a whip too!


If I am an NL manager I would be happy with a starting five that batted .125 with and OBP of 175 and delivered me 10 sacrifice hits a year!


That’s only a little less than league average for pitchers. If my numbers are correct, Mlb pitchers hit .122 last year. The problem with our pitchers seemed to be that they were incapable of bunting, which was maddening.


Pirates pitchers had 36 sacrifices last year. The average NL team’s pitchers had 35.


That doesn’t even come close to telling the whole picture. The pirates had an above average offense last year, so they probably had an above average number of chances to sacrifice. Thus, having one more sac bunt than average would lead me to believe they were below average bunters.


Case in point.. The hitting of the pitching staff has been a talking point for Clint Hurdle multiple times throughout this off season. How many managers would have priorities in order if that was a focal point heading into spring? I’m not a big numbers guy, but I imagine you may need to get outside the box when trying to buy wins 90 , 91, 92 etc. I wonder how many wins can be anticipated by getting that unit batting avg. to the Mendoza line ….


Only six NL teams have managed to have their pitchers hit .200 or better in the last fifteen years, so you’re really asking for quite a bit there.


So quick follow up here… What is a reasonable expectation of improvement that would represent a marked, worthwhile effect on game outcomes?


Another case in point… I am certainly not a numbers guy. Just another beauty of our Bucco community, to know all I need is ask, and someone is able & willing to enlighten. Thanks. Appreciate the feedback.


If the pitchers as a unit hit at the Mendoza line that would be an elite group of hitting pitchers.


With the amount of “utility” type guys the Pirates are amassing for their bench, it would not surprise me if Hurdle got a little creative in keeping his starting pitchers out of hitting situations.

If a pitcher is moved to a fielding position and that fielder is replaced with a relief pitcher, can the batting order of the two pitchers be swapped (ala Chuck Tanner playing Tekulve in right field)?

I understand the normal double switch rule – starting pitcher batting next inning is swapped for replacement fielder at the same time as current fielder is swapped for relief pitcher. But can it be done by simply moving the starting pitcher to a fielding position without pulling him from the game?

dr dng

The inept hitting by our pitchers last year was maddening.

I was so happy to see Worley come in during the season, because for his career he has always been an above average hitting pitcher (including a decent season at the plate at Indy), but sure enough we cured him of that.


Just like we cured AJ, who’s a .318 career OPS (which obviously sucks) but with the Bucs, it’s all the way down to .168. Yes that’s OPS. WOW!


where would you rank him in terms of back up options to start the season?

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