By John Perrotto
Sometimes it seems a negative force field is built into the Pittsburgh Pirates’ uniform, as if veteran players age 10 years when they put on the black and gold for the first time.
It has happened over and over again in the PNC Park Era. The Pirates acquire a veteran hitter and he has immediately gone over the hill.
Derek Bell, Chris Stynes, Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa, Ramon Vazquez, Aki Iwamura, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby are among the names that come to mind.
Catcher Rod Barajas and shortstop Clint Barmes seem ready to be added to the list as both have been flops this season after being signed as free agents last November.
Despite his dramatic and out-of-nowhere game-winning home run on Tuesday night, the 36-year-old Barajas is hitting .134 with one homer and two RBIs in 22 games andÂ 72 plate appearances going into tonight’s game against the Washington Nationals at PNC Park. He has a .194 slugging percentage and .224 on-base percentage.
Barmes, 33, has been a little bit better but not much, hitting .157 with two homers and five RBIs in 28 games and 95 plate appearances. His OBP is .194 and his slugging percentage is .303.
How bad have Barajas and Barmes been?
Among the 248 major-league players with at least 70 plate appearances, Barajas has the second- worst batting average behind the .130 of the Detroit Tigers’ Ryan Raburn and his OBP is tied with the Barmes for the worst. Barmes has the sixth-lowest batting average.
One scout who regularly watches the Pirates is not surprised by the lack of production from the duo.
“What did you expect?” the scout asked. “They are two guys who don’t hit for average, have moderate power, are in the latter stages of their careers and are right-handed hitters playing in a ballpark that isn’t very kind to right-handed hitters. I mean, these guys aren’t this bad but it’s not like either one is suddenly going to hit .300 or have a .370 OBP and the Pirates had to know they weren’t upgrading their offense by adding these guys.”
In fairness, the Pirates signed Barajas and Barmes as much for their defensive ability. That both players have been lacking on that side of the ball is disappointing.
Barajas has thrown out just two of 17 runners attempt to steal for a sickly 11.8 percent. And while Pirates pitchers have a fine 3.50 ERA with Barajas catching, that number drops to 2.89 when backup Michael McKenry is behind the plate.
Barmes led National League shortstops last season in Ultimate Zone Rating, an advanced metric that measures a player’s defensive performance. However, he ranks 11th in the NL this season and has made six errors, already half as many as he had with the Houston Astros last year.
In other matters:
— Erik BedardÂ (2-4, 2.57 ERA)Â leaving Wednesday night’s start with back spasms should not have been a surprise. He hasn’t pitched more than 129 innings in a season since 2007 and the Pirates knew when they signed him to a one-year, $4.5-million contract as a free agent in December that they would be thrilled if he gave them even 160 innings this year.
— Joel Hanrahan’sÂ (6 sv, 4.22 ERA)Â fastball is averaging 95.8 mph this season, down from 97.1 mph last season when he saved 40 games in 44 opportunities. It’s too early to call that a red flag but it is something to think about.
— Look for Casey McGeheeÂ (.246Â – 0 HR – 4 RBI)Â to get extended playing time at first base this month as the Pirates want to see if he can add power to a lineup in short supply of that commodity.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 25 years.