Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates Acquire 1B Ike Davis

GM Neil Huntington finally plugged the Pirates’ hole at 1B by acquiring Ike Davis from the Mets. The Bucs have been attached to trade rumors involving Davis all throughout the offseason and Spring Training. Ike Davis is a Three True Outcomes (TTO) type of hitter. He does not hit for a very high average, but he can hit bombs, he draws quite a few walks, and he strikes out a ton. He mashes right-handed pitching well, but he can’t hit southpaws a lick. That actually makes him a great fit for the Pirates. The Bucs face fewer left-handed starters than any team in baseball. In 2013 the Pirates faced just 31 left-handed starting pitchers. So far this season that have faced just 1 lefty starter in their first 17 games. The Pirates also possess the ideal platoon partner for Davis in Gaby Sanchez. The cost to acquire Davis was minor league pitcher Zack Thornton and a Player to Be Named Later. There is speculation that the PTBNL will be a “significant” prospect from the 2013 draft class. Prospects can not be traded until 1 full year after their signing, so that is one potential reason to have a PTBNL in a deal such as this. That is far from the only scenario, or even the most frequent scenario of a PTBNL. I can’t imagine the Pirates would be parting with one of their top 10 prospects in this deal, however I do believe they will be sending the Mets a prospect with a little more value than Zack Thornton. As it stands today this looks like a pretty good deal for the Bucs. The Trader Neal Trade Tracker has been updated to reflect the addition of Ike Davis.
 

Not the Same Old Pedro

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2014 season is just 17 games old, but it is already quite clear that Pedro Alvarez has become a different hitter. He is showing never before seen patience and a willingness to hit to all fields. The sample size is still small, just 75 plate appearances, but the evidence is mounting that the light has finally clicked on for Pedro. 75 trips to plate does not seem like a lot, but that is a large enough sample for some of the plate discipline numbers to be reliable. K% and Swing% have already stabilized by 75 plate appearances. Batted ball statistics are not reliable at this point, but the early numbers are trending so highly in such a positive direction that it is hard to ignore them. So let’s dig into what is different with El Toro this season thus far:
 
The new Pedro is showing patience at the plate: If it seems to you that Pedro is chasing a lot less bad pitches out of the zone, you aren’t imagining things. His O-Swing%, the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone swung at, is at a career low 27.4%. That is down from 35.2% last year. That is a significant change. And when he does swing at pitches out of the zone he is making contact with them more frequently (last season 48.7%, this season 54.2%). That indicates that not only is he chasing fewer balls, but he is also chasing fewer balls well out of zone that he has no chance of getting the bat on. All of this has led to a strikeout rate of just 24.0% this season. His career rate is over 30%. Again, that is a big improvement and the sample size is large enough to be reliable.
 
The new Pedro is willing to drive balls to the opposite field: These numbers are so stark they can’t be ignored regardless of the sample size. In 2013 Pedro hit just 62 balls to the opposite field in 150 games. This year he has already hit 19 balls the opposite way in just 16 games. At the current rate he will more than triple the number of balls he hit the opposite way last season. The Big Bull has already gone yard to the opposite field three times this season. That matches his entire total of opposite field home runs from 2013.
 
The new Pedro is getting some lift: When I gave my projections for Pedro in the off season I said the key for him to hit 40 homers was to get his fly ball rate above 40%. In the early going he has more than done that. Thus far his FB% stands at 45.7%. Keep in mind that this is a stat that should not yet be considered reliable. It takes 80 balls in play for FB% to stabilize. However, his new willingness to drive the ball the opposite direction should help him sustain an elevated FB%. There is a reason that Pedro sees so many infield shifts. When he pulls the ball it usually stays on the ground. Only 19.5% of the balls he has pulled in his career have been fly balls. But when he goes to the opposite field the numbers are almost completely flipped. Just 19.6% of the balls he has hit to the opposite field in his career have been on the ground. So staying back and driving the ball to the opposite field is paramount for Pedro to get lift on the balls he hits.
 

