Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Month – June 2015

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-22-15 to 6-28-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/22/15 thru 6/28/15, the 12th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 3 Wins and 3 Losses, 25 Runs Scored and 24 Runs Allowed.

Hero of the week: Jordy Mercer. Mercer caught fire this week with 11 hits in 26 ABs. 4 of his hits went for extra bases and he knocked in 5 runs – the biggest of which was his walk off RBI double in the 10th inning Friday against the Braves.

Zero of the week: Gregory Polanco is a train wreck right now. He keeps falling deeper into a slump that has stretched for two months. This week Polanco collected just 3 hits in 20 ABs. When he did get on base he kept getting thrown out because of base running miscues. Twice he had stolen bases overturned on replay because he couldn’t keep his foot on the bag. Polanco also committed a world class TOOTBLAN when ran into an out by trying take an already occupied base.

How do you spell relief? A-N-T-O-N-I-O B-A-S-T-A-R-D-O. Antonio Bastardo has gone from forgotten man to trusted bullpen arm in a span of three weeks. He has been very good the entire month of June, but he was exceptionally good this week. The Old Dirty Bastard pitched 3.1 scoreless innings and allowed just 1 hit and 1 walk with 4 strikeouts. Bastardo snuffed out a Braves’ rally in the 7th inning on Saturday to earn his 3rd Hold of the season.


#HURDLED: The Pirates bunt when they shouldn’t and don’t bunt when they should. It is maddening.


Cannonballs: Andrew McCutchen, Francisco Cervelli

The little things that matter: FREEZE ON A LINE DRIVE. This advice is hammered into kids from the very moment they walk onto a baseball field for the first time. It is reinforced at every level of the game. That Neil Walker forgot to FREEZE ON A LINE DRIVE and did so when he was the most meaningless of base runners is inexcusable. Walker managed to get himself doubled off first base when the winning run was on second. This is the hands down winner for TOOTBLAN of the year.

It must be Hidden Vigorish: A.J. Burnett knocked in two runs with a single on Wednesday night. It was the first 2 RBI game in his 17 year career.


Stats that blow my mind: The Pirates are 9 games over .500 and 9 games out of first place and we have not even reached the half way point of the season. That doesn’t even seem possible. The Cardinals quite simply never lose.

Records and Milestones: Nothing Noteworthy

He said what: Andrew McCutchen is fed up with getting plunked.

Maybe I need to drop-kick a pitcher. Maybe that’ll scare them into not throwing me in.


Tweet of the week: Colin Dunlap of the 93.7 “The Fan” Morning Show is lobbying for MLB players to make A.J. Burnett a much deserved All-Star for the first time in his career.


Front Office Notes: A lot of guys were shuttled back and forth between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh this week. Chris Volstad came and went, Deolis Guerra made an impressive big league debut in relief, and Jose Tabata was DFA’d for the 1000th time as Gorkys Hernandez and Steve Lombardozzi were recalled to boost the bench.

On The Farm: Don’t look now but John Holdzkom appears to have gotten back on track. Since return from a shoulder injury Holdzkom has tossed 10 innings and has allowed just 5 hits and 2 walks while picking up 13 strikeouts.

Highlight of the week: Starling Marte robs Todd Frazier of a hit with this game saving catch on 6/23/15.


Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-15-15 to 6-21-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/15/15 thru 6/21/15, the 11th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 4 Wins and 3 Losses, 23 Runs Scored and 23 Runs Allowed.

Hero of the week: This was a weird week to find a hero and a zero. No one player really stood out – for good or bad. Jung Ho Kang did knock in 5 runs and blasted a key 3 run homer against the White Sox. He was 7 for 26. Jung Ho Kang takes the Hero Award for this week by deafult.

Zero of the week: Gregory Polanco was just 2 for 16. He failed to draw a walk and struck out 6 times.

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon picked up 3 saves in 3 perfect innings of work while notching 3 strikeouts.

