Reevaluating My Pittsburgh Pirates Preseason Grades At the Halfway Point - Position Players

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Now that we have reached the proverbial halfway point, I will reevaluate the preseason and quarter-point grades I had for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

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Before the season started, I did my best to prognosticate how each Pittsburgh Pirates position group graded out.  I reevaluated these grades at the quarter-way point.  Now that the Pirates are at the proverbial halfway point of the 2022 MLB season (even though that's not particularly accurate), I will reevaluate those preseason and quarter-point grades.  This one in particular will be for the Pirates' position players.  

I hate to be negative, but keep in mind, this is a bad baseball team.  So if I made all of the grades positive it'd be disingenuous.  Especially in this version of the evaluation where I am focusing on position players.  The offense has been terrible, especially as of late.  However, you may feel I've still been over-positive for what, like I said, is a bad ball club.    

Catchers - Original: D-, Quarter-point: F+, All-Star Break: D

I can't imagine there are many teams in recent history that have seen five catchers play at least ten games by the halfway point.  Between injuries and lack of production, the Pirates have had terrible luck at the position all season.  Neither of the Pirates' catchers that started on the 2022 roster, Roberto Perez and Andrew Knapp, have played since May 14th, and don't expect to play the rest of the season.  

Perez was lost for the season to a hamstring injury, and Knapp was DFA'ed shortly thereafter.  Perez was batting .233 at the time of his injury.  Knapp was batting just .129 when he was DFA'ed.

Since then, Pirate fans have seen three other catchers put on the gear behind the plate.  Michael Perez, Jason Delay, and Tyler Heineman have now also all played catcher for the Pirates in 2022.  Only one has shown any real sort of success at the plate and behind it.  In 31 at-bats, and 12 games played, Jason Delay is batting .323 and has shown an elite ability to throw out attempting base stealers.  Unfortunately, Perez and Heinemann have both batted under .200, and the only thing Michael Perez has ever shown the ability to do in his Pirates career is occasionally hit homeruns.

It's even hard to keep track of who the catchers are on the Pirates active roster at any given time.  Right now, it is Heinemann and Delay.  Since Delay is playing well, albeit a small sample size, I will bump this grade up to a D.  However, Heinemann is a pretty bad backup and the position definitely needs addressed this offseason.

First Base/Designated Hitter - Original: C, Quarter Point: B-, All-Star Break: D+

For the purpose of this section, I'm considering three players:  Michael Chavis, Yoshi Tsutsugo, and Daniel Vogelbach.  

Tsutsugo has been nothing short of terrible.  He's batting .177 on the season with just two homeruns, and a horrendous .510 OPS.  For a guy whose purpose was to add power to the lineup, Tsutsugo has been a complete failure.  Also, now that Oneil Cruz is firing 90+ mph missiles from shortstop, Tsutsugo isn't capable fielding the 1st base position either.  

Vogelbach has been better than Tsutsugo.  However, since he serves very little purpose outside of hitting, I would like to see more production out of Vogelbach.  Just 12 homeruns and 34 RBI passed the halfway point is not enough to justify having him as the designated hitter.  For the Pirates to advance in this rebuild, they will need more from their DH spot moving forward.

Michael Chavis' full body of work has been impressive.  He is easy to root for because he has stockpiled great plays in the field and is always hustling.  Chavis also goes on tears where opposing pitchers can't get him out for a week, followed by long stretches where he can't get a hit.  Unfortunately, that has been Chavis' whole career so far.  If he can become more consistent at the plate, he could be the Pirates 1st baseman for a long time.  But that's a big 'if'.

This position group on the better teams in the leagues is where the powerful hitters typically find themselves.  This group of guys for the Pirates isn't getting it done consistently enough to justify a passing grade.  For that, I give them a D+. 

Middle infielders - Original: C, Quarter Point: D, All-Star Break: C-

Based on any quantifiable hitting statistic, the Pirates have gotten very little production out of this position group.  Even "the savior" Oneil Cruz has struggled mightily as of late.  I say "the savior" in jest because any rational Pirates fan knows it takes time for players to develop.  Those jumping off the Cruz bandwagon so early are just the typical Pirate trolls that simply cannot be pleased.  