I can’t tell you this early in the season that Pedro won’t revert back to the same old Pedro. We still have 90% of the season to go. 17 games is not enough to completely rewrite the book on Pedro. But we have completed a nice chunk of a brand new chapter, and so far I like what has been written. The arrow is pointing up. If Pedro continues with this new approach at the plate, 2014 is going to be a career year for El Toro.
 

West Virginia Power Player of the Week: Erich Weiss

Infielder Erich Weiss went 13 for 26 and knocked in 7 runs to win the HiddenVigorish.com West Virginia Power Player of the Week Award for the week of 4/7/14 thru 4/13/14. Erich is currently working on an 8 game hitting streak. He had 4 multi-hit games during the week, and hit an inside-the-park grand slam against the Lexington Legends on 4/13/14. That hit marked his first Home Run as a professional baseball player. Erich Weiss was drafted in the 11th round of the 2013 Draft out of the University of Texas. He is playing second base for the WV Power this season after playing third base last year with the Jamestown Jammers of the short season New York-Penn League. He has played error free defense in 8 starts thus far.
 

TWIBB Notes for the Week of 4-7-14 thru 4-13-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 4/7/14 thru 4/13/14, the second week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 2 wins and 4 Losses, 22 Runs Scored and 28 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Pedro Alvarez. El Toro slammed 3 homers and knocked in 7 runs this week. His big three run blast in the 7th inning on Thursday against the Cubs turned a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 Pirates’ victory.

 

Zero of the week: Tony Sanchez. Tony Twitter started two games this week. He was abysmal defensively. He made costly throwing errors in both games. Throwing a ball away on a routine throw to first base in the 6th inning on Sunday against the Brewers cost the Pirates two runs that essentially iced the game. Base runners also swiped 4 bags off of Tony, and Pirate pitchers surrendered 2 wild pitches with him behind the dish.
 

How do you spell relief? B-R-Y-A-N M-O-R-R-I-S. Bryan Morris pitched 3 innings allowing just 2 base runners on a pair of singles. He recorded 3 Ks. One thing to keep an eye with Morris is his pickoff move. Relief pitchers generally do not possess good pickoff moves, but Morris has one of the best I have ever seen from a right-handed reliever. He already has one pickoff this season.
 

#HURDLED: This wasn’t costly, but pulling Pedro Alvarez for pinch runner Josh Harrison in the 9th inning of Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Brewers makes little sense to me. If Pedro represented the go ahead run I would endorse the move. But I hate doing this when trailing. So let’s play this out as if Harrison scored and the Pirates tied the game in the 9th. Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata, the two best hitters on the bench were already used. Pedro Alvarez is now out of the game leaving Josh Harrison to bat behind Andrew McCutchen the rest of the game. How confident are you that this lineup minus Pedro could scratch out a run in extra innings before the Brewers?
 

Cannonballs: Pedro Alvarez (3), Travis Snider (2), Russell Martin (2), Neil Walker.

 

The little things that matter: Trying to get caught in a run down to allow another runner to score is a great play in Little League. Travis Snider, this is not Little League. Stupid base running takes away at-bats from hitters. In this case it cost Pedro an opportunity to bat with the go ahead run on base in the 8th inning. The little things in baseball matter. Not doing them is costly.
 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Emilio Bonifacio destroyed Pirate pitching this month to the tune of 16 hits in 30 ABs over 6 games. That is a .533 batting average. But with the bases loaded and two outs in the 9th and trailing by a run Bonifacio is hitting .000 against the Bucs. Jason Grilli got the red hot Emilio Bonifacio to ground out to end Thursday’s 5-4 win over the Cubs.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Pedro Alvarez hit just 62 balls to the opposite field last season. In just 12 games this year he has already hit 14 balls to the opposite field.
 

Records and Milestones: Nothing of Note
 

He said what: Travis Snider talking about Pedro Alvarez following the Pirates 5-4 on Thursday against the Cubs.

