Processing the Process: A Brief Takeaway From the 2022 Pirates’ Wreckage

Now that the Pirates’ have fulfilled their destiny with their 100th loss, it’s time to ask whether we saw anything that might lead us to believe that the folks who brought us this Juggernaut of Despair have the wherewithal to take us back in the other direction.  And by “wherewithal” I don’t mean prospects and young players now on hand.  Sure, we know about Roansy Contreras and Oneil Cruz.  We know how they looked on the field.  We know they may have the underlying ability to help usher in a new era in Pittsburgh.

But what about the people at the top?  How is their development going?  No matter what talent is on hand, the front office has to make countless personnel decisions that will determine whether the team starts to enjoy some success.  Has the front office shown they can make the Pirates contenders, or are they pretenders?  Of course, we can’t look at wins and losses, because we know that wins and losses aren’t the point of the game, at least not in Nuttinland.   But, hey, we can do the process thing, too.  Let’s do some sampling of how the process unfolded.

We can look at something that should be easy on a rebuilding team.  The Pirates used 68 players this year.  When you’re running countless players through the roster, the whole time with no pressure to win any games like you get in major league organizations, it should be easy to stumble on a few guys who can actually play major league baseball.  If you don’t believe this, consider:  The fundamental justification for “taking a look” at a multitude of castoffs is that there must be plenty of players out there who can still be useful major league players, even though they aren’t yet.  If this potential doesn’t exist, it’s a boneheaded strategy.  You can’t have it both ways:  If the process doesn’t produce some decent players, you bungled the execution, and if it could never have been expected to do so, you bungled the strategy.

Lots of the players that the Pirates ran through the roster were position players.  Or you could say “hitters,” if you weren’t the Pirates.  How many of these guys were truly, egregiously terrible?  Let’s use a 70 OPS+ as a guide.  An OPS+ under 70 is awful.  Of course, 75 is awful, too, but let’s be generous.

The Pirates gave ten or more plate appearances to 15 position players who failed to reach 70.  (Actually, the fabulous 15 maxed out at 58, so they all failed to reach 70 by a lot.)  These 15 players received 1,463 plate appearances.  (I’m not including the stats from the season’s final game.)  That’s almost exactly a quarter of the Pirates’ plate appearances on the season.  So the egregiously bad part of the “take a look” contingent was a huge part of the team.

It’s not that easy to find so many hitters that bad.  Neither of MLB’s two worst teams managed.  Oakland came the closest, with 13.  The Nationals managed to come up with only seven.  Of the other two teams in the Pirates’ division that did teardowns, the Reds found ten sub-70-OPS+ hitters, the Cubs only six.

But surely this horror show was offset by the discovery of some players who could actually play.  Well, no.  An average OPS+ is 100.  The Pirates had only five hitters with ten or more PAs reach that magic number.  One was Bryan Reynolds, who predated the teardown and the new front office.  One was Daniel Vogelbach, so that’s one successful acquisition.  The other three were Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro and Ji-Hwan Bae.  They were all prospects who were inherited by Cherington, so they weren’t really products of the rebuild.  In fact, Bae was more a victim of Ben Cherington’s results-don’t-matter philosophy, as he was called up months later than he should have been.

So the position player side of the perpetual tryout camp was a failure, but what about the bullpen?  This is an easy aspect of rebuilding, right?  Reliever performance is extremely volatile.  Even the most successful teams generally need to restructure their bullpens on a regular basis.  Being in a Nutting-style, wins-don’t-matter rebuild should make it easier than ever to do the things you need to do to build a bullpen.  If you’re free to parade an endless array of relievers through your bullpen, you should accidentally find some good ones.  And given three years to explore that process, you should improve over time.

Or not.

In Cherington’s first year, the Pirates were 20th in bullpen ERA.  In 2021, they dropped to 23rd.  In 2022:

ERA:  29th
fWAR:  25th
xFIP:  29th
SIERA:  28th
WHIP:  29th
WPA:  26th
K%:  28th
BB%:  27th

Yeah, there were a couple of guys, like Robert Stephenson and Yohan Ramirez, who looked as though they might have some potential.  Of course, at other times all the other waiver guys looked like that, too.  These guys all have some talent or they’d never have reached the majors.  The problem is, over time it invariably turns out that they aren’t very good.  Individual outcomes don’t matter.  The process of building a bullpen matters.  So far, Cherington has failed miserably at that process.

The reality is, Cherington’s efforts to add hitters and relief pitchers have been so ineptly carried out that he’s defeated the laws of chance.  What we’ve learned about Cherington’s efforts to identify baseball talent puts that particular skill on a level with Colin Moran’s base-stealing ability.  On the 20-80 scale, it’s a 20.

Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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jaygray007

Cherington is “slightly above average” at best. which, is fine! i’m actively not insulting him.

The problem is that the Pittsburgh Pirates need “stellar genius” if this is ever going to work for more than a few years at a time.

jaygray007

i’ve posted this elsewhere, but i’ll post it again here since it’s just basically being more specific about things Wilbur says here. look at this screenshot.

That’s several man-seasons given to just god-awful offensive performances. Also, those performances are largely concentrated at 1b and C. Between the inevitable Roberto Perez re-signing, Endy and Davis being the “depth” next yr instead of this yrs cast of characters, them being open about adding a 1b, having Malcom Nunez be “the depth” next yr, and just hopeful mild growth from Tucupita Castillo and Mitchell, hopefully the # of PA taken with wrc+ of 80 or less is MUCH smaller next year.

Just by getting anything resembling competitive AB’s instead will be like adding a damn star to the lineup.

This list has 2500 PA. just cut that in half and itll be like adding a star just by being average.

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Last edited 3 months ago by jaygray007
NorCal Buc

I’ll happily disagree with nearly everything that Wilbur wrote.

Essentially, one CANNOT fairly grade organizational development or trade acumen by judging rookie year, MLB results. Period.

I see great potential with the following: Oneil, Bae,Contreras, Luiz Ortiz, Johann Oviedo, and Marcano, Cal Mitchell and Jack Suwinski. Plus some players in AAA and AA.

piratemike

BC Stinks.

ironmike56

“So ineptly carried out that he’s defeated the laws of chance.” Now that’s putting a bright and humorous light on it.
What can’t be ignored is presiding over six last place teams in seven years, three with the big resources.

dbsteel

Goes to show, these waiver wire pickups are worthless, and all they do is take time away from young guysxwho actually could be prospects. Quit wasting everyone’s time.

capirate

A large number of them will end up not helping a team, but some teams do find talent that way. Not HOF talent, but players that can help a team win. A few years ago the Giants got Mike Yasztremski this way. I agree will Wilbur that BC’s decisions this year defied the odds on being bad.

SBRO

Given the size of the market and the cheapness of the owner, you’d think one of the requirements of the job is the ability to take advantage of the “free” avenues of talent acquisition. Huntington was actually quite good at this – Garrett Jones, Jason Grilli, Vance Worley, AJ Schugel, Richard Rodriguez, even Chris Stratton among prominent examples. Or maybe he was average and it only seems like he was good because, given the Pirates’ finances, he had to lean in more heavily on this one particular avenue.

Cherington? There’s Ben Gamel, 0.4 fWAR in 800 PA over two years, and DUJ, 1.1 fWAR but -0.3 bWAR in 2 years. That’s it.

It’s really, really hard to be this bad, and the Pirates of all teams really, really need to be good at the free stuff.

clemo83

As I was sharing stories of this season’s ineptitudes to my cousins in Cleveland, those Cleveland Browns fans began to show me pity. Thats where we are. Can only go up from here…

ricramer

If it wasn’t so sad it would be hilarious.

GreenWeenie

If tanking was the goal, solid job BC. Looks like the Bucs will get the 4rth pick? If you’re not projecting to be a playoff team, role thru a bunch of trash veterans. Sprinkle in some young prospects to give them experience, and work your way to a relatively high draft pick. Continue to stock the farm to give you some depth in the event the young guys pan out and you have a good team in the next few years. I like it. 🙄

ArkyWags

Draft lottery is in place. They can be as high as 1 or as low as 9, I believe.

The issue with tank jobs in baseball is you’ve got to get a lot of other stuff right. You’ve got to develop some diamonds in the rough, make some astute veteran pick-ups, be at the forefront of some type of strategy, rejuvenate some talent on hand, etc. Have we seen any of that in three years of this tenure? Not really, other than the last category (success with making something out of Keller and Bru). We need to see more out of this management group. A lot more.

jeffw3000

Actually, we can be the #1 pick this year, depending on the lottery this year.

PirateRican21

After reading this my brain is malfunctioning, is trying to convince me that Shelton is not that bad??.!!!?. Impossible…..

chuck_conner

Cherington just renewed Shelton’s contract. Did BC get Shelly off the waver list. O’Neil had to bring his own batting coach to start laying off pitches. Let’s start at the top: the owner has to sell. He’s the cause of most of the problems the Pirates have. He is soo cheap, he hates a nickle cause it’s not a dime.

Nutting has to sell or MLB has to make him spend more money. I had 3 franchise stores and,we has to keep our shelves stock to the brim,and spent money every month on graphics. Cherington has to go. Not being able to run this franchise the way he should, just for self esteme he has to quite.
The major league Manger has,to go with the 2 hitting coaches. These young kids need good management and hitting coaches. Name,one player that has gotten better playing with the Pirates! How many hit below the Mendoza line?
I don’t have much time to see a world series let alone a .500 season.

b mcferren

Cantina pitching a gem this afternoon

docdon385

We keep talking about BC being dumb or inept given the things he’s done and kept doing despite negative returns, but what if he’s really smart and savvy and simply fulfilling his and Nutting’s plan? If profit’s the only priority and winning doesn’t matter at all, there’s no hope.

I only hope he did these things out of ignorance or desperation because an ignorant person can learn and adapt and because the alternative is far worse.

Last edited 3 months ago by docdon385
chuck_conner

Ignorant doesn’t apply to your top employees.

roberto

BC is not stupid or incapable. He was hired to do a rebuild. He’s done that. Building a winner? Stay tuned.

AttyMike

Bob would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the fans of other teams who traveled to Pittsburgh this season to give him money. It’ll make him feel better about raising ticket prices next year to know that it’ll mostly impact non-Pittsburghers.

b mcferren

interesting idea

they are on record saying that when fans come to the ballpark, they’d start spending more money on payroll

they didn’t say anything about what team those fans root for

there was an uncharacteristically amount of mets, cardinals and blue jays fans visiting pnc this season

wonder if it moved the needle?

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