Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Month – August 2014

WV Power Report: Starting Pitchers Finishing the Season Strong

A trio of starting pitchers in the West Virginia Power rotation are having a strong finish to the 2014 season. Buddy Borden has been the breakout pitcher for the Power this year. Borden has been good all season, but he has been exceptional in the month of August. In 4 starts this month Borden has a 0.77 ERA with 31 strikeouts and only 4 walks in 23.1 innings pitched. For the season Borden has a 2.97 ERA in 124.1 innings. He will likely get one more start this weekend. The season ends for the Power on Monday, September 1st.
Left-hander Cody Dickson struggled mightily the first half of the season for the Power. At the All-Star break Dickson’s ERA was an unsightly 5.58. But Dickson has been outstanding in the second half of the season. He has held opponents to 3 earned runs or less in 13 of his last 14 starts. His ERA has plummeted to a respectable 3.96 for the season. August has been his best month. In 5 starts this month he has a 2.28 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 11 walks in 27.2 innings. Dickson’s strong finish to the season positions him as arguably the Pittsburgh Pirates top left-handed pitching prospect.
Quietly the much maligned Luis Heredia is also showing some nice improvements in the final weeks of the season. Heredia was once considered a top prospect. Most of his career to date, including much of this season, would have to be classified as a disappointment. But Heredia is still just 20 years old. If he can pitch like he has this month there is still a chance he can develop into a major league pitcher. Heredia has made 6 starts this month and has posted a 3.06 ERA. He still is not missing enough bats – just 21 Ks in 35.1 innings, but his command is showing a lot of improvement. He has walked just 7 batters this month. At the very least Heredia was able to salvage his season. As Heredia moves on to Fall instructs he has something to build on.

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 8-18-14 thru 8-24-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 8/18/14 thru 8/24/14, the 21st week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 baseball season.

Weekly result: 3 wins and 3 Losses, 30 Runs Scored and 29 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: Starling Marte. Marte has been hot all month, but he really turned it on this week. Marte blasted 3 homers, scored 7 runs, and had 10 hits in 23 ABs.

Zero of the week: Vance Worley. Worley made two starts this week and he put the Pirates in a big hole right out of the chute in both games. On Monday he surrendered 6 runs in the 1st inning against the Braves. On Sunday against the Brewers he was touched up for 2 runs in the 1st inning and 2 more in the 2nd inning. The Pirates would never recover and Worley took the loss in both games.

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. It wasn’t a busy week for Mark Melancon but it was an unblemished week. Mark the shark pitched two scoreless innings and earned the save Wednesday night against Atlanta.

#HURDLED: I’m giving Hurdle a pass this week. I didn’t notice any egregious snafus.


Cannonballs: Starling Marte (3), Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen (2), Josh Harrison, Pedro Alvarez (2), Russell Martin,

The little things that matter: Josh Harrison has been a godsend for this team. At the plate and in field he has been terrific, but on the bases not so much. JHay was picked off of second base in two straight games. His base running mistakes are costing the team runs.


It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Pirates won two out of three in Milwaukee. To say they were due to win a series against the Brewers is an understatement. With two wins this weekend the Pirates improved their record in Milwaukee to just 15-54 since 2007.


Stats that blow my mind: Josh Harrison has 21 extra base hits since the all-star break.


Records and Milestones: Pedro Alvarez made his first career start at first base on 8/18/14.


He said what: Clint Hurdle was happy to have Gerrit Cole back:

“He had four pitches to go to tonight, very efficient work. Really good to see him out on the mound.”


Tweet of the week:


Front Office Notes: The Pirates sent out playoff ticket information this week to their season ticket holders. They ticked off a lot people with 20 game plans. Last season 20 game ticket plan holders were guaranteed playoff tickets. That is not the case this year.


On The Farm: Tony Sanchez has thrown out just 8 of 63 base stealers this season at Indy. He also has 9 errors. This week he started a game at first base. The plan that Sanchez would be the Pirates catcher of the future is dying. At this point Elias Diaz is more highly regarded.

