Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Framing a Return to the Pirates for A.J. Burnett

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been heavily scouting starting pitchers that are said to be available at the trade deadline. They may end up turning to a familiar face. A.J. Burnett is said be open to returning the Pirates. His old teammates would be happy to welcome him back.
 


 

Of course this raises a few questions, the first being is he really an upgrade? Burnett is not quite the same pitcher he was last season when he posted a 3.30 ERA and a 9.85 K/9 rate. This year the strikeouts are down and the walks are up. He currently has a 4.08 ERA and a slightly better 3.98 FIP. On the surface that doesn’t appear to be much of an upgrade over Edinson Volquez (3.86 ERA, 4.36 FIP). However, there is one big variable unaccounted for if you try to compare these pitchers on stats alone. That missing variable is A.J.’s old battery mate Russell Martin.
 

It is my believe that reuniting Burnett with Russell Martin would greatly improve A.J.’s performance. Pitch framing data alone greatly suggests it would. The following table which is derived from baseballprospectus.com pitch framing data represents the number of extra framed strikes per 9 innings for each of the Pirates and Phillies catchers this season.

Russell Martin +1.63
Chris Stewart +1.09
Tony Sanchez +1.34
Carlos Ruiz -0.20
Cameron Rupp -0.77
Wil Nieves +0.46
Koyie Hill -1.69

 
I looked at A.J. Burnett’s splits this season to find the number of innings he has been caught by each catcher and determined the weighted average of strikes he has lost due to the framing abilities of Phillies’ catchers to be -0.17. The difference between Russell Martin and the Phillies’ catchers would be 1.8 extra strikes per 9 innings pitched. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but Baseball Prospectus has determined the value of each extra framed strike as 0.14. A difference of 1.8 extra strikes per game would lower Burnett’s ERA and FIP by 0.25. So adjusting for the discrepancy in catchers Burnett would actually have a 3.83 ERA and 3.73 FIP on the Pirates with Martin catching him. Of course there are additional benefits Burnett would enjoy if he was reunited with the Pirates, but the framing abilities of Russell Martin is the most glaring. I think there is enough evidence to support Burnett being at the very least a marginal upgrade to the rotation, and perhaps even a significant one.
 

The second question as to whether or not A.J. Burnett would be a reasonable acquisition is, does the cost to acquire him make sense? As his contract is currently constructed…probably not. He is still owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million. But there are ways to make such an acquisition palatable. For starters any trade for Burnett would have to include the Phillies taking Jose Tabata in return. Tabata is owed roughly $10 million dollars on his contract. That is a lot of cash for the Pirates to be paying for a guy they have stashed in AAA. Dumping Tabata on the Phillies would offset a nice chunk of the money still owed to Burnett. The Phillies might also be willing to kick in a portion of Burnett’s salary depending on the quality of the prospect they demand. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to give up a high end prospect for A.J. But the Pirates have a deep enough farm system that they should have something expendable that would be enticing to the Phillies. It isn’t like the Phillies have that many options. There just are not that many destinations for Burnett. His no-trade clause is very limiting.
 
As strange as it is the Pirates and Burnett may have come full circle. The Pirates and A.J. Burnett needed each other last offseason, and a few months apart has not changed that. I for one would welcome him back.
 

Psychological Warfare on the Diamond

Cincinnati Reds CF Billy Hamilton steps into the batters box and immediately the Pirates defense is on high alert. The corner infielders move up to defend the bunt. The middle infielders cheat in a few a steps because they know it will be difficult to throw out the speedy leadoff hitter from the edge of the OF grass. Hamilton shows bunt and takes the pitch from Charlie Morton for a ball. 3B Pedro Alvarez cheats in another step. The count reaches 2-1 and Hamilton is almost assured of seeing a fastball. No pitcher wants to fall behind and issue a free pass to this kind of baserunner. Hamilton slaps the next pitch to the right of Alvarez just out of his reach for a single. Under normal circumstances Pedro would make this play, but defending the bunt takes the angle away from him. Now things are about to get really stressful for Morton and the Pirates’ Defense. Morton has to divide his attention between Hamilton at the plate and the hitter Todd Frazier. Morton gets ahead of Frazier 0-1 and the Pirates are sniffing that Hamilton might be on the move. Catcher Russell Martin calls for the pitch out. No dice, Hamilton stays put. On the next pitch Morton holds the ball in the set position for an especially long time to try and freeze Hamilton. It works. Hamilton can’t get a good read and he stays put again. Unfortunately, the pitch was a 59 foot curveball that Russell Martin has difficulty blocking. The ball squirts just far enough away for Hamilton to advance to second base. Did the distraction of Hamilton at first base cause Morton to lose focus and fail to execute the pitch? Morton is able to retire Frazier and now Joey Votto steps to the plate. Ordinarily the Pirates would love to put an over shift on Votto. But with Billy Hamilton still on second base Pedro Alvarez must stay close enough to defend third base from the steal. It doesn’t matter, Hamilton swipes third base anyway. Votto then lifts a fly ball to right field that is too short to score most base runners. But Billy Hamilton is not most base runners. He scores standing up.
 

