A Change to the Backup Infielder Competition

It looks like a good time to buy stock in Anderson Hernandez.  The Pirates’ decision to place Rule 5 pick Gustavo Nunez on the 60-day disabled list greatly narrows the competition for utility infielder spots.  They have a lot of players available to compete for bench spots, but many, such as Nick Evans and Jake Fox, are strictly corner players.  Somebody has to backup Clint Barmes at short and the Pirates want Chase d’Arnaud and Jordy Mercer to get more time in AAA.  Nunez, a good-glove, no-offense player who by all accounts is a legitimate shortstop, seemed like a good bet to make the team, because Clint Hurdle values defense highly off the bench.

Now it looks very likely that either the veteran Hernandez or Yamaico Navarro, acquired over the winter from the Royals, will make the team.  Hernandez has played over a third of his major league games at short, although he’s really better at second.  He doesn’t have much of a bat.  Navarro has good hitting potential but is not regarded as a guy who can do more at short than fill in occasionally.  That doesn’t bother me much.  Bench players are used proportionately much more for offense than starters, due to pinch-hitting duties.  If the Pirates need a fill-in for an extended period due to injury, d’Arnaud or Mercer is a phone call away.  For some reason, though, a lot of baseball people, apparently including Hurdle, think defense is more important off the bench.  In any event, Nunez should become available in April, so he may yet end up as Barmes’ backup.

Analysis

  • If pinch hitting were really valued, the Pirates should have held onto Delwyn Young.  All teams have bad benches when you have to carry 12 or 13 pitchers.

  • “For some reason, though, a lot of baseball people, apparently including Hurdle, think defense is more important off the bench.”
    The manner in which you point that out implies – if not explicitly states – that ‘a lot of baseball people’ are wrong and you are right. From a non-baseball guy – as you surely are – that would imply to me that they are right and you are wrong. Please don’t bring the ‘Bucs Dugout’ vision of ‘we know more than the FO and all of baseball’ way of thinking to this factually based, substantive site. If you disagree with a particular perspective, say why and cite evidence like Tim does. Please don’t throw a throwaway line like ‘pinch hitting duties’ as the sole rationale, considering one could persuasively say that, since Hurdle likes to do a lot of double-switching towards the end of game, having a defensive-first guy at the middle-infield spot makes more sense. 

    By saying ‘for some reason’, you infer shock at the assertion.  You know the reason; you just don’t agree with it. Say as much and back it up; don’t dismiss it as some garbage from people that don’t know as much as you……..

    • This is a blog, so I figure it’s an appropriate place for opinion. 
      Bench players get used heavily for pinch-hitting and double switches,
      which when a team is trailing are often the functional equivalent of
      pinch-hitting.  By itself, yes, that’s a valid reason to state that
      bench players are used relatively more for offense than starters.  The
      exception is when a team has a regular who needs a defensive sub in the
      late innings, but with Barmes at short that wouldn’t be a role for
      Nunez.

      I’ve seen plenty of instances of teams inexplicably keeping glove-only
      guys on the bench and ending up having to use them heavily as pinch
      hitters.  For one four-year period, Abe Nunez was by far the Pirates’
      most frequently used pinch hitter and he was incredibly bad in the role,
      barely better than letting the pitcher hit.  Those were “baseball
      people” employing him in that role and they were absolutely wrong in
      their thinking.  We also watched the Pirates effectively play with a
      24-man roster for large parts of 2011 because Hurdle wanted a glove guy,
      namely Pedro Ciriaco, on the bench.

      If you can explain why it’s a good idea to have a guy who can’t hit on the bench, by all means, go ahead.

      • WTM………totally agree with you. We can get by with Yamaico at SS IF he is the hitter they claim him to be.
        I too remember cringing every time Abe Nunez (who was unbelievably a BA Top 100 prospect at one point) would come to the plate.
        Ernie Banks was never considered a great fielder, but who’d you rather see coming off of the bench on his rare day offs…….him or Don Kessinger?

    • Not only is Wilbur right so is just about any sim you run where you have good hitters coming off the bench instead of defense only guys. To put it in Pirates terms I’ll take Don Slaught off the bench over Junior Ortiz anyday. …or just about any MI that can post a .650 + OPS in that day over over Rafael Belliard. Belliard collected 2500 AB and posted a .530 OPS…all for a few wins above the average SS a season. For wanting some extra defense you got 2 career homers and possibly the worst slugging percentage (.259) in the 80’s & 90’s. How many rallies did he kill for us and the Braves? 

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