Highlight of the week: Andrew McCutchen announced to the world that he was back and healthy once again when he crushed this 436 foot home run on Friday night.



Streakiness of MLB Playoff Teams

The Pittsburgh Pirates are mired in a season worst 6 game losing streak that has left many people questioning if the Pirates are still playoff contenders. This got me thinking about how this Pirates team compares to past MLB playoff teams in terms of streakiness. Since the advent of the wildcard in 1995 there have been 156 playoff teams. 68 of them (43.6%) endured losing streaks of 6 or more games. Even if the Pirates losing slide continues another game there is still plenty of history on their side. 35 playoff teams (22.4%) had losing streaks of 7 games or longer. The longest losing streak in the wildcard era that a playoff team was able to overcome was 9 games. That was done twice – by the 2010 Atlanta Braves and then again by the 2012 Oakland A’s.

What is more ominous of the Pirates chances is the lack of a good winning streak. The Pirates longest winning streak this season is just 4 games. Not a single playoff team has had a longest winning streak shorter than 5 games since the playoffs were expanded in 1995. The shortest long winning streak is 5 games and it has been done 11 times. Interestingly 4 of those teams were World Series Winners – 1996 New York Yankees, 2007 Boston Red Sox, 2010 San Francisco Giants, and 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.


Here are some interesting streak facts about playoff teams in the wildcard era:
Longest Winning Streak: 20 games
2002 Oakland A’s
Shortest Long Winning Streak: 5 games
1996 Baltimore Orioles
1996 New York Yankees
1997 Seattle Mariners
1997 New York Yankees
2001 Houston Astros
2007 Boston Red Sox
2009 St. Louis Cardinals
2010 San Francisco Giants
2011 Tampa Rays
2011 St. Louis Cardinals
2012 St. Louis Cardinals
Longest Losing Streak: 9 games
2010 Atlanta Braves
2012 Oakland A’s
Shortest Long Losing Streak: 3 games
2003 Atlanta Braves
2004 Atlanta Braves
2005 St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Boston Red Sox
Average Longest Winning Streak: 8.2 games


Average Longest Losing Streak: 5.5 games

Teams With Longest Winning Streak Was Shorter Than Longest Losing Streak: 12 teams
1995 New York Yankees (7W/8L)
1996 San Diego Padres (6W/8L)
1996 Baltimore Orioles (5W/6L)
1997 New York Yankees (5W/6L)
1999 New York Mets (6W/8L)
2001 Houston Astros (5W/8L)
2006 St. Louis Cardinals (7W/8L)
2010 San Francisco Giants (5W/7L)
2011 Tampa Rays (5W/6L)
2011 St. Louis Cardinals (5W/7L)
2012 Atlanta Braves (7W/8L)
2013 St. Louis Cardinals (6W/7L)


Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 8-11-14 thru 8-17-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 8/11/14 thru 8/17/14, the 20th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 baseball season.

Weekly result: 2 wins and 5 Losses, 33 Runs Scored and 36 Runs Allowed

Hero of the week: Travis Snider. Lunch Box hit safely in every game this week going 11 for 26. Snider found his power stroke against the Detroit pitching staff. He took the Tigers deep three times and knocked in 7 runs.

Zero of the week: Jayson Nix. Nix was a dreadful 1 for 17 this week. I should probably look up how many runners he left on base but I’m depressed enough.

How do you spell relief? J-A-R-E-D H-U-G-H-E-S. Right now Jared Hughes may be the best reliever on the staff. This week he pitched 4.2 innings without allowing a run. He did get tabbed with a blown save on Sunday when two inherited runners scored because Ike Davis and Pedro Alvarez can’t make 75 foot throws to home plate. 8 pitches, 3 routine ground balls, and you get hung with a blown save? Baseball stats can be really weird and misleading some times.