He’s come into his own. He’s at a total level of comfort. For us, it’s fun to sit back and watch him scare pitchers.”

 

Tweet of the week: It appears Tony Twitter doesn’t like the new blocking the plate rule.


 

Front Office Notes: Vin Mazzaro went unclaimed and accepted his assignment to the minors. With the way Jeanmar Gomez has been struggling I expect we will see Vinny again soon.
 

On The Farm: Gregory Polanco is off to a hot start in Indy with a triple slash line of .465/.511/.744 in his first 11 games of the season. His impressive play is pressuring the Pirates to bring him up before June. Too bad he can’t play first base.
 

Highlight of the week: Pedro’s 3-run game winning blast against the Cubs on 4/10/14.
 

 

For the Pirates Platoons are as Useful as Tits on a Bull

After eight straight games against right-handed pitchers to start the season the Pirates will finally face a left hander in game #9 when Travis Wood takes to the bump for the Cubs. That will be a welcome sight for Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata, the sparsely used right-handed side of the platoons the Pirates use at 1B and RF. Sanchez and Tabata better take advantage of their opportunity to get some hacks against a southpaw. They aren’t going to see another left-handed starter again for quite some time. Following this series with the Cubs the Bucs will face the Brewers, followed by the Reds, and then the Brewers again. The Brewers have no southpaws in their rotation while the Reds have just Tony Cingrani. It appears the Pirates will miss Cingrani as he is scheduled to start Sunday in the final game of the Reds’ series against the Rays. Unless something unforeseen happens the Pirates will face just one left-handed starter in their first 20 games and just two in the entire month of April. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that reads this blog. I have referenced numerous times that the Bucs faced just 31 left-handed starters all last season. I’ve also pointed out the lack of southpaws in the rotations of the Pirates’ NL Central Division rivals. With a schedule heavy with division opponents to start the season it is not surprising the Pirates would see so few in April. But what few lefties there are in the division the Pirates have missed. The Cubs chose not use Travis Wood in the season opening series, and now it looks like the Pirates will also miss Cingrani when they take on the Reds for the first time this season. The fallout of this imbalance is that Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata are collecting a lot of splinters in their buttocks.
 

Reese McGuire Nabs a Base Stealer With a 1.88 Pop Time

Reese McGuire is one of the most highly regarded defensive catching prospects in baseball. The following video taken from the West Virginia Power vs. Lexington Legends on 4/5/14 gives you a little glimpse as to why scouts love McGuire’s defensive ability.
 

 
The amount of time it takes a catcher to deliver a ball to second base is called the “pop time”. It is a stop watch measure between the pop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt on receiving the pitch to the pop of the ball in the second basemen’s glove on receiving the throw from the catcher. An average pop time for a major league catcher is 2 seconds. The best of the best defensively post pop times below 1.9 seconds. I have Reese McGuire clocked at 1.88 seconds on this caught stealing. That would be a very good pop time for any catcher. For a 19 year old kid in A Ball it is beyond outstanding. Notice how quickly McGuire makes the exchange from the mitt to his throwing hand. It is no wonder the runner was out by a mile.
 

West Virginia Power Player of the Week: Cody Dickson

Left-handed starting pitcher Cody Dickson dominated the Lexington Legends on Saturday to earn the very first HiddenVigorish.com West Virginia Power Player of the Week Award. Dickson pitched 5 innings allowing just 3 hits and 0 walks while striking out 7 to earn the win. The Lexington Legends video feed of the game was carried on MILB.tv, so I got my first good look at Cody Dickson. I’m impressed. He has a very clean delivery and throws from a three quarter arm slot. His command on Saturday was very good. He mixed his pitches well, and got quite a few of his 7 Ks on breaking balls. Dickson is going to be real tough on left-handed hitters. He was the Pirates 4th round pick of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Sam Houston State. He has a real good chance to be a breakout pitching prospect for the Pirates this season. He is already one of the top five left-handed pitchers in the system. A few more outings like the one on Saturday against the Legends and Cody Dickson’s stock will skyrocket.
 

TWIBB Notes for the Week of 3-31-14 thru 4-6-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 3/31/14 thru 4/6/14, the first week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 4 wins and 2 Losses, 22 Runs Scores and 15 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Tony Sanchez. Tony Twitter had two huge hits this week. On Wednesday he delivered a walk off pinch hit single in the 16th inning vs the Cubs. On Sunday he launched an Adam Wainwright pitch that split the right center field gap for a double in the 7th inning that drove in the deciding run.
 

Zero of the week: Clint Barmes. Barmes hit into a “routine” 7-2-3 double play with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 13th inning of Wednesday night’s 4-3 win. It was just another typical Barmes at the plate moment that we’ve all been tortured by too many times over the past two years. And because it cost me at least an hour of sleep Barmes earns the first Zero of the week.
 

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. Here is Tony Watson‘s line for the week. 3.1 Innings – 0 Runs – 0 Hits – 6 Ks – 1 BB.
 

#HURDLED : Calling for a sac bunt while down by a run in the 9th inning with Gaby Sanchez in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Cubs was wrong on so many levels. Put aside for a second what your individual philosophy is on sac bunting and consider this: 1) Gaby Sanchez has not laid down a successful sacrifice bunt since 2011. 2) Playing for a tie the day after a 16 inning marathon game is cruel and unusual punishment. Managing like that will have the bullpen running on fumes by Memorial Day.
 

Cannonballs: Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez (2), Travis Ishikawa
 

The little things that matter: The Bucs rallied for three runs in the 6th inning of their 12-2 victory Friday night against the Cardinals. That offensive outburst likely doesn’t happen if Pedro Alvarez isn’t busting his tail to beat out a routine double play ball.
 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: You won’t ever see controlling Pedro on the base paths as any “keys of the game”. Alvarez averages one stolen base per season. He got his one stolen base of 2014 out of the way early by swiping a bag Friday night. It helped set up a run.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Can’t say that I saw it coming that Edinson Volquez would pitch 7.2 innings this week and give up only 1 Run and 1 Walk.
 

Records and Milestones: Tuesday’s 16 inning game against the Cubs clocked in at 5 hours and 55 minutes, making it the longest game ever played in Pittsburgh. The winning pitcher was Stolmy Pimentel. It was his first career MLB win.
 

He said what: Neil Walker after giving the Bucs a win on Opening Day with a walk off Home Run.

This one feels pretty special. This was a special day for this team and this organization. We’ve come a long way. The last 20 years have been a tough thing. To get to where we are now it is pretty amazing. … The excitement in the ballpark, the pregame ceremonies, Frankie (Liriano) going out there and pitching a great game, it kind of felt like a rollover from last year

 

Tweet of the week: Over 2000 people retweeted what Tony Sanchez had to say after he delivered a walk off game winning hit in the wee hours of Thursday morning to end the 16 inning marathon game with the Cubs.


 

Front Office Notes: Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington were given well deserved three year contract extensions.
 

On The Farm: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Top prospect Jameson Taillon will undergo Tommy John Surgery and miss the entire 2014 season.
 

Highlight of the week: Walker’s Opening Day walk off blast
 

 

Origins of the West Virginia Power 2014 Roster

2014 marks the sixth season that the West Virginia Power have been an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Power opened the season on April 4th at the Lexington Legends with this roster: WV Power 2014 Opening Day Roster.
 
22 players are appearing with the Power for the first time, while 4 players are repeating the level. The roster is heavy with players drafted out of college. 13 of the 26 players on the WV roster were college players selected in the past two drafts. Let’s dissect the roster a little further.
 