As a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates I hate Billy Hamilton. As someone who grew up watching baseball in the 80′s I love Billy Hamilton. For me Hamilton harkens back to the brand of major league baseball of my youth when Vince Coleman would swipe 100 bases in a season and Brett Butler would collect 188 bunt base hits in a career that spanned the 80′s and early 90′s. This small ball style of play began to die as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased the home run record at the dawn of the steroid era. The growing community of sabermetric minded baseball people were eager to help bury it. Armed with years of data, run expectancy charts were developed that seemingly proved the inefficiencies of small ball tactics.
 

Analysis of run expectancies tells us that base stealing requires roughly a 70% success rate to provide any positive contribution in scoring runs. Prior to 2003 only twice did the league average success rate for steals exceed 70%. With the explosion of home runs during the steroid era runners began to take a more cautious approach on the base paths. Stolen base attempts per game dropped considerably as managers preferred to conserve outs, play a station to station style of game, and rely on the long ball. In light of the sabermetric data this all made for sound baseball strategy. But there is a hidden unquantifiable impact in small ball tactics that is missed by the those people that too heavily favor sabermetrics in the way they think about the game. For instance let’s look at Billy Hamilton. Hamilton has swiped 38 bases in 53 attempts this season. That represents a success rate of just under 72%. The data says that the Reds are just barely breaking even in scoring any extra runs due to Hamilton’s base stealing. But what the data doesn’t show is how strongly Hamilton’s base stealing abilities influences the game. He changes defenses. He alters pitch selection. When he gets on base he is always in the head of the opposition. Perhaps efficiency is not the end all and be all when considering offensive strategies. There is an influence, a psychological impact on the opponent that should also be considered. Just because it can’t be measured doesn’t mean the pressure to defend a stolen base attempt, or even the pressure to defend a sacrifice bunt doesn’t create some advantages.
 

This is not to say that the lead data analysts that front offices are employing do not grasp the importance of these hidden immeasurable effects of various baseball strategies. David Manel of Bucsdugout.com wrote an exceptional article last week in which he discussed his findings on the effectiveness of defensive over shifts with Dan Fox, Pirates’ Director of Baseball Systems Development for the – Pirates getting creative with defensive shifts. In the article Mr. Manel pointed out that despite the rapid adoption and exponential increase of defensive shifting by all teams over the last three seasons defensive efficiency has not improved. However, the insights provided in the article by Clint Barmes, Jimmy Rollins, and Dan Fox make it clear that there is more to evaluating the success of the shift than just defensive efficiency. Mr. Fox spoke of how the Pirates use the shift to hem in hitters and influence them to change their approach at the plate.
 
Hitters have become pull happy and have eschewed bunting and hitting to the opposite field in their thirst for power. Defenses have countered by shifting fielders to the pull side of the field. Influenced by the shift, some hitters are searching for answers to beat it such as trying to hit more to the opposite field and even laying down an occasional bunt. It is a vicious circle and it is very much like the cat and mouse game played by base stealers, pitchers, and defenses for decades. In the end the efficiency of the tactic matters most, but the hidden psychological impacts should not be completely ignored. There is value in influencing an opponent. It is just difficult to measure how much.

 

TWIBB Notes for Week of 7-14-14 thru 7-20-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 7/14/14 thru 7/20/14, the 16th week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 3 wins and 0 Losses, 12 Runs Scored and 7 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Neil Walker. The Pittsburgh Kid roughed up the Rockies’ pitching staff over the weekend by going 7 for 12. He drove in the game tying run in the 8th inning on Saturday night and then blasted a homer on Sunday afternoon. Walker scored 5 of the Pirates’ 12 runs this week.
 

Zero of the week: Gregory Polanco. Polanco’s first prolonged slump in the major leagues continues. Polanco is finding southpaws at the major league level to be especially tough, and drawing three straight lefty starters out of the all-star break proved to be a difficult challenge. Polanco had just 2 hits in 15 ABs and left 7 runners on base in the weekend series against the Rockies.
 

