Which of the likely 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates bench bats should see the most PAs in 2018?
Pittsburgh Pirates fans did a lot of hand-wringing in the early stages of the 2017 season over the team’s bench.
And they were right to do so. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but the opening frames of the season saw Alen Hanson and Philip Gosselin playing in key reserve roles. Perhaps John Jaso played much more than he should have.
The attrition throughout the 2017 season necessitated call-ups that should leave the Pirates with some much better bench bat options in 2018, if only through experienced gained. Toss in the late-season acquisition of Sean Rodriguez, and suddenly a potentially potent reserve unit takes shape.
Yet even within that unit, there is a hierarchy. Based on past performance and skill set, which Pittsburgh Pirates reserves should see the most plate appearances in 2018? We start with an obvious one.
S-Rod needs to be S-Rod again
It’s hard not to feel bad for Sean Rodriguez.
By all accounts, one of the best teammates in recent Pittsburgh Pirates memory practically lost an entire year due to injuries from a car accident before Spring Training. It was admirable that he even returned to play at all. Less than admirable was his strikeout rate. In 53 games, his punchout rate skyrocketed to 37.3 percent. Even in his watershed 2016 season, Rodriguez was a high whiff guy, with a 29.8 percent rate.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will absolutely live with that rate for a part-time starter/bench bat. In his 140 appearances in 2016, Rodriguez posted a 128 wRC+. The high strikeout totals were not enough to drag down his production.
Did the Pirates catch lightning in a bottle? Will that season go down as Rodriguez’s best? Those questions need answered, and that is exactly why the club should give Rodriguez every chance to provide that answer.
Seeing Max Moroff’s name on this list may surprise some. Much like Rodriguez, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to see what they have in their 2015 Minor League Player Of the Year.
Moroff got noticeably better towards the end of the 2017 season when he began to receive PAs more regularly. In 59 September/October trips to the plate, Moroff slashed .260/.373/.420/.793. Critics will point to his .400 BABIP during that month, but a counter-argument is readily available when noticing that he had a 32.3 percent hard-hit rate as per Fangraphs.
The bottom line is this: Moroff got back to being Moroff at the major league level in the season’s waning days. In his last two minor league seasons, both spent at Triple-A Indianapolis, Moroff posted walk rates of 17.3 percent and 18 percent, while posting strikeout rates of 24.8 and 25.9 percent. He did this while sporting an overall on-base percentage of about .379.
During September/October of last year, Moroff still had a high punchout rate of 32.2 percent, but he buoyed that with a 15.3 percent walk rate. This led to a .373 OBP and a 114 wRC+.
A switch hitter, Moroff also serves as an intriguing late-game matchup play. Though he put up just 40 PAs against LHP in 2017, he posted a .350 on-base percentage against them. Developing a switch hitter is sometimes the ultimate chicken-or-egg proposition. Would Moroff improve against LHP if he saw more of them? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, Moroff has earned the chance to see a steady stream of plate appearances in 2018. He won’t see anything close to the 59 he saw last September, so it will be up to him to maintain his productivity without such continuity.
The Frazier vs Osuna debate
The Pittsburgh Pirates have seen Frazier blossom into a dependable MLB reserve. They have also been witness to Jose Osuna displaying flashes as well.
For this exercise, it was hard to choose between the two as a candidate to receive a bit more of Clint Hurdle‘s trust. Frazier clearly has that, with 454 PAs in 2017 — though the amount of time Frazier received was dictated at least in part by Starling Marte‘s absence.
Offensively, the simple fact is that Frazier and Osuna are as different in some key areas as they are similar. Here’s a quick peak at some selected metrics between the two:
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Frazier and Osuna are both patient hitters. Frazier draws a bit more walks, while Osuna clearly laps him in power potential. Frazier has a leg up in pure run creation, but taking twice as many trips to the plate as Osuna negates that gap to a degree. Osuna hits the ball harder while Frazier has a higher line drive rate.
The difference may come down to fielding. Frazier plays three positions — two of them well (just one error in 67 games in a corner outfield spot) — and has the potential to serve as a solution at 3B should Jung Ho Kang be unavailable. Osuna’s work in the outfield can generously be described as work in progress, though he may see more PAs as the primary 1B backup.
All in all, we’ll take Frazier here as he has clearly shown that he belongs at the major league level.
What do YOU think? Which bench bat should see the most PAs in 2018? Did we miss someone? Let us know in the comments or vote in our poll on Twitter: