Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 8-24-15 to 8-30-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 8/24/15 thru 8/30/15, the 21st week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 5 Wins and 2 Losses, 25 Runs Scored and 21 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: Andrew McCutchen. Andrew McChutchen is making another late push for an MVP award. This week he picked up 12 hits in 26 ABs (.462 AVG) and drove in 6 runs. Cutch is on pace for the first 100 RBI season of his career.

 

Zero of the week: Charlie Morton. The Pirates lost two games this week and Morton was the losing pitcher both times. In both instances he looked very good early only to implode after the 4th inning. On Sunday his poor fielding and inability to execute a sacrifice bunt also hurt the team.

 

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. Tony Watson is in the midst of another one of his long scoreless stretches. He went the entire month of August without allowing a run. This past week Watson picked up 3 Holds and 1 relief victory while tossing 3.2 scoreless innings.
 

#HURDLED: I got nothing. Hurdle seemed to pull the right strings all week long. He even played a hunch to give Pedro Alvarez a rare start against a left-handed pitcher. Pedro made the skipper look smart when he launched a ball 450 feet.
 

Cannonballs: Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Aramis Ramirez

 

The little things that matter: There are just some things that can not be learned in the minor leagues. One of those things for an outfielder is learning how to play all those quirky walls in major league parks. The Clemente Wall in PNC Park is not an easy wall to judge. It has taken Gregory Polanco a whole year to get comfortable with that wall. On Friday Night he proved that he has it down. Polanco played the a carom perfectly off the top of the wall to cut down a runner going to second base. With Polanco’s arm and his developing instincts opposing hitters are not going to be guaranteed second base just because they drive a ball off of the RF wall.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Gerrit Cole has been a hard luck pitcher in the month of August. A five start winless streak to begin the month was the longest winless stretch of his career. But it is hard to keep an ace down for the long. The Cole Train pitched a gem in Miami on Thursday to snap his string of bad luck.
 

Stats that blow my mind: With a win on Saturday the Pirates reached 30 games over .500 and the calendar still says August. The last time the Pirates were 30 games over .500 before September was 1972.
 

Records and Milestones: Andrew McCutchen played in his 1000th career game on 8/24/15

 

He said what: Now that Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison are back from the disabled list Clint Hurdle has a lot of options at his disposal…and he knows it:

We’re going to have better options during the course of a game than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here. It’s a deep bench and just about every night we’ve got guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, guys to work some at-bats, steal a base. We have more options and more talent and more depth. It helps you out, there’s no doubt

 

Tweet of the week: The Pirates looked flat in a loss to the Rockies on Sunday. They have played a lot of games in August with little time off. They finally get a day off before heading to Milwaukee to kick off the final month of the season.

 

Front Office Notes: The GM threw cold water on the notion that uberprospect Tyler Glasnow will be called up in September. Neal Huntington flat out said it is not going to happen.
 

On The Farm: SS Cole Tucker underwent surgery on his shoulder that will sideline him until late next season.

 
Highlight of the week: Gregory Polanco’s cannon saved the Pirates on Friday Night when he cut down Jose Reyes with this throw to the plate in the inning against the Rockies.
 

 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 8-17-15 to 8-23-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 8/17/15 thru 8/23/15, the 20th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 5 Wins and 2 Losses, 30 Runs Scored and 23 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: Starling Marte. Marte’s bat caught fire this week. With a blast on Tuesday night he broke a long home run slump that stretched back to July 1st. Later in the week he would hit another home run – this time of the walk off variety in a 3-2 win over the Giants. Defensively he robbed Brandon Crawford of a home run early in that game. For the week Marte had 12 hits in 32 ABs and scored 8 runs.

 

Zero of the week: Jeff Locke. Locke was awful in his only start of the week on Friday against the Giants. On a night when Madison Bumgarner looked vulnerable the Pirates failed to take advantage because of Jeff Locke’s poor outing. Not only did he surrender 6 runs in 5 innings, but he also hurt the team defensively when he was late covering first base. He also failed to put down a sacrifice bunt.
 