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless inning in each game this weekend and picking up two saves in the process.
 

#HURDLED: What an odd piece of managing on Friday night. Manager Clint Hurdle allowed pitcher Francisco Liriano to hit in the bottom of the 5th inning with the Pirates trailing 1-0. The Pirates would end up tying the score later in the 5th. Hurdle then went to his bullpen to start the 6th inning. Hurdle indicated in post game interviews that had the Pirates not tied the game he would have stuck with Liriano. Whatever Clint.

 

Cannonballs: Neil Walker
 

The little things that matter: The Pirates scored a game tying run in the 8th inning on Saturday night thanks in large part to an infield single by Russell Martin that never would have happened if not for base runners Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen running on the 3-2 pitch. This was not a two out situation. A double steal attempt was a risk, but Russell Martin is the right kind of hitter at the plate to execute that play. Russ generally puts the bat on the ball. Martin got just enough of the 3-2 breaking ball to pull a slow roller to the hole between SS and 3B. If the runners weren’t in motion the Colorado Rockies would have gotten a force out.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Andrew McCutchen was a perfect 15 for 15 on stolen base attempts this season. Base stealers had successfully swiped 21 bases on 22 attempts against Rockies catcher Michael McKenry. So of course McKenry nabbed McCutchen stealing on Sunday. I can’t explain it so it must be Hidden Vigorish.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Travis Snider ranks second in the league with 11 pinch hits this season.
 

Records and Milestones: Nothing Noteworthy.
 

He said what: In a downright terrifying moment Starling Marte got drilled in the head with a 93 mph fastball on Friday night. Neal Huntington went out of his way to not label it a concussion. Did Neal get tips from Roger Goodell before he opened his mouth on this incident?

“It’s not technically classified as a concussion. It’s more head trauma and a contusion. From a concussion standpoint, we’ll see where he goes. We’re not through the process of definitely not going on the 7-day concussion DL because it is a head trauma, but at this point in time he’s going through the concussion protocol and making great progress.

 

Tweet of the week: With each ball that Pedro Alvarez hurls into the stands the cries to move him to 1B get louder.


 

Front Office Notes: The trade deadline is getting close. The rumor mill is starting to churn vigorously. The Pirates seem to have their target set on a starting pitcher. This week they have been scouting Jake Peavy and Ian Kennedy.

 

On The Farm: JaCoby Jones is “En Fuego”. The shortstop of the West Virginia Power has hammered 8 home runs with a 1.213 OPS in July.

 
Highlight of the week: I should just rename the Highlight of the week as the Walk-Off of the week. It has been a regular occurrence on every home stand for the Pittsburgh Pirates. This time the hero was Jordy Mercer who delivered the game winning hit in the bottom of the 11th on 7/19/14.

 

 

WV Power Report: JaCoby Jones is on a Power Surge

For most of 2014 the West Virginia Power could classify this season as a train wreck. The South Atlantic League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates got off to a poor start, saw their most talented prospects go down with injuries, and limped into the Sally League all-star break at mid-June with a record of just 20-48. But fortunes have begun to change in the second half, and SS JaCoby Jones is a big reason why. Since the start of July, Jones has been raking at a blistering pace. His triple slash line for the month is .424/.466/.818. In 16 games this month Jones has hammered 8 HRs with 16 RBIs. He leads the club with 16 HRs this season. The next closest is Edwin Espinal with 4 HRs. The Power as a team have hit just 40 HRs. JaCoby Jones’s power surge has helped West Virginia enjoy a little more success on the field in the second half of the season. Their record since the All-Star break is 14-14.

 

I got to see JaCoby Jones play against Lakewood a few weeks ago. He flashed many of the tools that scouts have raved about. He has a strong powerful swing. He still needs to cut down on the misses, but when he makes contact the ball jumps off of his bat. Here is some video I took of an AB in which Jones lined out to deep center field on 6/20/14.

 

How Far Can the Pirates Go Without an Ace?

