The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers

The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers – READING

The Pirates have had a weak bench the last few years. They haven’t had the luxury of a good bench bat like the St. Louis Cardinals had last year with Matt Adams. There are a few big reasons for this. For one, they prefer defense with their backup catcher and shortstop spots. They’ve also carried a platoon at first base the last few years, along with split playing time in right field last year. That means there’s only one spot on the bench that could be focused on offense, and the Pirates haven’t had an offensive based player to fill that role.

This doesn’t look to change at the start of the 2014 season. It’s not that a team needs a big hitter off the bench. The Pirates didn’t have one last year, and they won 94 games and made the playoffs. But it’s nice to have a bat you can turn to in the late innings, rather than a group of players with no one standing out from the pack. Here is a look at the makeup of the bench, along with some thoughts on where the Pirates could find their go-to bench bat.

Tony Sanchez/Chris Stewart

Sanchez will start the year as the backup catcher with Stewart on the disabled list. By the end of April, Stewart should be back, with Sanchez going to Triple-A. Stewart has a lot of value defensively, but lacks any value from his bat. Meanwhile, Sanchez has some value offensively, although that is limited since teams don’t normally use their backup catcher in a pinch-hitting role.

Expect the Pirates to once again focus on defense from their backup catcher spot. Sanchez will get some time in the majors, and his offense will help in the games where he is starting over Martin, but that will hardly help the bench during games.

Gaby Sanchez can crush left-handers, but struggles against right-handers. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gaby Sanchez/Travis Ishikawa

Normally the first base platoon has the chance to provide help late in games against specific handed pitchers. That’s still the case with Gaby Sanchez. He’s a great option against left-handers later in a game, assuming he didn’t start that game. The problem with this first base platoon is that neither player has a good track record of hitting right-handers, and you typically need a pinch hitter against a right-handed pitcher more than a left-handed pitcher.

If the Pirates could find a way to get an everyday first baseman, or someone who could hit right-handers for this platoon, then they could upgrade their bench. An everyday guy would allow them to use the second spot from this platoon on someone who could just be a bench bat, with no other roles to fill on the roster.

Jose Tabata or Travis Snider would be the best bet for the Pirates to have a good bat off the bench. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Jose Tabata or Travis Snider would be the best bet for the Pirates to have a good bat off the bench. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Travis Snider/Jose Tabata

This combo might be the best bet of producing a good bench hitter, although that’s saying something considering neither of these outfielders are guarantees. Snider looks to get the majority of the playing time in right field, which means Tabata will be the bat off the bench in most games. Tabata hit well at the end of the 2013 season, with an .848 OPS in August and September. If he can hit like that again this year, he would make a strong bat off the bench. That’s assuming Snider ends up hitting.

The Pirates need one of these two guys to hit for the starting lineup until Gregory Polanco arrives. Once Polanco is ready, they can move the most productive player to the bench, and hope that this will result in a strong bat for pinch-hitting opportunities.

Clint Barmes

Barmes was signed to be the backup middle infielder, although he has been getting playing time all around the infield and could play in more of a utility role. His best value is at shortstop due to his defense. As far as the bat goes, Barmes won’t provide the Pirates with value off the bench. This is one of those cases where the Pirates are choosing defense over offense. That’s a choice you have to make with middle infielders off the bench. If you had a middle infielder who could do both, he’d probably be a starter.

Josh Harrison

Harrison will take up the final spot on the bench. This is the spot where the Pirates could use a nice bat. However, they don’t have any internal options that stand out. Harrison had some success last year against left-handers. His primary value comes from the fact that he can play a lot of positions, including backing up third base, or shortstop in a pinch. He could see some time in the lineup against left-handers at second base, and he could be another option against lefties. However, this is another spot where the Pirates will lack a bat that can hit right-handers.

The Depth

If a starter goes down, then the replacement will probably come from the bench. That means the depth in Triple-A would be next in line for a bench role, unless it was a position like first base, where the only replacement options are in Triple-A. That’s also the one position where the Pirates might be able to solve their bench issues. Andrew Lambo would be a great bat off the bench if he starts hitting. The problem is that the Pirates would need him in the lineup if that happens, since his upside is greater than the upside of Ishikawa. However, if Lambo does get back on track in Triple-A, that could at least help the Pirates’ bench in games where Gaby Sanchez starts.

