Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates Bench is Well Constructed

The Pirates every day lineup, the starting rotation, and the bullpen will look much the same in 2015 as it did last season. Although Catcher Russell Martin was lost to free agent, as was starting pitcher Edinson Volquez, the rest of the team returns mostly intact. GM Neal Huntington filled the holes by trading RP Justin Wilson to the Yankees for C Francisco Cervelli. A.J. Burnett was signed as a free agent to replace Volquez in the rotation. Huntington then acquired lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo from the Phillies to fill the void in the bullpen left when Wilson was dealt. The front office could have also chosen to keep the status quo with the bench. Gaby Sanchez was due a small raise in arbitration. It would have taken very little to re-sign middle infielder Clint Barmes. Instead the the Pirates allowed Sanchez and Barmes to sign elsewhere and the bench was almost entirely revamped. That says a lot about what the team felt about the construction of the bench last season.
Part of the reason Neal Huntington needed to give the bench a facelift was because Josh Harrison went from utility bench player to super sub to everyday third basemen in the span of about 8 weeks last summer. With Harrison pressed into everyday duty manager Clint Hurdle was left with very little flexibility to make substitutions from his bench options. To address the issue the Pirates acquired Sean Rodriguez from the Rays. In his career Rodriguez has logged time defensively at every position except catcher.
Another problem that plagued the Pirates’ bench was a lack of a power hitting right handed bat. Gaby Sanchez has been the primary right handed bench option for the last two seasons. His slugging percentage since joining the Pirates is less than .400. Last season his OPS was a paltry .679. If Sanchez provided any positional versatility he would probably still be a Pirate. But Sanchez is a pure first basemen with little power. The Pirates felt they could do better. Sanchez was non-tendered and Corey Hart was signed to fill the role of platoon 1B/primary right handed bench bat. Hart has hit 160 career home runs, but he comes with many health concerns. Knee injures have limited him to just 68 games over the last two seasons. Maybe Hart doesn’t have anything left in the tank. But he is an intriguing bounce back candidate with a better power tool than what Gaby Sanchez possessed.
The other big change to the bench was to say goodbye to Clint Barmes. Barmes was a very good defensive shortstop. As a hitter he offered very little. Barmes was a necessity while Jordy Mercer was an unproven shortstop still cutting his teeth in the major leagues. Mercer is now a known entity. He can play shortstop in the major leagues at a competent level. There is no need to maintain Barmes on the roster as a crutch. Good defensive middle infielders that do not hit much but are capable as backups are a dime a dozen. There is no reason to spend above the league minimum for one. The Pirates will choose between Pedro Florimon and Justin Sellers to fill that role.
The returning bench players are 4th OF Travis Snider, backup catcher Chris Stewart, and OF/1B Andrew Lambo. Lambo will probably start the year in AAA as depth. Snider rebounded last season and proved to be a useful fill in at the corner OF positions. He was also an excellent pinch hitter last season. Snider will be the go to left handed bat off the bench. Stewart is an above average defensive catcher. He doesn’t offer a whole lot with the bat, but he has a great eye and rarely strikes out. A team could do a lot worse than Chris Stewart as the backup backstop. All in all this bench is deeper and more well rounded than the Pirates have had in years. And it potentially could be even better if the Pirates are able to sign Korean infielder Jung-Ho Kang.

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