Early this month I wrote a post discussing some of the aces that are potentially on the market as the Pirates approach the trade deadline. I was adamant that the Pirates will not be serious contenders if they do not acquire an ace starting pitcher. A few days after my post was published Tim Williams of PiratesProspects.com wrote an opposing view point in a post titled, “The Pirates Don’t Need to Trade For an Ace at the Deadline”. Tim’s argument is the Pirates shouldn’t weaken their system and potentially their chances of contending in the future by making a big move for an ace when they are already contending without one. It is hard to debate what may or may not happen in the future. The Pirates are certainly positioned well for future success, but there are no guarantees in baseball. No one can predict how injuries may take a toll on the franchise, how good or bad the Pirates’ NL Central Division foes will be in developing players, or a litany of other factors that will affect the Pirates chances to contend in 2015, 2016, 2017, and beyond. What we do know is in 2014 the NL Central is a winnable division. It is a four team race and all four teams have flaws. The Pirates are one of those four teams. However, the Pirates’ biggest flaw appears to be much more fatal than the flaws of their division foes. The Pirates lack an ace and that usually renders a team a pretender instead of a contender.
 

So why is an ace so important to the Pirates chances? Getting to the playoffs without a top shelf starting pitcher is not only an extremely difficult task, it is practically unheard of. Being a factor in the playoffs without an ace is even less likely. You have to go back to the 2006 Mets to find a team that won a playoff series without having a starting pitcher with a 3.0 fWAR for the season. That season Tom Glavine was the Mets most productive starting pitcher with a 2.5 fWAR. Of course Glavine is a 300 game winner and a member of the Hall of Fame and also posted a 15-7 record that season. The last team to make it to the World Series without having a 3.0 fWAR was the 2004 Cardinals. Chris Carpenter led that staff with 2.8 fWAR. Carpenter missed a few starts with injuries and still managed to post a 15-5 record as well as that 2.8 fWAR. To find a World Series winner without a 3.0 fWAR pitcher you have to go all the way back to the 1966 Baltimore Orioles led by Dave McNally with a 2.9 fWAR. McNally would prove to be a really good pitcher over his career. He would post 4 straight 20 win seasons from 1968 thru 1971. That 1966 Orioles team also had 20 year old Jim Palmer on the staff. Palmer would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame.
 

A pitcher that posts 3.0 fWAR has enjoyed a good season, but that doesn’t mean that pitcher passes the “ace” sniff test. However, even if using the paltry standard of 3.0 fWAR the Pirates have nothing close to an ace this season. The current fWAR leader on the Pirates is Charlie Morton at 1.0 fWAR. At his current pace Morton won’t even reach 2.0 fWAR, let alone 3.0. Jeff Locke has thrown well in his 8 starts. If he continues to pitch like he has thus far he could crack 2.0 fWAR. But does anyone view Jeff Locke as a #1 starting pitcher? It was hoped that Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano would lead the starting rotation this season. Right now neither appear capable of doing so. Cole is on the DL with a shoulder injury. When Cole has pitched he has alternated between mediocre and good. He has been far from dominant. Liriano looks more and more like a guy incapable of repeating the success he had in 2013. It just doesn’t look like the Pirates are going to have a quality top of the rotation starting pitcher for the stretch run unless they miraculously are able acquire one before the trade deadline. If they do not acquire one they have very little chance of playing in October. As I have already shown history is not very kind to teams that lack an ace.
 

TWIBB Notes for Week of 7-7-14 thru 7-13-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 7/7/14 thru 7/13/14, the 15th week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 2 wins and 5 Losses, 27 Runs Scored and 30 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Andrew McCutchen takes “Hero of the week” honors for the second week in a row. Cutch’s heroics on Saturday night might just be the signature moment of his career thus far. He stole the Reds’ hearts by drilling a game tying home run in the top of the 9th. Then in the 11th inning he hit another blast to give the Pirates the victory. It was all part of a week in which McCutchen hit 4 homers, drove in 7 runs, and scored 9 times.
 

Zero of the week: Ike Sanchez…I mean Gaby Davis….I mean the damn 1B platoon. Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez combined to leave 19 runners on base this week. Sanchez was 1 for 12 with 0 RBIs. Ike was 2 for 14 with 0 RBIs.

 

How do you spell relief? J-A-R-E-D H-U-G-H-E-S. While the rest of the bullpen took turns melting down at the end of games, Jared Hughes was icing opposition hitters in the 7th inning. Hughes pitched 4.2 innings of scoreless relief this week.
 

