Williams: The Pirates Have Problems That Utility Players Can’t Solve

Last year the Pirates had Matt Joyce as their fourth outfielder. Joyce is a true outfielder, playing no other position during his MLB career. He came into camp on a minor league deal, and made the team on Opening Day due to a strong spring.

That carried over to the regular season, where Joyce put up a .242/.403/.463 line in 293 plate appearances. His .375 wOBA and 137 wRC+ were the best marks on the team. The performance allowed him to cash in this past offseason, signing a two-year, $11 M deal with Oakland. That also left the Pirates without a true fourth outfielder.

For years, the Pirates have been adding versatility to their minor league prospects. A middle infielder might learn third base, or even move to the outfield if he’s athletic enough. A first baseman will get a shot at either third base or the corner outfield spots. The goal is to give more opportunities for guys to make the majors. Look no further than Jose Osuna as the recent example of how that works out.

Osuna was originally an outfielder, but moved to first base when he moved to the US, due to poor defense. Granted, it didn’t help that he was always at the same level as guys like Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell (when he was originally an outfielder), and Willy Garcia. By the 2015 season, Bell was moved to first base as his primary position, and Osuna needed to move back to the outfield in order to have a path to the majors. And now, he’s in the majors because the Pirates have a need for an outfielder.

Jose Osuna moved back to the outfield in 2015 to give his bat a path to the majors. (Photo by David Hague)

Several years ago it was determined that the outfield wasn’t the best choice for Osuna. Now he’s at the position because it’s his best shot at the majors. It’s a similar story with Adam Frazier, or Josh Harrison back when he was a super utility player. The downside to this approach is that more positions doesn’t equal good defense at all of those positions. Osuna wasn’t a good defender in the outfield when he originally moved off the position, and he didn’t become a better defender when he moved back.

But then again, you don’t need to be a utility player to have bad defense in the outfield. “Real” outfielders can have the same problem. Remember Matt Joyce? The guy who left the Pirates without a “real” fourth outfielder? His defense was horrible last year. Masked by his offensive production, Joyce had a -27.3 UZR/150 in right field. It’s a small sample size, mostly fueled by poor range, but it also matches his recent career trends.

If the Pirates would have brought back Joyce, they’d still have bad defense in the outfield. It’s possible that his offense would be better than it is right now with Oakland (.170/.241/.255). But they’d have no difference with their current defensive issues if they had “Real outfielder” Matt Joyce or utility players like Osuna and Adam Frazier — with the latter possibly being the best outfielder of the three, but still providing negative value defensively, and now on the disabled list.

That’s not to say the Pirates only had one choice for their outfield. They pursued Angel Pagan, who isn’t good defensively in center field, but can still handle a corner spot. Pagan is planning on sitting out the 2017 season, and all reports say that he didn’t want a bench spot. His chance for offense and good defense warrant a starting role. Few teams, if any at all, have a guy like that coming off the bench. Having a starter quality guy who can produce on both sides of the ball as a fourth outfielder is a luxury that few teams have.

The more likely scenario for teams filling a fourth outfield role is that you have to choose between a good hitter with poor defense (like Matt Joyce) or a good defender who can’t hit (a Gorkys Hernandez type). The utility players ideally fall into the former category, assuming they can hit. That’s been the case so far for Frazier and Osuna (with a small sample size for Osuna). Things haven’t looked good on either side of the ball for John Jaso.

The problem with the Pirates outfield right now isn’t an issue with utility players versus “real outfielders.” The problem with the outfield is a microcosm of the problem with the team right now.

The Pirates have a bad offense this year so far. They rank in the bottom third of the National League in wOBA and wRC+. A quick look at their 2016 leaders in those categories will tell the story:

The top four producers aren’t on the team right now. Four of the next six are either on the disabled list, or playing below (or well below) their 2016 numbers. There are other players who are exceeding their 2016 totals (Josh Harrison being the biggest one not on this list), but it’s extremely difficult, and maybe impossible, to make up for what we see on the list above.

So a replacement for Starling Marte needs to have offense, because the Pirates are in big need of offense right now.

