Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates Off-season Spending and the Curious Overemphasis on the Bullpen

Last week the Pirates wrapped up one of the last formalities of the off-season by settling the contracts of all their arbitration eligible players. There are still a few more weeks left before the team commences with Spring Training. Perhaps GM Neal Huntington will make another addition to the club before then. But in all likelihood the opening day payroll of the club looks to be set just short of $100 million. 18 players on the roster will earn salaries of $2 million or more in 2016. They combine to account for $93 million of the club’s major league payroll. Filling out the 25 man roster with near minimum salaried pre-arbitration players pushes the payroll to about $97 million to start the season. That is slightly higher than the payroll at the end of last season, and represents a bump of about $9 million over the start of 2015. Given their history of making in season additions over the past 4 seasons it is safe to speculate Neal Huntington has another $5M to $10M of maneuverability left with the payroll. So a 2016 payroll budget of $105 million sounds about right. There are certainly good arguments to be made for why Pirates Owner Bob Nutting should be giving his General Manager even more financial resources. But that is not the purpose of this post. Instead of criticizing the club for how much they should be spending I am going to criticize them for what they actually are spending for.
The club took a big hit this winter from a certain segment of the fan base that likes to call the Pirates cheap. It was basically two moves that drew their ire. The first was not retaining J.A. Happ (or not signing a comparable mid-rotation pitcher to replace him). Happ signed with Toronto for a 3 year deal worth $36 million. Toronto may have slightly overpaid for Happ, but $12 million per annum for Happ is not exorbitant by any means. The second move that got the fan base rankled was dealing hometown boy and fan favorite Neil Walker to the Mets in exchange for Left handed starting pitcher Jon Niese. Both of these decisions were viewed as the Pirates choosing to cut costs over building a championship. But in reality Neal Huntington had more than enough money in the budget to retain Walker and resign Happ. The Walker for Niese swap was very nearly an even money trade. Jon Niese is set to earn $9 million this coming season. Walker is estimated to earn about $10.5 million in his final year of the arbitration. Yes, we can chalk this move up as a slight savings for the Bucs. But it is a savings that easily could have been accounted for just by the amount of money Huntington chose to commit to free agent signings. All told Neal Huntington spent $21 million on free agent signings this winter, $17 million of which applies to the 2016 payroll. That is enough to cover the slight savings that was actualized by dealing Walker, as well as the $12 million in salary that Happ will earn in 2016. So these moves that were criticized by the fan base as cost cutting measures were far more about budget allocation than the actual size of the budget.
Of course it is not fair to criticize what the club chose not to spend on without considering what they did spend on. This is where the plan of the front office this off-season really breaks down for me. Of all the signings the team made I see just one upgrade – John Jaso to replace Pedro Alvarez as the left handed hitter in the 1B platoon. Jaso lacks Alvarez’s power, but Jaso is still an overall better hitter than Alvarez. And although Jaso lacks much experience defensively at 1B he can’t possibly be as bad of a defender as Pedro who was downright awful with the glove. So I’m a big fan of the Jaso acquisition and his $4 million salary. But the rest of the free agent pickups and the more than $12 million committed to them in 2016 leaves me shaking my head. The club chose to commit $7 million combined to a pair of relievers in Juan Nicasio and Neftali Feliz. Those are odd signings for a team that never spends on middle relief and usually does a great job of finding quality middle relievers for league minimum salaries. Then another $2 million was spent on Ryan Vogelsong who is a quintessential 5th starter. Add another $2.5 million to bring back Sean Rodriguez and another $1 million guaranteed salary in Major League contracts to a pair of AAAA players that are just org depth and probably won’t even make the roster (Trey Haley and Jake Goebbert). I am confused why Neal Huntington would pay so much for all these bit parts. These are the kind of roles that should be filled by cheap talent in the system and Spring Training Invitees that prove to be bargain bin finds. And I am especially confused by the allocation of the budget on the bullpen. The team already had a significant portion of the payroll tied up with relievers Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Jared Hughes. Adding Nicasio and Feliz means that $22 million (nearly a quarter of the payroll) is being allocated to just 5 relief pitchers. So either Nicasio and Feliz are being pegged for bigger roles which means other changes could be imminent (like a Melancon trade) or the front office is less bullish on their ability to back fill the bullpen with cheap talent going forward. Either way this off-season doesn’t sit right with me. I feel it would have been far more prudent to keep Neil Walker and sign a mid-rotation starting pitcher instead of committing so much cash to the bullpen to cover for the inadequacies of the rotation.