How do you spell relief? A-R-Q-U-I-M-E-D-E-S C-A-M-I-N-E-R-O. Arquimedes Caminero ran his scoreless streak to 14.2 innings by posting 4.2 innings of scoreless relief this week. He was sensational in an extended outing during extra innings on Tuesday night when he shut down the Diamondbacks for 3 innings. He also picked up his 14th Hold of the season against the Giants on Sunday.
 

#HURDLED: In the 12th inning on Tuesday Night Clint Hurdle elected to pinch hit with Chris Stewart, the backup catcher and last remaining position player. In what can also be described as inexplicable the AB was wasted by asking Stewart to lay down a sacrifice bunt.

 

Cannonballs: Pedro Alvarez (2), Starling Marte (2), Jung Ho Kang (3), Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen

 

The little things that matter: PNC Park is the rare place where base runners have an opportunity to take second base on a fly ball. This happens almost never at other MLB venues, but at PNC Park fly balls to the North Side Notch make tagging up for second base a semi-regular occurrence. In the second inning on Thursday night Starling Marte tagged up and headed to second on one such fly ball by Andrew McCutchen. That extra 90 feet produced a run when Aramis Ramirez followed up with a book-rule double. This was the first run of the night and helped set the tone for a series in which the Pirates would take 3 of 4 games from the Giants.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Pirates have had plenty of games in which they stranded a small village on the bases in a losing effort. On Saturday they did the complete opposite. They won a game 3-2 and did not leave single runner on base.

 

Stats that blow my mind: The Pirates bullpen has won 18 straight decisions. That is the longest streak in baseball since the 1909 Pirates won 22 straight bullpen decisions.
 

Records and Milestones: Aramis Ramirez drove in the 1400th RBI of his career on 8/21/15.

 

He said what: Clint Hurdle discusses Pedro Alvarez’s defensive woes:

It’s territorial more than anything else. You’re receiving the ball more than you’re catching, gloving it and throwing it. The spin is different on the bat being on the other side of the field. It’s something he’s still working on.

That there is some spin. Time to stop making excuses for Pedro’s defense. He has been working at 1B since last August. He had all of Spring Training to get acclimated to the position. He could have gone to Winter Ball, but chose not to. He has been playing the position every day this season. Pedro shouldn’t be this god awful at catching a baseball.
 

Tweet of the week: Gerrit Cole is seriously going strangle an infielder before this season is over.

 

Front Office Notes: One old Travis returned and another old Travis gets 15 days off with a fabricated back strain. Travis Snider was signed to a minor league contract presumably with a promise of September callup. Meanwhile Travis Ishikawa conveniently went on the DL to make way for the return of Jordy Mercer. In other news another player went from hero to DFA’d the next day – this time the victim was Pedro Florimon who was DFA’d after hitting a walk off triple in the 15th inning on Tuesday.
 

On The Farm: Tyler Glasnow has 0.99 ERA in 5 starts with AAA Indianapolis.

 
Highlight of the week: Starling Marte giveth and Starling Marte taketh away. On Saturday he stole a homer and then crushed a two out 9th inning walk off home run to make the Pirates a 3-2 winner over the Giants.
 

 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 8-10-15 to 8-16-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 8/10/15 thru 8/16/15, the 19th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 4 Wins and 2 Losses, 31 Runs Scored and 19 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: Gregory Polanco. Polanco is scalding hot. This week he picked up 14 hits in 29 ABs, scored 5 runs, and drove in 4. Polanco also continued to display the clutch gene. On Friday he drove in the go ahead run in the 10th inning against the Mets. In the 7th inning on Sunday he again drove in the go ahead run. He also blasted a mammoth home run high off the left field foul pole at Citi Field.
 

Zero of the week: Not a single player had an obvious poor week, therefore Zero Dishonors are suspended.
 