But then there’s the defense. The Pirates currently rank dead last in the NL in defensive runs saved. They rank dead last in Plus/Minus. They rank 9th in the league in UZR, with their range and arm giving them credit, but the errors lowering their score. This has been a bad defensive team, in part because they’ve got some poor defenders at certain spots, but also because their good defenders aren’t producing as usual.

That means your replacement for Starling Marte needs to not only have good offense, but good defense. The best option would be Angel Pagan, but Pagan isn’t playing, and even if they could sign him now, he’s probably not going to be ready until June.

Is There Help on the Way?

The Pirates have someone in the minors who could provide both offense and defense down the line. Austin Meadows is the long-term replacement for Andrew McCutchen, and could eventually be an impact player. But he’s not there yet on the offensive side. The situation with Meadows reminds me a bit of the situation last year with Tyler Glasnow, where fans looked at the upside as something that existed right now, and viewed a guy who could solve all of their problems right now. I’d say Meadows is closer to Jameson Taillon. He’s not ready in April, but might be ready by the end of May or early June (keep in mind, Taillon didn’t make his big switch to the two-seam fastball as his primary fastball until around this time).

Until Meadows arrives, the Pirates have two choices. They can go with a stronger defender in the outfield with no bat and help solve their defensive issues. Or they could go with the utility players and shoot for offense while sacrificing defense — basically getting similar results compared to what they had from Matt Joyce last year, only without a “real outfielder” putting up the numbers. The problem is that the Pirates need both offense and defense, and it’s very difficult to get both from a bench player (which is why they’re bench players in the first place).

The Pirates are going with utility players, going for offense and sacrificing defense. The internal options for the opposite approach would be Danny Ortiz, or calling up Meadows just for his glove, and possibly doing some damage to his offensive development in the process by creating some bad habits.

The Pirates’ usage of utility players is going to be viewed in a bad light, as they absolutely can’t solve the current problems with the team. But the real issue isn’t the utility players. It’s the actual problems the Pirates have on offense and defense right now, which go well beyond the use of utility players, and don’t have a central reason for blame or an easy solution. I’ll dig into those issues a little deeper this week.

  • In your coming review, can you discuss why this franchise can’t produce any hitters or have no power guys anywhere?

  • With all of his financial flexibility that they have maybe they can commemorate a Huntington Learning Center for General Managers.

  • Is the Pirates’ philosophy of making everyone a utility fielder contributing to the problems they cannot solve? Is that a philosophy that they should be pursuing or should they be trying to make better defensive players? Offense shouldn’t be impacted either way. I get that “learning” multiple positions (and I think learning is a misnomer) gives better chance to reach bigs but to what end? To be so-so defensively everywhere? I think they have helped to create their own problem here. Marte and Kang being out could have been for injuries too. They can’t reload effectively and their offense is sucking wind to boot. Whatever they are doing ain’t working.

    • I think it’s hard for any team to lose their 2 best offensive players, not to mention Martes defense, and not feel it significantly. It hurts more that the rest of the starters aren’t producing either.

  • Try Hanson out there? He is very athletic! Can’t be worse than other available internal options!

  • It’s no secret that they need a true outfielder! Lagares! Angel Pagan! Anyone!

  • I’m surprised no one has mentioned Willy Garcia (at least not in this thread). A guy with classic RF skills and no plate discipline.

    • I was trying to think of the other outfielders they let go in the last year or two. Didn’t think of him because he wasn’t traded. He’d fit in the “all defense, no offense” category, due to the strikeouts.

  • I really feel as though this heading will summarize the entire 2017 season which is a shame because with the exception of last night I think the starting pitching could be very good if Glasnow continues to make improvements. And the roster is what it is. Every time Osuna makes an error I always think the same thing – I hope Marte is watching and I hope he’s sick watching this.

  • Curious why about 6 paragraphs were spent trying to knock down the strawman of people insisting we should have brought back Matt Joyce this year!

    The reality is this team is better with someone who can play average or better defense in center field even if he’s light hitting than they are carrying a roster spot for Alan hanson.

    Even someone like Rymer Liriano would make a helluva lot more sense than Hanson on this roster.

    • Please quote the part in the article where I said that people were insisting they should have brought back Matt Joyce this year.