#HURDLED: The Pirates are facing Max Scherzer, the reigning Cy Young Award Winner. Chris Stewart is on 1st base with no outs. Michael Martinez is batting. What could possibly go wrong with having Stewart run on the 3-2 count?


Cannonballs: Travis Snider (3), Russell Martin, Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez, Starling Marte

The little things that matter: The way the Pirates played on Sunday was an abomination. The physical errors are bad enough. Errors happen. Hitters fail. Pitchers give up hits. Sometimes they even lose the strike zone at the most unfortunate of times. All those things were contributing factors in the Pirates 6-5 loss to the Nationals. But all those failures are at least some what forgivable. Baseball is a tough game and a high degree of individual failure is woven into the fabric of the game. What is not forgivable is absent minded stupidity that continues to plague this team. On Sunday that cost the Pirates several runs. In the 7th inning Ike Davis made a terrible throw to the plate that cost the Pirates a run. An awful play for sure, but excusable. What is not excusable is what Ike Davis did after the throw. He stood in the middle of the infield feeling sorry for himself instead of following the play and covering home. What should have cost the Pirates one run ended up costing them two because no one covered home. In the 9th inning Gregory Polanco inexplicably put on the breaks rounding 3rd base when he almost surely would have scored. On the same play Josh Harrison failed to allow the throw to clear the cut off man and was thrown out at second base. This stuff is completely unacceptable.


It must be Hidden Vigorish: Hidden Vigorish transpired against the Pirates in the most unfortunate of ways this week. The Pirates current losing streak marks the first time they have lost five straight games since 9/18 – 9/22 of 2012. The game tying home run that Tony Watson served up to Adam LaRoche on Saturday night was the first homer that Watson has surrendered to a left-handed hitter since 6/13/2012.


Stats that blow my mind: Michael Martinez has a .482 career OPS. That is the lowest mark of any non-pitcher with at least 400 plate appearances in the last 30 years. If you were born after 1984 you can honestly say Michael Martinez is the worst hitter in your lifetime.


Records and Milestones: Russell Martin recorded his 1000th career hit on 8/13/14. Also I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing of former Pittsburgh mayor Sophie Masloff. The Pirates might not call Pittsburgh home today if not for her efforts to build support for a new stadium.

He said what: This quote by Clint Hurdle detailing what went wrong at the end of the game on Sunday against the Nationals is sad on so many levels. How much must it kill Hurdle to commend another team for making a nice infielder acquisition like the Nats did to get Asdrubal Cabrera while he has play guys like Jayson Nix and Brent Morel?

Again, a late walk, And then a big at-bat from Span, a battle at-bat. He’s able to work a ball into the outfield. Cabrera, who’s been a nice addition for their club, the ball’s maybe elevated a little bit more. They found holes. Basically that’s it.


Tweet of the week:


Front Office Notes: The Pirates acquired relief pitcher John Axford off of waivers from the Cleveland Indians. The rest of the week was spent concocting reasons to place pitchers on the disabled list.


On The Farm: Buddy Borden has been the breakout pitcher at the A Ball level for the Pirates this season. He has been good most of year with the West Virginia Power, but since the beginning of July he has been exceptional. In Borden’s last 9 starts he has a 2.03 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 48.2 innings pitched.

Highlight of the week: This play by Edinson Volquez on a come backer was just ridiculous. It turned out to be a very big play too. The Tigers were threatening to put up a crooked number in the 1st inning. Volquez settled down after making this play and the Pirates would go on to win the game 4-2.



The Best and Worst 5 Game Stretches of the Pirates Starting Pitchers

Update: 8/17/14 at 12:30 pm – Pirates announce that Charlie Morton is headed to the disabled list. Gerrit Cole will take his place in the rotation.

Gerrit Cole is set to come off the DL this week. The Pirates have a big decision to make. Whose spot in the rotation should Cole take? Charlie Morton has struggled as of late and many fans would like to see him bounced from the rotation. I’m not sure it is wise to bump a guy from the rotation simply because he has strung together a few bad starts. Every starter in the rotation (with the exception of Vance Worley) has had a poor 5 game stretch this season. Every starter has also put together a very good 5 game stretch. Here are the best and worst 5 game stretches for each starter ranked by ERA:

Best 5 Game Stretch For Each Starting Pitcher

Vance Worley 7/22 – 8/13 1.62 3.28
Francisco Liriano 7/18 – 8/9 1.69 2.41
Edinson Volquez 6/23 – 7/21 2.02 3.49
Charlie Morton 5/6 – 5/28 2.25 3.88
Jeff Locke 6/19 – 7/11 2.27 3.35


Worst 5 Game Stretch For Each Starting Pitcher

Vance Worley 6/21 – 7/13 4.23 4.43
Francisco Liriano 5/3 – 5/25 6.57 4.47
Edinson Volquez 4/22 – 5/17 6.91 6.86
Charlie Morton 7/25 – 8/15 6.58 3.44
Jeff Locke 7/20 – 8/11 6.00 6.33

None of these pitchers are clearly better than the others. This is a remarkably mediocre starting staff. The most notable thing about them is how inconsistent they are. At times they are very good. At times they are very bad. It is a good bet that whichever starter is pitching the best right now will not be same one in three weeks. It is also a good bet that Charlie Morton won’t be the weak spot of the rotation in a few weeks either. This is what makes the decision on who Cole should replace so difficult. There is no clear cut right answer.


Pirates Add John Axford to Bolster Bullpen

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired relief pitcher John Axford yesterday from the Cleveland Indians. The acquisition was a straight waiver claim. Cleveland had the option of retaining Axford by pulling him off of waivers. Instead the Indians chose to allow Axford to go to the Pirates. The Indians get nothing in return. The Pirates do assume the remainder of Axford’s contract. He is owed a little more than $1 million the rest of this season.

John Axford was once a quality closer with the Brewers. In 2011 he saved 46 games and posted a 1.95 ERA. Since then he has struggled with wildness and gopher balls. This year he posted a 3.92 ERA and a strong strikeout rate of 10.5 K/9. But his control continues to be problematic as this season he has walked over 6 batters per every 9 innings pitched. That is entirely too many free passes. On the surface it doesn’t look like Axford is any better of an option than the other suspects that the Pirates have tried in middle relief this season. However, I still believe this was a decent move. Part of the issue with the Pirates bullpen is the manager just doesn’t trust his middle relievers, and for good reason. They have been pretty terrible this year. But a reliever with a little name recognition like Axford will at least get an opportunity from Hurdle. GM Neal Huntington needed to give Hurdle someone he could show a little faith in. The Pirates bullpen could not continue on with three long relievers that the manager has little trust using in a leverage situation. Jared Hughes can’t be the only reliever to bridge the gap from the starting pitcher to the 8th inning set up man, Tony Watson. Perhaps Axford can be that guy. He might be ok, he might be terrible, but he is worth a shot.

Pirates Hitters Stepping Up in McCutchen’s Stead

How do you make up for the loss of an MVP from your lineup? The Pittsburgh Pirates have done it with an extraordinary group effort. Andrew McCutchen has not played since breaking a rib on a August 3rd. Here are the triple slash of players that have picked up the slack in Cutch’s stead (trhu 8/13):
Josh Harrison – .417/.462/.611
Jordy Mercer – .414/.500/.581
Russell Martin – .360/.414/.600
Starling Marte – .323/.432/.484
Gregory Polanco – .303/.361/.485
Travis Snider – .333/.379/.741

This Pirates offense is clicking right now even without Andrew McCutchen in it. Scoring runs is not an issue when a team has five hitters in their regular lineup that are as hot as JHay, Mercer, Martin, Marte, and Polanco have been. Who knows how long they can sustain this kind of production. It could end tomorrow. But they’ve already done a great job of weathering the storm while McCutchen and Neil Walker have been out of the lineup.