How do you spell relief? J-O-E B-L-A-N-T-O-N. The hefty right hander came up huge in a 14 inning win over the NY Mets on Saturday Night. Joe Blanton pitched the 11th-13th innings and whiffed 6 Mets’ hitters to pick up his first win as a Pirate. For the week Blanton pitched 4 scoreless innings, racked up 8 K, and surrendered just 2 hits and a walk.

 

#HURDLED: I covered this in detail earlier this week. Clint Hurdle absolutely stuck with Jeff Locke too long on Tuesday night against the Cardinals. It was inexcusable not to pull Locke after allowing two walks to begin the 5th inning. Head to head match ups against the Cardinals are precious. If the Pirates are going to catch the Cards Hurdle can not let a game like this get away from the Pirates.

 

Cannonballs: Pedro Alvarez (3), Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Aramis Ramirez, Gregory Polanco

 

The little things that matter: Two games were altered this week by the inability to turn a couple of routine double plays. Gerrit Cole had a chance to escape the 3rd inning against the Cardinals unscathed on Wednesday Night. Instead Neil Walker skipped a poor throw to first base, and Pedro Alvarez made an even poorer attempt to scoop it. The ball kicked away from Alvarez and two Cardinals’ baserunners scored. On Sunday the Pirates were on the receiving end of some charitable double play defense. With a runner on first base and no outs in the 7th inning Mets pitcher Bobby Parnell fielded a come backer and fired strike to second base. Unfortunately for Parnell, the Mets’ were confused on who should cover the bag and the ball sailed into centerfield. The Bucs would break the game open with 4 runs in the 7th inning.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Pirates finally won a game in St. Louis. The Bucs had lost 8 straight in St. Louis and 19 of their previous 22 games at Busch Stadium before exploding for 7 runs in the top of the 1st inning on their way to a 10-5 victory over the Cards on Thursday evening. It was the most runs the Pirates had scored in the top of a 1st inning since June 8, 1989, when they scored 10 runs at Philadelphia.

 

Stats that blow my mind: Against NL Central Division foes the Pirates are a combined W/L record of 21-29. Against the rest of the league they are an astounding 48-17.
 

Records and Milestones: The Pirates bullpen has won 16 straight decisions. According to Elias Sports that is the longest streak in baseball since the 1909 Pirates won 22 straight bullpen decisions.

 

He said what: Few things make Pirate fans as irate as “Sunday Lineups”. Clint Hurdle had a doozy of a “Sunday Lineup” this week – both Andrew McCutchen and Jung Ho Kang were given the day off against Mets’ ace Matt Harvey. The Pirates B team never got the memo that that they were supposedly overmatched. As Clint Hurdle noted the guys on his scorecard grinded against Harvey all game long.

The eight that went out there today battled their backsides off against Harvey

 

Tweet of the week: The Pirates’ bullpen has done a 180 in recent weeks.

We should give the GM some credit for the bullpen additions he made at the trade deadline, but we also need to credit the coaching staff for correcting issues with Antonio Bastardo and Arquimedes Caminero.

 

Front Office Notes: In my mind I imagine Neal Huntington is frantically blocking the Cardinals’ waiver claims. My mind and reality are not always in alignment.
 

On The Farm: Ke’Bryan Hayes has gotten off to a great start to his career. The Pirates selected Hayes with the 32nd overall pick in the 2015 draft. The 18 year old third basemen has slashed 347/441/397 in Rookie ball for the GCL Pirates.

 
Highlight of the week: I usually highlight a positive Pirates’ play from the week. But this throw by Yoenis Cespedes to cut down Sean Rodriguez at 3B was so extraordinary that I have to credit it.
 

 

Knowing When to Lift Jeff Locke

If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to catch the St. Louis Cardinals in the standings Clint Hurdle is going to have to do a much better job of managing the back end of the Pirates rotation. Last night he continued a post All-Star Break trend of leaving back of the rotation starting pitchers in the game to give it away in the middle innings. Last night with the Pirates leading 3-1, Jeff Locke started off the 5th inning by issuing two walks to Cardinals hitters. The writing was on the wall – Locke was about to blow this lead. Yet Hurdle stubbornly refused to activate his bullpen. Locke would manage to finish the inning, but not before handing the lead over to the Cardinals. The Pirates lost the game 4-3 to fall 6 games behind the Cardinals in the standings.
 
