Most of this week was spent debating the strategy of giving players rest and how often to use the depth players off the bench. Unfortunately, the resolution to that “problem” wasn’t a welcome solution, as Jung-ho Kang’s season-ending injury will now force the Pirates to use more of a regular lineup on the left side of the infield, while losing one of their best players in the process.
With Kang out, Jordy Mercer will almost certainly get the bulk of the time at shortstop, although that was happening before the injury. The biggest change will come at third base, where Kang was getting most of his playing time. Aramis Ramirez expects to get the bulk of the work there, which will cause a chain reaction. Ramirez will no longer be getting starts at first base, which means we’ll see more of Pedro Alvarez and Michael Morse in the lineup.
The reality is that, even with Kang healthy, those guys were already getting playing time. Kang had 58 plate appearances this month, heading into today’s game with the Dodgers. That ranked third on the team, behind Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, who each had 68 plate appearances. Meanwhile, Ramirez and Alvarez had 44 and 43 plate appearances, respectively. So you can probably expect an increase in playing time, but they were already getting playing time to begin with.
There will probably still be substitutions. They haven’t been playing Ramirez on travel days, so expect him to sit out the last game of any road series. They don’t play Alvarez or Walker against left-handers, so Morse and either Sean Rodriguez or Josh Harrison could see an increase in time, with Morse being the main benefactor here now that Ramirez isn’t an option for first base. And everyone’s favorite, Pedro Florimon, will probably get some work at shortstop when Mercer needs a rest, unless they go with Rodriguez at short, which didn’t work out so well the last time they went that route.
One question I’ve been asked about is whether Alen Hanson will be an option now that Kang is gone. As far as being a replacement for Kang, I don’t think Hanson would work. He’s spent time at third base this year, but doesn’t seem like a full-time replacement yet, as he’s only played seven games at the position. He used to play shortstop, but there was a reason he was moved off the position and switched to second base. He could be an option at second, although he hasn’t exactly done well against left-handers the last three seasons, and that would be his primary focus. He’s also slumping right now, although that could be due to pressing to try and get in the majors.
None of this is to say that Hanson wouldn’t be a good option for a call-up. The Pirates could use another utility player on their bench with Kang out, and they could use another speed option, especially if Florimon makes more starts (although I think the amount of starts for him would be minimal). So it would make sense to call Hanson up, but that’s not going to be the solution for losing Kang. It would just replace some lost depth on the bench.
Overall, the Pirates probably aren’t going to feel the impact of losing Kang in their remaining weeks. He was worth half a win above replacement in the first two and a half weeks of the month. Ramirez was worth 0.1 WAR and Alvarez was worth 0.3 WAR, and you could probably boost their combined production up about 33% since they’ll be receiving more playing time. They’ll also get more production from Morse and others, and as Ed Giles wrote today, they’ve been getting a lot of production this month from their bench. That’s probably not going to replace Kang, as he’s turned out to be a guy you can’t replace, but it will help mitigate the loss of Kang to the point where his absence won’t impact their record down the stretch.
Where the Pirates will really miss Kang is in the playoffs, and especially the Wild Card game. Anything can happen in the post-season, and having his bat in the middle of the order is something they can’t replace. Last night I pointed out that he’s been one of the best players in baseball in the second half, even ranking slightly ahead of Andrew McCutchen during that span. No matter who takes his spot in the lineup, there would be a drop off. The big hope is that the “anything can happen in the post-season” theory also applies to someone like Aramis Ramirez, Michael Morse, or Pedro Alvarez going on a mini-power streak during that time to replace Kang’s loss.
**Thanks For Making This Our Best Year Covering the Pirates Farm System. We’re wrapping up our seventh year covering the farm system, and the subscription model has made this the best year yet for live coverage.
**Prospect Watch: Kuhl Pitches Brilliantly, Bell Collects Four Hits in Indianapolis Win. Chad Kuhl makes his Triple-A debut and helps keep Indianapolis alive in the post-season, combined with a huge game from Josh Bell.
**Breaking Down Josh Bell’s Late Season Success. Speaking of Bell, Ryan Palencer broke down what was leading to his success in Indianapolis.
**Giles: Pirates Need Timely Contributions From Depth Players. The latest from Ed Giles, pointing out that the depth players have stepped up this month, and that this will be more important than ever with Kang out.