Youngest Player: Reese McGuire – DOB: 03/02/1995
 
Oldest Player: Francisco Diaz – DOB: 03/21/1990
 
Top Prospect: Catcher Reese McGuire. McGuire is a consensus Top 100 Prospect among scouting services, and is considered among the best defensive catching prospects in all of baseball. He was the 14th overall pick in the 2013 draft. BaseballProspectus.com ranks him as the 59th best prospect.
 
Top Pitching Prospect: Luis Heredia. Heredia had huge expectations placed on him after receiving the highest international free agent signing bonus in the Pirates history back in 2010. He has fallen out off of many of the top 100 prospect lists which signifies there has been some disappointment in his progression thus far. That is probably a little unfair. He is still only 19 years old which makes him the youngest pitcher on the West Virginia roster. The reports are that he showed up to camp this Spring in much better shape than last season. That is a sign of mental maturation as much as it is physical maturation.
 
Others to watch: Cody Dickson is one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in the Pirates system. Many scouts have tabbed outfielders Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes as breakout candidates. Wyatt Mathisen is transitioning from catcher to third base this season after having his 2013 season curtailed by a shoulder injury.
 
Where they came from (pitchers):

2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
High School Draftees 0 0 1 0 0 0
College Draftees 7 0 0 0 0 0
Int. Free Agent – Colombia 0 0 0 0 0 1
Int. Free Agent – Mexico 0 0 0 1 0 0
Int. Free Agent – D.R. 0 0 0 1 1 0
Int. Free Agent – Lithuania 0 0 0 0 1 0
MiLB Rule 5 Draftees (from Yankees) 1 0 0 0 0 0

 
Where they came from (position players):

2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
High School Draftees 1 1 1 0 0 0
College Draftees 4 2 0 0 0 0
Int. Free Agent – Colombia 0 0 1 0 0 1
Int. Free Agent – D.R. 0 0 1 0 0 0
MiLB Rule 5 Draftees (from Phillies) 0 0 1 0 0 0

 

From Power to Pirates

The West Virginia Power began their affiliation with the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 2009 season. They participate in the South Atlantic League (Sally League), which is a Class A full season minor league. This is an important stop in the career of a professional baseball player. West Virginia is the first stop in the Pirates’ farm system that plays a full season. I plan on following the Power closely this season and posting frequent reports on what is going on with the prospects in West Virginia. It is too daunting to follow and write about the entire farm system, so I’m choosing to focus on the Power because some of best talent in the organization such as Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows will be playing in West Virginia in 2014. I also live fairly close to several teams that play in the South Atlantic League. This will give me an opportunity to get a first hand look at these prospects.
 
To kick things off I thought it would be cool to look at the players that have made the jump from West Virginia to Pittsburgh thus far, and just how quickly it took them. Keep in mind the Power’s affiliation with the Pirates only dates back to 2009, so players like Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker pre-date that. Also, first round draft picks drafted out of college are often advanced enough to skip the Sally League and go straight to Class A+. This was the case with Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole. I will be pinning this post to the site menu and updating it as more players make their major league debuts. Here is the list ranked in order by quickest to go from WV to Pittsburgh:
 

Power Debut Pirates Debut Days to the Majors
Brandon Cumpton 4/7/2011 6/15/2013 800
Chase d’Arnaud 4/9/2009 6/24/2011 806
Phil Irwin 4/8/2010 4/14/2013 1102
Starling Marte 6/26/2009 7/26/2012 1127
Vic Black 5/19/2010 7/25/2013 1166
Kyle McPherson 4/20/2009 8/20/2012 1218
Tony Sanchez 6/30/2009 6/23/2013 1454
Duke Welker 4/9/2009 6/23/2013 1536

 

There you have it. So far just eight West Virginia Power alums have made the jump to the Pirates, though one other player has made the jump to the majors. It took Robbie Grossman 1477 days to go from West Virginia to his debut with the Houston Astros. As for the Gregory Polanco watch, he would have to get called up by June 13, 2014 in order to beat Brandon Cumpton’s record for quickest jump from West Virginia to Pittsburgh.
 

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