Are The Pirates Punting on 2016?

It has been a little more than two months since the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season ended at the hands of Cubs in the Wild Card Game. And we are still about two months away from the start of Spring Training. That puts us at just about the half way point of the offseason. The good news is that still leaves plenty of time for GM Neal Huntington to strengthen the club to make a run at 2016. The bad news is he has so much work left to do that it feels almost inevitable that the team will take a step back next season. Even worse is that the club seems almost resigned to that fate. The actions thus far by the front office this offseason do not resemble a confident contending baseball club that senses they are on the cusp of winning a championship. Instead the team has been focusing on controlling costs almost to the point it appears they are content with punting on the 2016 season. It is one thing to trim the fat of overpaid and underperforming players such as Pedro Alvarez and Charlie Morton. Sure, those moves were to some degree salary dumps. But those decisions have potential to help the team by addition from subtraction.
More troubling are the plans to jettison solid performers just because their salaries have risen to an “uncomfortable” level. The Pirates are rumored to have been shopping closer Mark Melancon all winter. They have already dealt 2B Neil Walker to the Mets for Jon Niese. I actually like Jon Niese as a 4th starter. And Niese’s salary obligations are not that far below what Neil Walker was set to make in 2016. From that standpoint the trade wasn’t a salary dump. But wouldn’t this team be better had they kept Neil Walker AND SIGNED a competent left handed starting pitcher? They actually had one of those at the end of last season. His name was J.A. Happ and they chose to watch as he was signed away by the Toronto Blue Jays.
It hasn’t been all bad moves for the Bucs this offseason. They did make an intriguing acquisition by dealing for 1B Jason Rogers from the Brewers. Rogers has some positional versatility and he has hit at every level in the minors. He acquitted himself quite well in his first taste of big league action last season. I also like the free agent signing of pitcher Juan Nicasio. Nicasio could be a nice piece in the bullpen. He also could get another crack at being a starting pitcher. But these are really nickel and dime type moves. A strong contender like the Pirates should be moving beyond just thrift signings in the offseason. It is time the team gets a little “uncomfortable” with their payroll instead of just making the fans of the team “uncomfortable” over the thought of punting on the 2016 season.