It was painful to watch how Hurdle managed that 5th inning. It was so apparent that Locke should be lifted. If this was an early June game I would understand giving Locke some rope. If the Pirates were AHEAD 5 games in the standings over the Cardinals then it would be ok to try to let Mr. Nibbles chew his way out of the 5th inning. But the Pirates are in chase mode and these head to head match ups with the Cardinals are precious. The way Hurdle managed that game last night was flat out negligence.
 
Jeff Locke is not an ace. You can’t trust him in the middle innings of a close game in a playoff chase like you would Gerrit Cole. Clint Hurdle is obviously struggling with these kind of managerial decisions. Since I am more about solutions than criticisms I have created this Flow Chart to help the Pirates’ skipper know when to lift Jeff Locke:
 
jeff locke flow chart

 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 8-3-15 to 8-9-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 8/3/15 thru 8/2915, the 18th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 4 Wins and 1 Loss, 31 Runs Scored and 25 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: Andrew McCutchen. Cutch caught fire this week picking up 8 RBIs while going 9 for 16. Among his hits were two 2 long balls and 2 doubles. He also drew 6 walks. If you are keeping track that means he reached base safely 15 times in the 5 games the Bucs played this week. He also had a key swipe of third base and scored 7 runs. It is August now and Cutch is red hot. Opposing pitchers would be insane to pitch to him.
 

Zero of the week: J.A. Happ. The new guy in the rotation stepped into a playoff race and left a turd on the mound in his first game with the Pirates. The hard charging Chicago Cubs smacked Happ around to the tune of 8 hits and 4 runs in 4.1 innings. Happ was tagged with the loss. It was the only game the Pirates dropped this week.
 

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. Tony Watson added three more scoreless innings to his resume this week. He picked up his 26th and 27th Holds of the season.

 

#HURDLED: The Pirates had a terrific scoring chance in the 6th inning on Sunday Night sabotaged by a poor double switch. The Pirates were stuck with Sean Rodriguez at the plate hitting in the pitcher’s spot with a runner on third base and 1 out. I have some questions for Clint Hurdle:
 
Question Number 1 – Why are you switching out for defense in a game you are trailing?
Question Number 2 – Why are you boxing yourself in to using a poor hitter who will be due up 3rd in the inning?
 

If Hurdle leaves Michael Morse in the game just one more inning he can choose whichever bat off the bench that makes the most sense to hit for the pitcher when that spot comes up. Instead he was basically stuck with using a lesser option. Luckily this gaffe didn’t cost the Pirates as the offense exploded in the next inning. But these sort of managerial mistakes are perplexing. A major league manager really should have better foresight than to plan on using Sean Rodriguez to hit third in a crucial inning.

 

Cannonballs: Gregory Polanco (2), Andrew McCutchen (2), Francisco Liriano, Neil Walker, Jung Ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli
 

The little things that matter: Michael Morse cost the Pirates a run by trying to sell a call to the umpire on a play at first base in which his foot was pulled off the bag. The hustling Jimmy Rollins took advantage to score all the way from second base on the infield single.
 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Where do we start? My head is spinning from all the Hidden Vigorish this week. The Pirates had not one, not two, but three calls overturned on replay in their favor in a 6-5 win over the Dodgers on Saturday. Of course all the good fortune from the Replay Gods (and let’s be honest, this is divine intervention not umpire competence in the replay booth) would have been for nil if not for a three run blast from…. Francisco Liriano?!?!?!? Then on Sunday night Jung Ho Kang was hit by a pitch and hit a home run in the same inning! The Pirates exploded to score 9 times in that 7th inning. It was almost three years to the day since the Pirates last 9 run inning – Aug. 12, 2012 against the Padres. But all of these quirky acts of Hidden Vigorish take a back seat to the thunderbolt hit by Gregory Polanco on the first pitch from Clayton Kershaw on Friday Night. There might not be a single AB all season that cashes in on so much Hidden Vigorish. Not only did it end Kershaw’s streak of 37 consecutive scoreless innings, but it also was the second straight game that Polanco led off with a home run. The last Pirate to hit a lead off home in two straight games was Nate McClouth on April 27th and April 29th of 2008.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Where does Andrew McCutchen rank as a Pirate at this point of his career? Let’s just say he is keeping really great company.

