Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Month – April 2014

TWIBB Notes for the Week of 4-21-14 thru 4-27-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 4/21/14 thru 4/27/14, the 4th week of the 2014 baseball season.

Weekly result: 2 wins and 5 Losses, 16 Runs Scored and 25 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: Andrew McCutchen. While the the rest of the Pirate offense went ice cold, the reigning NL MVP got red hot. He homered in 3 straight games to start the week, including a game tying 8th inning blast against the Reds on Monday. He finished the week 10 for 24 and drew 6 walks.


Zero of the week: This was a very tough decision. Starling Marte had almost as many TOOTBLANS as he did hits, but Jordy Mercer outdid him. Mercer was literally a “Zero”. He was 0 for the whole week. Not one hit, and no walks either, in his 18 trips to the plate.


How do you spell relief? J-A-R-E-D H-U-G-H-E-S. Surprise, surprise, but Jared Hughes had a nice week in relief. He made just two appearances, but they were in both of the Pirates’ victories. Hughes pitched 2.1 scoreless innings, and he even picked up the win on 4/21/14 against the Reds. For his efforts he was sent back to AAA Indianapolis.


#HURDLED: The insanity of pitching to the 8 hole hitter with a runner in scoring position and first base open continues. On Tuesday night against the Reds, Clint Hurdle elected to pitch to Zack Cozart with Johnny Cueto on deck. Cozart ripped a double to drive in a run that put the game out of reach.


Cannonballs: Andrew McCutchen(3), Ike Davis


The little things that matter: I am not going to blast the Pirates for having Starling Marte lay down a bunt in the 3rd inning with runners on first and second and no outs on Sunday against the Cardinals. Marte has the kind of speed that pressures the defense even on a routine sac bunt. Given how much Marte is struggling as of late, bunting in that situation is not a bad play. But he has to execute better than to roll it straight back to the pitcher. Marte laid down a terrible bunt, the lead runner was cut down at third, and the Pirates failed to cash in yet again.


It must be Hidden Vigorish: Pick a number, any number. After scoring just 4 runs in their previous 4 games the Pirates broke out offensively with a 4 run 4th inning on Saturday to put an end to a 4 game losing streak.

Stats that blow my mind: In 1987 Ozzie Smith hit 0 home runs and had a .775 OPS. Last year Pedro Alvarez led the NL with 36 home runs and had a .770 OPS.

Records and Milestones: When Ike Davis hit a grand slam on 4/21/14 against the Reds he became just the third player in major league history to hit slams for different teams against the same opponent in the same year. The last player to do it was Mike Piazza in 1998.


He said what: Clint Hurdle when asked if offensive help from AAA might be arriving soon

I know we have guys that we have some interest in, one in particular.

Uhhh….who might that be Clint?

Tweet of the week:


Front Office Notes: Neal Huntington was extra busy this week placing players on the DL and making excuses as to why Gregory Polanco needs more time in AAA.

On The Farm: Tyler Glasnow came off the minor league DL to make his season debut with the Bradenton Marauders. He tossed 5 scoreless innings and struck out 6.

Highlight of the week: I’m not sure if this is a Pirates highlight or a Reds lowlight. It doesn’t get many style points, but it was a walk off winner for the Bucs.


When Will Gregory Polanco be Ready?

Gregory Polanco has been ripping the ball at a torrid pace at AAA Indianapolis. That, coupled with the Pirates slow start, have fans asking when will the Pirates “Free Polanco”. The natives on the North Shore are getting restless. Polanco has owned AAA pitching thus far. He has a triple slash line of .400/.438/.633 in 96 plate appearances thus far at the AAA level. Some have argued that is simply not a large enough quantity of playing time to justify Polanco being promoted to the majors. As Richard from Saberbucs.net also points out Polanco did not destroy AA pitching last season, posting just a .761 OPS. I’m not sure if what Polanco did at AA should be used to make an argument for or against promoting him to the majors. It is true he did not dominate AA pitching. It it also true the Pirates’ scouts/staff felt he was ready to move to AAA, and he has made that transition effortlessly. The bottom line is that it is not really possible to quantify a number of ABs or a batting average at a certain level that warrants an advancement. There are some that use Travis Snider as a cautionary tale as to why a player should not be rushed. Snider got his first call to the majors with the Blue Jays in 2008 after dominating AAA ball over just 18 games as a 20 year old. Six years later he is still a struggling 4th OF. Meanwhile Andrew McCutchen has blossomed into a star after putting in a sizable volume of 201 games at the AAA level. But many players have transitioned easily to the big leagues after little or no time playing at the AAA level. Gregory Polanco already has more at-bats in AAA ball than Yasiel Puig, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Mike Trout, and Manny Machado, just to name a few. When a player is ready they are ready, and the only thing that matters in determining that are if he passes the eye tests of the scouts and staff within the organization. The clues being leaked seemed to indicate that he does. Everyone gushes about Polanco’s abilities. Reporters such Jon Morosi and Peter Gammons have cited rival scouts saying he is big league ready. And this quote indicates to me that the gum chewing skipper of the Bucs is also eager to have him:

Asked if some offensive help from Triple-A may soon arrive, perhaps in the form of Gregory Polanco, Hurdle said he spoke to Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor “at length” Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of different things to look at besides numbers, quality of the competition,” Hurdle said. “I know we have guys that we have some interest in, one in particular.