Scouting the Jamestown Jammers: Game at Aberdeen Iron Birds on 8/10

I watched the Pittsburgh Pirates short season A Ball affiliate the Jamestown Jammers take on the Aberdeen Iron Birds at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, MD on 8/10/14. The Iron Birds won the game 10-4. The Jammers are not loaded with many high end prospects. None of the top 10 ranked players in the Pirates system are on the Jammers’ roster. The talent level in this game was further diluted because the Jammers did not have C Taylor Gushue or C Kevin Krause in the starting lineup. The two catchers have been the best hitters for the Jammers this season. Instead Jamestown started Deybi Garcia behind the plate. Here are some of the noteworthy players I observed.

Alex McRae got the start for the Jammers. It was a pretty rough outing for McRae. He started ok. A lot of ground balls through the first two innings. The grounders turned to line drives in the 3rd inning. He was knocked out in the 4th inning after giving up a pair of home runs. Aberdeen had a lefty heavy lineup and McRae really seemed to struggle against left-handed hitters. This was the first poor outing of the season for McRae. He sat between 90-92 mph with his fastball. Here is a snippet of McRae’s delivery:


The most impressive fastball of the night belonged to Luis Urena. He pitched two scoreless innings. Urena is an interesting prospect. He was signed out of the Dominican in 2009 as an OF. After four seasons of struggling to make contact the Pirates decided this season to convert him to a pitcher. From what I saw it looks like a good plan. He has a nice delivery and a very live arm. He sat between 92-94 mph with most of his pitches at the high end of that range. The problem is that was literally all Urena threw. Not one off speed pitch in his two innings of work. However, the control of his fastball was quite good on this night, and the Abderdeen lineup struggled to square him up. If he ever develops a breaking pitch he could make it as a relief pitcher.


Eric Dorsch pitched a scoreless 8th inning. The only thing notable about Dorsch is his size. The guy is huge. The Pirates list him as 6′ 8″. For a guy that big he doesn’t throw all that hard. He topped out at 91 mph.


Speedy left-handed hitting CF Elvis Escobar is having a nice season for the Jammers as their leadoff hitter, but he really struggled with breaking balls from Aberdeen’s left-handed starting pitcher Stephen Tarpley. One of the more impressive looking players in the Jammer’s lineup was OF Michael Suchy. Suchy is big strong guy. He is built a lot like Matt Holliday. Despite the strong frame Suchy has yet to show much power with the Jammers. He is still looking for his first home run of the season. In this game he did have a sharply hit line drive single to right field and a bloop double down the right field line. Here is a snippet of Suchy’s swing:


Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 8-4-14 thru 8-10-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 8/4/14 thru 8/10/14, the 19th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 baseball season.

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

Hero of the week: Gregory Polanco. Polanco stepped up in a big way this week to make up for some of the lost offense missing from the lineup with Andrew McCutchen out. Polanco had 8 hits in 23 ABs, 4 of which were of the extra base variety. His 8 RBIs represented more than 1/3 of the Pirates’ offensive output for the week. Polanco also showed off his cannon by gunning a runner out at third base in a crucial moment of the win over the Marlins on Thursday.

Zero of the week: Michael Martinez. Martinez was 0 for 12 this week and struck 7 times. Enough said.

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon had one of the most impressive relief outings of the season on Friday against the Padres when he struck out the side in the 9th inning to lock down a 2-1 win. For the week Melancon pitched two scoreless innings.


#HURDLED: I already detailed Hurdle’s bullpen mismanagement earlier this week. Jared Hughes is an extreme ground ball pitcher and has been solid all season. Taking him out when a double play was needed in favor of the struggling Justin Wilson was a terrible decision.