 

Records and Milestones: Cutch drew his 500th career walk on 8/5/2015.
 

He said what: Clint Hurdle noted how infectious the Pirates offense was on Sunday night.

Everybody kind of followed suit. We’ve talked about contagions in this game. The hitting part of it got real contagious after the fourth inning.

 

Tweet of the week: You know a hitter is locked in when he swings at a pitch at his chin and drives it 425 feet over the CF wall. Buster Olney described it best:

 

Front Office Notes: crickets
 

On The Farm: Altoona LHP Steven Brault tossed 7 scoreless innings with 7 strikeouts in a win over the Richmond Flying Squirrels on Saturday. Brault was acquired in the off season as part of the Travis Snider trade.

 
Highlight of the week: Pedro Alvarez delivered this walk off pinch hit single in the 10th inning on Friday Night.
 

 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 7-27-15 to 8-2-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 7/27/15 thru 8/2/15, the 17th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 4 Wins and 2 Losses, 34 Runs Scored and 34 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: Jung Ho Kang. There is no hotter hitter in baseball right now than Jung Ho. The rookie Korean SS mashed 3 homers and 3 doubles on the way to a 9 for 24 week at the plate. His biggest blast was a 9th inning bomb that broke a 7-7 tie against the Twins on Tuesday. Kang has been an absolute godsend to the middle of the Pirates batting order.
 

Zero of the week: A.J. Burnett. It appears that Burnett’s arm is finally failing him. The 38 year old grizzled vet got shelled by the Reds on Thursday night. The Reds tagged him for 10 hits and 7 ER in 4.1 innings. It was the 3rd straight poor start for Burnett. After the game Burnett admitted his elbow was barking. The Pirates placed him on the DL.
 

How do you spell relief? J-O-A-K-I-M S-O-R-I-A. New acquisition Joakim Soria barely escaped disaster when he loaded the bases in the 7th inning on Friday Night against the Reds, but he managed to get through the appearance without allowing a run. On Sunday Soria was pressed into duty for an unlikely save opportunity after Mark Melancon was ejected from the game. Soria nailed down the save with ease.

 

#HURDLED: Against the Twins on Tuesday Night the Pirates’ skipper allowed Tony Watson to burp up a 4 run lead. He then summoned closer Mark Melancon into a tied game. If Hurdle was considering using Melancon in the 8th inning he needed to do it BEFORE the lead had evaporated.
 

Cannonballs: Jung Ho Kang (3), Andrew McCutchen (2), Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker
 

The little things that matter: It is time to give Jaff Decker and Travis Ishikawa some props for their tremendous plate discipline. Neither of these guys are great hitters, but they know the zone and have a great approach on every AB. They have been giving the team professional ABs off the bench. That was never more apparent than when they drew back to back walks in the Pirates 5 run 6th inning on Wednesday against the Twins.
 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Aramis Ramirez finally got off the schneid in his return to the Bucs when he doubled off of Ervin Santana in the 5th inning Wednesday. The hit snapped an 0 of 14 streak for ARam.
 

Stats that blow my mind: A.J. Burnett has thrown 2177.2 innings since undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2003 – more than any active pitcher. That is more than 600 innings more than the next closest pitcher.
 

Records and Milestones: Nothing of note
 

He said what: A.J. Burnett gave a classic answer when asked when his elbow first started hurting him.

About 10 years ago

I sure hope we have not seen the last of AJ, but things don’t sound good.