The backup infielders aren’t much better than Josh Harrison as far as the hitting goes. They include Michael Martinez, Robert Andino, Chase d’Arnaud, and Brent Morel. If there is an injury to the infield, one of these guys would step up as depth for the bench. However, this group won’t provide that bat the Pirates need.

Jaff Decker and Chris Dickerson are options in the outfield, but they’re not going to get a chance unless there’s an injury early in the season, or unless Tabata and Snider both struggle this year.

The best hope the Pirates have for a good bat off the bench would come from Snider/Tabata. They would either need both players to hit well early in the season, or just one of them to hit well off the bench after Polanco arrives.

  • Cole better take batting practice every day.
    He probably could hit on a regular basis better than a lot of the bench.

  • After replying to LonleyL, I did a little more digging:

    A little perspective:

    In 1992: Orlando Merced hit .242 as our regular firstbaseman. Our closer was Stan Belinda. 3 or our top 4 ‘setup’ men had ERAs over 4.00, including those great immortals, Jerry Don Gleaton and Roger Mason.

    Randy Tomlin was second on our team in starts. Jose Lind hit .235 (.544 OPS). Our rock ’em sock ’em 3bman Steve Buechele, hit .249 with 8 HRs. Spanky had a .677 OPS at C. Our RFs were Alex Cole and Cecil Espy. Jeff King got over 500 Abs with a .643 OPS.

    How did they win 96 games????

    And we’re worried about a hole at 1b and possibly RF? And we’re wondering who our FIFTH starter will be?

    Holy Cow!!!!

    • lonleylibertarian
      March 30, 2014 7:38 pm

      Lee – you conveniently omit noting that this team had 15 WAR from TWO PLAYERS…

      how many of the 2014 Pirates does it take to get tom15 WAR

      I rest my case

      • lonleylibertarian
        March 30, 2014 7:47 pm

        We’ll not really there is one more HUGE difference in these two teams

        1992 – Jim Leyland – I will do whatever it takes to win – winning is why I manage – it is why I live

        2014 – Clint Hurdle – sorry. – I need to spend time with my family – we WANT to win – but not at the expense of our families – Rocky Mountain High!

        • Replying to your own posts. Hmmm.

        • That is some reach there pal. Maybe you can dig up some other un-related to baseball trivia to re-inforce your ridiculous statements.

      • 3? McCutchen, Marte, and Martin

    • Lee- love you man, but look at the averages for the whole league. It was a different time. You can’t compare the two.

      • Y2J…good to know SOMEBODY loves me….lol.

        As for the averages, how about those ERAs? If the averages were down, shouldn’t the ERAs be down?

        My whole point is: NO team fills all of their holes. Even in THAT era, Lind’s offensive output was pathetic!

    • How? A little phenomenon known as Tim Wakefield- Thats how. And amazingly good team defense. Buechele, laValliere, Bell, and Lind made a fantastic infield, oh yeah……We had Bonilla Bonds and Van Slyke……don’t overlook the value Sluggo brought to that team. You might not remember this, but Randy Tomlin was actually a pretty good pitcher at that point in his career. I have nothing positive to say about Stan Belinda- he was awful.

      • lonleylibertarian
        March 30, 2014 8:20 pm

        It was a very different time

        Drabek pitched about 250 innings -34 starts – 10 complete games – Tomlin had over 200 innings – how many Pirate starters will have over 200 innings this year?

        • babeadamsforthehall
          March 30, 2014 8:33 pm

          While I agree that your view of 75 wins is overly pessimistic, I do think that 75 is more likely than winning 94 again. It is as if 2013 was not part of the plan, that it happened too early. Now they are sticking to the plan that 2015 is the year they embark on a run of contention meanwhile putting little extra effort into 2014. Which is assinine as you are just wasting time until Cutch and Pedro up and leave. My prediction is 86 wins and third place in the division. I hate to say it…but the Brewers could surprise this year.

          • A lot of people are on the Brewers bandwagon, I just don’t see it. 86 wins is certainly possible. I am predicting a little higher. I think a lot will depend on Polonco and Taillon for the 2nd half.

      • Y2J…I agree that BBV carried this team…and Tomlin WAS a good pitcher for awhile, but look at starters 3-5! Yuck. Thank God for Wakefield.