#HURDLED: Let me first say that for me the #hurdled hashtag is more an indictment on the strategic flaws of managers in general, and not so much to poke fun at Clint Hurdle for his specific shortcomings. The decisions Clint Hurdle makes would be made by 90% of the managers in the game. What happened to the Pirates this week was simply a microcosm of flawed bullpen usage that is prevalent throughout Major League Baseball. Pirate relievers allowed two walk-off home runs and blew a 5-3 lead in the 8th inning this week. Meanwhile closer Mark Melancon watched it all unfold from his lawn chair in the bullpen. Melancon went an entire week with out being used while the rest of the bullpen crumbled. But as much as I hate how closers are used at least I can understand why managers try to save their closer to finish games on the road. What I don’t understand is why the primary set up man has become a 1 inning pitcher. Tony Watson has been the brightest spot in this bullpen all season. His work this year has earned him an all-star bid. On Monday night he retired the Cardinals in the 8th inning on 5 pitches. He should have been sent back out for the 9th inning. Instead Ernesto Frieri was given the ball. Needless to say it was not shocking that Frieri served up a walk-off homer to Matt Adams. In 2013 Watson was terrific in multi-inning outings. Last season he pitched more than 1 inning 17 times, including 7 outings of 2 innings or more. This season Watson has yet to have an outing of 2 full innings, and has only gone more than 1 inning 3 times. This cookie cutter style management of the bullpen has got to stop. That works fine with a good bullpen. This is not a good bullpen. Hurdle has to get more creative to get outs from this group of suspect relievers. That means Watson pitching more than 1 inning. That means Melancon pitching in non-save situations. That means quick hooks and playing match ups better.

 

Cannonballs: Andrew McCutchen (4), Pedro Alvarez (2), Neil Walker (2), Russell Martin
 

The little things that matter: Tony Watson was summoned in the 8th inning on Friday night to protect a 5-3 lead. He got the first two hitters out and had Devin Mesoraco behind in the count 1-2. Devin Mesoraco is a fastball hitter. His career average against fastballs is .294. Devin Mesoraco is terrible against changes ups. His career average against change ups is just .171. He has never gotten a hit in the major leagues against a change up in an 0-2 or 1-2 count. Tony Watson possesses an excellent change up. So why did the Pirates try to challenge Mesoraco with a fastball up and in? Watson missed the location with a 96 mph heater, Mesoraco deposited it into the left field seats, and another bullpen implosion was underway.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Over the last 4 seasons Andrew McCutchen has been caught stealing on average 10.5 times. This year he has swiped 15 bags in 15 attempts.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Pedro Alvarez has lapped the field with 19 throwing errors. The next closest is Josh Donaldson with 10.
 

Records and Milestones: Pedro Alvarez hit his 100th career home run. Jeanmar Gomez earned his first career save.
 

He said what: Neal Huntington wants Andrew McCutchen to play his whole career as a Pirate. Talk is cheap, but at least the front office is expressing the same desires as the fans.

We truly hope Andrew McCutchen retires as a Pirate. That is going to be incredibly challenging to do, but that is our long-term goal.

 

Tweet of the week: Jordy Mercer was either really stoked by Cutch’s home run or was going to kick Chris Stewart‘s ass. Either way I was loving it.

 

Front Office Notes: Starling Marte was placed on the bereavement list which was very unfortunate for him. What was unfortunate for us was Neal Huntington used that as an opportunity to free Matt Hague.

 

On The Farm: Tyler Glasnow is a top 50 prospect that garners a lot of attention, but don’t sleep on his Bradenton Marauders teammate Jason Creasy. Creasy has a 3.29 ERA and has issued just 13 walks in 98.1 innings.

 
Highlight of the week: Andrew McCutchen was the hero on Saturday night thanks to his game tying and game winning blasts, but none of that would have mattered if not for this game saving throw by Gregory Polanco to cut down what would have been the winning run for the Reds in the bottom of the 10th inning. This was just a sensational play. The throw by Polanco was a perfect one hop bullet, but the short hop pick by Russell Martin was equally amazing. A catchers mitt is not designed to make plays like that. Just an all around great play at a big moment in a very important game.

 

 

Pirates Bullpen Not Befitting a Contender

For the third time this week the Pirates bullpen was beaten late. Earlier in the week Justin Wilson and Ernesto Frieri gave up walk-off home runs to the Cardinals in back to back games. Those were jarring losses, but nothing compared to last night’s melt down that saw the Pirates blow a 5-1 lead against the Reds. The Bucs were seemingly in control with just 8 outs to go when Pedro Alvarez airmailed yet another throw into the stands and gave the Reds some life. Tony Watson came on in the 8th inning to hold a 5-3 lead. For the first time in a very long while Watson came up short. The Reds rallied for 3 runs and the Pirates were stung with yet another loss due to a bullpen implosion. This game marked the 15th blown save for the Pirates’ bullpen this season. That matches the total from the entire 2013 season.
 