Cannonballs: Gregory Polanco

The little things that matter: Chris Stewart took some heat for failing to field a throw on a play at the plate that clearly beat the runner, but Stewart wasn’t the main culprit in this play. Fielding a short hop with a catcher’s mitt is not easy. Jordy Mercer has to deliver a better relay throw. He was only 30 feet into the outfield grass. That throw has to be delivered in the air.

It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Pirates had won 19 straight games in which they had scored in the 1st inning. You can only dodge “Hidden Vigorish” for so long. The streak died when the Pirates scored a run in the 1st inning on Saturday against the Padres but failed score the rest of the game in a 2-1 loss. The Pirates also scored a pair of 1st inning runs on Sunday and lost. I sure hope this losing streak when scoring in the 1st inning doesn’t reach 19 games.


Stats that blow my mind: It is almost beyond believe that the Pirates have never won a series against the Padres at PNC Park. 14 seasons at PNC, 14 series vs the Padres, and the Pirates have dropped every single one of them.

Records and Milestones: Nothing of note.

He said what: If you are a fan of the Pirates just stop torturing yourself. There is zero chance the Pirates are going to resign Russell Martin. GM. Neal Huntington said as much when he made these comments about his expectations of the free agent market for Martin:

“If the market goes where we think the market is going to go on Russ Martin and we’ve got to become creative, then we’ve got an internal option in Tony Sanchez. But, we’ll see. We’re still working through that.”


Tweet of the week: Few things in baseball are as jarring as seeing a pitcher get lined in the head like Marlin’s pitcher Dan Jennings did. Truly a scary moment.


Front Office Notes: The good news is that Ernesto Frieri was finally sent packing. The bad news is that GM Neal Huntington continues to hamstring the manager with a short bench. That decision is only looking worse with Neil Walker having another setup back after pinch hitting on Saturday.


On The Farm: Austin Meadows appears to be healthy and back on track. He hit two homers this week, including one off of top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito.

Highlight of the week: Gregory Polanco shows off his hose in another episode of “Gunned by Gregory”.



The New and Improved Vanimal

Jim Benedict has done it again. Benedict is a Special Assistant to Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington. The title does little to describe what he actually does. Benedict rebuilds pitchers. He is a guru at taking formerly successful pitchers that have lost their way and putting them back on the right path. The success stories attributed to Benedict’s coaching include Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano. They were all pitchers that in recent years have benefited from spending time with Benedict in Extended Spring Training. We can now add Vance Worley to the list of Jim Benedict’s successful fixer-uppers. Worley has been sensational since being recalled to the Pirates in June. He has a record of 5 wins and 1 loss and leads the rotation with a 2.30 ERA.
From my vantage point Jim Benedict appears to be a master at helping pitchers with two things:

    1) Find what works and keep doing that

For Vance Worley that entailed looking at video from when he pitched in college. Worley’s delivery had gotten out of whack in recent seasons due a series of injuries. With Benedict’s help Worley was able to replicate the delivery from his college days that got him to the big leagues to begin with.


    2) Find what doesn’t work and stop doing that

I believe this was about helping Worley refine his repertoire. When the Pirates signed Worley I said this about his cutter:

“I think Worley is going to have to remake himself. His cutter just isn’t effective any longer. Perhaps the Pirates can turn him into a successful two seam fastball/sinker pitcher.”

That is is exactly what Worley has done this season. The usage of his two seam fastball has gone way up, while the cutter has been put on the shelf. Here is the usage of his various fastballs since breaking into the major leagues:

4 Seam FB 2 Seam FB Cutter
2010 49.5% 2.9% 13.2%
2011 44.3% 9.8% 10.1%
2012 34.1% 16.2% 12.4%
2013 44.8% 9.7% 16.2%
2014 24.5% 39.8% 6.0%

Clearly this is a whole new Vanimal. Worley is throwing 4x as many two seam fastballs as he did last season. He has been transformed into a sinkerball pitcher. So far the results have been outstanding.


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