Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Month – August 2014

WV Power Report: Austin Meadows Hitting His Stride

Big things were expected for OF Austin Meadows this season. Meadows was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 9th overall selection in the 1st round of the 2013 MLB draft. Meadows got his career off to a good start by smashing 7 HRs with a .977 OPS in 48 games of Rookie League Ball to close out 2013. He was considered a consensus Top 100 prospect in 2014 preseason rankings. Meadows was expected to play a full season of A ball in 2014 with the West Virginia Power. Unfortunately, he was derailed by hamstring injuries and missed the first three months of the season. After a short rehab stint in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, Meadows finally made his WV Power debut on July 12th. It has taken him a while to find his power stroke, but it has finally arrived. Meadows hit his first home run of the season earlier this week off of Lucas Giolito (the top pitching prospect of the Washinbgton Nationals). He followed that up with another home run the next day. Meadows is now hitting .333 with a solid .829 OPS. He has recorded multiple hits in 9 of his 20 games with the Power this seaosn. Since he joined the WV Power the team has been playing much better. Their record is 11-13 since Meadows’ first appearance nearly a month ago. It might not seem like much but this is a team that had just a .300 winning percentage over the first half of the season. Austin Meadows has given them a nice boost. More importantly what was looking like a lost season for Meadows now appears to be salvaged. Now that he is back on the field and play well his prospect stock should not suffer much from the missed time early in the season. The future for Austin Meadows is still very bright.
 

Pirates Recent Bullpen Usage and the Need to Bank Wins

Here is the bullpen usage of the Pirates’ primary relievers over the last 14 games:

Games Innings
Justin Wilson 7 5.1
Jared Hughes 7 6
Ernesto Frieri 6 5.2
Tony Watson 6 7
Jeanmar Gomez 5 4
Mark Melancon 3 2.2

 

Last night Clint Hurdle needed his pen to protect a 2-1 lead against the Marlins in the 8th inning. Despite having the previous day off, primary setup man Tony Watson was deemed unavailable. Watson did throw three consecutive games over the weekend and has been leaned on heavily all season long. I can understand the decision to give him another maintenance day. Hurdle turned to Jared Hughes who has pitched well this season. Hughes is an extreme ground ball pitcher. He is sporting a stellar 63.3% ground ball rate this season. Hughes got a pair of ground balls surrounded by a walk to Giancarlo Stanton. Unfortunately, Josh Harrison muffed the second of those ground balls. With runners on first and second and one out Hurdle decided to lift Hughes in favor of Justin Wilson to face the left-handed hitting Garrett Jones. Wilson is having a train wreck of a season. His ERA stands at 5.10 with a 5.3 BB/9. This is not a guy that should be trusted to hold a late inning lead. As expected the Marlins pinch hit for Jones. Wilson gave up a single and then walked in two runs to give away a game the Pirates desperately needed.
 
To me this was a very poor job of managing by Clint Hurdle. He took out a trusted reliever that is outstanding at getting ground balls when he needed a double play. Instead he went with the guy that just hasn’t been able to do the job this season. The only pitching change that would have made sense in that situation would have been to bring in closer Mark Melancon to get 5 outs. Sure, 5 out saves are unconventional. But with Andrew McCutchen out of the lineup with a broken rib this Pirates team needs to bank wins when it can. Melancon is the Pirates best relief pitcher. In the previous 17 days Mark the Shark had thrown just 42 pitches. It is absurd how little he has been used. Hurdle has a tough job on his hands. This is not a great bullpen. GM Neal Huntington has failed to give him enough quality options. But that doesn’t absolve Hurdle from not appropriately deploying his best arms in winnable games. Hurdle needs to adjust. He needs to shorten his pen and bank wins when the Pirates are ahead. If that means Mark Melancon needs to go more than 1 inning then so be it. Conversely, Hurdle can’t go chasing wins. Perhaps Watson needs to not be used as often in tie games, at least until McCutchen comes back. Preserve Watson and Melancon to get as many outs as needed after the 6th inning in games the Pirates are leading. If the Pirates can bank enough wins in August perhaps they can be close enough in the standings where chasing wins in September can still make a difference. For now they have to weather the storm, and that means holding on to every late inning lead like the season depends on it.
 

