Sunday, March 02, 2008

Rays at Pirates, and thoughts on Pearce

Another grapefruit battle today at 1.

Dejan Kovacevic's report on Steve Pearce had me doing some math in my head. Pearce appears to be blocked behind LaRoche and Nady, but the 1B and RF positions will demand about 1400 plate appeances' worth of playing time. Nady has averaged 500 PA the last two years; LaRoche, 600. Assuming they turn in average years, they leave 300 PA open for Pearce. The DH in interleage adds another 40. Jason Bay will not play for all 700 PA occupied by the left-fielder; assuming Nady and not Morgan/McLouth covers left in his absence, especially on the road, then another 50, at least, will fall to the available best-hitting 1B/RF. And every year the best bats on the bench collect about 200 PA pinch-hitting, though I would not expect Pearce to see much of this action given the plan to keep wherever (AAA or MLB) he can play full time.

To come to the point, even if Bay, Nady, and LaRoche avoid extensive down-time to a serious injury, there's still an easy 350-400 PA for Pearce to do something, some time, of significance. This is a healthy chunk of action for a young guy.

So he has a clear opportunity in 2008, without a trade or injury. He has to stay healthy. If he starts the season at Indy, he has to believe that "any day now" he could be flying to join the team to play full time. He has to keep his bags packed, and he to avoid the kind of mental funk that would discourage the Pirates from calling on him at any one particular moment. He can't sulk at Indy and open the year with 30 strikeouts in 95 at-bats.

If any player blocks him, I think it would be Doug Mientkiewicz. If management falls in love with the guy, they might hesitate to recall Pearce if LaRoche or Nady suffer some kind of 15-day boo-boo. 15 days of full-time play is about 50 PA or 15% - a big chunk - of Pearce's easy 350. This is a scenario that I would very much expect from the old regime. Whether or not the new bosses will make similar decisions, we can only guess.

I understand that the Pirates are not going to recall and demote Pearce seven times over the course of the season, and I know that the scenario I just described is highly hypothetical and not at all likely to happen just as I describe. But experience anticipating playing time has taught me that this kind of math makes decent predictions and establishes reasonable expectations.

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