Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Month – June 2014

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.

 

 

Pirates Swap Grilli for Angels Reliever

Grilled Cheese is no longer a satisfying late inning menu option for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The swift fall for Jason Grilli from all-star closer to exiled is now complete. Yesterday the Pirates sent Grilli to the Angels for reliever Ernesto Frieri. Much like Grilli, Frieri is a struggling reliever that was yanked from the closer role. Frieri has blown three saves this season and has a bloated ERA of 6.39. But Frieri has some good peripherals that indicate he may have just gone through a tough luck stretch. He has a 3.19 xFIP and has whiffed 38 batters in 31 innings while surrendered just 9 walks. The issue for Frieri has been the long ball. Opposing hitters have tagged him for 8 home runs already this season. Grilli has also been susceptible to the long ball this season, but more concerning has been his control issues and inability to miss bats. Frankly, I’m surprised the Bucs could get anything at all for Grilli. Since straining his elbow last July he just has not been a very effective reliever. He looked like a guy that could be DFA’d at any moment. Moving an ineffective 37 year old pitcher with health concerns for a struggling 28 year old pitcher that still has some upside seems like a no brainer. Perhaps the change of scenery will serve them both well.
 
I don’t want to disparage Jason Grilli on the way out the door. He has given Pirate fans some great moments since he revitalized his career almost three years ago. Let us say good bye by remembering one his of his greatest performances. On 5/28/13 Grilli struck out the heart of the Tigers order to nail down a 1-0 victory for the Pirates.
 

 

TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-16-14 thru 6-22-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/16/14 thru 6/22/14, the 12th week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 3 wins and 3 Losses, 23 Runs Scored and 30 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Brandon Cumpton. Cumpton posted two quality starts this week. On Tuesday against the Reds he pitched in and out of trouble and gutted out 6 innings allowing 3 earned runs for a no decision. On Sunday Cumpton pitched a gem against the Cubs. He threw 7 scoreless innings allowing just 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 4 to earn the Win.
 

Zero of the week: Jason Grilli. Grilli lost his job as closer after once again getting bombed in the 9th inning. Grilli was tagged with the loss on Tuesday after allowing a home run to Todd Frazier that broke a 5-5 tie. On Thursday he blew a save against the Reds when Devin Mesoraco took him deep for a game tying home run.
 

How do you spell relief? Tony Watson. Watson made three appearances this week and earned three holds. He got two huge strikeouts to pitch his way out of a jam on Sunday against the Cubs. For the week he pitched 3 scoreless innings allowing 3 hits, 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts.
 

#HURDLED: Clint Hurdle is loyal to a fault. That loyalty is biting him now. He stuck with Jason Grilli as his closer for far too long. There is probably not a single person other than Clint Hurdle that wouldn’t have pulled Grilli from the closer role long before now. Grilli is simply not the same pitcher and everyone saw that except Clint Hurdle.
 

Cannonballs: Jordy Mercer (2), Josh Harrison, Travis Snider
 

The little things that matter: Base running issues continue to haunt the Pirates. The 6th inning on Tuesday against the Reds was an absolute abortion. Josh Harrison got himself thrown out at 3rd base on a ground out to the SS. Then Jose Tabata got caught stealing. What looked like a promising inning with the red hot hitters at top of the order hitters due up was destroyed by TOOTBLANs. Lost opportunities from bad base running often loom large. The Pirates would go on to lose the game 6-5.
 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: This is something I never expected to see. On Thursday Clint Barmes had a 4 hit game. The last time Barmes had a 4 hit game was in 2009 while playing for the Colorado Rockies.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Yes, it is true. Billy Hamilton (.396) is out slugging Pedro Alvarez (.392)
 

Records and Milestones: Gregory Polanco‘s hitting streak was finally snapped on Sunday. The 11 game hit streak to start his career was the longest in Pirates history. The previous record was 8 games by Spencer Adams in 1923. Roberto Clemente hit in 7 straight games to begin his Hall of Fame career in 1955.