Umpire Discussion of Controversial Pirates vs. Diamondbacks Interference Non-call

Last Sunday the Pittsburgh Pirates fell to the Arizona Diamondbacks on a controversial game ending play in the bottom of the 10th inning. The Pirates were attempting an inning ending 6-4-3 double play when the throw from Pirates 2B Jayson Nix hit Diamondbacks base runner Nick Ahmed in the left hand. Ahmed slid hard and late to breakup the double play and appeared he may have attempted to swat the throw his hand, at least that is how the Pirates saw it. The Diamondbacks contend Ahmed slid normally as any runner would to try and break up a double play. The on field umpires let the play stand contending Ahmed did not alter his slide and thus there was no evidence of intent to block the throw. If you haven’t yet seen the play here it is:

 

 

We know what the biased eyes see on this play. If you side with the Pirates you see interference. If you side with the Diamondbacks you see a clean play. Even the opinion of the on field umpire crew is biased in retrospect. Unless there is a truly egregious error made an umpire is going to stand by their call. But what do other umpires think? You can go to this thread discussing the play on the popular umpire.org message board to find out: umpire.org topic: Interference, yes or no?

 
Keep in mind the umpires that frequent this board are not MLB umpires. They are however trained umpires that work games at the Little League, AAU, High School, College, and Semi-Pro levels. They know the rules of the game better than 99.9% of baseball fans. Here are some of their comments about this controversial play.

“It’s tough to tell, from the three different angles, none show when and how he lifted his arms. All I see is the arm already lifted in a nonchalant fashion.”

“U2 said everybody throws arms up when they slide. I think I’m getting interference though. Clearly the actions of the base runner interfered with the play on BR.”

“I can see it go either way…But the runner was making what appeared to be a legal slide…within reach of the bag…

And as memory serves, I believe it an inherent characteristic of runners when beginning their slide to have the arms go up…So he was doing what he was supposed to be doing…INT, perhaps…But I can only imagine that U2 gave a solid statement of fact supported by the rules to support the ruling he made…

I am anxious to hear any post game reports on this one.”

“I’d call the interference. Something odd with this slide makes me see intent. Yes, arm(s) will go up when runners do a bent leg slide, but I expect the opposite hand of the tucked leg would be the one higher in the air. The slide just looked way too fishy. I think it looks even worse at real speed than when it was slowed down. I can see how it could go either way though.”

“Obvious interference. They need to add these calls to IR.”

“clearly intended to interfere with the fielder. He was clearly out but slid into the fielder’s feet for the purpose of knocking him down. In professional baseball this was a completely common, normal and legal play. It just looked worse because it ended the game.

If this was a high school game using FED rules you have a textbook FPSR violation. But the big boys don’t play that way.”

 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 7-28-14 thru 8-3-14

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 7/28/14 thru 8/3/14, the 18th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 baseball season.
 

Weekly result: 4 wins and 3 Losses, 36 Runs Scored and 25 Runs Allowed
 

Hero of the week: Josh Harrison. JHay was on fire this week. He smashed 4 homers and sparked late inning come from behind wins on Friday and Saturday night against the Diamondbacks. On Sunday JHay managed “only” two singles. That snapped a streak of 7 straight games with an extra base hit. For the week Harrison had 12 hits in 30 ABs and scored a whopping 10 runs.
 

Zero of the week: Gaby Sanchez. With runners in scoring position in the 9th inning of a tie game on Sunday Gaby Sanchez was called out looking at a hanging 3-2 breaking ball right over the center of the plate. He also watched the first pitch of the at-bat cut the dish in half. The guy came up incredibly small and it was just pathetic watching him argue with the umpire for calling strikes that were clearly right down the middle. Of course this wasn’t Sanchez’s only sin this week. He also played a part in one of dumbest base running gaffes in the history of baseball. More on that later. For the week Gaby Sanchez was a feeble 1 for 8. He did draw 5 walks. I don’t care about the walks. He is drawing walks because he is too damn passive at the plate. He isn’t playing winning baseball.
 

