By Jason Shetler
A lot has been said of the Pirates bench and whether or not they can help the team significantly this season. Let’s compare the bench this season from last year’s bench.
First base platoon: Just like the past two seasons, Garrett Jones continues to benefit from the platoon, as he currently has an .827 OPS vs right-handed pitching. His platoon partner this season, Gaby Sanchez, has posted a 1.123 OPS against left-handed pitching. Jones’ platoon last year was Casey McGehee, who posted an .807 OPS vs southpaws while he was with the Pirates.
Infield: The Pirates bench, in terms of infield reserves, is more veteran-oriented this year with the additions of Brandon Inge and John McDonald. Inge hasn’t done much, posting a .518 OPS, while McDonald’s OPS is more of a batting average at .268. With McDonald currently on rehab, Jordy Mercer is on the bench for now. Mercer has done well in the short time he’s spent with the Pirates, hitting .294 along with an .876 OPS. Josh Harrison was the Pirates primary reserve infielder a year ago, and wasn’t too productive, hitting just .233 with a .624 OPS. The other infield reserve spot was a revolving door with the likes of Yamaico Navarro, Matt Hague and Drew Sutton. If the Pirates decide to keep Mercer on the bench by letting go of McDonald, and they can have Inge face lefty pitching from time to time while avoiding right-handers, then I think the infield bench can be better this year.
Outfield: The Pirates have gone with more of a platoon this season with Travis Snider and Jose Tabata, instead of having a primary fourth outfielder like they did last season with Nate McLouth. Snider and Tabata have combined for a .753 OPS, while McLouth struggled to post a .385 OPS, before getting released before June last year.
Catcher: Michael McKenry is the only player on the Pirates bench who has been with the Pirates since Opening Day of 2012. McKenry had himself a solid year last season as the backup catcher, hitting 12 home runs and posting a .762 OPS. So far this season, McKenry has posted a .798 OPS as the backup to Russell Martin. “The Fort” however has struggled to throw out baserunners this year, with a caught stealing percentage of just 8%. Although it didn’t seem that bad last season, the reality is he threw out just 18%, which only looked good, because Rod Barajas had an even worse percentage at 6%.
While the Pirates certainly don’t have the best bench in baseball, there seems to be more upside in terms of flexibility, offense and defense than from last year. Whether that holds true throughout the rest of the season remains to be seen.