 

He said what: Clint Hurdle on his decision to stick with Jason Grilli as the closer:

The velocity is there. I don’t think there is a heightened uneasiness for me, by any means. Sometimes, I think it bodes well to give players an opportunity to push through some challenging times rather than to run to their aid or, in an overreaction [say], ‘We need to make a change right now’. I do believe we’ll make decisions that need to be made at the time they need to be made in the best interest of the ballclub.

 

Tweet of the week:

 

Front Office Notes: With Neil Walker set to return from disabled list on Tuesday I have to assume GM Neal Huntington is looking at how to deal with the impending roster crunch.

 

On The Farm: I went to Lakewood, NJ on Friday Night to checkout the West Virginia Power play the Lakewood Blueclaws. The Power won the game 4-2. LHP Cody Dickson pitched 6 strong innings allowed just 1 run to pick up the W. He surrendered 6 hits, 0 walks, and struck out 3. Reese McGuire picked a runner off of second base. JaCoby Jones flashed a lot of tools. He made a great defensive play on a pop up, hit laser to CF for a sac fly, and beat out an infield single. Here is a little video I took of him hitting the line drive to CF:

 
Highlight of the week: Shrimp Alert! Russell Martin with a 12th inning walk-off walk on 6/19/14
 

 

West Virginia Power First Half Review

It has been a very tough season for the Pirates’ prospects down in West Virginia. The WV Power pull into the all-star break riding a 14 game losing streak. They are dead last in the South Atlantic League Northern Division with a record of just 20-48. Not much has gone right for the Power this season. Injuries have played a big factor. Much of the best talent that was expected to see time at West Virginia this season is on the DL. OF Austin Meadows injured his hamstring in Spring Training and has yet to play a game. OF Barrett Barnes also injured his hamstring just 4 games into the season. He hasn’t played since. Luis Heredia, the top pitching prospect with the Power at the start of the season, missed much of the first half with a shoulder injury. Heredia did return in early June and has shown some progress. In his latest outing on June 15th he pitched 5 innings and allowed just 1 ER, 4 hits, 2 walks, and struck out 4. It was Heredia’s best outing of the season.
 
Not only have injuries been an issue for the Power, but they also have not had many break out performers. Prior to the season Cody Dickson was considered to be one of top 3 or 4 left-handed pitchers in the Pirates’ system. Dickson had an impressive debut outing for Power, but has struggled ever since. His ERA stands at 5.58 in 59.2 innings of work. In recent outings Dickson’s command has been a real problem. He has walked 3 batters or more in 6 of his last 9 starts.
 
Buddy Borden has been perhaps the brightest spot on the Power pitching staff. Borden is a 22 year old right-hander selected in the 7th round of the 2013 MLB draft. He has a 3.67 ERA in 61.1 innings this season. Borden is the only starting pitcher for the Power to allow less hits than innings pitched. For the season he has surrendered 52 hits, walked 28 batters, and struck out 48.
 
There hasn’t been many noteworthy offensive performers for the Power either. 2B Erich Weiss is the only player with a batting average over .300. Weiss and Catcher Reese McGuire represented the Power in the Sally League all-star game earlier this week. SS JaCoby Jones leads the team with 8 home runs. A potential power hitting SS like Jones is an intriguing prospect, but he comes with some significant flaws. Jones leads the team with 74 whiffs in just 66 games. On the season he is hitting .260 with a .747 OPS.
 
The youngest player on the Power has also been their best player. That would be Reese McGuire. McGuire is noted for his advanced defensive skills. He has not disappointed. In 38 games behind the dish he has thrown out and impressive 23 base runners. Offensively McGuire put together a hitting streak from May 7th to May 30th that covered 19 games. Although he didn’t show much power early on (only 7 extra base hits thus far) he has stung ball a little harder as of late. He hit his first career minor league home run last Saturday. He then ripped a triple in the SAL all-star game on Tuesday night.
 

Charlie Drops a Deuce on Lefties

I asked some fellow Pirate fans on twitter and various Pirate message boards to describe Charlie Morton in two words. Here are some of the two word descriptions that people came up with for Morton: “Head Case”, “Ground Balls”, “Electric Stuff”, “Consistently Inconsistent”, “Bad Peripherals”, “Great Sinkerball”, “Ground Chuck”, “Over Rated”, “Under Rated”, “Backend Starter”, “Effectively Wild”, “Just Average”. As you can see Charlie is lot of things to a lot of different people, and quite honestly it is hard for me disagree with any of it. He is a tough pitcher to figure out. But one description you will never hear attached to Chuck is “Lefty Killer”. As difficult and confusing it is to define Charlie Morton as a pitcher there has always been one constant. He could never get lefties out….until now.
 

The game plan of opposing managers has long been to load up the lineup with left-handed bats when facing Morton. In his career left-handed hitters have tagged him to the tune of a .313 batting average and an .863 OPS. But things have been much different for Chuck in 2014. He has held left-handed hitters in check all year. Thru his first 14 starts lefties are hitting just .223 against him with a paltry .581 OPS. The success against opposite side hitters has Chuck poised to have a career year. We are in mid-June and he is sporting a team best 3.09 ERA. So how has Morton been able to flip the script?
 
One of the big misconceptions I had with Morton is he lacked a quality out pitch to use on left-handed hitters. Morton is often compared to Roy Halladay due to the uncanny similarity of their deliveries. In spring training I argued that if Morton wanted to be successful against lefties he needed to continue to develop a cut fastball like Halladay used in his prime. I wasn’t the only one to suggest the repertoire was the issue. Trib Reporter Travis Sawchik discussed the possibility of a new split-change pitch that Morton was toying with as being a potential lefty neutralizer. As it turns out Charlie actually had an out pitch for lefties all along. That pitch was none other than his good old “Uncle Charlie”.
 
As I dug into the data to find out why Charlie has been successful against left-handed hitters I discovered some truly shocking details in regards to his breaking ball. The first finding that blew my mind is that Charlie’s curve basically never gets tagged by a lefty for a home run. In his career he has thrown left-handed hitters 1051 curveballs and only once has a hitter driven it over the fence. The second finding that blew my mind was just how effective his breaking ball can be when he starts a hitter with it. In his career Chuck has thrown 187 first pitch curveballs to left-handed hitters. Only three times was it put in play, and only once has it gone for a hit. You have to go all the way back to the 2012 season for the last time a first pitch breaking ball to a lefty was put in play.
 
It is pretty clear that over the course of his career Morton has possessed a high quality curveball capable of neutralizing left-handed hitters. But why has that not led to success until this year? It is really all about command and usage. Morton is throwing first pitch breaking balls to lefties 20% of the time this season. That is the highest rate of his career. As I already mentioned, when Morton throws a first pitching breaking ball it almost never gets put in play, so it is imperative that he gets strikes with this pitch. This year he has. For his career when he has started a left-handed hitter off with a breaking ball it left him in 1-0 hole 54.55%, but this season he has thrown a ball with a leading curve just 41.67% of the time. For the most part when Charlie drops his deuce on a lefty to start an at-bat he is getting it near enough to the dish to be called a strike or have the hitter offer at it. And in all counts he is getting a lot more chases. In fact, that has really been the biggest difference with Charlie this season as opposed to last. In 2013 lefties hit just .089 against Charlie’s curve. This season LHH have a .109 average against the Ground Chuck breaking ball, but hitters are offering at his breaking ball 10% more often this season (47% as opposed to 37%).
 
I’m not sure if Morton can continue this kind of success against left-handers. The breaking ball can be a fickle beast of a pitch. And if I can spot that Morton is throwing more first pitch breaking balls I’m sure major league advanced scouts and hitters will to. Charlie will need to continue to command it to maintain the success he has thus far in 2014. Otherwise it will just be more of being “Consistently Inconsistent” for the guy with the “Electric Stuff”.
 

TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-9-14 thru 6-15-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/9/14 thru 6/15/14, the 11th week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 5 wins and 2 Losses, 35 Runs Scored and 26 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Andrew McCutchen takes the honor this week in a runaway land slide. Cutch was a monster this week. He had multiple hits in every game going 14 for 29 with 4 HRs and a ridiculous 13 RBIs.
 