    • Hanson’s spot only looks bad because he is never used. Gosselin’s spot looks bad because he is used, as does Mercer’s, Bell’s, Polanco’s, Cervelli’s, heck the whole team looks bad, except for the starters, they at least look average.

  • “The more likely scenario for teams filling a fourth outfield role is that you have to choose between a good hitter with poor defense (like Matt Joyce) or a good defender who can’t hit (a Gorkys Hernandez type).”

    And by filling the bench with light-hitting marginal defenders they’ve managed to get neither scenario.

    Good bench pieces should be good for 1-1.5 WAR. That’s a 40/45-grade player. The Pirates entered the year with one guy on the bench who even realistically had a shot at that, and his defense almost certainly will negate enough of his bat to make it a reality. Last year they had three, and Frazier even almost got there with less than 200 AB.

    These players don’t fully replace starters, but they do allow a team to avoid the awful when a starter inevitably gets hurt or underperforms. This is baseball, it happens to everyone. This is how the Pirates managed to remain toward the top of NL offenses in 2015 despite poor performances from Cutch, Cervelli, and Harrison. This year, they don’t appear to have the kind of bench that can absorb any failure of the starters. This is the opposite of a resilient team.

    • “And by filling the bench with light-hitting marginal defenders they’ve managed to get neither scenario.”

      Hard to top that.

    • “And by filling the bench with light-hitting marginal defenders they’ve managed to get neither scenario.”

      Their bench is:

      Stewart – Light hitting, good defender
      Frazier – Good hitter, marginal defender
      Hanson – Light hitting, good defender
      Jaso – He’s been light hitting this year, but better in the past, and defense depends on the position (poor in the outfield, marginal at first base which doesn’t have a lot of value)
      Gosselin – Probably the only guy who is light hitting and a marginal defender

      The entered the year with Freese and Frazier as having shots at a 1-1.5 WAR or higher. Jaso had a shot at 0.5 WAR or higher. Hanson doesn’t seem to be getting any chances from Hurdle. And Stewart has been around 0.5 WAR or higher each year except for last year.

      They didn’t really come in with a bad strategy for their bench. The Kang situation, and now Marte’s suspension, have turned their best bench guys into starters, leaving them with a weaker bench.

      • Whistling through the graveyard.

        • I regret putting effort into my original response.

          • You’re right, Tim. Always the smartest guy in the room. No need to consider otherwise.

            • Excellent response. He brings facts to your inaccurate blanket statement and you respond with sarcasm. Clearly you’re smarter.

              • Lemme help you out here…

                fact – noun – a thing that is indisputably the case.

                What Tim presented was opinion. This is simple.

                • Excluding this year, as Tim did, Jaso’s OPS over the last 5 years averaged about .800. That combined with Frazier’s offensive statistical history would qualify them both as “good” hitters. The stats are “facts.” But you don’t want him to provide any reasoning that contradicts your blanket statement, so you ridicule. That’s pretty simple of you. No one is allowed to disagree with you, I guess.
                  By the way, it’s difficult to find great hitters to be bench players. Just my opinion.

                  • John Jaso is a 33 yo strictly-platooned hitter coming off a year of significant regression projected to be roughly an average ML bat against only the pitchers he’s allowed to face. If you’re banking on John Jaso of five years ago, you’re likely to find yourself in a position of expecting more than reality is likely to provide, as we see here. And as we’ve seen multiple times already, teams who even bother to consider Jaso a threat can easily neutralize him as a pinch hitter by simply throwing a lefty.

                    No, I do not consider that a good bench bat.

            • Uhh.. it is always you who is the smartest guy in the room. I’ll bet all anybody has to do to find out is ask you.

        • It’s sad man, really is. That window started to close on that sad October night in 2015. It was still cracked open a bit but NH basically slammed it shut with his “bridge year” thinking in 2016. But if Kang doesn’t ever come back… we are looking at a very mediocre future for the next few years.

          • The league is cyclical, my friend. The game rewards valleys with opportunities for renewal.

            They’ll be fine as long as they stop trying to prevent the inevitable.

            • I agree but my fear is nh and his minions buy into this idea of a perpetual window that tim and others seem to believe in.

      • Great analysis. But why is Gosselin or Jaso still on this team? Realistically this year needs to be used as a rebuild type of year, giving playing time to inexperienced players like Hanson …, who may help the team down the road.

    • Yes, but I dare say no team in MLB is built to lose their best two ball players and not miss a beat. The Bench of Freese, Frazier, Stewart, Hanson and Osuna would have been good if Kang hadn’t screwed up and the Pirates not succumbed to the fallacy of sunk costs with Jaso.

      • “These players don’t fully replace starters, but they do allow a team to avoid the awful when a starter inevitably gets hurt or underperforms.”

        Nobody in this conversation is expecting them to “not miss a beat”.

        Hanson is only actually good – well, good for a minor leaguer – at one position that just so happens to be taken by the club’s best defender in the infield and their top bench bat. He’s useless on this team, as has become abundantly clear to anyone paying attention.

        Freese was assumed to be the potential starter early enough for the club to hedge their bets by acquiring Gosselin.

        Calling this bench good, even on paper before the season, is lowering the bar until they can limp over it.

  • One problem, as I see it, is that the current group of Super U’s is that they lack one key thing, the ability to play a single position well defensively.

    Another problem, again, as I see it, is that the one utility guy we have, that is good defensively at one position, is underutilized. Alen Hanson is good at second, and third, and almost passable at SS, but yet he doesn’t play, because according to Hurdle, he is bad defensively. Look around Clint, the team is very bad defensively, and the one option you have at your disposal to help is riding pine.

  • Do you think the pirates would be better off taking a flier on a player like leonys Martin considering that they have a defensive liability in Andrew mccutchen in center field?

  • The problems with this team originate in Kang and Marte’s poor personal decisions, Polanco and Bell’s offensive struggles, crappy defensive play and a bullpen that has been spotty. Added to those issues is a rotation with one veteran who has mostly underperformed and two youngsters looking to achieve consistent results.

    Nothing can be done to fix the Kang and Marte problems. They will resolve themselves.

    Bell seems to be looking for the stroke he had early last season. Polanco too, although Polanco’s struggles may be caused by injuries. We can only hope that both players find their offensive games. One could expect 9 WAR from the two. We are not getting anything close to that now.

    The bullpen problems may have fixes waiting in AAA for their opportunity.

    This leaves us with the team’s poor defense. There is no easy solution to this problem. Cutch will not instantly become a +defender. Mercer will not increase his range. Bell is a work in progress. Cervelli is a year older. Harrison and Freeze are good enough, although they are not great defenders. As with their offensive problems, the Pirates lack quick fixes.

    What does this all mean? It means that a team constructed mostly from players developed in-house lacks the needed superstar performers a contender requires. Only Taillon and Nova have produced at the rate the Pirates need from them. McCutchen seems to have passed his peak. Polanco always has injury problems. If these persist, he may never achieve the kind of performance his physical tools suggest he could have. Cole has yet to turn his immense gifts into consistent production. Etc.

    Given Kang’s legal problem and Marte’s suspension, we may doubt that the 2017 Pirates will contend. If this team cannot contend, then the FO needs to take the steps necessary to lift the ML team up to the level of quality needed to contend in 2018. The FO, in other words, needs to rebuild on the fly. To accomplish that, it will need to make trades. Trades are needed because we can see what we have in-house, we know the organization cannot afford to buy star free agents and some players can no longer fit in the organization’s revenue constrained budget.

    This, I believe, is the realistic option. Patches will not help much because a team needs to have superstars and many average players to contend. Right now, the Pirates have few of either.

  • Looking at the bench composition, it appears they went from one of the best at the end of 2016 to one of the worst in 2017, especially with Freese starting every game.

  • The problem as I see it with the bench as it’s currently constructed is there are too many overlapping pieces, leaving holes all over the field.

    For example, there was no backup OF who could play CF (or a corner position either truthfully). Now with Marte gone, Pirates are plugging in guys with next to zero experience in RF, while Cutch returns to CF where he was abysmal last year.

    Next they have by my count 4 utility IF and 3 1B on the roster, and only 1 of them is a legit threat to hit a HR on any given AB (Osuna).