So what is wrong with the bullpen this year? To some degree this was expected. Just about everyone believed the Pirates were due for some serious regression with their bullpen this season. Bullpens are notoriously volatile and the Pirates’ 2013 relief corps pitched over their heads. They were going to fall back to earth. The hope was they could at least make a soft landing, but no, they’ve crashed and burned. But regression and bad luck are not the only culprits. In fact they provide an excuse for the other problems that are wrong with this staff. It is time to question the roster management of the bullpen. Entering the season Jason Grilli and Bryan Morris were being tabbed for prominent roles in the bullpen. They faltered and were jettisoned in trades. Addition by subtraction many would call those deals. The only “help” coming back in those trades was Ernesto Frieri. Frieri has been a disaster since donning his Pirate uniform. The team has openly talked about mechanical adjustments Frieri needs to make. Plain and simple, he is a project. That really isn’t something a contender should be wasting time with. They need options in the bullpen that the manager can trust. It is hard to justify carrying one relief pitcher on the major league roster that is a project, but the Pirates have actually allocated another roster spot all season to a pitcher that is a work in progress. That would be the seldom used Stolmy Pimentel. Pimentel was activated from the disabled list on June 11th. Since then he has appeared in just five games and none of those five games was the score close. Twice he entered games with the Pirates leading by at least 5 runs. The three other games he pitched since returned from the DL the entered with the Pirates trailing by at least 3 runs. Clint Hurdle won’t even let Pimentel sniff a leverage situation. He has basically been treated like a Rule 5 draft selection. He is on the roster not because he can help the club, but because the team wants to retain his rights.
 
The Pirates simply cannot continue to carry two pitchers in their bullpen that are projects. They need arms that can help bolster what has been the achilles heel of the 2014 team. The sad part is they actually have an internal option that they are refusing to turn to. Vin Mazzaro is currently toiling at AAA Indianapolis with a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 innings this season. I know Mazzaro is not a great pitcher, but he did well for the Pirates in 2013 posting a 2.81 ERA, and Hurdle trusted him enough to pitch him in far higher leverage situations than what he has been willing to use Pimentel in this season. In 35 of Mazzaro’s 57 outings last season the score was within 2 runs. If the Pirates were serious about carrying the best 25 players then Vin Mazzaro would be on the staff and Frieri or Pimentel would be out. This Pirates bullpen as currently constructed is not befitting of a contending team. A contender needs more than three reliable bullpen options, and it can’t be wasting spots on two pitchers that should not be trusted outside of mop up work. It is time for GM Neal Huntington to address the bullpen before it is too late.
 

TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-30-14 thru 7-6-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/30/14 thru 7/6/14, the 14th week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 5 wins and 1 Losses, 27 Runs Scored and 19 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Andrew McCutchen. Cutch had multiple hits in 4 of the 6 games the Pirates played this week. The Phillies’ pitching staff is going to have nightmares about McCutchen after what he did to them this weekend. For the week McCutchen was 11 for 24 with a home run, 2 triples, a double, 6 RBIs, and 3 runs scored. And his week was capped off by the announcement on Sunday that he was selected by fan vote as a NL All Star starting outfielder
 

Zero of the week: Ernesto Frieri. Big Ern made two rather craptastic appearances out of the bullpen this week. On Tuesday night he was bailed out by Josh Harrison who cut down another runner at the plat with an outfield assist. Frieri would not be so lucky in his next outing as the Diamondbacks touched him up for 5 runs in the 9th inning on Thursday night. For the week Ernesto Frieri pitched 1.1 innings and gave up 8 hits and 5 runs.
 

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. Tony Watson took the ball three times this week and did his job. Honestly, he barley broke a sweat. Watson pitched 3 scoreless innings without surrendering a hit. He allowed just one base runner on a HBP. He earned two Holds for the week, increasing his total to a league leading 22. On Sunday night it was announced that Tony Watson was selected to be an All Star for the first time in his career.
 

#HURDLED: Vance Worley was sent to the plate to pinch hit in the 7th inning on Friday with a runner in scoring position and the Pirates holding a 7-2 lead. Ike Davis was still available on the bench. Clint, WTF?
 

Cannonballs: Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen
 

The little things that matter: I’m going to highlight Jordy Mercer this week for his hustle out of the batters box. Mercer stretched a single into a double on Thursday night against the Diamondbacks due to his hustle. Josh Harrison gets tons of credit for his all out play, but Mercer is quite similar in that regard. He doesn’t take anything for granted. You’ll never catch Jordy loafing.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Since the beginning of May the Pirates have the best record in baseball. The Pirates had a .600+ winning percentage over the last two months without the benefit of a series sweep….that is until the woeful Phillies came to town on July 4th weekend and the Pirates shoved a broom handle up their asses.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Jeff Locke, Vance Worley, and Brandon Cumpton all started the season in the minor leagues. What they’ve done since being recalled to the majors has been nothing short of remarkable. Since June 1st the trio have combined to post a record of 7 wins and 2 losses with a 2.46 ERA in 15 starts.
 