  • Tim: I assume you mean that if we start all of our LH hitters, all we will have on the bench are guys that do not hit RHP very well, except for Jose Tabata. Of course, if we started the lineup that hits LHP, we will have Ish and Snider on the bench. Is this not just about the same as we had last year – L/R in RF, L/R at 1B, R/R at C, R/R at SS, and Josh Harrison? Jaff Decker did well in ST, but I think the guy on the bubble was Josh Harrison and I am not sure he has any options left. Do we give Harrison away? We are a few months away from having a LH Hitting RF and we may keep Snider and do something with Harrison in a trade. We are a little longer than that before switchhitting SS Alen Hanson joins the team. We are not as good as we could be, but we are developing from within the people needed to strengthen the lineup. I like the fact that the only major weakness we can Identify is that we may be light on pinchhitters to hit against RHP’s.

    NH is holding fast to his hard line for trades and I will support that 100%. The guy has been uncanny in his ability to find the right player/pitcher at the right time in a trade that elevates this ballclub. That happens because he is very patient and deliberate. Twenty years of unbelievable ineptitude is in the rear-view mirror.

  • piraterican21
    March 30, 2014 7:08 pm

    This comment might not be related to this post, but the Pirates need to sign Kendrick Morales, the 24/25 pick in the draft is not worth taking a chance of missing the playoff this year, Morales will be a perfect fit in batting 4th behind McCuth and in front of Pedro, this will also move Gaby to back up Pedor at 3rd. A Nelson Cruz type of contract should get it done.

    • Big mistake to get a guy with absolutely no defensive value at all. And he can’t run so unless the Pirates can afford to pay a guy that much to pinch hit then they are in real trouble.

    • Sorry its a bad idea. He isn’t that good. I’m not paying what he wants plus losing a draft pick for the upside of 2 wins. Nope. Is there ANY point in the season where we can sign one of these players without losing a draft pick, like after May 1 or something?

    • You must be confused.The NL doesn’t have the DH rule just yet.

  • What R U Talking about saying Ishikawa can’t hit right-handers R U going on what he did in 18 ab’s last yr????? He has a .262 lifetime AVG. against Right-handers!!!! .244 against Left-handers!!

  • lonleylibertarian
    March 30, 2014 5:21 pm


    I have been called all sorts of name for pointing our how mediocre this team is going into the season…

    If you really want to get depressed go find a compilation of Gabby’s ABs this spring against RHP – I can recall at least 6
    strikeout – think 3 of them were on 4 pitches or less…

    Be careful Tim – you should be drinking the NH Kool Aid – all is well and the plan is working – the lemmings will start revolting if you don’t get back on the company line

    75 Wins Max

    • “I have been called all sorts of name”

      Am I calling you names, if I think you are pessimistically wrong? jmho, of course.

      As an NH booster, I am sick to death of the Kool Aid comment. I’m not sure what else a GM can do….94 wins, top farm system….some people will NEVER be pleased I guess.

      We’re going to drop almost 20 wins despite losing ONLY AJ and an underperforming GI Jones?

      Despite having Cole, Morton and Liriano for a full season?

      Despite having potentially one of the top rookie OFers since Cutch coming up?

      Granted, injuries could happen, but they happened last year and we did quite fine.

      I guess some people think that a Major League team should have ALL of their holes filled? Even our 90-92 teams had holes (Lind on offense, etc).

      Sorry, if being a glass half full kind of guy irritates you. It is the nature of my beast.

      • Haha does anybody really care what this lonley guy says??? I sure could care less, all he does is complain and whine and he is clueless! 75 wins max, ok bud LOL – I bet you said the same last year and jumped right on the bandwagon by September!

        • lonely never responds once you call him out. he spouts stuff for a response, then never backs it up afterwards….don’t bother responding to him

      • 75 Wins is a possibility, but more like a worst case scenario than best—– I will say that this team, as it stands now, is NOT better than it was for most of last year, and we got lucky…….a lot last year. If we do nothing, have no major injuries to positions which we lack depth, then we have a good chance at 85-90 wins. If we make a couple solid moves, a couple of our stars play even better……95 wins is probably a high water mark. This team is still not a championship team, but it is very competitive. If we want to win a WS, we need upgrades, and we know it

        • I can agree with that. Right now going into the season, I am going to predict 90-72

      • Off topic here Lee, but Dave Buller says hi. I know you mentioned you had spent a number of years working a government job in Mechanicsburg so I finally remembered to ask him if he knew you 🙂

    • So Lon…………….your solution is?

