Couldn't watch yesterday's game due to blackout, so I'm not going to write anything up. Looked ugly. Instead, let's talk about something else.
When the Pirates signed Brandon Inge this winter, the idea was that he'd essentially take Josh Harrison's role on the club; pinch-hitter, utility infielder, maybe spell Pedro Alvarez against tough lefties, etc. I wasn't particularly happy with the signing, but there are worse 25th men in the league than Brandon Inge and as it stands, getting upset over the 25th man on the roster is generally a futile thing to do. Brandon Inge came back from the disabled list on April 23rd. Here are some numbers.
The Pirates have played 12 games since April 23rd. Brandon Inge has appeared in all of them. He's made nine starts in those 12 games. Only one of those starts (his first) has been in his nominal role of third baseman. Six starts came at second base for Neil Walker while the Pirates were refusing to put Walker on the disabled list and call Jordy Mercer up for reasons that are completely unknown to anyone. The Pirates claimed that they thought Walker would be ready in a week, but the man had his hand slashed open badly enough to require stitches. The last two of those starts have come in right field for Travis Snider. Snider has been more or less unavailable with "tightness in his side" since April 26th. The only news I can find about Snider's injury is Snider saying that he's ready to play, which he's been saying since April 30th. He's started one game since April 30th, pinch hit once, and been double-switched in three other times.
Of Inge's nine starts, five have come against right-handed pitching. Inge's career OPS against righties is .652. Last year his OPS against righties was .636. Total this year, Inge is hitting .294/.314/.353. That's about as empty and terrible as a .292 average gets. Inge's BABIP is .385, so he's not going to get any better.
You can say that the only reason that Inge is playing is because of Walker and Snider's injuries, but honestly, unless someone says something concrete about Snider's injury, it seems like it's being milked for the single purpose of getting Inge more playing time. The same goes for Walker being left on the roster; he wasn't put on the DL because Inge was on the roster. So what happens when Snider finally does whatever he needs to do to be put back into the lineup on a regular basis? Inge will start taking at-bats from Pedro Alvarez.
Brandon Inge is fine as a 25th man on the roster. Brandon Inge is thus far being used as the first man off of the bench, essentially as a starter that is someone that the team has to find playing time for even if he doesn't have a position. This seems like a minor point after 12 games, but it drives me nuts in the same way that severe misuse of the bullpen drives everyone nuts. Bunting and hit and runs and batting orders and baserunning and all of the small things that a manager gets blamed for are relatively small and unimportant in the grand scheme of a full season for a baseball team. So long as the team puts their best players on the field every night, most of those small things don't matter much. Brandon Inge is not one of the Pirates best players. When he's in the field at anywhere but third base, he's a defensive liability. When he's batting against right-handed pitching, he's an offensive liablity. Through 12 games, he's spent more time away from third base than at it and he's faced more right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching. This is a very bad trend.
A while ago I said on BD that Inge and McDonald would get 500 PAs between them this season, to much disdain.
Conspiracy theory: Hurdle can be petty and vindictive (actually, I do tend to think this, so not so much conspiracy...) and Snider's injury bothers him from a "I expect you to tough it out" standpoint. Especially the timing, as I think he "suffered" it right before a game. So when Snider says he's ready, Hurdle is saying (without saying) 'oh no, no, you need more rest Mrs. Snider, we'll make sure that's good and healed...' He might be trying to send a message to the whole team that they have to fight through minor things.
Inge, god, empty is right. And thank you for calling him a liability anywhere but 3rd. He can "play" 2B, but so can Josh Harrison. I just hope Mercer keeps hitting and forces their hand on McDonald/Inge/Barmes. When NFW is back I'd much rather see Mercer and Harrison than McDonald and Inge.
Hurdle is such a terrible manager. I really wish they found the next brilliant young manager instead of just getting another retread who had already failed with one organization.
A minor theme for your blog is the need for small market teams to find new ways to gain a competitive advantage. I think baseball has begun to embrace some departure from traditional baseball thinking. In Moneyball it was OBP and slugging. (I think, but I haven’t read the book or seen the movie.) When everybody got wise to those statistics, teams looked to defensive metrics to gain an advantage.
The Pirates seem to be half-way to a new(er) method to get a competitive advantage – the bullpen. They have figured out that they can assemble a good bullpen at an affordable price – by signing or trading for good relievers at low cost or by internal options. And they have figured out how to trade from their position of strength in the bullpen to get good returns.
I think the next step they need to take is to depart from traditional bullpen roles (closer, setup man, etc.) and rethink along the lines of what you and Charlie have written about – focus on whether or not a situation is a high leverage situation. If they did that (as you and others have been asking them to do) I think they could get a competitive advantage.
I’m writing this post to ask why you think they don’t do this?
It seems like the Pirates are the perfect team to try this. First, right now, baseball rewards people who depart from tradition to get an advantage. (Not always – but baseball is more likely to reward that type of behavior now than ever before.) Second, the Pirates are a small market team with a general manager who seems open to ideas that will provide a competitive advantage. Third, on the field, the Pirates need any advantage they can get. Fourth, I don’t think the bullpen has any player who has an ego that must be managed.
I have read a lot about frustrations and gnashing of teeth over Hurdle’s refusal to use his bullpen like you propose, but I’m wondering why he doesn’t.
And, I like the reoccurring criticism of Hurdle’s failure to use his bullpen in the most effective manner possible. I know he is the man on the field who must make the decisions – but it is fair to evaluate a person’s performance too. And who knows, maybe he reads your blog and will realize that embracing this type of bullpen thinking is low hanging fruit. Grab it, and he might win more games and get recognition – two things any manager should want.
@nickjuneau24 I think you make any number of good points. I wonder if Hurdle is a bit like Jim Leyland in terms of having very specific, very defined roles for players. Leyland was borderline obsessive about keeping guys in their roles--even if they were very, very narrowly defined. That in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have guys in the right roles which fit the right situation. If Hurdle has the mind set that Melancon is his 8th-inning-guy-with-the-lead pitcher and Grilli only pitches in the ninth with a lead...well, as Dr. John once said, thought I was in the right place, but it musta been the wrong time.
Yeah. I guess I wonder what Hurdle would say about all of this. What is his rationale for putting Melancon and Grilli in those and only those roles? So far, all I have really heard from him is "b/c that is what I do" - which is not really an explanation.