Records and Milestones: Andrew McCutchen was selected to his 4th straight All Star Game. Tony Watson and Josh Harrison were named as All Stars for the first time in their careers.

 

He said what: Dejan Kovacevic wrote a feel good column about Josh Harrison that I suggest all Pirate fans should read. In the piece Dejan dropped this quote from the Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook describing Josh Harrison’s abilities when he was in the minors:

“too small to hit for power, too slow to play a small man’s game, too limited in range to play shortstop, too impatient to draw walks.”

 

Tweet of the week: This is a tweet that legitimately made me LOL. It happened after Pedro Alvarez airmailed another throw into the stands in the 1st inning against the Phillies.

 

Front Office Notes: Clint Barmes was placed on the DL with a groin strain. Michael Martinez was recalled to take his spot. Infielder Dean Anna was claimed and stashed in Indianapolis as a depth option.

 

On The Farm: West Virginia Power CF Harold Ramirez has a 23 game hitting streak but has not played since July 1st. Perhaps a website that covers prospects in the Pirates system could find out why he is not playing.

 
Highlight of the week: On Monday night the Pirates were shut down all game by Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley until mounting a rally in the 9th inning. This game tying triple by Starling Marte was the key hit.

 

 

Pirates Need an Ace to Be True Contenders

The Pirates have been one of the hottest teams in baseball over the last six weeks. Since June 1st the Bucs are 20-11, a .645 winning percentage. Improved starting pitching has played a large part in the Pirates resurgence. What is unusual is where the team has gotten this bump in performance. Much of it has come from a trio of AAA call ups. Jeff Locke, Vance Worley, and Brandon Cumpton have combined to go 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 14 starts since the start of June. As happy as I am about how well this patchwork rotation has performed, I can not envision this group carrying the team to the playoffs. Without an ace the chances of the Pirates to get to the postseason are a long shot. If they were to make the playoffs the chances of actually winning a playoff series seem even longer. There are just too many ace pitchers on opposing contenders that they would have to overcome. If GM Neal Huntington wants to truly give the Pirates a shot at the World Series this year he will have to acquire a legitimate ace pitcher. The A’s acquired Jeff Samardzija yesterday. That takes one ace off the market. Here are the aces that are reportedly still available:
 

Yu Darvish – The Rangers have had a rough season and the reports are they are willing to listen on offers for Yu Darvish. Darvish is a true ace. He is one of the top 5 starting pitchers in baseball. He could make a big impact on the race. Darvish also has a very palatable contract that runs through the 2017 season. He also appears to be healthy. He has not had any arm issues to speak of, though he has missed time due to back and neck injuries. The problem with Darvish is the prospect cost to acquire him would be enormous. With the way the Pirates value prospects and young talent there is virtually no chance they would make an offer that could land Yu Darvish.
 
David Price – Price is the most likely ace to be dealt. The Rays have been listening to offers for Price since last season. The Rays are in last place in AL East so the motivation to move Price is at an all time high. Price is under team control for one more season. He will get one more crack at arbitration in 2015 in which his salary will escalate to the neighborhood of $20 million. The payroll concerns alone are enough to likely make Neal Huntington balk at the idea of acquiring Price. But the trade demands from the Rays would be an even bigger killer. The Rays are going to want a package similar to what the A’s paid for Samardzija. To get Samardzija the A’s gave up Addinson Russell, one of top SS prospects in all of baseball, as well as their 2013 1st Round draft pick Billy McKinney. For the Pirates to land Price they will have to surrender two of their top 5 prospects at a minimum. It just isn’t GM Neal Huntington’s M.O. to trade top prospects. He has yet trade a single prospect that ranked among the top 50 in baseball. The highest ranking prospect that Huntington has dealt was Robbie Grossman who was never even considered a consensus top 100 prospect.
 
