The offense for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year has been, no pun intended, hit or miss. The Pirates have scored one or fewer runs in six of their last ten games. Not surprisingly, their record in those games has been 1-5, including two straight 5-1 losses to Cleveland. The pitching has been great this year, but no pitching staff should be expected to pitch six 1-0 shutouts in a week and a half. It’s not like the Pirates need much run support. The team is 32-11 when the offense has scored three or more runs this year. They are 3-24 when the offense scores two or fewer runs. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is that they’ve managed to score two or fewer runs 25 times this year.
The Pirates currently rank 25th in the majors in runs with 259, tied with Oakland. They rank in the bottom third of the league in average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. There are a lot of reasons for this. Pedro Alvarez hasn’t exactly been the star of the future for Pittsburgh this year, and is now injured. Neil Walker and Jose Tabata have shown flashes of good play, but have been inconsistent, and both are in the low-.700s for their OPS.
The Pirates are basically stuck with Alvarez, Walker, and Tabata, not that this is a bad thing. They all have about a year of playing time in the majors (less for Alvarez), and to try and make a career out of a year’s worth of stats is a flawed approach. That’s not to say that the Pirates can’t replace some guys who are under performing.
Lyle Overbay is one of those guys. On the season, Overbay is hitting for a .228/.306/.354 line in 237 at-bats. He’s not exactly coming around from his funk either, as he’s got a .208 average and a .613 OPS in June. Ronny Cedeno is another culprit. Cedeno has a .221/.278/.310 line in 213 at-bats. His defense has been great, but a .588 OPS can really counteract the benefits of good defense. Matt Diaz has also struggled, with a .252/.283/.313 line in 115 at-bats. Diaz has done well with his average lately, with a .282 average in 39 at-bats in May, and a .296 average in 27 at-bats in June. However, he’s not getting on base that much, and not hitting for power, and his defense isn’t exactly strong enough to keep him in the lineup.
On some nights, the Pirates have all three of these guys in the lineup. There’s been some debate over whether the Pirates are contenders this year. I don’t have to go through history to find out how many teams were contenders with three out of eight position players hitting for a sub-.700 OPS, including two with a sub-.600 OPS. Unlike Walker, Tabata, and Alvarez, guys like Overbay, Diaz, and Cedeno are expendable.
I’ve mentioned this countless times in the past, but it needs to be said again: it’s time to bring up some young players to take over in Pittsburgh. Specifically, it’s time to bring up Alex Presley and Chase d’Arnaud.
Presley is hitting for a .335/.383/.513 line in 263 at-bats in AAA this year. He’s following up a .294/.349/.460 line in 272 at-bats in Indianapolis last year. In 535 at-bats at the AAA level he has 14 homers and 23 stolen bases. There have been concerns about Presley. There’s concerns about his defense. I’ve seen him in action, and while his defense isn’t strong enough to be a regular in center field, it’s strong enough for him to be a starter. There’s concerns about his size. Size isn’t something I worry about with hitters. If a guy can hit, he can hit, and looking at Presley’s stats in AAA the last two years, it’s pretty obvious he can hit. There’s concerns about his ability to hit for power. He’s currently got 14 homers in what amounts to a full season. Even if that’s his upside in the majors, is that so bad, especially when he’s a guy who might be able to steal 25 bases a year and hit for average?
It’s not so much about Presley’s questions. It’s about comparing Presley to a guy like Matt Diaz. Presley might not be a gold glove defender, but he’s not bad, and he definitely isn’t worse than Diaz. His strong hitting might not translate over to the majors, but how much worse can he be than what we’re seeing out of guys like Diaz and Overbay? He might not hit for a lot of power in the majors, but considering that Diaz doesn’t have a homer, and Overbay has a homer every 47 at-bats, Presley’s “limited power” doesn’t look that bad.
Then there’s Chase d’Arnaud. He’s hitting for a .281/.347/.425 line in 221 at-bats in AAA this year. I’ve seen D’Arnaud a lot in the last few years. He’s fast, and his speed is deceptive for a guy his size (6′ 2″, 200). He plays good defense, and is capable of starting at shortstop. He doesn’t hit for much power, outside of gap shots for extra bases, but he’s a threat to steal second and third, with an efficient 14 steals in 17 attempts this year.
Compare that to Cedeno. Cedeno might rate better defensively, but he’s been inconsistent. Like d’Arnaud, Cedeno doesn’t hit for much power as far as home runs go. I’d rate d’Arnaud’s speed better than Cedeno, making him more of a weapon on the bases. And just like Presley and Overbay/Diaz, how bad could d’Arnaud really be in comparison to what we’re seeing out of Cedeno? Since the month of April ended, d’Arnaud is hitting for a .323/.368/.466 line in 144 at-bats with three homers and 12 steals. Even if that doesn’t fully translate over to the majors, what are the odds that he hits for the .588 OPS that we’ve seen out of Cedeno this year?
The Pirates really have nothing to lose here. They could bring up Alex Presley and Chase d’Arnaud tomorrow. Best case, they provide an offensive upgrade at two positions. Worse case, they put up the same numbers that we’re seeing from guys like Overbay and Cedeno who will be free agents next year, with the rate they are currently playing. Here is how I would handle the roster:
-Cut Overbay, move Garrett Jones to first base. Move Matt Diaz to the bench, where he might have some value if he can continue hitting for average. Make Alex Presley the third starter in the outfield, next to Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata.
-Demote Pedro Ciriaco to AAA. Seriously, this guy plays less than I do. There’s no reason to have him on the roster right now. It makes sense not to play him. He’s strong defensively, but he can’t hit, which actually makes him worse than Cedeno. Bring d’Arnaud up and start splitting time with Cedeno at shortstop 50/50. Let d’Arnaud push Cedeno, all while easing in to the majors. If d’Arnaud starts heating up, give him the full time job, and make Cedeno a bench option, capable of backing up second, short, and third.
You basically replace Overbay and Cedeno with Presley and d’Arnaud in the lineup, and like I’ve said, it would be hard for Presley and d’Arnaud to be worse than those two have been this year. Another benefit is that you open up the shortstop position to allow for a Jordy Mercer promotion. Mercer just hit his 13th homer of the year tonight, and since the end of April has been hitting for a .320/.370/.562 line in 192 at-bats, with nine homers, including six in 62 at-bats in June. Mercer turns 25 in August, so he definitely needs to be at the AAA level, especially since he’s starting to look like he doesn’t belong in AA anymore.