Pirates Demote Gregory Polanco: What Does This Mean for Pittsburgh?

The Pittsburgh Pirates demoted rookie outfielder Gregory Polanco to Triple-A Indy. Is this a bad sign for the Pirates?

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates demoted top prospect Gregory Polanco to their Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis. Polanco started 60 games in the outfield for the Bucs, and after thriving in the Pirates offense during his call-up in June, the 22-year-old has struggled at the plate over the last two months.

Polanco's numbers have shown promise for the Pirates moving forward, especially against right-handed pitchers: .279/.358/.401 with four home runs and 21 runs batted in. While Polanco was making good contact against right-handers, he struggled tremendously against southpaws, gaining only 18 total bases in 84 plate appearances and posting a weak .169 BABIP. The slumping rookie outfielder has only one hit over his last 30 at-bats.

The demotion may awaken Polanco from his slump, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him back in the Pirates lineup by this time next week when rosters expand. Before being called up in June, the outfielder slashed .347/.405/.540 while scoring 47 runs and swiping 15 bases. The 6’4, 220-pound lefty may just need a few games in the minors to get his swing back to early summer form.

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle will start Travis Snider with the decision to send Polanco down to Triple-A. Snider has shown more consistency at the plate for the Pirates this season, his 1.5 WAR and .268 average are a safe alternative for the rest of the week, all considering the Pirates are a 1.5 games back for the second National League Wild Card spot. Unless Polanco returns to the lineup and catches fire like he did back in June, neither Snider or Polanco will single-handedly push them towards a division crown or playoff appearance. The Pirates are having no trouble creating runs, as their wRC+ is tied for fourth in baseball at 105 (the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers share that fourth spot), and are only five behind the league leading Los Angeles Angels.

The offensive production is on par for a team vying for a wild card playoff spot, but their pitching is working entirely against them. In terms of the postseason, pitching is the more valuable asset. Teams like the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics stacked their respective rotations at the trade deadline, knowing a strong top three will put them in the best position to make a run at the World Series, and the Pirates rotation doesn't stack up.

Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke and the rest of the rotation are currently posting a 3.84 xFIP. To put that number in perspective, the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks have a far better xFIP and a 3.84 places the Pirates 13th in the National League and 20th in the Majors. This poses a big problem for the Pirates playoff push, especially seeing that they will face tough series against the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves through most of September.

The Pirates will need reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen to power the offense during the final month of the baseball season if they are to sneak into that second wild card spot. And even if they are, chances are they will have to face a one game playoff against a team like the Cardinals. Offensive power can only take you so far, and a one game playoff against a pitcher like that of Adam Wainwright has the ability to shut the door very quickly.