To say that Jose Pirela suffered a setback in his second season with the San Diego Padres is an understatement, to say the least. The utility player collected a .245/.300/.345 batting line with a wRC+ of 78, which was a 42 point dropoff from his 2017 wRC+ of 120.
By the end of the season, he slipped further and further down the bench as Carlos Asuaje, Cory Spangenberg, and Luis Urias took the field more and more often in positions he would typically take. Now, Pirela is seemingly on the bubble as the Padres face a massive roster crunch with the upcoming Rule 5 draft.
As Pirela awaits his fate come December, let’s take a look at some positives and negatives of Jose Pirela’s season.
He may have had his struggles, but what makes Pirela valuable to his team is his versatility. While primarily a second baseman, he suited up at five different positions for the Padres in 2018, taking reps at second base, first base, third base, right field, and left field. While his defensive prowess at each position is questionable, it is always good to have a player who can temporarily hold the fort down when a player goes down due to an injury.
This was how Pirela was utilized in the early parts of the season, bouncing around the field and filling in wherever needed. However, as the season started to wind down, opportunities to start began to dry up. The outfield spots were filled by a surging Franmil Reyes and a resurgent Hunter Renfroe, Wil Myers took over at third base, and Urias handled a majority of the second base duties.
Injuries to Urias allowed a sliver of more starting time for Pirela, but his versatility proved worthy during the season.
Every year, a team will award the Heart and Hustle award to one player on their team. This award goes to a player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit, and traditions of the game. For the Padres, that player was Jose Pirela.
Pirela, while he may have had some lapses in hustle at times, did show off a particular style of play that emphasized his playing spirit. It is this hustle that kept him in the lineup at times and is the reason he stuck around for so long on the roster.
Low K% rate
The San Diego Padres struck out a lot in 2018. Their plate-discipline woes have cost hitting coach Matt Stairs his job, and numerous players had sightly K% rates. Surprisingly, one player who had a low rate was Pirela, who sat at 18.8% for the season. That rate was the second lowest on the team, behind only Manny Margot for the team lead.
Pirela took 473 trips to the plate during the season and struck out only 89 times, but only walked 30 times to compensate. His ability to put the bat on the ball while not going down on strikes was a valuable one that kept him on the roster despite losing playing time.
In 2017, Pirela belted 10 home runs with an ISO rate of .202 and a slugging percentage of .490, thanks to a flyball rate of 31.5%. This led the Padres’ front office to believe that he could be a source of power heading into the 2018 season.
However, Pirela’s power output in 2018 all but ceased to exist. His ISO rating cratered to a .096, good for almost last on the team (only in front of Carlos Asuaje, Travis Jankowski, and the departed Matt Sczcur) while his slugging percentage fell to a .345 percent. Amongst qualified Major League batters with 400 at-bats, Pirela ranked 203th in slugging as well as 202nd in ISO ratings. Some names in front of him? Wilmer Difo of the Nationals, Robbie Grossman of the Twins, and Mallex Smith of the Rays.
It is because of this drop in power that Pirela eventually fell out of the lineup. While Asuaje and Spangenberg didn’t provide pop, his slipping numbers and performances of others at positions he played is what did him in. If Pirela manages to stick with the Padres until next season, he has to have a better approach to find his power or he may not last until midseason.
While Pirela may be able to man multiple positions, it doesn’t help that he projects as an average defender at best. His numbers as a second baseman were weak across the board, posting a -3 DRS, a -2.9 UZR and a -1.2 RngR in 589 innings played. He wasn’t as good in the outfield either, as in 274.2 innings at both left and right field, his ARM rating according to Fangraphs is a -2.1 and he carried a -1.3 UZR. However, he did post a DRS of 4, proving that he wasn’t a complete liability.
His blunders on the field are what cost the Padres games and he made costly mistakes that earned him the ire of many fans on Padres Twitter. Urias took over for him at second base, while both Renfroe and Reyes took turns playing left field, taking both spots that Pirela primarily played.
He may not be a Gold Glove defender, and he doesn’t have to be. But at the level that he played, it will not be accepted once the Padres begin their playoff push.
Jose Pirela suffered a setback and a half in the 2018 season. Despite his strikeout numbers and versatility, it was hard finding him a spot in the lineup due to his overall struggles. Poor defense and low power outputs, combined with declining offensive numbers, forced Andy Green to keep him out of the lineup.
With a massive roster crunch, the Padres have a decision to make. Pirela is on the outside looking in in terms of players, although he may have the edge over Asuaje due to the latter having even more struggles during the season. It’s either him or Spangenberg on the chopping block, and neither may avoid the cut.
If Pirela survives the Rule 5 roster crunch, his odds may not improve. Urias will be back, Christian Villanueva will be healthy, and San Diego is interested in a reunion with shortstop Freddy Galvis. It was a wrong time for Pirela to struggle, and it may cost him his job as a San Diego Padre.