#HURDLED: The score was 9-0 in the 3rd inning on Sunday and the Pirates sent Vance Worley to the plate to lay down a sacrifice bunt. What does giving away an out when trailing by 9 runs really accomplish?

Cannonballs: Sean Rodriguez, Francisco Cervelli, Jung Ho Kang, Corey Hart

The little things that matter: Starling Marte was once against caught off guard by a runner attempting score. In the 6th inning on Saturday Anthony Rendon scored from second base on a single by Bryce Harper. Marte anticipated the play poorly and made a casual off line throw to the plate. Marte needs to stop taking these kind of plays for granted. These runs are preventable if charges hard every time.


It must be Hidden Vigorish:
Hidden Vigorish I. Charlie Morton gave up just 7 earned runs in his first 5 starts of 2015. On Sunday the Nationals torched Ground Chuck for 9 runs in the 1st inning.

Hidden Vigorish II. Pirates pitchers posted an impressive string of 33 straight scoreless innings. Later in the week the Pirates offense went 24 straight unimpressive innings without scoring a run.


Stats that blow my mind: Francisco Cervelli’s streak of scoreless innings behind the dish was finally snapped at 56 by the White Sox in the 6th inning on Wednesday night. That tied a 112 year old club record originally accomplished by Ed Phelps in 1903.

Records and Milestones: Max Scherzer tossed a no hitter against the Bucs on Saturday. It was the 12th time in team history that the Pirates have been no hit.

He said what: Jose Tabata explains what happened on the pitch that nicked his elbow to end Max Scherzer’s bid for a perfect game with two outs in the 9th inning o Saturday.

It was a slider inside. I wanted [to keep my front shoulder] closed because I thought the slider was going to break. But it kinda stayed floating. You’ll understand if you’re in the moment and batting. But really, it wasn’t my intention to get hit in that moment.


Tweet of the week: Pat Lackey who is the author of the popular Pirates blog Where have you gone Andy Van Slyke tweeted this out BEFORE the Max Scherzer’s no no on Saturday.


Front Office Notes: The Pirates inked a bunch of their recent draft picks to contracts. Otherwise all was quiet.

On The Farm: The Morgantown Bears, The Pirates NY-PENN league affiliate, kicked off their inaugural season this week. Tyler Glasnow made a rehab start with the Bears in the season opener.

Highlight of the week: Jose Tabata was vilified for breaking up Max Scherzer’s perfect game when he failed to get out of the way of this inside slider that nicked him on his elbow guard.


The Marte Partay Coming to an Infield Near You

The Marte “Partay” is taking the city of Pittsburgh by storm this year, and often the party is taking place on the infield. Starling Marte is beating out infield singles at an historic rate. Marte already has 22 infield singles (bunts not included). That puts him on a pace to beat out 54 infield hits this year. Only one other player has topped 50 infield hits in a season – Ichiro Suzuki has accomplished the feat three times. Ichiro’s highest total was 57 in 2004. Other than Ichiro only Nori Aoki, Hunter Pence, and Luis Castillo have managed to top 40 infield hits since the statistic was first tracked in 2003.

Ichiro is the gold standard for collecting infield hits, but he has never beaten out a higher percentage of ground balls as Starling Marte has this season. Marte’s infield hit percentage (IFH%) is at whopping 20.6%. The best percentage Ichiro ever produced was 16.0% in 2009. Marte is beating out 1 out of every 5 ground balls hit to infielders. Amazingly, that isn’t even the best in Major League Baseball this season. Cubs phenom Kris Bryant has a 27.1% IFH%. It is starting to look like 2015 might be the year of the infield hit. Bryant, Marte, and Brett Lawrie all have a higher IFH% this season than any qualified hitter has produced since 2003. Here is a look at the top 10:

Year IFH%
Kris Bryant 2015 27.1%
Starling Marte 2015 20.6%
Bret Lawrie 2015 17.3%
Jason Bay 2008 16.7%
Hunter Pence 2008 16.3%
Mike Trout 2013 16.2%
Ichiro Suzuki 2009 16.0%
Mike Trout 2014 15.9%
Ichiro Suzuki 2010 15.8%
Willy Taveras 2005 15.6%


Even if Starling Marte’s infield hit percentage regresses to his career rate of 13.5%, that is still a very healthy percentage. League average is less than 7%. The bottom line is we can expect to continue to see a lot of “Marte Partays” in the infield as the Pirates make another playoff push.