It was just a little more than I expected and a little more than I could tolerate. The soreness is a lot better (Sunday). The stiffness is a lot better. But I don’t expect it to go away and I don’t expect it to get better. (Surgery) No chance. I’ll probably get it fixed when I’m retired, but there is no point in getting it fixed right now. I’m here to pitch, and I’m going to do whatever I can to get back on that mound in two weeks.

 

Tweet of the week: Should the Pirates be retaliating because pitchers are plunking Cutch? Does retaliating prevent it from happening further? This is a complex problem.

By the way, neither Reds nor Pirates are innocent in these beanball wars.

 

Front Office Notes: Neal Huntington was a busy man this year at the trade deadline. The Pirates added Joakim Soria, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and Michael Morse. Do a lot of a little moves add up to one big one? Probably not, but at the very least the bullpen will be better with Soria. I even consider the acquisition of Happ to be a pretty good move given the late developing issues with Burnett’s arm. But the Pirates could have done more. I just hope at the end of the season there are no regrets that Pirates didn’t get a front line starting pitcher.
 

On The Farm: Top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell are one step closer to the major leagues. Both were promoted to AAA Indianapolis this week.

 
Highlight of the week: The box score will show that Mark Melancon recorded a save a against the Reds on Friday Night, but in reality it was Starling Marte that saved the game….twice.
 

 

Polanco Thriving Since Returning to the Leadoff Spot

It is hard to not view the first three months of Gregory Polanco‘s season as anything but disappointing. On July 5th the talented young RF of the Pittsburgh Pirates was saddled with a 231/300/330 triple slash line. The Pirates were facing a crossroad. Not only was Polanco struggling, but the team had just lost leadoff hitter Josh Harrison to a thumb injury that would sideline him until September. With the trade deadline looming less than a month away this was a crucial time for Polanco. The Bucs had to be considering the possibility of acquiring a replacement for Polanco in the near future – one that could possibly hit leadoff. Instead of continuing to bury Polanco at the bottom of the lineup manager Clint Hurdle decided on July 6th to instead pencil Polanco into the leadoff spot. The Pirates lineup had been very inconsistent much of the season and Polanco’s struggles were a big reason why. It seemed a curious move to put a hitter with a .300 OBP in the leadoff spot. But the young OF has responded to the challenge.
 
Since Harrison’s injury Polanco has served as the team’s leadoff hitter almost exclusively (the lone exception was July 12th against the Cardinals when he hit 8th). Since returing to the leadoff spot Polanco has hit safely in 16 of his last 18 games. He has reached base via a hit or a walk in all 18 of those games. Polanco is slashing a robust 288/366/466 during that time and has scored 11 runs. He has been exactly the table setter that the Pirates have needed. The lightbulb has turned on for Polanco. Maybe that his breakout happened at the same time as his return to the leadoff role is just a coincidence, but it sure seems like that was the spark. Now that the Pirates’ questions over the leadoff spot and lack of production from RF have been answered by Polanco, GM Neal Huntington can direct his attention at the trade deadline on more pressing needs.
 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 7-20-15 to 7-26-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 7/20/15 thru 7/26/15, the 16th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 4 Wins and 3 Losses, 32 Runs Scored and 33 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: Jung Ho Kang. Kang recorded multiple hits in 5 straight games this week. He was 11 for 28 (a .423 batting average) with 4 doubles and 5 runs scored.
 

Zero of the week: Pedro Florimon. Florimon proved this week why he is not a major league caliber player. He struck out in half of his 8 ABs this week, committed an error, and stood in the box dumbfounded as a ball he hit slowly down 1st base line rolled fair.
 

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon continues to just nail games down. Mark the Shark was once again a perfect 3 for 3 in save opportunities posting a scoreless inning in all 3 outings.

 

#HURDLED: There is just no excuse for allowing Charlie Morton to pitch to good left-handed hitters the 4th time through the order in a close game. Mike Moustakas made Clint Hurdle learn that lesson the hard way on Wednesday Night when the Royals 3B took Morton deep for a 3 run blast in the 7th inning.

