PT TOMORROW: NL Central—Changing of the guard in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Pirates

Francisco Cervelli (C, PIT) has a long history of injuries, and he’s added another chapter in the past week. On Tuesday, he took a foul ball off his chest and was sidelined until Saturday as a result. However, his return was short-lived, as he suffered a concussion in Saturday’s action against the Dodgers—the fifth separate time he’s been placed on the injured list for a concussion since joining the Pirates in 2016. That doesn’t account for other his assorted injuries, including a strained quad, broken hamate bone, and left wrist inflammation. Catchers have a reputation of getting beaten up physically due to the rigors of the position, and Cervelli could well serve as the poster boy for that sentiment at this point in his career.

Whether it’s related to these injuries or otherwise, Cervelli hasn’t performed well this season, even when he’s remained on the field. A career-low 72 ct% and subpar 92 HctX has led to a .191 xBA and 37 PX. While HQ’s metrics suggest there could be some positive power regression coming (82 xPX), Cervelli’s current skills don’t suggest a strong turnaround is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, the Pirates have a ready-made option to take over as the primary catcher in Elias Diaz (C, PIT). As his 75 plate appearances this season suggest, he’s not a power producer (22 PX, 41 xPX, 48 GB%). However, he is capable of making consistent contact (82 ct% this season and for his career) which has helped him to a respectable batting average (.253 career xBA, .248 xBA this season). While it remains unclear how long Cervelli will remain sidelined due to his latest concussion, a changing of the guard behind the dish may be underway in Pittsburgh.

 

Cincinnati Reds

Scooter Gennett (2B, CIN) has started to ramp up activities in his quest to return to the Reds’ lineup. Recently, he’s begun to travel with the team, hit off a tee, and started some defensive activities. While his return to the lineup appears to still be a few weeks away, it’s worth starting to piece together the puzzle of what is turning into a very crowded Reds’ middle infield.  

Derek Dietrich (2B/OF, CIN) remains a part-time starter, but has done nothing to suggest his playing time should be limited further. He’s maintained his hot start to the season with a 110 HctX and 168 xPX across 129 plate appearances. Meanwhile, Gennett’s return will also put a further squeeze on Jose Peraza (2B/SS, CIN) and Jose Iglesias (SS, CIN). Peraza has already lost time at second base to the aforementioned Dietrich, but has gained sporadic playing time at shortstop and in the outfield. His time at shortstop has cut into Iglesias’s at-bats at the position, and with second base likely no longer a position for Peraza to gain regular playing time, the squeeze on Iglesias may only increase.

The answer to how playing time shifts in the coming weeks will likely depend on how the Reds perform as a team. If they stick in the race for the division or wild card, they would presumably be more inclined to stick with the strongest performers regardless of contract status or age—a positive for Dietrich, Iglesias, and Gennett. However, if they fall out of contention, a focus on youth is likely to ensue, cutting short playing time for Dietrich, Iglesias, and potentially even Gennett.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

While the Cardinals have used only six starters in their rotation to this point in the season, they announced late last week that Michael Wacha (RHP, STL) has been removed from the rotation for the foreseeable future. As a result, Genesis Cabrera (RHP, STL) has been called upon to make his major-league debut and start the team’s contest Wednesday at Philadelphia.

While this column has frequently been dedicated to trying to determine the team’s rotation across the remainder of the season, it’s worth revisiting Cabrera’s skills in an effort to determine if he can stick as one of the team’s five starters in the long-term. For one, the Cardinals have slowly ticked Cabrera’s workload up appearance by appearance. To begin the season, he was pitching in only two innings stints, barely surpassing 50 pitches. However, he’s gone six innings in each of his last three appearances with Triple-A Memphis. While he’s allowed 11 earned runs in that span (seven came in one start), he’s whiffed 19 batters and walked five. Cabrera’s write-up in the organizational report noted his Dom upside, summing up his skill set by saying, “Control can be an issue, but .218 BAA and 9.5 Dom on the year (2018) show the potential.” Cabrera will have his chance, but if he stumbles, the likes of Alex Reyes (RHP, STL), Daniel Poncdeleon (RHP, STL), and Jake Woodford (RHP, STL) remain options.