    It’s beyond ludicrous this team has Jaso and Gosselin on roster at this point. They provide nothing that other bench players can’t replace. Given there is no even below average defensive 3rd OF, Jaso and Gosselin are luxuries the team can’t afford.

    • I don’t think they would have had anyone else playing CF if Marte went down, even if they had a better defender than Cutch.

      Also, the guys they have in right field do have experience at the position.

      • Scott Kliesen
        April 25, 2017 3:17 pm

        Because NH decided to replace SRod and not Joyce. Considering Hanson was out of options and had no trade value, Gosselin was, and still is, of little value.

        I normally am a big fan of Pirates Management, but it’s very apparent NH did not do his job this winter to the level he has in past years.

        • He did a poor job the last 2 offseasons in addressing the actual needs of the team. Last offseason, they needed pitching, but since Taillon and Glasnow were close, it was not addressed. This offseason, they needed a filler for Kang’s spot and outfield depth, and again, nothing.

  • All I can say about the start of the season, thus far, is it’s been a comedy of errors – but it’s been sad instead of funny. Very disappointing to say the least.

  • terrygordon30
    April 25, 2017 12:42 pm

    And how many here were willing two send Bell, Medows, and whoever for Quintana?

  • I thought Barrett Barnes was impressive in Spring. Is he an option? I miss some of our speedy defensive guys like Keon Broxton or Alex Pressley. What about Jason Rogers? The guy is hitting better in AAA and can play 1st, 3rd and maybe Right.

    • Barnes is currently out with a hamstring strain, and won’t go to Indianapolis until sometime in May. At that point, he will be making his Triple-A debut.

      Rogers would be another guy with poor defense who you’re hoping can hit. I think Osuna is the better option between the two.

  • My opinion is that unless a position player has absolutely stellar defense in a position up the middle you really don’t want them to start if their OPS is less than .700. Right now the Pirates have four “starters” above .700 OPS: Freese, Frazier, Harrison and Cutch. Polanco (.601), Bell (.694), Cervelli (.645) and Mercer (.557) are below. Osuna is leading the team for now in a SSS, and could form an effective offensive platoon in RF with Frazier. Polanco, Bell and Mercer simply have to shake off their slumps and start to produce offensively.

    • That would really depend on the position. If you’re a 2B with an OPS below .700, you’re in the bottom third. If you’re a SS with an OPS below .700, you’re in the bottom half.

      Right now there are 26 qualified shortstops, and half of them are below .700 with their OPS.

      There are 27 qualified second basemen, and 17 of them have an OPS of .700 or higher.

      In center field, the count is 25 qualified, with 9 below.

      I used 50 PA to get 20 qualified catchers, and 10 were below .700.

      You’re usually more likely to get offense from a CF or 2B. You have to set the offensive bar lower for catcher and shortstop. Although in each case you mentioned, the players need to be playing closer to their career numbers, and as you said, get out of their slumps.

      • I think we are on the same page. Though rather than saying you “have to” set the bar lower for SS and C I’d saying you are willing to set the bar lower for premium defense because the number of chances are much higher at those positions and great defense is more critical. The better the defense, the lower you can set the bar.
        But the whole team is made up of it’s component parts. A successful team can’t afford to carry more than one or two players that are below average at their positions. Hopefully you don’t have any.

  • What hurts Meadows is injuries

    • Meadows isn’t injured.

      • What hurts Meadows is lack of birthdays (experience). I can see a scenario where he A) doesn’t come up until Cutch is traded, B) comes up for a cup of java in September, or least likely of all C) Doesn’t come north until April 2018.

        • I would go with C. He hasn’t really shown that he can dominate AAA pitching to this point. No reason to rush him up.

        • I’d say D) Cutch isn’t traded and Meadows comes up after his Super Two deadline and plays one of the corner spots.

    • What hurts me too is injuries -otherwise it didn’t hurt!

  • Maybe trade JHay for a solid 4th OF. I like him but his replacement is already on the team.

    • What is a solid 4th OF? Good defense but poor offense? Good offense but poor defense? I think what you want is a starter who can do both. What the team needs is someone who can do both.