      • Looks like Lon is a half empty kind of guy. Pirates will still finish at least 2nd in this division

      • lonleylibertarian
        March 30, 2014 8:38 pm

        Well I NEVER respond – but I think I have put all of the following out on this and other sites…
        1. Make the QO to Burnett.- that cancels the idiotic deal with Volquez
        2. Get in the bidding for Jose Abreu – no guarantee that the bucs could have signed him – but even at 20% more than the white sox paid he makes sense.
        3 get in the game for Perralta – signing him lets you move Mercer to 2nd base and Walker to first – he and gabby make a very nice platoon.
        4. Try and resign Bird – again – not sure how much above what the Phillies paid would have been required – but he puts the Polanco decision off for a year – you service time loonies should love that

        My strategy gets the Pirates to 85 wins – 10 better than Huntington gets by sitting on his hands

        • That is a straw man argument.

        • That argument gets you back into a 20 year losing street. totally irresponsible to think the Pirates can pay for Burnett, Abreu, Perralta. The farm system has guys that project to be as good or better than a 37 year old pitcher, a total unknown and a known juicer. That is absolutely not the way this team needs to go to stay competitive for years to come.

          • lonleylibertarian
            April 1, 2014 9:10 am

            NO – irresponsible is signing a disaster like Volquez for $5M and then wasting time and resources trying to fix him that could be better used to develop young talent in minors and get Locke back on track.

            Irresponsible is trying to convince yourself and the fans that guys like McGuiness, Dickerson, Decker and Ishikawa are legitimate major league players. you need NONE of them if you sign a risky prospect who has power potential and a pretty nice upside in Abreu. He is cost controlled for the next few years.

            Irresponsible is wasting spring training at bats on the above and Robert Andino, Morel, Martinez rather than focusing on the available talent – like Chase D’Arnaud and Lambo

        • $16 million ($22.5 million), Burnett 37 yo
          $15 million ($53 million), Perolta 31 yo
          $8.67 million ($68 million) Abreu 27 yo
          $8 million ($16 million) Byrd 36yo

          $47.67 ($159.5 million) -($5 million Volquez, $1 million Ishikawa, $1.2 million Snider) = $40.67 million increase in 2014 payroll.

          Bold plan.

          • lonleylibertarian
            April 1, 2014 8:57 am

            Well AJ only costs 14.1 – he takes the QO or the buds get a draft pick…
            No Barmes needed if you sign Peralta – $2 M
            No Sanchez needed if you sign Abreu – $2.3 M
            Abreu makes $7M this year
            so more like a plus ~$33

            Which would put the payroll a bit over $100M – ahead of only the Cubs in the Division…

            The big value would have come from adding Abreu – and doing so at anything less than $10M makes sense – lock down 1st base and gets a net increase of 2 or so in WAR for the next few years

            Burnett is a plus 2 WAR for this year – so taken together these two moves move you 4 wins ahead.

            Peralta is my least favorite move – gets +1 in WAR – but very expensive

            Byrd move is also iffy – but not a huge risk if you can get a team friendly no trade understanding.

            • Abreu has a signing bonus of $10 million (assuming the Pirates didn’t have to pay 20% more) that is distributed across each season. Assuming Burnett is $14.1 million the starting number is $45.67 million.

              $45.67 million, -$5 million (Volquez,) -$1.2 million (Snider,) -$2 million (Barmes), -$2.6 million Sanchez -$1 million Ishikawa, + $0.5 million (league minimum player) = $34.37 million

              That would bring the payroll to $106.67 million, a 48% increase in payroll, just short of the Cardinals, in the top half. If you are proposing a bold plan do not shirk from the facts.

              • lonleylibertarian
                April 1, 2014 2:13 pm

                I would be happier with this than what was done [actually not done].
                And it would be a big one year hit – but gets at least +6 WAR.

    • I see where clichés are just up your alley lonely. From ” black hole ” to ” drinking the kool aid “,you touch all the bases. And your slam at Tim Wlliams was totally un-necessary. You apparently have a reading comprehension problem also. The headline on this thread is pretty much self explanatory regarding Tim ” get (ing ) back on the company line “. I wonder then why you even take the time to read his propaganda if that is what you think of his work ( ? )I also have to tell you this : Your knowledge of MLB doesn’t quite reach the level you think it is at.