How do you spell relief? J-A-R-E-D H-U-G-H-E-S. Jared Hughes pitched 3 scoreless innings this week, including one amazing Houdini escape act in the 7th inning on Saturday against the Diamondbacks. With the game tied 1-1 Arizona put runners on the corners with no outs. Hughes escaped the jam by getting a weak dribbler to 1B Ike Davis and then strike outs of Mark Trumbo and Jordan Pacheco. Hughes doesn’t strike out many hitters, but he picked a great time to miss some bats this week.

 

#HURDLED: On Wednesday Clint Hurdle called for Jordy Mercer to sacrifice runners to second and third base in the 6th inning of a game the Pirates were leading 5-4 against the Giants. The next hitter was the weak hitting Chris Stewart. WTF, Clint? What made this decision even more absurd was how hot Mercer has been. He had 6 hits in previous 14 at-bats and hit a home run in his previous at-bat of the game.

 

Cannonballs: Josh Harrison (4), Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Neil Walker
 

The little things that matter: There are a lot of things in baseball that are tremendously hard. Running the bases is not one of them. There are a few basic responsibilities when running the bases and almost any human being could remember them. Know how many outs there are. Know what bases are occupied. Move forward to the next base when forced to. Pretty basic stuff, right? Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez managed to screw up these simple responsibilities and turn what should have been a walk to load the bases into a rally killing double play. It cost the Pirates an opportunity to extend a 5-4 lead over the Giants. I can’t do justice in describing this stupidity, so here is the play:
 

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: The Pirates got a couple of big hits off the bench from Michael Martinez and Brent Morel in their weekend series with Arizona. Martinez broke out of his career long slump by picking up 3 hits in 6 ABs and a pair of RBIs in the desert. I can’t explain it so it must be Hidden Vigorish.
 

Stats that blow my mind: There is a notion that exists that Edinson Volquez has been good for the Pirates this year. At times he has. Over all, not so much. His fWAR is -0.1 for the year. He is a below replacement level player. In fact, the entire Pirates staff of starting pitchers has produced very little in terms of WAR. All Pirates SPs combined have totaled just 3.4 fWAR. 11 individual starting pitchers in baseball have bested that number.
 

Records and Milestones: Nothing of note.
 

He said what: An unfortunate beanball war broke out in Arizona when a pitch got away from Ernesto Frieri that broke Paul Goldschmidt‘s hand. The Diamondbacks countered by plunking Andrew McCutchen in the middle of the back the next day. Frieri had this to say about hitting Goldschmidt:

“My ERA is like 100-point-something. I don’t want to be putting people on base right now”

 

Tweet of the week: I wish Neal Huntington had half the cojones that Billy Beane does.


 

Front Office Notes: The non-waiver trade deadline came and went on Thursday at 4pm without GM Neal Huntington making any trades to bolster the team for the stretch run. The Pirates did sign Jayson Nix to fill an infield utility role. I have my doubts that will put the team over the top.

 

On The Farm: The Pirates announced they are moving prospect Alen Hanson to 2B. The Pirates are trying to spin this as a move to add versatility to Hanson’s game, but clearly this is being done because he flopped as a SS.

 
Highlight of the week: Pedro Alvarez is mentally in a dark place right now. The yips have ruined him as a starting 3B. But it was nice to see him make a big contribution off the bench by delivering this huge game tying hit in the 8th inning on 8/1/2014, against a lefty reliever no less.

 

 

Best Way to Solve the Pedro Problem: Trade Him to the Phillies

Last night Pedro Alvarez made yet another throwing error. It was his 22nd throwing error this season. Pedro’s case of the yips have put the Pittsburgh Pirates in a real bind. It is clear that he is broken as a third basemen. There isn’t enough time left in the season to really fix him. Perhaps he could transition to 1B, but even that would require a little time. Not to mention that makes Ike Davis irrelevant. Sitting Pedro on the bench doesn’t help this club either. At best benching Pedro just hurts the Pirates a little less than playing him. Inevitably Pedro is going to get dealt. Likely it would be in the offseason to an American League club for a poor return. Pedro’s value is destroyed. His future is as a 1B/DH platoon player. He will likely make close to $7 million next season in arbitration. American League teams can find hitters like that in free agency and not have to give up any assets. I’m not sure the Pirates should wait to make a deal. I see one possible scenario in which the Pirates can trade Pedro now and improve this team. I suggest the Pirates trade Pedro to the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins.
 