      Also, Harrison has been solid defensively at second, and is one of the best offensive performers on the team so far this year. Trading him might solve a problem in a perfect world where such a trade could be accomplished, but it would create another problem.

      • This whole Marte thing and its repercussions feels like the hopeless bad old days.

        • Only because NH traded away virtually every OF prospect not named Meadows. How a GM can basically fall asleep on a position that takes 33% of the lineup is beyond me.

          • But who are those outfield prospects he traded away?

            Keon Broxton has good defense, but isn’t showing the offense he had last year (which wasn’t sustainable with his strikeout rate).

            Harold Ramirez is currently struggling in his second year in Double-A.

            Tito Polo is back in High-A for a second year, and isn’t hitting for power.

            JaCoby Jones might be in the same boat as Broxton, with good defense, but questionable offense due to strikeout issues.

            • But, they were all traded away, and 3 of the 4 would be options right now. I’m not saying it is right or wrong, hell, I like Osuna, but you can not continue to trade from an area of strength, or depth, or whatever you want to call it, to the point where it is an area of need.

              • Who are the three options right now? Broxton and Jones would be options, but the complaint right now would be on the lack of offense, rather than the lack of defense.

                Ramirez wouldn’t be an option.

                • My underlying point is that the organization traded away so many outfielders that they created a shortage problem. Not ideal for an organization that needs to operate through its farm system.

                  • That shortage isn’t being felt at the major league level right now though, and it’s possible it never will be felt. They still have outfield prospects in the system.

                    • Who are these OF prospects you reference after Meadows?

                      Jeff Sullivan is a pretty damn bright guy and think Broxton is a unique player that can thrive even with K% because he makes ridiculously hard contact and draws walks. It’s much too early to write Broxton off.

                    • When Broxton was in the system, I felt he could be a three outcomes guy because of the strikeouts, but also because of the power. But how many people have success in the majors with a 37% strikeout rate.

                      If he was around 25-30%, I could see him having success. I’m not writing him off, but he needs to improve the strikeouts because I’m not banking on him being the exception to the rule.

                    • I watched Boxton a lot, and he has a severe problem not only with pitch recognition but also swinging through pitches.

                    • Last year at MLB level he did not demonstrate a problem chasing pitches outsize the zone. His outside the zone swing percentage was ridiculously low… near 22% while it is 29% this year still not extremely high. His problem is not making contact at pitches in the zone.

                      Some analysts who believe in him think he will be able to survive with this approach and still K an above average rate but with a very good ISO because when he hits the ball, he hits it about as hard as anyone in MLB per exit velocity. Throw in elite defense…

                      Obviously he can’t survive King 40% of time. But if he can get that back down near 30% he could be one of rare players to produce with a 30% K rate.

                    • I don’t know how you can say this. Maybe I misunderstand your comment. Outfield defense isn’t very good right now. If you mean to say that management doesn’t perceive a weakness, I might agree. However, there is an objective shortage in competent defensive outfielders. I think the larger point being made here is that the minor league system hasn’t produced much in the way of depth in outfield prospects who can actually play out there competently. How will they replace Cutch if he’s traded? I guess by Meadows but that’s hardly an adequate replacement this year for a team that aspires to be a playoff contender. The bucs are frankly thin at this position.

                • BuccosFanStuckinMD
                  April 25, 2017 4:10 pm

                  Broxton got off to a slow start last year, and finished strong. He would be a huge upgrade defensively, plus he adds speed. Instead, we have Jason Rogers…..NH has really mismanaged this team the last 3 to 4 years. A lot of bad trades and poor drafting….

      • Do you realize the Pirates are -5 runs saved in right field since Marte was suspended?

        The reality is they would have been better with a light hitting center fielder like Bourjos and leaving Cutch in right field where his defense looked to be fine.

        And it’s not like these misfit toys the Pirates are playing are are a reincarnation of the 27 Yankees. The best projection among any of them is Jaso.

        • I do. And Osuna is -3. And bad games can really influence small sample sizes.

          If Bourjos was on the team, there would be complaints every night about his offense, because that’s also an issue for the team. Also, do you really think Cutch would stay in RF for a bench player? He didn’t want to move for Marte.

          • Who cares if he wants to move? Since when has NH cared about such things.

            This team would be better with somone like Bourjos playing plus defense in center with a 70 WRC+ bat than whatever gap in WRC+ you project for the misfit toys(can now add Bostick to the collection) and their horrible defense.

            • Every year up until this year he has cared about that.

              If you don’t think it’s an issue, then you’re viewing this as if it’s a video game.

              • Cutch cost them about 30 runs last year in CF. He was never that bad before(now some of this was due to the idiotic shallow positioning). But if NH feels he will be anywhere NEAR as bad in CF again this year, replacing him with a plus glove should not be an issue.

    • Why not use JHay as the 4th OF and use Hanson/Gosselin/Moroff (as gosselins replacement on 25 man) and when healthy, Frazier at second?

  • Just because someone CAN play a position doesn’t mean they should. Nevermind defense even – so many of these utility guy’s bats simply do not play at positions Hurdle attempts to play them at. Just because a Gosselin CAN play some outfield doesn’t mean he should – the bat makes him a net negative there.

    • Gosselin hasn’t played the outfield. He’d be a guy who might be on the other side of this debate. Good defense, but the bat drags his overall value down.

      • Haven’t seen a lot of signs of a good glove either.

        • There’s the problem though…if everyone not named freese or Cervelli weren’t playing awful defense, we probably wouldn’t be so bothered.

  • Good article Tim – interested in hearing your further thoughts. Ironically, this is a more frustrating situation if we continue to pitch well because then the what-ifs start coming. If the pitching goes south or just regresses a little, it’s actually emotionally easier to handle the defensive and offensive ineptitude. Then I can mentally shift my focus to just enjoying watching the young guys show growth and toward getting excited about the trade deadline. But then cheering for the young guys also means I want to cheer for better pitching. Wow, this year is so confusing. Can we just get a do-over?

    • In one way the years of sucking was more enjoyable as a fan. I didn’t really expect the Pirates to continue, so I could just sit back and enjoy baseball. Now I want them to win and it is harder to enjoy just watching baseball.

      • I understand exactly. I remember thinking how much fun it would be if we were just competitive for one year and I guess we did get 1997 and it was pretty fun. But now, with the Cubs in our division and with the current wild card setup – and I know this opinion is not popular around here – I think I’m starting to prefer the idea creating the competitive window. You go all in for a couple years, and then you sell everything and start the rebuild mode. Go for it all, then sit back and watch the young kids develop for a few years, then go for it all again. I’m sure there’s risk with – and that the “few” years becomes more like 4 or 5 (or worse). Still seems better right now than this in-between mode/no idea what the plan is- at least from an emotional standpoint you know what to expect. But who knows, I’d probably end up complaining by year 3 of the rebuild and not be satisfied with that either. How about we just win all the time instead.

        • Seriously, I can see Marte, Cutch, Polanco, Mercer, and maybe a young pitcher or two all being shopped this year–who needs them?–but I don’t trust NH and the BMTIB (NOT!) to identify acquire, and develop young talent.

  • If Osuna is better at 1B then wouldn’t the logical move be put him at first and Bell back to RF? Or is Bell just as bad as Osuna in the outfield?

    • Bell moved to first base for a few reasons. One was that he didn’t have a path to the majors. But also because he’s bad defensively in the outfield. We’d just be talking about Bell having a defensive problem, rather than Osuna. Although I’m not sure if he’d get the “utility player” complaints, or if he’d be viewed as a “real outfielder.”

      • Defensively Osuna is probably better than Bell at first, while neither is particularly good in the outfield. If they are both on the field at the same time, then overall the Bucs are better off with Osuna’s defense at 1st.

        • Bell hasn’t been playing the outfield much the last 2+ seasons, while Osuna has been playing more outfield. I think your comment applies when both players have practice at the position, but right now the best approach would be Bell at first and Osuna in the outfield.

          Even at their best at each position, I don’t think there’s a noticeable difference in overall production.

          • “Even at their best at each position, I don’t think there’s a noticeable difference in overall production.” Exactly the problem the Pirates’ utility player philosophy has created at just about every position. They don’t have stand-out defensive players anywhere. On a team that values ground ball pitching and in a park that appears to be built for defense, this is a curious approach.