Is This the Best Pirates Rotation in My Life Time?

Last night I watched as Charlie Morton hurled yet another gem for the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff in a 3-0 win over the Chicago White Sox. It was the 3rd straight shutout for the Pirates pitching staff and the 5th shutout in the last 6 games. It got me thinking – is this the best Pirates starting Rotation that I have ever seen?

I turn 40 years old next month. I was too young to have a memory of the World Series Champion 1979 Pirates. I do remember later versions of John Candelaria that pitched for the club in the early 80′s. I also remember what Bert Blyleven was like with the late 80′s Minnesota Twins. They were obviously very good pitchers that anchored a championship team in 1979. But statistically their 1979 seasons don’t compare to what Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett are doing, and even Francisco Liriano outpaces them. The early 90′s staff that won three straight NL East Division Titles was the best Pirates rotation that I can remember. Individually Doug Drabek won a CY Young Award in 1990 and John Smiley was a 20 game winner in 1991. The overall best statistical performance from the rotation in those years was the 1992 edition in which the starters posted a 3.25 ERA and a 3.30 FIP. Those numbers pale in comparison to this year’s rotation (2.83 ERA, 3.09 FIP). And when it comes to domination, forget about it. Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and to a lesser extent A.J. Burnett rack up strikeouts beyond what those the Bucs’ starting pitchers of the early 90′s were capable of.

This year’s Pirates starting rotation isn’t just good – it is historically good. The numbers thus far bear that out. Here are the best ERAs from the Pirates starting pitchers in the last 40 years:

Year ERA
2015 2.83
1984 3.13
1975 3.19
1992 3.25
1991 3.27


Right now Gerrit Cole leads the National League with a 1.71 ERA. He is a legitimate CY Young candidate, if not the front runner. A.J. Burnett is second in the NL with 1.89 ERA. Francisco Liriano‘s ERA is now below 3.00. Charlie Morton has a 1.62 ERA in 5 starts since returning from the DL. That makes 4 really solid starting pitchers that are being rolled out right now. Jeff Locke is the lone weak link, and even he has proven capable of pitching well in stretches. There are still close to a 100 games remaining in this season. Some regression is to be expected. I highly doubt any of these guys will finish with sub 2.00 ERAs. But I’ve already seen enough to declare this an extremely good starting staff. So, is this the best Pirates starting rotation in my lifetime? I’m not one to put the cart before the horse, but I think it is.

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-8-15 to 6-14-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/8/15 thru 6/14/15, the 10th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 4 Wins and 2 Losses, 9 Runs Scored and 9 Runs Allowed.

Hero of the week: A.J. Burnett. We should all be so lucky to age as gracefully as A.J. Burnett. The old veteran continued his career year at age 38 with two more stellar outings. Burnett tossed 16 innings this week and gave up just 10 hits, 2 walks, and 1 measly earned run while striking out 10. On Sunday against Philadelphia he was masterfully efficient. It took him just 101 pitches to blank the Phillies for 9 full innings. Despite the effort Burnett did not pick up a victory as the Pirates offense went on hiatus. In fact, on Monday Burnett was tagged with a loss as the Pirates were blanked 1-0 by the Brewers.

Zero of the week: Corey Hart. Why is this man on the team? He barely plays and he offers little when he does. On Sunday Hart drew a start against the left-handed Cole Hamels. It was Hart’s first start since May 16th. Hamels whiffed him twice and hit him with a pitch. Hart also whiffed in a pinch hit appearance on Friday. So for the week Corey was 0-3 with 3 Ks and a HBP. Side note here, but Corey Hart looked so awful flailing at Hamels’ changeup back on May 13th that there is no way he should have drawn another start against him. In that game Hart whiffed 3 times. If you are keeping track that is 5 Ks in 5 ABs against Hamels this season.

