The Pirates aren’t hitting. Their team wRC+ heading into Tuesday was 80, meaning they producing roughly four runs every time the league scores five. They are ranked 27th in baseball in that category. Their .226 batting average is 29th. That’s not good.
They aren’t fielding that well, either. Their combined DRS was -12 before their game Tuesday, meaning they are allowing a run a normal defense wouldn’t every 3.75 games. They are ranked 26th in baseball in that category. Their 33 errors are tied for 26th as well. That’s not good.
They aren’t doing so hot on the basepaths, either. Their team BsR going into Tuesday was -7.4, meaning they have cost themselves a run on the basepaths once every six games. They are ranked 29th in baseball. Their 20 caught stealings are the most in baseball. That’s not good.
Now this might come as a surprise, but 46 games in, the Pirates haven’t been particularly good. They have won six of their last 10 (and probably should have won last night/this morning if they didn’t have to sit through a three hour, twelve minute rain delay), but are still in the cellar of the NL Central with a 20-26 record.
This is about when the 2014 and 2015 teams got hot, so there is still hope, but the clock is ticking. They have to show improvement to go from a potential seller back to a potential buyer, and the best way to do that is to improve at least one of those three glaring weaknesses.
If they do become sellers, Josh Harrison would likely be dangled because he’s one of the few Pirates who is doing well in all three of these categories. If they do go that route — or if Harrison, David Freese or someone else goes on the DL — the organization has three major league ready second basemen that can help: Alen Hanson, Gift Ngoepe and Max Moroff. Hanson has been in the majors all year, Ngoepe has been up for the half season and Moroff got a cup of coffee a few weeks ago.
The good news with them is they all would address one of these weaknesses. The bad news is they don’t bring much besides that one tool.
Hanson has struggled in his first extended stay in the major leagues. He has a 1.2 BsR, but even with that, his wRC+ is a meager 35 through 48 plate appearances. His defense has also been incredibly average so far. He was a highly rated prospect a few years ago but seemed to hit a wall in his two seasons in AAA. The club is hopeful that he can still reach his high ceiling and be a reliable major leaguer, but it seems less and less likely the longer he sits on the bench.
Ngoepe has been one of the best stories in baseball all year, and his glove has been as advertised. I suggested for the Pirates to promote him to shore up the defense last month, and he has done just that so far. He’s been solid on the basepaths so far, but he has been caught stealing on 57 percent of his attempts since 2015. He is also striking out in over 40 percent of his plate appearances.
Moroff only went 1-9 in his first look in the bigs this year, but he is killing it in AAA. His 12 home runs are tied for the most out of all AAA players, and he is walking in 16.1 percent of his plate appearances. On the flip side, he’s made 12 errors.
Do you know the riddle of the man with the duck, grain and fox who has to take the three across the river one at a time? The Pirates are in the baseball equivalent of that: can’t trust the offensive guy with the glove, the speed guy with the bat or the glove guy on the basepaths.
In a perfect world, the three would be combined into a five tool monster- G-Alen Ngoe-off- but they need to plan on who they should go forward with in case cloning ballplayers does not become a thing in the next couple of months. If the Pirates can only carry two, who should those two be?
Hanson is probably only in the majors right now because he is out of options, but the Pirates need to either give him more playing time or cut him loose. They aren’t doing him any favors right now by making him ride the pine, and they are effectively down a pinch-hitting option with him on the roster.
I already wrote about why I’m high on Max Moroff. This power spurt is a fairly new development, but the walk rate is not. As for his defense, eight of his errors are as a shortstop. Granted he’s played the majority of his innings this year at short, but he only made one error in over 500 innings at second in 2016. If nothing else, he could be an upgrade among the pinch-hitters.
Ngoepe is never going to be an offensive force, but he has the glove to be a quality utility infielder. There’s value in that. They have Sunday lineups for a reason.
In my opinion, while the base running has been bad, Hanson’s impact is minimal. This isn’t an over-50 beer league where he can be John Jaso’s designated runner. If he’s running for someone, either he’s going to play or Clint Hurdle needs to burn another bench player to replace him. Ngoepe at least could come in late in games and Moroff could give the bench a threat of power. And at this point of the season, Hanson might be able to pass through waivers if he was DFA’d. Even if he wasn’t, a clean break might be best for both sides.
Regardless of who they got with, they can’t just sit on the bench. They need to play. The most logical move would be to give Harrison some spot starts in left or right instead of Jaso. Jaso is not a part of the future of this team. Any one of these three second basemen could be.
So I guess the theme of this story is this: let’s forgive and forget and give Phil Gosselin another shot.