Pirates Should Double Down on Reclamation Pitchers

For the third year in a row a starting pitcher flew the coop as a free agent after his struggling career was revived in Pittsburgh under the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage. Following the 2013 season A.J. Burnett cashed in with the Philadelphia Phillies. Last offseason Edinson Volquez signed a two year $20 million deal with the Kansas City Royals. J.A. Happ has become the latest Pirates’ reclamation project to get his big pay day from another team. Happ was able turn a great two month stretch into $36 million over 3 years from the Blue Jays. It is a pretty powerful indicator of the Pirates’ reputation at fixing pitchers that a guy with a 4.13 ERA and 4.20 FIP over 9 seasons can land $36 million guaranteed dollars off of the success of two months of quality pitching with the Pittsburgh Pirates after so many years of mediocrity. It is time for the Pirates to start better using their reputation as a destination for pitchers that want to revive their career.
I really wanted the Pirates to retain J.A. Happ. But if the Pirates handed out multi-year contracts worth $36 million to every pitcher that strung together a good ten start stretch for them then they would have a bunch of bad pitchers on their payroll. Jeff Locke has the same 4.20 career FIP as Happ, and Locke once pitched well enough over three months to earn an All-Star bid. How silly does it sound to offer Jeff Locke $36 million? Timing is everything and a bounce back season leading into free agency is the kind of timing that can land a pitcher a lot of money. The Pirates have a great track record of helping pitchers like that cash in.
Instead of fighting the obvious it is time to embrace the strategy fully. The Pirates should double down on reclamation projects. I’m not saying the Pirates should get more of them. I think one free agent project signing at a time is perfect. But the Pirates should tweak their strategy by aiming either for higher quality pitchers or exert pressure to lock these kind of reclamation project pitchers into a second year with the club. Both strategies would take a little more money. Here are two examples:
Example 1: Pirates attempt to convince Jeff Samardzija that a year in Pittsburgh could get him an even bigger payday next offseason. Two years ago it looked as if Samardzija was headed for a monster free agent deal. But a poorly timed rough season with the White Sox during his walk year killed a lot of his value. Samardzija is still going to get a nice payday…just not the $150 million multi-year deal he would have gotten had he continued to pitch well in 2015. But if Samardzija were to have a great bounce back season with a team on a 1 year deal he could still get that monster contract. There is no better place to attempt that than Pittsburgh. Samardzija has a much higher ceiling than the typical reclamation signing, but of course this would cost more money than the Pirates typically pay for a reclamation pitcher. No matter how appealing the scenario Jeff Samardzija isn’t signing anywhere for $8 million. But would $20 million for one season and another shot at a huge payday next offseason pique his interest? The Pirates need to find out.
Example 2: Secure a second year club option with your reclamation projects. For the sake of argument let’s say the Pirates sign Trevor Cahill who they have been rumored to have interest in. Cahill fits the mold of a reclamation project bounce back candidate. Instead of signing him for a single year and then watching him walk via free agency after as solid season pitching at PNC Park, the Pirates should double down by demanding the deal include a second year club option. The appeal to these kind of deals to a pitcher like Cahill is the opportunity to get to free agency again with rebuilt value. So if he is going to consider losing an additional year of control he will need to be compensated well for it. The club option year would have to be significant money, probably in the vicinity of $12 million with a healthy $3 million buyout if not exercised. No matter how Cahill were to pitch the Pirates would end up paying him significantly more than what it would take to control him for just one season. But if Cahill pitches as well as the other recent reclamation signings that the Bucs have made then that second year could be great value.
Either of these strategies would be a gamble for the Pirates. But if the Pirates believe in their success with fixing pitchers then these are gambles worth taking. So my advice to GM Neal Huntington is simple….Double Down on your next reclamation project starting pitcher free agent signing.

Why Does Charlie Morton Get So Much Love?

The Pirates parted ways with Vance Worley this week after he was outrighted off the 40 man roster and claimed by the Orioles. That closes the book on the Vanimal’s two years stint with the Bucs. During that time Worley posted a 12-10 record with a 3.31 ERA and a 3.59 FIP. The way the Pirates handled Worley this past season still perplexes me. His production was never valued by the club. He was relegated to AAA at midseason while Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke continued to pitch like garbage for much of the second half of the season. That Worley was so easily discarded is not so hard to understand. From a pure stuff standpoint Worley has limitations. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats and he doesn’t roll a lot of ground balls. The Pirates aren’t the first team to throw Worley on the discard pile. The Phillies and Twins didn’t hold him in high regard either. The question that is begged to be asked following Worley’s exit from the organization is not about Vance Worley at all. The real question is why does Charlie Morton get so much love?

The Pirates coaching staff have always raved about Charlie Morton’s stuff. He does have great movement on his sinker. He does produce elite ground ball rates. The affinity for Morton can be seen in the nicknames Morton has been tabbed with over the years. Electric Stuff. Ground Chuck. These are great labels for a pitcher. Unfortunately, Morton is no where near a great pitcher. Morton’s production doesn’t come close to matching his hype. He has a career 4.54 ERA and 4.12 FIP. His career best FIP was in 2013 when he posted a 3.60 FIP in 116 innings. Morton pitches like a back of the rotation starter, and that is only when he is healthy enough to pitch. He has spent time on disabled list in each of the last four seasons and has never pitched more than 172 innings in a season.

Vance Worley was discarded after pitching to a 3.59 FIP over parts of two season with the Pirates. Charlie Morton was given a 3 year contract extension worth $21 million guaranteed dollars after posting a career best 3.60 FIP in 2013. And that my friends is a curiously un-Pirate like thing to do. The Pirates staff and front office are too enamored with Morton’s stuff and that has clouded their judgment on his value and role with the team. It is time the Pirates start treating Morton as his production warrants. He is producing like a back end starting pitcher and back end starting pitching is something that a contender like the Pirates should look at as a potential spot to upgrade.