However, he is batting just .192 in his last 14 games.  Even worse, he has struck out in 22 of his last 56 plate appearances, with 18 of them coming during the Pirates last road trip.  It's far too early to judge Cruz, but the fact of the matter is, he's struggling.

The Pirates also haven't seen consistent production out of the many second baseman they've trotted out this season.  Whether it be Cole Tucker, Rodolfo Castro, Josh VanMeter, Yu Chang, Hoy Park, or even Diego Castillo, the Pirates haven't gotten much offensively from the position.  

Castillo, like Chavis, will have an occasional hot streak, but overall his body of work is way below average.  He is batting over .200 which is better than VanMeter and Chang, and Chang has since found his way off the roster in the form of a DFA.  

Now, one bright spot, leading to the best grade I'll give so far, is that since Kevin Newman returned from the Injured List, he has been decent at the plate.  He has also been moved from shortstop to second, with Cruz taking over at short, which makes for a well defended middle infield.  

In 40 at-bats since returning, Newman is batting .300, and should see himself in the leadoff spot on an everyday basis.  Because Newman has come back strong, I'm giving this group a C-, with the hope Cruz turns it around and Newman keeps it up.

3rd base - Original: B+, Quarter Point: B, All-Star Break: B-

Ultimately, I expected more from Ke'Bryan Hayes to start this season.  My one worry was that he would not be able to remain healthy and, luckily, he has.  Unfortunately, it hasn't led to the breakout season I think we all were hoping from him.

Hayes is still elite in the field.  I imagine he will be a finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award at third base this season and many to follow.  However, fielding only goes so far toward winning ballgames.

It's becoming clearer that Hayes will probably not be a power hitting third baseman.  That's fine, but in that case we need a higher average or more doubles than the .251 average and 16 doubles he has at this halfway point.  His .681 OPS is not good enough for a player we expect to build a contending team around.  He is also striking out way too often at 21% of his plate appearances.

Visually, it's easy to see that Hayes is a very talented ballplayer.  He has the potential to be a great player that the Pirates can build around.  However, Hayes needs to do it consistently to earn that A grade I hope he's at next season and beyond.

Outfield - Original: B, Quarter Point: B-, All-Star Break: C 

The outfield position group overall has been a roller coaster, and that's due in large part to the ups and downs of the individual players.  Bryan Reynolds started off the season terribly.  So poorly I dropped him in Fantasy Baseball, which is tough for me as a diehard Pirate fan.  Man, did he make me regret it.  

After starting the season with a .212 batting average and .690 OPS, June Bryan Reynolds showed up again.  In just the month of June, Reynolds batted .333 with eight homeruns and 19 RBI.  It made for a fantastic .989 OPS on the month.  He continued hitting well into July, when he unfortunately suffered an oblique injury that has had him out since the 10th.  There is no timetable yet on his return.

We also saw Ben Gamel return from the Injured List.  Unfortunately, he hasn't been very good.  He's slowly seen his season batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage drop steadily since his return.  I don't see Gamel having much trade value at this point in the season, which was most of his worth to this team anyway.

The other roller coaster season we've seen in the outfield is that of Jack Suwinski.  Suwinski was in the Rookie of the Year talks when he was bashing homeruns, including three in a single game on June 19th.  However, from July 6th to July 14th, he suffered an 0 for 28 stretch and has now been optioned back to the minor leagues.  Suwinski's 14 homeruns were not enough to supplement his .198 batting average and 30% strikeout rate.

We've also seen several others get time in the outfield, albeit a lot less.  Jake Marisnick and Cal Mitchell have played 29 games in the outfield, the lion's share outside of those top three.  I think the best I can say about either of them is that they're serviceable.  Marisnick is great defensively, but doesn't bring much to the plate especially against left-handed pitchers, which is odd as a right-handed hitter. The problem is, the whole lineup is worse against left-handed pitchers, so he's not a huge asset there.

With the ups and downs this group has experienced and the injuries it has sustained, the best grade I can give this group is a C.  They still have an All-Star center fielder when healthy and most of the offensive production on the team comes from this group.  There just isn't much offensive production overall that came out of the Pirates in the first half.