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon just keeps putting up scoreless outings. It doesn’t always look pretty, and he doesn’t get many swings and misses these days, but there is no denying he has been effective. Melancon pitched 3 scoreless innings this week and notched a pair of saves. He has not given up an earned run since May 11th.

#HURDLED: In my opinion Clint Hurdle blundered in not pinch hitting for A.J. Burnett with runners at the corners and 1 out in the bottom of the 5th inning against the Brewers on Monday. Normally that is too early to yank a pitcher. But this was an unusual game played in a steady rain. The game had already been delayed once and there was a very real possibility of this game getting stopped early. This was a chance to push the tying run across the plate before the game became official. Instead Burnett laid down a sacrifice bunt. The Pirates did not score. I guess you can say no harm no foul because the game did eventually go a full 9 innings – albeit after enduring another rain delay. But they never did have a better chance to score a run. Baseball is really hard to play in wet weather and you don’t want to be the team trailing as conditions deteriorate.

Cannonballs: Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez

The little things that matter: I’m all for players with good wheels trying to occasionally bunt for a base hit. But dear god, have a little awareness of your opponent! Starling Marte blasted a 2nd inning home run off of Brewers rookie pitcher Taylor Jungmann. Jungmann was making his major league debut. Next time up Marte tried unsuccessfully to bunt for a base hit. On Friday Josh Harrison tried to bunt for a hit in the 2nd inning off of Kevin Correia. Correia is just a notch better than a batting practice pitcher. He was making his first start with the Phillies after spending the first two months of the season in AAA. Why are these guys bunting against inexperienced and/or inferior pitchers that should be hittable? Here is the problem with bunting for a hit. When it fails it leads to a quick out. Quick outs let pitchers get into a rhythm and gain confidence.


It must be Hidden Vigorish: I would be remiss if I did not mention that this week marked 30 years since the passing of “The Gunner” Bob Prince. It just seems appropriate that “Hidden Vigorish” presented itself so much this week. The Pirates had not been good in extra inning games this season. Until this weekend they were 0-6 in extended time. Then the Phillies came to town and the Pirates walked them off twice in extra innings – and both were shutouts. On Friday it took 13 innings of shutout ball for the Pirates to claim a win over the Phillies. You have to go all the way back to 1914 to find the Pirates last 13 inning shutout. On Sunday the Pirates would again need extra frames to shutout the Phillies. And the winning pitcher in both games….the much maligned Antonio Bastardo.


Stats that blow my mind:
I. Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett both have sub 2.0 ERAs and rank 1 and 2 in the National League.
II. The Pirates have the 4th best record in baseball but 16 other teams are closer to 1st place in their respective divisions. The Cardinals and the Pirates have basically matched wins and losses since May 24th.
III. The Pirates pitching staff has recorded 3 shutouts in their last 4 games.

Records and Milestones: Clint Hurdle notched his 900th win as a manager.

He said what: Clint Hurdle’s definition of wonderful is very different from mine.

Twenty-five zeroes, the number of men left on base for both sides, pitchers on both sides pitching through things, making pitches when they had to — I don’t know if I’ve ever been involved with one of this magnitude to go 13 innings like that. It was a wonderful game to watch.


Tweet of the week:


Front Office Notes: Holy Déjà vu! The Pirates acquired 1B John Bowker from the Giants.


On The Farm: Some new seeds weren’t planted on the Farm as the Pirates selected 41 players in the Rule 4 draft. 1st round pick Kevin Newman has already signed.

Highlight of the week: The Pirates won two games with walk off base hits and Pedro Alvarez hit a baseball out of PNC Park, but none of those plays impressed me as much this fully extended diving catch by Sean Rodriguez.


Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-1-15 to 6-7-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/1/15 thru 6/7/15, the 9th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 5 Wins and 1 Loss, 33 Runs Scored and 22 Runs Allowed.