Raise The Jolly Roger in Walk-Off Style – Videos of Every Pirates Walk-Off Win

The Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 season came to a disappointing end at the hands of Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game, but that doesn’t mean this season should be forgotten. The Jolly Roger was Raised an astonishing 98 times this season. 53 of those wins sent the hometown crowd home happy. There was a lot of exciting baseball played on the North Shore this summer, and as always the walk-offs were the most exciting games that will live on in our memories the longest. The Pirates gave us 11 such victories this season. Here are all 11 of them. Enjoy!

1) June 12, 2015 – Starling Marte grounds a single through the middle to knock in Chris Stewart as the Pirates beat the Phillies 1-0 in 13 innings.


2) June 14, 2015 – Same teams, same score, same exact type of hit. This time it was Josh Harrison playing the hero in the 11th inning.


3) June 26, 2015 – Jordy Mercer treated an old friend very unkindly when he doubled home the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Pirates a 3-2 win over the Braves. The losing pitcher was former Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli


4) July 6, 2015 – Pedro Alvarez knocks in the winning run with a single to RF to beat the Padres 2-1 in the bottom the 9th inning


5) July 11, 2015 – This was the most memorable moment of the season. The Pirates trailed St. Louis by a run in the bottom of the 14th inning. Neil Walker led off with a single and was followed by this home run to CF by Andrew McCutchen to walk-off the rival Cardinals who the Pirates were chasing for 1st place in the NL Central Division


6) July 12, 2015 – Just a day later the Pirates would do it to the Cardinals again. In the final game before the All-Star Break the Bucs rallied for 3 runs in the bottom of the 10th inning off of Cards’ closer Trevor Rosenthal. Gregory Polanco provided the winning hit by knocking in Jung Ho Kang.


7) August 7, 2015 – Pedro Alvarez played walk-off hero for the second time in the season with this game winning single to beat the Dodgers.


8) August 18, 2015 – This was perhaps the wildest game of the season and featured the most unlikely hero. The Bucs blew a late 5 run lead against the Diamondbacks and were forced into extra innings until Pedro Florimon drove in the winning run in the bottom of 15th inning with this trip…trip…triple!


9) August 22, 2015 – The Pirates had just 3 hits in this game, but all of them were solo home runs including this drive by Starling Marte with 2 outs in the 9th inning to down the Giants 3-2.


10) September 13, 2015 – The Pirates rallied from an early 6-1 deficit to take the Brewers to extra innings. Josh Harrison capped off the comeback with the game winning hit in the 11th inning.


11) October 2, 2015 – Another Marte Partay! Starling Marte hit his second walk-off home run of the season, this time in the 12th inning against the Reds.


Pirates 2015 Season Post-Mortem

This is will be my last post for a little while. I need a break. I can not handle the misplaced angst and over the top negativity many fans have right now towards my Pittsburgh Pirates. But I need to vent a little so here goes…
Eventually I’ll appreciate this season, but right now I can’t.
Misplaced angst over the team’s salary is driving me nuts. Needless to say I lay very little blame on the feet of the GM or the owner. Case in point:

  • The Pirates finished with a better record than the Cubs. They lost in the Wild Card game to a pitcher that makes less than half the salary of Charlie Morton. The Cubs core is largely minimum salary rookies. In fact, it was one of those rookies that drove in 3 of the 4 runs the Cubs scored in the Wild Card game.

  • The Pirates lost the NL Central division to the Cardinals by two games. The two highest salaries on the Cardinals’ roster, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, spent most of the year on the DL. Did the Cards spend money to fix the holes? No. The five members of the starting rotation the Cards used to win the division were paid about $18.3 million in salary. The Pirates starting rotation was paid just over $31 million. It was Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty that filled the void for the Cardinals offensively while Holliday was on the disabled list for a large chunk of the season.

