Reevaluating My Pittsburgh Pirates Preseason Grades a Quarter of the Way Through

Photo Credit: Me, Antonio Wolfe

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Before the season started, I did my best to prognosticate how each Pittsburgh Pirates position group graded out.  Similar to what Cody Flavell is doing for us now with the Penguins, except he has the luxury of hindsight.  Not to knock Cody, as he did a great job with the Penguins forwards, but his is more of an evaluation than a prediction.

Now that the Pirates are 41 games into the 2022 MLB season, this marks about a quarter of the way through.  40 games tends to be seen as a milestone and an evaluation point for Major League Baseball teams.  So I will use this opportunity as a look back at my preseason grades and see where I hit, missed, and need to reevaluate.

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Catchers - Originally a D-, now an F+

This is as tough a position group to evaluate now as it was before the season started. At the point in which I was considering the preseason grade for the Pirates catchers, we didn't even know former backup catcher, Andrew Knapp, would don a Pirates uniform.  Now, just a quarter of the way into the season, and Knapp has already been DFA'ed, and five different players have served as catchers for the Pirates.

Roberto Perez was actually playing well for the Pirates.  He seemed to have a great respect from the pitching staff, and several arms were pitching above expectations with Perez getting some of that credit.  He also was providing a little bit of pop to a powerless lineup.  Perez had four extra base hits on the season including two homeruns, in 21 games.

Unfortunately, Perez landed himself on the IL after aggressively rounding second base and tearing a hamstring.  Now, after undergoing surgery, Roberto Perez is out for the season.

That leaves us with last year's backup, Michael Perez, as the new starter.  Michael Perez has started off 2022 right where he left off 2021, below the Mendoza Line.  He is batting just .118 in 11 games played this season, but does have two homeruns already.  That is what we have come to expect from Michael Perez.  He either hits a homer or gets out.  No in between.  We've also seen some pitchers decline without Roberto.

The Pirates did claim catcher Tyler Heineman off waivers, who is hitless in 7 at-bats so far.

First Base/Designated Hitter - Originally a C, now a B-

In the preseason, I wasn't entirely sure where to include Michael Chavis.  Luckily, for the sake of this position group, he has been serving mostly as a 1st baseman this season. So I will include him here.  

While the Pirates refuse to give him regular playing time over Yoshi Tsutsugo, Chavis has been great when he is in the lineup.  He is batting .301 with four homeruns and 15 RBI on the season.  Chavis also hustles and makes great plays in the field every opportunity he gets.  He is a huge asset to this Pirates team and hopefully manager Derek Shelton can get his act together and realize it.

With Daniel Vogelbach serving as the Pirates designated hitter for 32 of the Pirates 41 games this season, this position group includes, in my opinion, two of the Pirates top three hitters.  With third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes being in that Top 3 as well.  Vogelbach has been exactly as advertised this season, and more.  We knew he would hit bombs and see a lot of pitches.  He leads the team with six homeruns and has 14 walks on the season.  I've also been pleasantly surprised with the amount of singles Vogelbach has recorded as well as his first career triple!

The player dragging this group down is Yoshi Tsutsugo.  He has entirely underwhelmed this season, and should probably be DFA'ed.  This season he is batting just .183 with a .556 OPS.  That's a bad OPS for a singles hitter, but it's even worse for a guy who is supposed to bring power to the lineup.  Yoshi has just five extra base hits on the season and should be out of the lineup in favor of Chavis every game for the rest of the season.

Middle Infielders - Originally a C, now a D

When I graded this group in the preseason, the status of Oneil Cruz was unknown.  As we know now, he was kept in the minors.  Therefore our staring shortstop was Kevin Newman and our starting second baseman, at least on Opening Day, was Hoy Park.

Since then, Newman has been moved to the 60-day IL and Hoy Park has been optioned to Triple A.  Losing Newman wasn't a huge loss as he was batting just .250 on the season and providing as little power and speed as he has his entire Pirates career.  The second base position has now seen the likes of Cole Tucker, Josh VanMeter, Diego Castillo, and Rodolfo Castro.  Castro and Castillo have also switched off at shortstop in place of the injured Newman.