 

Cannonballs: Travis Ishikawa, Pedro Alvarez (2), Andrew McCutchen, Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco, Neil Walker (2)

 
The little things that matter: Where should we start? How about Andrew McCutchen’s insistence to allow runners to take second base by making ill-advised throws to 3rd base in which he over shoots the cut off man? Or how about 3B coach Rick Sofield sending a runner to get cut down at the plate in the 9th inning of a game in which the Bucs were losing by 3 runs? The Pirates continue to botch fundamentals on a daily basis. It is amazing that it hasn’t cost them in the standings all that much…yet. THIS NEEDS FIXED ASAP!

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: A month ago Max Scherzer no hit the Pirates in a dominating performance. Entirely differently story this week. The Bucs took Scherzer deep….really deep…three different times. Two of the blasts cleared the stadium. Scherzer had not allowed 3 homers in a game since Sept. 15, 2011.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Mark Melanacon has converted 30 straight save opportunities. That is impressive. Melancon has not allowed an earned run since May 11th. That is downright mind boggling.
 

Records and Milestones: Mark Melancon recorded his 100th career save in the Pirates 10-7 win over the Royals on 7/20/15.
 

He said what: Max Scherzer had this to say after Gregory Polanco wore him out in a critical AB on Friday night:

He just grinded me all the way through. He did a great job of just fouling fastballs and keeping his swings short.

 

Tweet of the week: Brent Morel had a hero moment in his brief call up this week. On Friday Morel shot a double into right center for a game winning RBI. On Saturday he was DFA’d.

 

Front Office Notes: A fine piece of GM-ing by Neal Huntington this week as the Bucs acquired 3B Aramis Ramirez to plug a hole in the injury riddled left side of the infield. Welcome back Aram!
 

On The Farm: Since coming off the minor league disabled list Tyler Glasnow has struck out 53 hitters in 33.2 innings for AA Altoona. This is the most dominating minor league pitcher the Pirates have ever had in my recollection.

 
Highlight of the week: Gregory Polanco and Max Scherzer locked horns in an epic 12 pitch battle on Friday. Polanco fell behind in the count 0-2 before battling back to fill the count full. Then he wasted 5 straight fastballs on the outside corner with foul balls. Finally Scherzer made a mistake by hanging a breaking ball which Polanco launched over the Clemente Wall to tie the game. It was an incredible AB, and this video has every pitch. Scherzer’s reaction is priceless!
 

 

Breaking Bad Starring Clint Hurdle

There is no question the Pittsburgh Pirates were dealt a bit of a bad hand coming out of the All Star Break. The break could not have come at a worse time for what had been the hottest team in baseball throughout the first two weeks of July. Thanks to a pair of dramatic come from behind walk off wins over the Cardinals in the last two games prior to the All-Star Game the Pirates were set up for all kinds of momentum heading into the second half. But the four day layoff effectively poured cold water on the red hot Bucs. The timing of the break was bad for the club as they headed to Milwaukee to start the second half, but injuries sustained soon afterward was even more troublesome. Francisco Liriano was scratched minutes before a start paving the way for an unprepared Vance Worley to take the hill in the second game of the series in Milwaukee. Worley was staked to an early 3-0 lead. By the time he exited in the 4th inning the lead was gone and the Brewers had pulled ahead. The Pirates would go on to lose the second straight game of the series. But the worst turn of events was the loss of SS Jordy Mercer with a sprained knee. The Pirates infield depth was already depleted since Josh Harrison went on the DL earlier in the month. Now the Pirates are cobbling together a punchless lineup that includes the likes of Sean Rodriguez and Pedro Florimon. It is little wonder that the Bucs went 1-5 in their first road trip after the break.
 