Cliff Lee – I think Cliff Lee is the most plausible ace the Pirates could acquire. There are some big ifs though, starting with if Cliff Lee is healthy enough to still pitch like an ace. He has been on the Disabled List since late May with an elbow strain. He is expected to make a rehab start this weekend. If things go smoothly he would be on track to return at the All-Star break. Will he be the same pitcher when he returns? The other issue with Cliff Lee is his contract. He is scheduled to make $25 million next season and he has an achievable performance incentive that could also guarantee his 2016 season for $27.5 million. The Phillies have indicated they are open to eating some salary in order to move players. They would probably need to eat half of Cliff Lee‘s contract to make it palatable to the Pirates’ payroll. But at 35 years old with some injury concerns and a sizable contract I would expect the asking price for Cliff Lee to be less than it will be for Yu Darvish or David Price. I believe the Pirates would be willing to make a competitive trade offer to the Phillies, but again it would hinge on whether Lee proves he is healthy and the Phillies assume a significant portion of his contract.
 

TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-23-14 thru 6-29-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/23/14 thru 6/29/14, the 13th week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 5 wins and 2 Losses, 31 Runs Scored and 22 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Edinson Volquez. Volquez made two terrific starts this week and picked up the Win in both games. He surrendered just 1 run in 14 innings. That is some pretty solid work.
 

Zero of the week: Gerrit Cole. Cole came off the DL and made his first start in more than three weeks against the Mets on Saturday. He looked rusty. The Mets hit him hard early, scoring three in 1st inning and two more in the 2nd inning. A high pitch count forced Cole out of the game after just 4 innings. The Pirates could never recover from the early hole that Cole dug them as they fell to the Mets by a score of 5-3.
 

How do you spell relief? Stolmy Pimentel. Stolmy made only one appearance this week, and it was in defeat, but it was one of the most impressive relief outings by a Pirate this season. Pimentel came on in relief of Gerrit Cole on Saturday and pitched 4 impressive scoreless innings. He racked up 7 strike outs and allowed just three base runners. The Pirates were never able to fully crawl out of an early 5-0 hole, but Pimentel’s outing did allow them to make a game of it and he saved manager Clint Hurdle from using the rest of the bullpen.
 

#HURDLED:The sacrifice bunt that takes the bat out of a Andrew McCutchen‘s hands made a return this week. In the 7th inning on Thursday night against the Mets Josh Harrison laid down a sacrifice to move runners to 2nd and 3rd. Predictably the Mets intentionally walked McCutchen. The Pirates would fail to score as Neil Walker followed by grounding into a double play.
 

Cannonballs: Pedro Alvarez (2), Russell Martin, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco
 

The little things that matter: When the Pirates faced Bartolo Colon on May 28th he painted the outside corner all game long as 7 Pirates were struck out looking in a 5-0 Pirates’ loss. Things were different this time around against Colon on Sunday afternoon. Starling Marte, Ike Davis, and Pedro Alvarez all recorded 1st inning hits in 2 strike counts to help stake the Pirates to an early 3-0 lead. It seems so simple, but just being prepared to swing can make all the difference in the world. Bartolo Colon throws more fastballs than any pitcher in baseball. There is no reason he should fool hitters into taking a 2 strike pitch. The Pirates made a solid adjustment against pitcher they had recently faced and it made a big difference.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: After losing 7 straight road series through out April and May, the Pirates have rebounded to win their last 5 series on the road. The last time the Pirates won 5 straight road series was 1982.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Every stat that Josh Harrison has put up this season blows my mind. The .306 batting average, the .345 OBP, the .811 OPS… all of it is close to unfathomable.
 

Records and Milestones: Pat yourself on the backs Bucs’ fans. Over the weekend you set an attendance record for a four-game series at PNC Park. 150,819 came out to the ballpark to watch the Pirates take 3 of 4 from the Mets.

 

He said what: Neal Huntington on Ernesto Frieri, his newest acquisition:

Ernesto is a guy we have pursued for a couple of years and haven’t been able to get him. He’s been going through a rough stretch but there’s a lot of things our scouts like, that our analysts like. We feel like we’ve had some success with guys like this in the past.

 

Tweet of the week: Who was the last Pirates player that torched his reputation as quickly as Jason Grilli? Whatever goodwill the fans of his former team had for him went up in flames with this tweet:

 

Front Office Notes: The big news early in the week was Jose Tabata being outrighted to AAA Indianapolis. That was trumped by the news that the Bucs and Angels swapped struggling former closers on Friday. Jason Grilli is out and Ernesto Frieri is in.

 

On The Farm: Nick Kingham has been terrific since being promoted to AAA Indianapolis. In 4 starts with the Indians he has allowed just 1 ER and struck out 20 in 26.2 inning of work.

 
Highlight of the week: Josh Harrison does it again! Another huge clutch hit as JHay doubles in Clint Barmes for another walk-off win on 6/27/14.

 

 

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