  • Meanwhile the Pirates added more salary to this year’s payroll at the trade deadline than any team in baseball. Sorry to burst your bubble folks, but the complaining over the team payroll is misguided angst. The Pirates have failed to advance for the simple reason that their players choked.
    But GM Neal Huntington and owner Bob Nutting should be on notice that they must continue to work and spend to improve the roster. Frankly, the best spending may just be trimming fat. Eat whatever salary you need to just to make Charlie Morton go away. And take some more damn risks. They gambled on Jung Ho Kang and won. I’d rather gamble on risky yet high ceiling players than safe high floor players. And that includes turning to high ceiling prospects sooner if need be.

    This is just like the 90-92 playoff years all over again. Players choked. The bats of the core players went silent in an elimination game. This is largely the problem in the playoff exits in each of the last three years. Neil Walker and his 2 hits in 31 postseason ABs has now replaced Barry Bonds as the most disappointing postseason performer of any Pirate in my lifetime. Meanwhile opponents’ aces have out shined ours. Three of the last six complete game shutouts in an MLB postseason “winner advances” game have been thrown against the Pirates. They belong to Jake Arrieta 2015 NL Wild Card Game, Madison Bumgarner 2014 NL Wild Card Game, and John Smoltz 1991 NLCS Game 7. The bats came up small and so did our ace. Gerrit Cole spit the bit when we needed him most. No other way to sugar coat it….THE PLAYERS FAILED.

    This is what I’ll lay at the feet of the coaching staff. The teams that know the Pirates best continue to exploit their weaknesses. For as great of a pitching coach that Ray Searage is, his neglect at emphasizing and teaching how to control the running game has been an ongoing problem in games within the division. And Clint Hurdle can’t allow the team to be so damn predictable that NL Central Division teams can almost script their wins against the Pirates.

    I know eventually I’ll look at this season fondly. I find enjoyment in Pirates baseball during 100 loss seasons, so there is no way I can hate a season in which my Bucs won 98 games. But as Bartlett Giamatti famously wrote about the game, “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart”…and right now I am heartbroken.

    Hidden Vigorish and a Wild Ass Wild Card Prediction

    If you are a Pittsburgh Pirates fan you are most likely familiar with the term Hidden Vigorish, which is the inspiration behind the name of this website. Hidden Vigorish is a term coined by the late great Pirates play-by-play announcer Bob “The Gunner” Prince that describes a situation/team/player that is “overdue” to come through in the clutch. You need not be a Pirates fan or be familiar with Bob Prince to understand the concept of Hidden Vigorish. Essentially it is the “Law of Averages“, though the Gunner made it out to be an almost a mystical force that affected nearly all situations in the sport of baseball. A hitter in an 0-20 slump had an unbelievable amount of Hidden Vigorish stored up ready to swing the outcome of his next at bat to his favor.

    If Bob Prince were alive today he would most certainly have a wry smile on his face as he contemplates all of the Hidden Vigorish that is dripping from the 2015 National League Wild Card Game that is to be played tonight between the Pirates and the Cubs at PNC Park. So let’s take a look at one very Wild Ass, Wild Card prediction that isn’t all that far fetched when you factor in Hidden Vigorish.
    Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta is on an historic run in which he has posted a microscopic ERA of 0.75 since the all-star break. Since July 1st he has surrendered just two home runs – both hit by the lowly Philadelphia Phillies. Arrieta will have to overcome a tremendous amount of Hidden Vigorish to keep the ball in the yard tonight. And which Pirates’ hitter will step to the plate with the most plentiful amount of Hidden Vigorish on his side? That would be Josh Harrison who has not homered since May 15th. So, you heard it here first. Josh Harrison will take Jake Arrieta deep!
    Got your own Wild Card prediction that is influenced by Hidden Vigorish? Tweet it out with #wildcardhiddenvigorish

    Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 9-28-15 to 10-04-15

    Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 9/28/15 thru 10/04/15, the 26th week (and final week) of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

    Weekly result: 3 Wins and 3 Losses, 20 Runs Scored and 23 Runs Allowed.