Make no mistake, this team is feeling a palpable malaise, and A.J. Burnett admitted as much:

If you want to know the truth, and I mean this honestly, I don’t think we responded too well to the All-Star break, coming off all the good stuff that happened before, then being off for four days like that. – AJ Burnett

But before we chalk up the poor performance to bad luck and poor timing we should also put the skipper under a microscope. Clint Hurdle deserves a significant amount of blame for how poorly this Pirates team has played in the last week. He is the man that decided to set up the back of the rotation to toe the rubber in Milwaukee. Earl Weaver once said that “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher”. The Pirates decided to hold their best out for the first three games in Milwaukee. What kind of message does that send to your team? What does that say about the urgency of the second half for a team that is still fighting uphill to catch the first place Cardinals?
 

If that was Hurdle’s only sin it would be excusable. It was perfectly legitimate to reason that Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett could use an extended break. However, this was far from the only piece of mismanagement that Hurdle has been guilty of in the last week. In 6 straight games a Pirates’ starting pitcher has faltered in the middle of an inning. Hurdle hung on far too long with Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton. The most egregious example was allowing Morton to pitch to Mike Moustakas last night for the 4th time in the game with Pirates trailing the Royals 2-1 in the 7th inning. Moustakas has some extreme platoon splits. To not bring in a southpaw reliever in a game that was close and late in that situation was negligent. The result was predictable – Moustakas smashed a 3-Run Homer that ended all doubt that the Pirates would take yet another loss.

 

The Pirates are in a tough spot. They are undermanned and face a daunting schedule over the next few weeks. There is still plenty of season left, and eventually some help will arrive – either via trade or the return of injured players. In the mean time if the ship is going to stay afloat the skipper needs to do a better job of steering it.
 

MLB Jung Ho Kang vs. KBO Jung Ho Kang

Perhaps it is foolish to have expectations on anyone that attempts to do anything that has never been done before. But this is baseball we are talking about and prognostication has become a cottage industry within the sport. So when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Korean sensation Jung Ho Kang who posted video game offensive numbers in the KBO last season everybody jumped at the chance to place their expectations on Kang. Some felt Kang would struggle against superior pitching. No other position player in the KBO has ever made the jump to America to play Major League Baseball. But there were others that were much more bullish on the 28 year old Korean infielder. In a post on Fangraphs.com last February Dan Farnsworth predicted Kang would hit .280 with 25 HRs. It is safe to say that Kang will not reach those lofty numbers. At the All-Star Break he sits with a .268 batting average and just 4 home runs. But despite not showing anywhere near the power he displayed in the KBO, Kang is meeting most of the lofty expectations that were heaped on him by morphing into a completely different hitter.
 

One of the concerns people had with Jung Ho Kang’s hitting skills were some considerable swing and miss tendencies. Kang’s high leg kick generated a ton of power in the KBO, but it also led to some high strikeout numbers. In 2014 Kang struck out 21.2% of the time. That was significantly more than the KBO league average of 17%. In the smallish stadiums in of the KBO Kang was willing to take the big swing with the high leg kick to generate home runs to his pull side at the expense of strikeouts. Most people seemed to think that was just a part of who Kang was as a hitter. But in the four months that Kang has been playing with Pirates he has shown a tremendous ability to adapt. The vast left field area at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is not kind to right handed pull hitters. Kang seemingly recognized the difference very early on. The big leg was replaced with much more of this:
 

 

That there is a great piece of right field hitting with absolutely no leg kick. Kang doesn’t always forego the leg kick, but it is rare to see it on a two strike count. Even in a good hitters count it appears he has cut down on the kick from what it was in Spring Training. The result is a hitter that has actually cut down on his strikeout rate this year despite being matched against much more talented pitching.
 

Jung Ho Kang 2014 KBO Strikeout rate – 21.2%
Jung Ho Kang 2015 MLB Strikeout rate – 20.2%

 

Jung Ho Kang might not be the same home run hitting monster he was in KBO, but he has still been a damn good hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unless you were actually expecting Babe Ruth then you have to be happy with what Kang has done. He has been a far better hitter than I imagined he would be, and I have pretty wild imagination.
 

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