Zero of the week: Casey Sadler got roughed up in his only appearance of the week before being optioned back down to AAA. Sadler gave up 4 earned runs in 2.2 innings and took the loss on Tuesday night against the Cubs.
 

How do you spell relief? Relief? Seriously, what relief? After watching a parade of pitchers march out of the bullpen with a gas can and light the mound on fire all weekend long I’ve decided to suspend the honors for this week.
 

#HURDLED: Clint Hurdle employed some downright bizarre usage of the intentional walk this week. On Friday night in the 9th inning versus Miami, Hurdle elected to intentionally walk Giancarlo Stanton to load the bases and push the potential winning run into scoring position. I know Stanton is a great hitter, but the math makes no sense at all. The only way Stanton could win the game is with an extra base hit. Stanton has registered extra base hits in 12.5% of his plate appearances this year. By moving the winning run into scoring position any hit that leaves the infield would likely score the winning run. Casey McGehee, who follows Stanton in the order, has gotten hits in 27% of his plate appearances this season. Walking Stanton essentially doubled the chances of the Pirates losing the game. Oh, but this wasn’t the end of Hurdle’s head scratching decisions with intentional walks. In the bottom of the 10th inning on Sunday, Hurdle elected this time to pitch to McGehee with 1 out and first base open. I’m flummoxed as to why he wouldn’t walk McGehee and play for the double play. On a side note, I’m not sure I have ever seen a team disrespect a clean up hitter like the Pirates did to Casey McGehee this weekend. Clint Barmes gets more respect from opposing pitchers than what the Pirates gave McGehee. I know he isn’t a great hitter, but he is still a major league hitter. And he sure did burn them this weekend. Maybe the Pirates should update that three year old scouting report they have on McGehee. It seems a little stale.
 

Cannonballs: Andrew McCutchen (4), Ike Davis, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Jordy Mercer
 

The little things that matter: How about Charlie Morton laying down not one, not two, but three successful sac bunts? One was so well executed he even got a hit out of it. Another was in a 1st and 3rd situation, and turned into a safety squeeze for an RBI. Nice job Chuck! Way to help yourself.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Tony Watson had not allowed a hit since May 22nd and had not allowed a run since April 22nd. You can’t run a streak like that without having a little luck on your side. That luck ran out on Sunday against the Marlins. Watson made just one bad pitch, and a whole lot of good ones to nearly wiggle out of a jam created by some shoddy defense, but it wasn’t enough to prevent him from blowing a 2 run lead in the 8th inning when Casey McGehee roped a 2 RBI double.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Pirates starting pitchers over the last 4 games have pitched 29 innings and have allowed just 4 earned runs. Those pitchers were Edinson Volquez, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, and Vance Worley.
 

Records and Milestones: Have you ever had a friend just have a baby and all you ever hear about is all the stuff they do for the first time… like their first poop, first giggle, first steps, first words? Well, that is kind of what this week’s Milestones are like. Gregory Polanco made his highly anticipated debut on June 10th and got most of the important firsts out of the way this week. He collected his first hit and run scored on Tuesday, first RBI on Wednesday, and blasted his first homer on Friday. He even had his first defensive gaffe and first TOOTBLAN this week. He also had a pretty noteworthy 5-hit game.

 

He said what: Clint Hurdle loves McDonalds and Andrew McCutchen. Exhibit A:

No. 22 is McHot right now.

 

Tweet of the week:

 

Front Office Notes: LHP Blake Taylor was sent to the Mets as the Player to be Named Later to complete the trade for Ike Davis.
 

On The Farm: The Bradenton Marauders hosted the Florida State League All-Star game at McKechnie Field. OF Josh Bell and LHP Orlando Castro represented the Marauders. Bell is having a break out season, posting a triple slash line of .318/.368/.512. He will likely be promoted to AA Altoona in the next few weeks.

 
Highlight of the week: This 13th inning blast by Gregory Polanco on 6/13/14 was his first career home run.
 