Here is why such a deal could work. The Phillies are ready to move on from Ryan Howard. They will have an opening at 1B soon. So they could transition Alvarez to 1B, or they could try to resolve his throwing issues. The Phillies aren’t in the middle of a pennant race so it wouldn’t kill them to take the chance on fixing his yips. The Phillies have been shopping many of their veterans including Rollins, but other teams do not want to take on Rollins’ high salary. The Pirates would have plenty of room to fit Rollins in their budgeted payroll if they parted with Alvarez. The Phillies are also adverse to rebuilding, so adding a player that was the NL home run leader just last season probably looks like a better return for Rollins than acquiring a few marginal prospects. From the Pirates perspective they could play Rollins at SS and slide Jordy Mercer to 3B.
 
There would be a couple of sticking points to such a deal. Jimmy Rollins would have to ok the trade. Rollins has 5-and-10 rights giving him full no trade protection. The other issue would be that both players would have to clear waivers. That shouldn’t be a problem. Rollins likely makes it the Pirates waiver claim as no team wants to take on his salary of $11 million next season. The Phillies have the 4th highest waiver claim so Pedro should fall to them. I can’t see the Rockies, the Cubs, or Padres blocking such a deal. This is a bit of a long shot, but an entirely plausible scenario. And I really don’t see a better option for what to do with Pedro than this trade idea. His value is destroyed, and in his current mindset he is a detriment to the team. This is the one way the Pirates could use him to improve. Perhaps it is the only way.
 

Trade Deadline Blues

The July 31st 4pm MLB non-waiver trade deadline came and went without the Pittsburgh Pirates making any moves. The Pirates were rumored to be involved in discussions for nearly every major top of the rotation pitcher that was on the market. At various points this week the Pirates were considered front runners to land Jon Lester and David Price. In the end they were trumped by Oakland and Detroit. Not only did GM Neal Huntington fail to land an ace, but he also neglected to add any bullpen or bench help. The surprising thing is no major prospects were dealt today. For whatever reason the deadline sellers held out for young proven major league talent instead of prospects. When you look at some of the deals individually you can see why the Pirates might have had trouble matching up. But that doesn’t mean Huntington should be let off the hook for his inaction today. The Pirates are two games out of first place in the NL Central. They are a half game back in the Wild Card standings. There are essentially 6 teams fighting for 5 playoffs spots, and most of those teams look very beatable right now. The Pirates had a golden opportunity. I almost consider it negligence to not bolster this team for the stretch run. I think Huntington is a good general manager, but I’m bothered by his lack of creativity and cojones to make bold moves. Obviously the climate for making trades at this deadline was unexpected. The Pirates are prospect rich. Usually that is gold at this time of year. Today that wasn’t the case. A little more imagination was required. Just because deals weren’t made doesn’t mean there weren’t deals to be made. Huntington didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, or the charisma and creativity to engineer a three team trade.

“We were engaged on a ton of fronts…stretched beyond comfort level…at end of the day we weren’t able to push any across line” – Neal Huntington

The most frustrating thing about today for Pirate fans was the lack of urgency. This has been a common theme carried over from the offseason in which the Pirates made no real upgrades. Of the 10 teams that made the playoff last season the Pirates spent the least in free agency. Of the teams in contention this season the Pirates were one of the few that stood pat. That isn’t behavior of a contender. Contenders look to add. Huntington says he wants to add but keeps coming up short.

“We wanted to add to this club. We looked at various points at which we could add to this club, and worked hard to add to the club, but in the final decision process, we felt that our best move was to stay as we were at this point” – Neal Huntington

Due to Neal Huntington’s pragmatic approach to this trade deadline the Pirates will continue on as they were with Michael Martinez and Brent Morel still inexplicably holding roster spots. Clint Hurdle will continue to summon Ernesto Frieri from the bullpen. And the team is still an ace short of being true contenders. For these reasons I have the trade deadline blues.

 

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