    Hero of the week: J.A. Happ. Happ took the hill for two must win games for the Pirates this week. This was his line: 12 innings, 0 runs, 4 hits, 3 walks, 11 strikeouts. On Monday he needed just 56 pitches to breeze thru 6 innings against the Cardinals. It was an utter shame he was lifted for a pinch hitter because the Pirates’ bats frittered away numerous chances to stake him to a lead. On Sunday he dispatched the Reds to give the Pirates the ever important home field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game. J.A. Happ was the best acquisition at the trade deadline that any General Manager in baseball made this season. Kudos to Neal Huntington on a job well done.


    Zero of the week: Charlie Morton. Morton takes the Zero Honors for the 3rd straight week. The Cardinals celebrated another NL Central Division title on Pittsburgh soil after Morton handed them 5 runs in just innings 2 innings in Wednesday’s night cap. Morton gave up 4 hits, a walk, and hit 2 batters. He was awful.

    How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. Tony Watson continues to do what he does best….put up zeros. Three more scoreless innings for Mr. Watson stretches his scoreless streak (seems like this guy is always working on an impressive scoreless streak) to 12 straight innings. He scattered 4 hits, allowed zero free passes, and struck out 2.

    #HURDLED: Charlie Morton has an ERA north of 7.00 over the last month. Against the Cardinals he has a career record of 2-12 with a 5.68 ERA. Clint Hurdle said the second game of the double header against St. Louis on Wednesday was a must win game. If Hurdle really felt that way he should have used a starting pitcher not named CHARLIE MORTON.

    Cannonballs: Neil Walker, Francisco Cervelli, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez


    The little things that matter: In a must win game you can’t waste opportunities. Hopefully the Pirates learned that lesson after loading the bases on 4 different occasions and stranding 16 base runners in a 3-0 loss to the Cardinals on Monday.


    It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Pirates walked 10 times but failed to score on Monday against the Cardinals. It was the second straight game the Bucs were shutout. On Wednesday afternoon the bats finally came alive as the Pirates chased Michael Wacha early en route to an 8-2 victory.


    Stats that blow my mind: The Pirates won 98 games this season. The Pirates are only the 9th team since the advent of divisional play in 1969 to win 98 or more games and not win their division. It was just the 6th time in team history the Pirates have won 98 or more games.

    Records and Milestones: The Pirates set a single-season attendance record by drawing 2,498,596 to PNC Park this season.

    He said what: A.J. Burnett isn’t quite ready to close the book on his career.

    In my mind, we ain’t done yet. We got a horse [Gerrit Cole] going up in a couple days against Chicago, and get me another start


    Tweet of the week: I think this is a perfect way to describe how Pirate fans view Gregory Polanco:


    Front Office Notes: Nothing to see here.


    On The Farm: Minor League seasons are all done.

    Highlight of the week: The fans demanding A.J. Burnett to come out for a curtain call on Saturday night in what could be the last time he ever pitches is such a feel good moment that it trumps the game winning hits or web gems that also occurred this week.


    Maintaining First Wild Card is a Necessity to Beat Arrieta

    The Pittsburgh Pirates are mathematically alive for the NL Central Division crown, but realistically that dream ended when they dropped the first game of a pivotal series to the Cardinals at the start of the final week of the regular season. It is time to look ahead to a show down in the Wild Card Game with the Cubs. The Pirates are on a collision course with the force that is Cub’s starting pitcher Jake Arrieta. Arrieta has been masterful since the all-star break. He is 15-1 with a 0.89 ERA in his last 19 starts. He also has been terrific against the Pirates, and if his last start on Sunday Night is any indication the Pirates are in some real trouble. He was perfect through 6 innings. A Gregory Polanco single and an Andrew McCutchen HBP in the 7th inning were his only blemishes on the night.

    There is hope that this time around things could be a little different, but only if the Pirates can change the venue. The Pirates were facing Arrieta on the Sunday Night ESPN game of the week at Wrigley Field. Arrieta is better at home and he is better at night. Night games at home he is practically unhittable. I have always hated the lighting at Wrigley Field and I think opposing batters feel the same. I don’t think road teams see the ball well at night in that park. A guy with Arrieta’s stuff is just unfair for hitters that already have enough trouble picking the ball up out of his hand. So just how good is Arrieta under the lights at Wrigley? This is a small sample size for sure but the numbers are still eye opening:
    4 starts
    30 innings
    11 hits
    3 walks
    37 strike outs
    1 run

    It is crucial the Pirates maintain the lead over the Cubs for the first wild card spot. They currently hold a three game lead in the loss column. The Pirates stand a much better chance against Arrieta in the familiar hitting environment of PNC Park. If the Pirates are going turn the Lights out on Jake Arrieta and the Cubs they must do it at home.

    Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 9-21-15 to 9-27-15

    Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 9/21/15 thru 9/21/15, the 25th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

    Weekly result: 6 Wins and 1 Loss, 40 Runs Scored and 23 Runs Allowed.

    Hero of the week: Jordy Mercer. Mercer caught fire in the high altitude of Denver and then carried it over to Chicago. His 3 Run Homer on Saturday that cut through the wind at Wrigley Field basically ended any threat of the Cubs catching the Pirates for the top Wild Card spot. For the week Mercer had 10 hits in 23 ABs. Four of his hits went for extra bases. He scored 7 runs and drove in 5. Great production from the bottom of the order.

    Zero of the week: Charlie Morton. The Rockies shelled Morton for 6 runs and 10 hits in 4.1 innings on Wednesday. Luckily for Charlie the Pirates offense bailed him out. This makes two straight poor outings and two straight “Zero of Week” awards for Morton. The Pirates can’t afford another poor outing from Chuck as his next start will be against the Cardinals in a series the Bucs must sweep.

    How do you spell relief? J-O-E B-L-A-N-T-O-N. Joe Blanton tossed 3.2 scoreless innings and picked up a pair of relief wins against the Rockies.


    #HURDLED: I think Clint Hurdle does a pretty good job of managing his bullpen….when he finally decides to go to it. His problem is sticking with mediocre starting pitchers that are struggling way too long. This sounds like a broken record, but once again Hurdle allowed Charlie Morton way too much leash the 3rd time through the order. The bullpen is bloated with quality arms due to the expanded September rosters. Bobby LaFromboise, Vance Worley, or Rob Scahill are better options to pitch the 5th inning than Morton when he isn’t sharp.


    Cannonballs: Starling Marte, Aramis Ramirez, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer


    The little things that matter: Mark Melancon found himself in some hot water in the 9th inning in a pivotal game on Friday afternoon against the Cubs. Extra base hits by Chris Denorfia and Starlin Castro cut the Pirates’ lead to 3-2. The Cubs right handed hitters seemed to be sitting on Melancon’s cutter and where driving the pitches on the outter half of the plate. With the tying run on 3rd base and only 1 out catcher Francisco Cervelli changed the game plan. Cubs hitters Jorge Soler and Javier Baez would see a steady diet of fastballs in on their hands. Melancon was able to cross them up with pitches on the inside part of the plate to get ahead in the count. Then he finished them off with big hard breaking balls that got the impatient Cubs rookies to chase strike three.


    It must be Hidden Vigorish: Hidden Vigorish is the only explanation for what powered Jordy Mercer’s three blast through the wind gusting in at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon. It was Mercer’s first home run since June 3rd.


    Stats that blow my mind: The Pirates have won 14 of the last 15 games started by Francisco Liriano.


    Records and Milestones: A whole bunch of stuff this week. On Thursday the Pirates won their 10000th game in franchise history. On Sunday A.J. Burnett became the 32nd pitcher in Major League history to record 2500 strikeouts. And Starling Marte put himself in great company when he tied Hall of Famer Pie Traynor for most hits in a 4 game series. Marte collected 13 hits against the Rockies.

    He said what: The Pirates clinched a playoff berth on September 23rd for the third straight year. There was a somewhat muted celebration in the locker room after the game. Gerrit Cole has his eyes on a bigger prize than just being a Wild Card.

    I was a little surprised we even did anything. Our sights are set a little bit farther down the road.


    Tweet of the week: I don’t think this was on A.J. Burnett’s bucket list.


    Front Office Notes: The Pirates added Keon Broxton to the roster. His impact as a pinch runner has already been felt.


    On The Farm: Minor League seasons are all done.

    Highlight of the week: Pedro Alvarez atoned for a pair of defensive miscues by slugging this 3 Run Homer to give the Pirates a late come from behind victory over the Rockies on Thursday.



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