 

Maximizing Tony Watson

Tony Watson has been sensational out of the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. Sporting just a 0.87 ERA in 31 innings this season, Watson has been the Pirates’ most valuable pitcher. And I mean that quite literally. His 0.9 fWAR is the highest on the team. To lead a pitching staff in WAR is practically unheard of for a non-closer relief pitcher. Watson has been so good he has been virtually unhittable. In fact, you have to go back to May 22nd, three whole weeks, to find the last time he did surrender a hit. He is also working on a 21.2 inning scoreless streak. So of course when a guy is this successful fans want to make him into something more. The logical progression is to turn him into a closer. There is no doubt in mind that Watson would make a great closer. But I’m not so sure he is more valuable to the team in that role. He is already pitching in high leverage situations that rivals the closer role on most teams. His 16 appearances in high leverage situations is tied with Mark Melancon for the team lead, and only 3 less than NL leader Sergio Romo. To me closers are overrated, and the way manager Clint Hurdle uses his bullpen Tony Watson will get more work and just as many high leverage situations in his current role than he would if he were closing.
 
Of course not all suggestions of change are so logical. It is one thing to suggest Tony Watson become the closer, but Richard over Saberbucs.net goes so far as to suggest the Pirates turn Watson into a starting pitcher. Let me first say I give credit to Richard for thinking outside the box and floating an idea that has virtually no chance of ever happening. So let me tell you why it won’t happen.
 
Tony Watson is a 29 year old relief pitcher that is 4 years removed from being a starting pitcher. This is a guy that is now indoctrinated into being a reliever. It is what his role is. It is what he is comfortable as. It is what he has been successful being. He pitches exclusively out of the stretch. There are very few examples of guys going back to starting after having been a reliever for any length of time. The best example Richard came up with was John Smiley. It is a huge reach to call these situations comparable. Smiley was a 23 year old two years removed from last being a starting pitcher, and had struggled in a relief role. Tony Watson is a 29 year old four years removed from last being a starting pitcher, and is dominating as a reliever. With Smiley the Pirates were searching for an answer to salvage him. There was no risk in trying to convert him back. With Watson you are trying to cover a perceived weakness with a strength. Pulling the linchpin from your bullpen is a huge gamble, and frankly I think a silly one. The idea that you can just plug and play any pitcher into the role of a high leverage reliever is misguided. And when you look at the future of the Pirates roster it is tough to see an experienced late inning guy other than Watson being around much longer. Jason Grilli will be a free agent after this season and Mark Melancon’s salary is approaching a level that the Pirates will be uncomfortable fitting within their relatively small payroll.
 
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Tony Watson is incapable of starting. But there are some significant barriers for him to hurdle to become a top of the rotation pitcher. And let’s face it, if Watson can’t become a number 3 starter or better then such a move would be a flop. The Pirates already have plenty of guys capable of filling the back end of a rotation. For Watson to become a good starting pitcher he would first need stretched out. This isn’t a guy accustomed to throwing 90+ pitches an outing. So it is probably too late in the year to make the change this season. If you were to make such a move next season he’d probably have a pretty hard innings limit for his first season. His career high in innings was 151.2, but that was back in 2008. The last time he threw more than 100 innings was 2010. It is hard to envision the Pirates allowing him to throw much more than a 140 innings in his first season as a starter. If you’re lucky he makes 25 starts, and probably gets shut down in September. In addition to the workload concerns there are questions that remain as to whether he can alter his style of pitching and still be successful. He will have to dial down his fastball a bit. No way he can sit at 94 mph with his fastball over a 6 inning stint. He will have use his off speed pitches more. He will have to adjust to hitters seeing him multiple times in a game. There are just too many reasons why something like shouldn’t be tried. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As for the starting rotation, that would be best addressed by acquiring proven starting pitchers. That might not be some novel out of the box solution, but it is a darn good solution that is hard to argue with.
 

Pirates Need to KISS it on the Bases

The population of TOOTBLAN city continues to grow as the Pirates make base running gaffes on an almost daily basis. Last night The Pirates had to sweat out a 4-2 win against the Cubs in a game they should have won comfortably. Gregory Polanco, Russell Martin, and Starling Marte all were cut down on the bases due to inexplicable base running mistakes. Actually, it might not be fair to call Marte’s gaffe inexplicable. He should get an assist on that TOOTBLAN from Jordy Mercer and the Pirates’ coaching staff that continues to encourage boneheaded base running. Let me detail the play and my immediate twitter reaction as the play unfolded.
 
