Can Josh Bell Really Get Away With Not Throwing The Baseball?

Pressure is on for Bell to produce at the plate

Matt Koll
March 20, 2019 - 12:30 pm
Josh Bell

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

It’s late May, early June 2019.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten off to a decent start, hanging around .500 to begin the season and are in the thick of the NL Central race about two months into the season.

The Cubs are in town for a three-game series.

Chris Archer is into the 7th inning, working on a 1 run, 4 hit gem. There’s a man on first with one out.

Archer gets Anthony Rizzo to roll over on one his sliders and there’s a bouncing ground ball to first. Right to first baseman Josh Bell. Doesn’t even have to move his feet.

He scoops it up easily, steps on the bag at first and throws over to second for the double play.

Or at least attempts to.

The ball flies over the head of the shortstop covering the bag and sails into leftfield. Better yet, maybe Bell doesn’t even attempt a throw over to second base. He takes the out at first and that’s it.

With another out to play with, the inning continues, the Cubs bring the man home from second and tie the game only to win it later.

Not concerning enough? How about this…

The Pirates have found a way to play “meaningful baseball in September.” They’re in a tight race with the Cardinals for a Wild Card spot and have games left  against them to do some damage.

It’s been a battle all game, they’re in extra innings in St. Louis.

Bottom of the 11th, bases loaded 1 out. Groundball to Bell. He’s playing in at the corner to protect the plate.

He scoops it up, throws home….yep, ball sails way off to the left and out of the reach of Francisco Cervelli at the dish.

Runner scores. Game over. Another game back in the standings.  

General manager Neal Huntington is well aware of Bell’s struggles to throw the baseball heading into 2019. He isn’t hiding from it.

He said to this to say from Spring Training about the issue:

Related: Neal Huntington: 'You Never Feel Like You've Done Enough'

“I think if you look back in time, there's been some really good offensive first baseman that didn't throw the baseball. Jeff Bagwell went through different cycles where he was either a really good-throwing first baseman or he just didn't throw the ball. Frank Thomas rarely threw the ball. There are first baseman that don't throw the baseball.”

"Here's the interesting part about it and I'm being facetious when I say this but if Josh hits well enough and he does what we believe he's going to be offensively, we'll stop talking about his defense." 

There are a few problems with this statement in my estimation.

The first is that Jeff Bagwell really didn’t cut back throwing the ball until his final years when he was suffering from an arthritic right shoulder that ultimately ended his career in 2006.

The second is that Josh Bell hasn’t even come close, in his albeit very young career, to the kind of success the two men Huntington cited (Bagwell, Thomas) had in the Major Leagues.

Bagwell amassed six seasons in which he hit at least 39 homeruns and accumulated eight seasons in which he drove in 100 or more runs.

Thomas was really only a part-time first baseman throughout his career because he also served as a DH. In fact, Thomas started over 100 games at first base in only 3 of his 19 MLB seasons. He also won the AL MVP award twice.

The third is that this 2019 Pirates infield defense is already in question as it is. According to all reports, Jung Ho Kang has looked a lot better at third base defensively than anticipated, with more range and jump than most expected.

Erik Gonzalez has been named the starting shortstop and was brought in to be a dynamic fielder with the ability to cover more ground than his predecessor Jordy Mercer ever did.

But his two errors in Spring Training suggest he’s far from a sure thing.

As of Wednesday, Josh Bell and Jung Ho Kang also have two errors in the spring, while now projected backup Colin Moran leads the way with four.

Adam Frazier is the only starter not to have multiple errors, only having one.

Bell has some things to figure out this season. His 12 homeruns in 2018 just aren’t going to be good enough. They need him to be an anchor in the middle of the lineup.

Not only is pressure on Bell because the offensive production needs a boost, but also because the active plan going into this season includes Bell not throwing the baseball, risking one of those scenarios I outlined to start.

The Pirates are essentially counting on Bell to have a Jeff Bagwell or Frank Thomas-like season in order to get what they need from him with all his other deficiencies.

I understand Bell is still developing and only entering his third full season in the Majors, but a .261/.357/.411 slash line with 12 HR’s and 62 RBI in 2018 isn’t exactly one of those kinds of seasons.  

Let’s hope steps up to the plate.

And does it well.

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