While seeing these young guys infused into the lineup is fun and all, Tucker has been optioned, and Castillo is the only one of the other three batting over .200.  The lousy hitting, plus the constant errors has really troubled this position group so far, but if Castillo can show the pop he had in the Spring, I'm comfortable with a D here instead of an F.  Speaking of D and F, how about adding an A and DFA'ing VanMeter?

3rd Base - Originally a B+, now a B

Luckily, aside from a minor cramping issue on Opening Day, Ke'Bryan Hayes has stayed healthy so far.  He also signed an 8-year deal to start the season which was one of the few good news stories to come out about this team so far.  It is the largest contract in Pittsburgh Pirates history.

Hayes has been fantastic at hitting for average this season.  He recently was in a minor slump, dropping his average as low as .274, but after a three-hit game last night, he's back up to .290.  Hayes also has five games of three or more hits already this season.  The guy is a superstar in the making.

The knocks on Hayes so far are that he has yet to hit a homerun and he has committed errors at third base.  In my opinion, I think Major League Baseball messed with the baseballs this season to deaden them. I believe these changes have caused the ball to bounce differently as we are seeing elite fielders around the league strangely committing errors at a higher rate.  However, if you don't buy into my conspiracy theory, knock that grade down from a B to a B- until Hayes hits some homers.

Outfield - Originally a B, now a B-

A lot of this original B grade was reliant upon Bryan Reynolds remaining an All-Star level hitter.  Unfortunately, Bryan Reynolds has been deeply struggling.  Reynolds is batting just .223 and has just 9 RBI in 139 at-bats.  He appears to be the reverse San Francisco Giants.  The Giants for a time seemed to win every World Series on even-numbered years where it looks like Reynolds struggles on even-numbered years.  Funny enough, we acquired Reynolds from the Giants.

Fortunately, Reynolds does have five homeruns on the season and Ben Gamel has picked up some of Reynolds' slack.  Gamel is batting .270 with a .774 OPS, which is decent.  Gamel has also added eleven extra base hits and 15 RBI to the Pirates production.  He has been a serviceable lead off hitter when called upon, and warrants a 1-2 year extension.

After playing several utility-men in the outfield, the Pirates have finally found a true outfielder in prospect Jack Suwinski.  Suwinski has been serviceable in the outfield, however he is batting just .182.  Fortunately, in just 77 at-bats, he has added four homeruns to a lineup that desperately needs pop anywhere they can get it.  Suwinski is being given the benefit of the doubt here as he cuts his teeth at the big league level, but maybe that B- is a little generous.

Starting Pitching - Originally a D, now a C-

Had you asked me about 15 days ago what this grade should be, I would have said an F+.  The only plus being Jose Quintana.  Quintana has found his Cy Young-level talent again, now possessing an impressive 2.43 ERA.  He has been the clear ace of this staff and should make for a good trade chip by the end of July.  

Also, within the last two weeks we have seen Zach Thompson have three straight solid starts, Mitch Keller potentially losing his starting role, Bryse Wilson optioned, and even JT Brubaker put together a nice start last night.  We are also expecting Roansy Contreras to make his first start of the season, potentially this evening.  Believe it or not, as bad as our starting pitching has been, it appears to be somewhat on the rise.  If they keep this up, they may be up to a B- by Game 81.

Bullpen - Originally an F+, now an F

While David Bednar has been an absolute star, and Wil Crowe and Dillon Peters have been welcome surprises, the bullpen as a whole is terrible.  Outside of those three, there is no serviceable or dependable arm in the bullpen.  

However, Bednar is bordering on the greatest closer in all of Major League Baseball, and Crowe and Peters were setting early season records for multi-inning scoreless outings.  Unfortunately, Peters' ERA has recently ballooned and those three can't pitch every game.  Also, the Pirates aren't typically taking leads into the 7th anyway.  With very few dependable arms, these three will be burnt out by August.  Hopefully newly called up Yerry De Los Santos can add some talent to a nearly talentless bunch.  

See yinz after Game 81!

Looking forward to Memorial Day Weekend?  Keep your celebratory drinks cold with the best can cooler on the market.  My wife and I have three of them: