Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pedro Alvarez Finds New Consistency

Pedro Alvarez is on a hot streak. In his last 10 games Pedro is hitting .382 with 4 Home Runs. The recent surge has lifted his OPS from .694 on May 14th to .822. But hot streaks are not unusual for Pedro Alvarez. We have seen him put together hot stretches like this in each of the last three seasons. What has convinced me that Pedro is a much improved hitter is what he accomplished during his most recent slump. From April 27th through May 14th Pedro batted .156 with just 4 extra base hits. But this was different than the past slumps for Pedro. Despite the low average and low slugging numbers during this recent rough period at the dish, he still managed to post a .321 OBP and struck out just 25% of the time. Those rates are significantly better than even his career rates. This was not the Pedro Alvarez of years past that would go into a deep dark funk that would lead to whiff after whiff. This was a hitter that found a way to smooth out his valleys. This is a great sign going forward. If Pedro’s lows aren’t as low, but his highs are just as high he will be an extremely productive hitter. There is no question he has become a more consistent one.


Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 5-18-15 to 5-24-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 5/18/15 thru 5/24/15, the 7th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 3 Wins and 2 Losses, 29 Runs Scored and 16 Runs Allowed.

Hero of the week: Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen was 9 for 20 and jacked three homers into the stands at PNC Park this week. Enough said.

Zero of the week: Neil Walker. While the rest of the lineup was heating up Walker went ice cold. He collected to just 2 hits in 19 ABs and finished the week in an 0 for 14 skid.

How do you spell relief? J-A-R-E-D H-U-G-H-E-S. Jared Hughes allowed just 1 base runner in his three innings of scoreless relief this week.

#HURDLED: Arquimedes Caminero breezed through the 12th inning on 6 pitches against the Twins on Wednesday night. In the bottom of the 12th manager Clint Hurdle elected to pinch hit for Caminero with 1 out and nobody on base. Such a move would make sense if the Pirates still had a reliable relief pitcher available in the pen or a thumper on the bench that could end the game with one swing of the bat. The Pirates had neither. The only available pinch hitter was Chris Stewart who weakly grounded out. Hurdle then handed the game over to the dumpster fire that is Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo predictably coughed up the game.

Cannonballs: Pedro Alvarez (2), Andrew McCutchen (3), Starling Marte

The little things that matter: Once again Starling Marte fell asleep while fielding a base hit which resulted in the Twins scoring three runs on a soft single to left field.

It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Pirates dropped another extra inning game to fall to 0-6 on the season. This game was lost when southpaw Antonio Bastardo coughed up a gopher ball to left-handed hitting Joe Mauer – a notable singles hitter. It was Mauer’s first home run of the season.

Stats that blow my mind: Pirates starting pitchers posted a triple double in strikeouts over the Mets this weekend. Gerrit Cole whiffed 10 Mets on Friday Night, A.J. Burnett recorded 10 Ks on Saturday, and Francisco Liriano tallied an even dozen on Sunday afternoon. The last time the Pirates had 3 straight triple digit strikeout games from their starting rotation was 1969.

Records and Milestones: On Saturday Andrew McCutchen blasted his 62nd home run at PNC Park to become the all-time leader in the 14 year history of the ballpark.


He said what: Quick guess, who do you think Clint Hurdle is referring to?

He’s that guy that can take some swings that make you go, ‘Huh?’ Then before you know it he’s trotting around the bases.


Tweet of the week:


Front Office Notes: He’s back! Jose Tabata was recalled this week and actually made a contribution with two pinch hit RBI singles. Now he will go on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring in 3…2…1…


On The Farm: Middle infielder Alen Hanson is on a tear at AAA. In the month of May he is slashing 330/371/545 and has swiped 7 bags in 8 attempts.

Highlight of the week: Pedro Alvarez sank a battleship on the Allegheny River with this cannonball.



Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 5-11-15 to 5-17-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 5/11/15 thru 5/17/15, the 6th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 3 Wins and 4 Losses, 29 Runs Scored and 27 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: A.J. Burnett notched two wins while allowing just 1 earned run in 14 innings and tallying 12 strikeouts. On Sunday against the Cubs, Burnett played the stopper. He shut out the Cubbies over 7 innings to put an end to the Pirates 4 game losing streak.

Zero of the week: Jeff Locke. I don’t like to single out starting pitchers when they only make 1 start in a given week, but Locke was so bad on Friday that it just can’t be ignored. Mr. Nibbles once against was too afraid to attack hitters in the strike zone. The result was a laborious 102 pitches before being lifted with 2 outs in the 4th inning. Yes, 102 pitches and couldn’t even get through 4 innings! Of those 102 pitches only 56 were strikes. Mr. Nibbles walked 5 hitters and gave up 5 runs. In the rare instances when Locke did put the ball over the dish the Cubs smacked him around for 6 hits including 2 Home Runs.

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. Tony Watson appeared twice this week and posted 3 more scoreless innings. Watson has not allowed a run in his last 13 innings.

#HURDLED: Clint Hurdle still has this crazy idea that Corey Hart can play right field. Hart’s lack of mobility probably cost the Pirate a win in Philadelphia when a catchable ball fell in front of the statue playing in RF to give the Phillies a lead. However, I can’t say for certain that Hart cost them this game as the usual right fielder is as clumsy as a drunk man trying to pass a sobriety field test.

Cannonballs: Starling Marte, Josh Harrison (2), Andrew McCutchen (2), Pedro Alvarez, Sean Rodriguez.

The little things that matter: Starling Marte was a little too nonchalant throwing a ball back to the infield against Phillies on Wednesday and the result was the slow footed Carlos Ruiz taking second base. This mistake had a big impact on an inning that unravelled for the Pirates in a 3-2 loss. Had Ruiz been held at first and a double play been kept in order the Pirates probably would have escaped the inning with only 1 run scoring. Instead the Phillies plated 3 runs in a game the Pirates would lose 3-2.

It must be Hidden Vigorish: On 5/13/15 Andrew McCutchen got a hit with the bases loaded. Amazingly Cutch had not had a base knock with the bases loaded since 2012.

Stats that blow my mind: 1.38. That is A.J. Burnett’s ERA. But wait, there is more …


Records and Milestones: See Above.


He said what: Clint Hurdle discussing Gregory Polanco after he was tripped up the Wrigley Field turf monster.

I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s mentally strong enough. He’s going to have to be. You love this game, and this game will love you back. If you hate this game, it will hate you back.


Tweet of the week: This team might not be as complete as some folks originally thought. They do have some issues. The back end of the rotation looks very vulnerable right now.


Front Office Notes: The Bucs were forced to bring up a relief pitcher to bolster their depleted bullpen after two straight early exits by starting pitchers. Wilfredo Boscan was called up. To take his place utility player Steve Lombardozzi was optioned.


On The Farm: Altoona Curve second basemen Max Moroff has been the breakout player of the organization in 2015 so far. The 22 year old Moroff has an .844 OPS and has reached base in 31 of 33 games this season.

Highlight of the week: Gregory Polanco had a Little League moment when he tripped while trying to catch a routine ball in the 12th inning against the Cubs on 5/15. The play resulted in the Pirates absorbing another walk off loss to a division rival. This play will live on in baseball blooper reels forever.



Pirates Recent History of Bad First Base Defense

A widely held belief in major league baseball is that anyone can play first base. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been doing an excellent job of disproving that theory for more than a decade. Pedro Alvarez is the latest butcher to don a 1B mitt for the Bucs. Alvarez switched positions to 1B this offseason. He is off to a very rocky start defensively. Pedro has already been credited with -5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). If Alvarez continues to play the position this poorly it will extend a long stretch of seasons in which bad 1B defense has cost the Pirates runs. Here are the number of Defensive Runs Saved by the First Basemen employed by the Pirates over the last 10 seasons:


Year DRS
2015 -5
2014 -9
2013 -3
2012 -1
2011 -7
2010 -12
2009 0
2008 -1
2007 3
2006 -10


Adam Laroche was a fairly competent 1B gloveman in his tenure with the team from 2007-2009, but otherwise the franchise has been plagued by brutal defense at the position. Maybe it is true that anyone can play first base, but that doesn’t mean they can play it very well.


The Hidden Value of Gregory Polanco

On the surface Gregory Polanco appears to be having a fairly average sophomore season. Through 30 games Polanco is slashing a pedestrian .271/.320/.381. That is just a .702 OPS. Former Pirates RF Travis Snider, who Polanco replaced, has a .749 OPS this season with the Orioles. But Polanco packs some serious extra value to his game. That value can be found on the base paths.


Fangraphs rates Polanco as the second best baserunner in the National League this season with a BsR of 2.7. Only Billy Hamilton has contributed more value on the base paths in 2015. Polanco has been an efficient base stealer this season swiping 10 bags in 12 attempts, but base running is more than just base stealing ability. The ability to take extra bases by going from 1st to 3rd on a single or score from 1st on a double also adds to a player’s value as a base runner. Polanco is taking extra bases in these situations a whopping 80% of the time this season. Polanco has also yet to ground into a double play this season which is pretty incredible for a player with a ground ball rate of 60.7%. Last year he hit into just 1 double play in 89 games. Even though his offensive abilities have yet to fully materialize, the Pirates have to be happy with the weapon on the bases that they have in Gregory Polanco.


Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 5-4-15 to 5-10-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 5/4/15 thru 5/10/15, the 5th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 3 Wins and 3 Losses, 24 Runs Scored and 28 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: For the second week in a row Jung Ho Kang takes hero honors. Kang collected 7 hits in 16 ABs this week. On Sunday he blasted his first home run at PNC Park in the 1st inning off of Cards pitcher Tyler Lyons. In the 7th inning he drilled a single to left field to drive in a run that staked the Pirates to a 4-3 lead.

Zero of the week: Things just keep getting worse for Josh Harrison as he takes zero dishonors for the second week in a row. Harrison finished the week with just 1 hit in 14 ABs and made a very costly error in the Pirates 8-5 loss to the Cardinals on Friday night.

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. His velocity is down, and he may not look pretty doing it, but Mark Melancon has gotten the job done in his last 5 save opportunities which includes two this weekend against the Cardinals. For the week Melancon pitched 3 scoreless innings and notched 2 saves.

#HURDLED: I saw no egregious bonehead moves from the skipper this week.

Cannonballs: Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Jung Ho Kang

The little things that matter: On Sunday Francisco Cervelli attempted to take 3rd base on a fly ball to CF. It was a dubious decision to begin with as the Pirates had the heart of the order coming up. Cervelli did manage to just beat the throw, but an aggressive head first slide took him past the bag which caused him to be tagged out. The base running blunder killed a potential rally. I don’t understand why this team constantly over slides bases.

It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Pirates scored just 5 run in the first 5 games of May. Since Hurdle Gnome Giveaway Night on May 7th the Pirates have exploded for 19 runs in 4 games. Coincidence, or is the gnome a master of Hidden Vigorish?

Stats that blow my mind: The Pirates and Cardinals combined for 12 runs, 19 hits, and 8 walks in the 7-5 victory by the Pirates on Saturday Night. Despite a significant amount of offense the game ended in just 2 hours and 34 minutes. This is a clear sign that the pace of play changes instituted by MLB are working.


Records and Milestones: On 5/9 The Pirates turned a triple play. It was the first ever 4-5-4 triple play in major league history.


He said what: No way Jose! It doesn’t sound like the Pirates have any desire for Jose Tabata to ever play in Pittsburgh again. This is what GM Neal Huntington had to say at his weekly media session about Tabata.

We’ve been very open with Jose that while we hope his return to the big leagues is with us, he’s a guy that may need to get somebody else’s attention and have somebody come get him to get back to the big leagues.


Tweet of the week: Starling Marte has a youthful exuberance to his game that is both fun and maddening to watch. This tweet sums that up.



Front Office Notes: Andrew Lambo was placed on the DL with a broken psyche plantar fasciitis. The contract of Steve Lombardozzi was purchased to take Lambo’s place on the 25 man roster.


On The Farm: The Pirates top two pitching prospects both succumbed to injuries this week. Tyler Glasnow rolled an ankle sliding into second base. It is a minor injury. He should be fine. On the other hand Nick Kingham‘s injury seems more serious. He left his last start in the 5th inning with elbow discomfort.

Highlight of the week: Jordy Mercer broke out of his slump with a two run double off the top of the wall that provided the difference in the Pirates 7-5 win over the Cardinals on Saturday night.



Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 4-27-15 to 5-3-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 4/27/15 thru 5/3/15, the 4th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 1 Win and 5 Losses, 14 Runs Scored and 18 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: Jung Ho Kang. Kang started just two games but made the biggest offensive impact of any Pirates hitter this week. He provided the club with two game tying hits. On Wednesday with the Pirates trailing the Cubs 1-0 in the 4th inning Kang singled in a run. The Pirates would go on to win that game 8-1. On Sunday he blasted a game tying 9th inning solo homer against the Cardinals. For the week Kang was 5 for 12 with 3 RBIs.

Zero of the week: Josh Harrison had a brutal week. He picked up just 1 hit in 23 ABs this week. He also failed a draw a walk. On Sunday he went 0 for 7. Ouch!

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. Tony Watson continues to be the Pirates best reliever in high leverage situations. This week he allowed 0 runs in 3.1 innings while notching 4 strikeouts.

#HURDLED: This is a true story. Tony Watson grinded out a 26 pitch 8th inning in a game the Pirates were leading 6-1 over the Cubs, but sat unused in the bullpen as Radhames Liz blew a 2-1 lead over the Cardinals in the bottom of the 12th inning on Sunday. Oh yeah, and that series with the Cardinals was sandwiched by off days.

Cannonballs: Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang, Pedro Alvarez

The little things that matter: Sliding is a fundamental of the game that rarely gets any credit, but on bang-bang tag plays a slide will often make or break the play. In the Pirates 8-1 win over the Cubs on Wednesday Chris Stewart changed the game with a great slide at home to the inside part of the dish to narrowly avoid being tagged out on a play in which the ball beat him to the plate. See it for yourself.



It must be Hidden Vigorish: When Matt Carpenter went yard in the 4th inning on Sunday off of Vance Worley it snapped a string of 95 innings that Pirates pitchers had gone without allowing a dinger. Hidden Vigorish is not always kind.

Stats that blow my mind: It is hard to explain what happened in St. Louis. The Pirates stranded a whopping 37 runners on base while losing 3 games in walkoff fashion – all extra inning affairs. Let’s hope the Pirates stored up enough Hidden Vigorish from this series to last the whole season.

Records and Milestones: Andrew McCutchen recorded his 1000th major league hit. Jung Ho Kang blasted his first MLB home run.


He said what: Clint Hurdle had this to say after three straight low scoring games in St. Louis went to extra innings knotted at 1-1.

I always had World Cup soccer on my bucket list, and I just got a weekend of it.


Tweet of the week: Cutch has been mired in a season long slump, so he resorted to talking to his lumber in the hope that it will be a little more cooperative.



Front Office Notes: All was quiet this week with the BMTIB.


On The Farm: Josh Bell is batting .525 in his last 9 games. The Altoona Curve slugger has raised his season average to .395.

Highlight of the week: Jung Ho Kang’s game tying blast off of Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal on 5/3/15 was the highlight of this dreadful week.



Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 4-20-15 to 4-26-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 4/20/15 thru 4/26/15, the 3rd week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 5 Wins and 2 Loss, 33 Runs Scored and 23 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: Gregory Polanco. Polanco flashed a lot of tools this week. His bat, arm, and legs all factored into Pirate victories. Polanco was 8 for 27 at the plate including 3 doubles and a home run. He picked up 4 RBIs and scored 7 times. On the base paths he swiped 4 bases this week. Polanco also gunned out a runner at the plate. While in the minors Polanco was once dubbed a “walking toolshed”. It is weeks like this that make you understand what that really means.

Zero of the week: Andrew McCutchen. Cutch had just 3 hits in 21 ABs and struck out 7 times. Seldom do you see McCutchen scuffling this much. He did draw 4 walks and made some solid contact during the weekend series in Arizona. McCutchen is too good for the bat remain this quiet. The breakout is forthcoming.

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. The “save” might be the most poorly named statistic in all of sports. A closer being called into the 9th inning to protect a 3 run lead is not “saving” the game. But every once in while you have a situation where a reliever has to be more than just adequate to spare the team from defeat. That was the case for Tony Watson on Wednesday night against the Cubs. Watson was summoned in the 8th inning with no outs and the bases full of Cubs and the Pirates holding a 4-2 lead. The Pirates’ bullpen was a day removed from brutal a meltdown that cost them a victory on Tuesday. They could ill afford another game to get away from them. Watson was up to the task. He shut down the Cubs in the 8th and then finished them off in the 9th inning to pick up a rare two inning save.

#HURDLED: I understand that Pedro Alvarez has trouble hitting left handed pitchers. I also understand he is defensively challenged. But pinch hitting Corey Hart for Pedro in the 7th inning of a tie game like Hurdle did on Friday night is just way too early. Not only does it remove the best power threat from the lineup but it also burns the best pinch hit option available on the bench.

Cannonballs: Starling Marte (2), Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco, Sean Rodriguez

The little things that matter: Pedro Alvarez is still learning to play first base. Some people would like you to believe that first base defense isn’t really a big deal. But lack of experience at the position has cost the Pirates a few runs already this season. One such occurrence cost Gerrit Cole a run on Friday night. Yasmany Tomas squirted a ball through the right side of the infield because Alvarez let the ball go for second basemen Neil Walker to field. It is was well out of Walker’s reach. Alvarez needs to be more aggressive on these types of plays. He is often deferring on these types of playable ground balls.

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Andrew Lambo has been robbed more times this season than a ghetto liquor store. Finally a ball dropped in for him when he roped a double on Thursday against the Cubs for his first hit of the season. Lambo is just 1 for 18 this season.

Stats that blow my mind: Pirate hitters rank dead last with just 36 base on balls. Last season they led the National League in walks. Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco have drawn just two walks a piece.

Records and Milestones: Jung Ho Kang recorded his first extra base hit and RBI when he cleared the bases with a double on Tuesday.


He said what: Mark Melancon thinks people are way too concerned with his velocity drop and general lack of effectiveness.

I blew one save — one save. Should anybody lose confidence after one save? That’s for them to decide, I guess.


Tweet of the week:


Front Office Notes: All was quiet this week with the BMTIB.


On The Farm: Through the first 15 games of the season the Altoona Curve starting rotation has allowed just 6 earned runs in 82.1 innings. That is a 0.66 ERA. Not too shabby!

Highlight of the week: With the score knotted 4-4 on Thursday afternoon, Gregory Polanco was locked into a battle with Cubs LOOGY Phil Coke. Polanco fell behind in the count 0-2. He laid off a couple of chase pitches and then wasted a few really good 3-2 pitches from Coke. Finally Polanco was able to squirt a ball through the left side of the infield to give the Pirates a 5-4 lead.



Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 4-13-15 to 4-19-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 4/13/15 thru 4/19/15, the 2nd week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 4 Wins and 2 Loss, 22 Runs Scored and 14 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: Gerrit Cole started the week by holding the red hot Detroit Tigers to just 1 hit in the first 6 innings on Opening Day at PNC Park. Cole would run into trouble in the 7th, but the bullpen held on to give him the W. Cole finished the week with another solid 6 inning outing on Sunday to earn a win over the Brewers. For the week he pitched 12 innings allowing just 3 runs and 8 hits while striking out 14.

Zero of the week: Try as I might I could not find a truly deserving candidate this week. Jordy Mercer was only 2 for 17. But he played stellar defense and did enough of the little things that I don’t think it is warranted to label him the zero. In a TWIBB first I will give the zero award to an umpire. David Rackley was downright awful calling balls and strikes on Wednesday night. Rackley ejected Hurdle when the skipper argued this missed call in the 8th inning.


How do you spell relief? J-A-R-E-D H-U-G-H-E-S. Jared Hughes was dropped into a hornet’s nest in the 7th inning on Opening Day. The Tigers had the bases loaded with no outs and were on the cusp of erasing the Pirates 2-0 lead. The Pirates needed a double play in the worst way, so manager Clint Hurdle summoned his ground ball specialist from the pen and told him to roll a pair. Hughes did just that on his very first pitch by inducing Nick Castellanos to hit into a 6-4-3 double play. In took Hughes just three pitches to get three outs and slam the door shut on the Tigers. Hughes would go on to pitch three more scoreless innings this week. His final line for the week – 4 innings, 0 Runs, 1 Hit, 0 BBs, and 5 Ks.