With one out in the 5th inning and runners on the corners pinch hitter Travis Snider hit a pop up behind home plate. Catcher John Baker made the easy catcher to retire Snider. Jordy Mercer decided to tag up at first base and then broke for second base to force a throw from Baker to 2B Darwin Barney. Mercer put on the breaks intending to give Starling Marte and opportunity to score from third base. Marte didn’t seem to be in on the ruse. Barney fired a strike to 3B to get Marte who had drifted a few steps off the bag. And here was my reaction:


 

As I mentioned at the time, for a player with Marte’s speed this is almost like a double steal and could work if executed correctly:
 


 


 
Clint Hurdle basically confirmed my line of thinking in his post game remarks:

We ran in Milwaukee earlier in the year. We drew a throw from about 150 feet with air underneath it and as soon as that ball is out of the catcher’s hand we need to break from third.

So the question is would you consider pressuring a defense to execute two throws of at least 120 feet to nab a speedy base runner at the plate a worthy gamble when you have two outs and a light hitter like Clint Barmes on deck? If you have lightening quick base runners with good instincts that have earned the opportunity to be turned loose on the bases, then maybe. But what the Pirates have is Starling Marte. He is fast alright, but the instincts and attention span are questionable at best.
 
The Pirates can’t continue to make these kinds of base running mistakes. It is time to pull back and put away the cutesy Little League-esque base running plays. They have to dial down on the aggressiveness, and if that means giving the stop sign and being more judicious with putting base runners in motion then so be it. I like pressuring the defense with good heady base running plays. But the Pirates are so far from executing even the simple stuff on the bases that all they are doing is giving away outs. At least if Barmes hits in that situation and makes an out you clear his spot in the order for the next inning and keep the lineup turning over. With the way Andrew McCutchen is hitting lately keeping the lineup moving is a very good thing. It is time for Clint Hurdle to settle things down and get this team back to the basics. The edict from the skipper should be for the Pirates to KISS it on the bases. Maybe Gaby Sanchez can translate for Starling Marte. KISS means to Keep It Simple Stupid.
 

The Polanco Era is Underway

The much anticipated major league debut of Gregory Polanco is now in the books. History will show that a strong Tuesday Night crowd of 31,567 fans showed up on a cloudy overcast evening at PNC Park on June 10, 2014 to watch the Pirates fall 7-3 to the Cubs as the 22 year old Polanco made his debut in RF. Polanco went 1 for 5 on the night and misplayed a ball in RF that cost the Pirates a couple of runs. There has to be some irony in the fact that the outfield of Marte-McCutchen-Polanco, an outfield that many are touting as the best defensive trio that baseball has seen in 30 years, made two costly miscues in their first game together. Starling Marte also took a bad angle on a line drive in the 4th inning, turning what should have been an out into a leadoff double. But honestly, the details of this game do not matter much. Polanco will have much better games in the days ahead. No amount of time in the minor leagues would have helped him make that play in RF last night. It was simply a case of not being familiar with the contours of the stadium. It takes a little time to get the feel of where the walls are in an unfamiliar ball park. We did get a little taste of what could be the next great dynamic duo in Pittsburgh when Polanco laced a line drive to the opposite field in the bottom of the 3rd inning for his first major league hit, and then scored his first major league run when Andrew McCutchen followed him with a 2-run homer over the centerfield wall. The most encouraging takeaway from the game was despite not having a big offensive night Polanco flashed his advanced offensive approach that has earned him such high praise from scouts all throughout the industry. Travis Wood is an extremely tough pitcher on left handed hitters. Polanco didn’t seemed overmatched by Wood at all. He didn’t swing at any junk off the plate all night. He was patient in not offering at borderline pitches not to his liking early in the count. It is only one game, but I’m confident in saying Polanco is already the best left handed hitter on the roster against same side pitching. The first game of the Polanco era was a bit of a dud, but the future is very very bright. After all the controversy leading up his promotion I just want to sit back and watch him play. The Gregory Polanco era is underway. May it be long and prosperous.
 

TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-2-14 thru 6-8-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/2/14 thru 6/8/14, the 10th week of the 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 3 wins and 3 Losses, 34 Runs Scored and 22 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Jordy Mercer. Oh Mercer Me! After being an offensive black hole for most of the season Mercer’s bat came alive this week. It started on Monday when he paced the Pirates to a 10-3 win over the Padres by going 4 for 5 and reaching base 5 times. For the week Jordy had 10 hits in 25 ABs, hit 2 Home Runs, and drove in 5.
 

Zero of the week: Ike Davis. Ike went zero for the week, 0 for 17 to be exact. He did draw 5 walks, but this is the cleanup hitter in the lineup. Hard to be successful cleaning up when you go hitless for the week. Ike also made two costly errors on the same play in the 1st inning of the 9-3 loss to the Brewers on Saturday.

 

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. For the second straight week Tony Watson did not allow a hit while holding the opposition scoreless. For the week he pitched 3 innings allowing just 1 walk, 0 hits, and 0 Runs. Watson has not allowed a hit in his last 7 innings and has not allowed a run in his last 19.2 innings.
 

#HURDLED: On Saturday Edinson Volquez issued an intentional walk to Scooter Gennett…. in the 4th inning! It wasn’t even to get to the pitcher either as the next hitter due up was Lyle Overbay.
 

Cannonballs: Jordy Mercer (2), Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen (2)
 

The little things that matter: Some times the little things that matter appear uncontrollable. Jeff Locke was outstanding in a 1-0 loss to the Brewers on Sunday. He would have held the Brewers scoreless if not for an unfortunate extra base award on a ball that was interfered with by a spectator down the left field line on a base hit by Jonathan Lucroy. First off, whoever that was that reached over the railing to grab that ball is an idiot. Way to screw your team. Secondly, the umpires completely blew the call. Base awards on fan interference are at the discretion of the umpire. Lucroy thought the ball was foul and stopped running. He should not have been, and did not deserve to be awarded second base. That proved huge as the Brewers would get Lucroy home without the benefit of a hit. Of course often the little things only matter because of other failures throughout the game. As a team the Pirates left 10 runners on base, and individually Pirate hitters were credited with 24 runners left on base. Just one or two hits with men on base and that fan interference and the botched call by the umpire would have been moot.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Brewers scored their lone run on Sunday by scoring a runner from second base by making two consecutive outs. The Pirates were credited with a base hit with a runner on 3rd base and still didn’t score. I can’t explain it, so it must be Hidden Vigorish.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Pirates production from the cleanup spot of the order thru the first 62 games: .204 batting average, .346 slugging percentage, and .645 OPS.
 

Records and Milestones: Nothing of note, unless you feel Pedro Alvarez surpassing 300 career RBIs is noteworthy.

 

He said what: Gerrit Cole on the shoulder fatigue that has put him on the DL:

I just didn’t bounce back like I wanted to after my last start. I don’t see this as a huge issue. We’re on the right path. I feel much better than I did a few days ago.

 

Tweet of the week:

 

Front Office Notes: The Front Office spent this week making curious selections at the annual MLB draft. The Pirates reached on first round pick Cole Tucker and second round competitive balance pick Connor Joe, players that the industry consensus had rated much lower.

 

On The Farm: Bradenton Marauders pitcher Tyler Glasnow is showing off some of that dominant swing and miss stuff that made him a fast riser in the prospect rankings last season. In his last 3 starts Glasnow has pitched 14.2 innings, surrendered 0 runs and just 4 hits, 6 walks, and has struck out 23.

 
Highlight of the week: Umpire Ed Hickox’s strike zone was a joke all game long on Sunday. The Pirates frustrations with Hickox finally boiled over Russell Martin lost his cool after being called out on strikes in the 8th inning on this ball that was off the plate and poorly framed by Jonathan Lucroy.
 

 

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