There was also a shift in the team’s batting order for the weekend series against Atlanta. Matt Carpenter (3B, STL) was moved from leadoff to fifth in the lineup, and the move paid off in the short-term, as he registered five hits in eight at-bats with two runs scored, three RBI, and a home run in the first two games of the series. Dexter Fowler (OF, STL) was also rewarded for his strong start to the season. While he hadn’t reached base through Friday and Saturday’s action (0-for-6 with five strikeouts), the team stuck with Fowler as their leadoff hitter on Sunday, an indication this isn’t a short-term move. A permanent shift to the leadoff spot for Fowler would fit his skill set well, as his eye has rebounded to a 0.64 mark and his HctX (112) indicates he should continue to get on base putting balls in play as well.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers entered this season without a true ace, similarly to the 2018 campaign, instead counting instead on youngsters Brandon Woodruff (RHP, MIL), Freddy Peralta (RHP, MIL), and Corbin Burnes (RHP, MIL) to emerge. Instead, the team reverted to many of its starters from last season, with the exception of Woodruff and the mid-season addition of Gio Gonzalez (LHP, MIL). However, the rotation may need another shakeup, as even with the contributions of Zach Davies (RHP, MIL) (2.43 ERA) and Gonzalez (2.39 ERA), the team’s starters managed just a 4.44 ERA through Saturday’s action—over a half-run worse than last season’s mark.

One of the biggest culprits of that regression is Jhoulys Chacin (RHP, MIL), who’s seen his ERA rise from 3.50 in 2018 to 4.88 though 55 innings in 2019. His skills indicate that loss of performance is earned, as his Cmd has dipped to a subpar 1.7 and he’s allowed 1.8 hr/9. That’s resulted in a 5.27 xERA. Meanwhile, Chase Anderson has pitched well in his role as a starter this season, as measured by his 2.55 ERA, however, he’s failed to work deep into games during any of his four starts this season, reaching five innings only once.

That should keep the door open for Peralta, Burnes, and newly-activated Jimmy Nelson (RHP, MIL) to rejoin the rotation if they prove capable with their performance. Burnes appears to be the least likely at the moment, given that he’s had a number of blow-up outings even after being moved to the bullpen. Meanwhile, Peralta has remained inconsistent in his role as a bulk reliever.

That should ultimately leave a role for Nelson in the rotation, even though he was activated from the injured list and optioned to Triple-A San Antonio late last week. While he’s built up his pitch count—he threw 87 pitches in his last start and has surpassed 80 pitches in three of his last four rehab appearances—his performance has yet to follow suit. In four starts with San Antonio, he’s allowed 10 earned runs across 19 innings while striking out 22 and walking nine. His performance had been trending in the right direction, though his last start on May 23 showed there was still work to do as he allowed three free passes while generating six strikeouts to go along with four earned runs across 4.2 innings of work.

 

Chicago Cubs

Tyler Chatwood (RHP, CHC) has quietly gotten strong results through 29.1 innings this season, posting a 2.76 ERA. While his 5.5 Ctl and 1.3 Cmd indicate his skills equate more closely with his 4.35 xERA, he has been trusted in a multi-inning role and also made a cameo appearance as closer in the Cubs’ weekend series against the Reds. Manager Joe Maddon has shown faith in Chatwood’s ability to get outs when needed, reflected in his leverage index mark of 1.26.

His versatility will be useful for the team and could also lead to stronger value for fantasy owners as well. While Pedro Strop (RHP, CHC) may be back within the week, Maddon has already said he feels comfortable not having a set closer. That could allow Chatwood to continue to earn sporadic save chances in between his outings as a long reliever. Even though the Cubs currently have one of the more stable rotations in the league, a return to the rotation, at least on a spot start basis, shouldn’t be ruled out. Cole Hamels (LHP, CHC), Yu Darvish (RHP, CHC), and Kyle Hendricks (RHP, CHC) all have injury history in the not distant past, meaning a starting role as the season wears on isn’t as unlikely as it appears.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.