#HURDLED: Knowing the right moment to pull a starting pitcher is always tricky for a manager, but there should be a few absolutes. Any time after the 6th inning that a starting pitcher walks two hitters in an inning it is time to go to the bullpen. On Tuesday night with the game scoreless A.J. Burnett issued two straight free passes to Tiger hitters in the 7th inning. Hurdle allowed Burnett to try and get out of the inning on his own. The plan backfired. Rajai Davis squirted a single up the middle to drive in the only run the Tigers would need to defeat the Bucs 1-0.


Cannonballs: Josh Harrison, Corey Hart, Pedro Alvarez (2), Starling Marte

The little things that matter: Andrew McCutchen allowed Jose Iglesias to take 2nd base because he did field a base hit with enough urgency in the 9th inning of a 2-0 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday night. Iglesias was hustling out of the box and took advantage. McCutchen’s mistake cost the Pirates a run.

It must be Hidden Vigorish: When the Brewers intentionally walked Pedro Alvarez in the 6th inning on Friday night it snapped a string of 44 straight innings that Pirate hitters had gone without drawing a walk. It wouldn’t take nearly as long for the Bucs to get their next walk. Andrew Lambo would draw a walk an inning later.

Stats that blow my mind: Jordy Mercer has a streak of 158 games and counting without making an error on a throw to first base. His last throwing error to first base was on September 20, 2013.

Records and Milestones: When Corey Hart deposited a baseball into the left field seats on Opening Day it marked his 1000th major league hit.


He said what: The Pirates were shutout by the Tigers in two straight games this week, but Clint Hurdle was was never too concerned about pressure affecting his hitters.

Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what you’re doing. (Playing ball) is not a fistfight; it’s more of a dance.”.


Tweet of the week: Do you remember that god awful trade that sent Rajai Davis to the Giants for a washed up Matt Morris? This guy certainly remembered after Davis knocked in the only run in a 1-0 Pirates loss on Tuesday night.


Front Office Notes: Chris Stewart completed his rehab assignment which means there was little choice but to send Tony Sanchez back down to AAA.


On The Farm: Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire are both off to great starts to the season for the Bradenton Marauders. Meadows is slashing .381/.314/.500 thru his first 10 games. McGuire already has 4 doubles. But the big bopper in the early going for the Marauders is JaCoby Jones. Jones already has 7 extra base hits – 3 2Bs, 1 3B, and 3 HRs.

Highlight of the week: Josh Harrison did not make the Pirate fans wait long to give the home crowd at PNC Park something to cheer about. He drilled the very first pitch in the bottom of the 1st inning of the Opener for an opposite field home run.



Is it Time to Worry About Mark Melancon?

The lifespan of a closer tends to be very short. Very few closers maintain effectiveness year after year. And when they do fall from grace it is often very swift. I’m looking at you Ernesto Frieri, Chris Perez, and Jim Johnson. So as a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates it causes me great concern to see Mark Melancon get hit so hard by the Tigers in the Pirates’ home opener. We saw this story last April with Jason Grilli and it wasn’t pretty. Lucky for the Bucs that Melancon had a four run lead to work with in the 9th inning. He needed every bit of that lead to just barely survive the Tigers’ onslaught. The Pirates need the backend of the bullpen to be effective. Any closer can have a bad day, so it shouldn’t be that alarming to see Melancon get roughed up. But there is something about Melancon’s early season appearances that portends to trouble ahead – a precipitous drop off in his velocity.
As the chart above shows Melancon has lost more than 3 mph off of the Cutter – his bread and butter pitch. Last season Melancon averaged 91.9 mph with his Cutter. This year it has dropped to a very hittable 88.7 mph. Melancon has only made three appearances thus far, and in only one of those games did he enter in a high leverage situation. But this is an alarming drop off. A 3 mph loss in velocity is no small drop, and velocity changes tend to stabilize very quickly. Something is going on here. Either Melancon is injured or he really is losing steam from his Cutter. Perhaps he will gain some of it back, but gaining back 3 mph seems very unlikely. Can Melancon pitch effectively at this velocity? I have my doubts. The Pirates might need to switch closers in the near future.

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