It is pretty clear the “one in particular” that Hurdle was referring to is Gregory Polanco. I think Polanco is ready. I think the Pirates think he is ready. And I think the only thing holding him back now is the cost savings of avoiding Super 2 status, which is a sad commentary given how little the Pirates spent in the off season.

West Virginia Power Player of the Week 3: Jerry Mulderig

Week 3 for the Power saw multiple rainouts and just 4 games played. With such few opportunities it makes it kind of hard to find a player that particularly shined, but pitcher Jerry Mulderig did post an exception relief outing on 4/17/14 against the Kannapolis Intimidators. Mulderig pitched 4 innings while strikeout 7 hitters and allowed just 2 hits and 0 walks to pick up the W. For his effort Jerry Mulderig is the HiddenVigorish.com West Virginia Power Player of the Week for the week of 4/14/14 thru 4/20/14. Mulderig was the Pirates 28th round selection in 2013 MLB Draft out of Rider University. Mulderig in an interesting prospect. He pitched very little at Rider, playing mostly as an OF or DH. The Bucs obviously saw something in the arm of 6’4″ right-hander. In his first 3 appearances this season at West Virginia he struggled with his control issuing 8 walks in his first 9.2 innings. But he righted things considerably in his stellar outing last week against the Intimidators. Thus far the Pirates have used Mulderig as a reliever. This season with the Power he pitching out of one of the piggyback reliever roles.

TWIBB Notes for the Week of 4-14-14 thru 4-20-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 4/14/14 thru 4/20/14, the third week of the 2014 baseball season.

Weekly result: 2 wins and 5 Losses, 36 Runs Scored and 36 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: Neil Walker. Walker hit 4 home runs and went 9 for 30 during the week.


Zero of the week: Oh Wandy Rodriguez, you have been brutal. Wandy made two god awful starts this week. In 9 innings of work he surrendered 10 earned runs and 4 gopher balls. Wandy has given up more homers than any pitcher in baseball this season. Perhaps he will develop a case of whiplash so the Bucs can stash him on the DL.

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon appeared in 4 games this week tossing 4 scoreless innings. He allowed just 1 base runner.

#HURDLED: With 2 outs and the score tied 2-2 In the 4th inning of Friday night’s contest, manager Clint Hurdle opted to allow Charlie Morton to pitch to Brewer’s catcher Martin Maldonado with a runner on second base, first base open, and pitcher Kyle Lohse on deck. Maldonado delivered a hit that gave the Brewers a lead that they would never relinquish.

#HURDLED: Gerrit Cole cruised through 8 innings on just 91 pitches Sunday against the Brewers. But manager Clint Hurdle took the ball from his ace and gave it to Jason Grilli to protect a 2-1 lead despite the fact that Grilli blew a save Saturday night when he gave up a home run to Ryan Braun. There was only man in Pittsburgh that didn’t notice that Braun was due up second in the 9th inning on Sunday, and that guy was chewing bubble gum in the Pirates’ dugout.


Cannonballs: Neil Walker (4), Gaby Sanchez (3), Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Pedro Alvarez


The little things that matter: On Saturday against the Brewers Pedro Alvarez committed a monster gaffe by not throwing to 1B for the easy out that would have ended the 3rd inning, instead opting to tag out Jean Segura running from second base. This resulted in a run down which the entire Pirates’ infield then botched. Segura was safe and the Brewers went on to add 3 runs in the inning.


It must be Hidden Vigorish: Josh Harrison has just a .157 career average as a pinch hitter, and was hitless in his first 8 ABs of the 2014 season, but he came off the bench to deliver a 2-run pinch hit blast in the 7th inning on Thursday to break a 2-2 tie.

Stats that blow my mind: Starling Marte has struck out in 14 straight games. In his current 14 game strikeout streak he has whiffed 25 times.

Records and Milestones: The Pirates went back-to-back crazy on 4/14/14 against the Reds. The 3 sets of back-to-back home runs in the game matched a feat that previously been done in major league baseball just twice before. The last time a team hit 3 sets of back-to-back homers in the same game was June 17, 1977 by the Red Sox.

He said what: From Neil Walker’s lips after being involved in 2 of the 3 sets of back-to-back homers against the Reds on 4/14/14.

I never would have thought I’d find a way to be attached to a home run record.


Tweet of the week: This should tell you all you need to know about how good Gregory Polanco is. It is actually tweet worthy when he swings and misses.


Front Office Notes: As you might have heard, the Pirates finally addressed first base. Welcome to Pittsburgh Ike Davis. Travis Ishikawa was DFA’d to make room. Chris Stewart was also activated from the DL and Tony Sanchez was optioned to Indianapolis.

On The Farm: Down at AAA Indianapolis, Brandon Cumpton pitched 7 innings of scoreless ball on Friday night to pick up his second W of the season. He has a 1.42 ERA in 3 starts thus far. The way Cumpton has been pitching he very likely could be the first pitcher to get the call for the rotation if Wandy continues to struggle.

Highlight of the week: Gerrit Cole tells Carlos Gomez he doesn’t appreciate being shown up. Gomez is such a hothead he gets himself tossed. Maybe this will be the spark the team needs.


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 17 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.

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