Hero of the week: Gerrit Cole. The Cole Train sped down the tracks this week to the destination of Aceville where he was just elected as mayor. He stymied the Giants on Monday over 7 innings and then closed out the week by doing the same thing to Atlanta. The Giants touched him up for 2 unearned runs in the 1st inning. Those would be the only runs to cross the plate in Cole’s 14 innings of work. He was at his best during the 6th inning against the Giants in which he pitched out of a bases loaded no out jam without allowing a run. 2 Wins, 14 innings, 0 ER, 16 strikeouts – yeah, that is pretty much domination. Cole leads the league in Wins and ERA.

Zero of the week: Vance Worley. Worley threw one pitch this week. It cleared the fence to give the Braves a 9th inning walk off win on Saturday night. It was the only loss the Pirates suffered all week.

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Rumors of Mark Melancon‘s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Pirates won 5 games this week and Melancon recorded a save in every one of them. He struck out 3 in 4.2 innings and allowed 0 earned runs. Melancon has now locked down 16 straight save opportunities. His velocity has also improved a few ticks in his recent outings.

#HURDLED: It is hard for me to find fault with Hurdle’s decisions this week. He did give the ball to a starting pitcher miscast as a reliever in the 9th inning of a tied game, but that had as much to do with other options being overworked this week. My biggest gripe is the decision to stick with Jeff Locke in the rotation over Vance Worley. However, Locke wasn’t terrible in his lone outing this week, though perhaps the manager stuck with him an inning too long. I just want to clarify that I actually think Clint Hurdle is a far better manager than he gets credit for. The #Hurdled segment of TWIBB is more to lampoon modern baseball strategies than it is to specifically pick on Clint Hurdle.

Cannonballs: Jordy Mercer (2), Neil Walker, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen

The little things that matter: The Pirates should send a thank you to Nori Aoki for his poor base running in the Pirates 5-2 win over the Giants on Wednesday afternoon. His TOOTBLANs were much appreciated. Aoki was thrown out stealing 3rd base for the final out of the 3rd inning. He made an even bigger blunder when he broke on a line drive hit at shortstop Jordy Mercer and was doubled off second base in the 8th inning.


It must be Hidden Vigorish: On Monday Chris Stewart hit 3 doubles. The last Pirate to have 3 doubles in a game was Ronny Cedeno in 2010

Stats that blow my mind: Mark Melancon’ Cutter Velocity by month:
April – 89.33
May – 90.43
June – 91.56

Records and Milestones: Nothing noteworthy.

He said what: Jeff Locke (AKA Mr. Nibbles) admits he has a nibbling problem.

It’s not mechanical, it’s not physical. It’s just a commitment to throw the ball to the big part of the plate, not throw the ball to the edges all the time.


Tweet of the week:


Front Office Notes: The front office is preparing for the Rule 4 draft which begins tonight (6/8/15).


On The Farm: If the Pirates need to dip into the minors to fill a spot in the rotation the best option right now might be Adrian Sampson. The 23 year old right hander has a 2.69 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 73.2 innings.

Highlight of the week: Jordy Mercer finds the seats to give the Pirates the lead over the Giants on 6/3.



Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 5-25-15 to 5-31-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 5/25/15 thru 5/31/15, the 8th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.

Weekly result: 5 Wins and 2 Losses, 33 Runs Scored and 25 Runs Allowed.

Hero of the week: Charlie Morton. Morton returned from the DL by giving the Pirates two wins in a pair of solid starts this week in which he pitched a full 7 innings both times. Morton issued just 1 free pass and allowed only 3 earned runs. The addition of a healthy Charlie Morton has stabilized the back of the rotation which had been a sore spot for this team through the first 6 weeks of the season.

Zero of the week: I have had enough of Jeff Locke. Even when he has what some would consider a good start it comes with a thousand pitches and a boatload of walks. Mr. Nibbles did actually win a game this week. But throwing 104 pitches, allowing 4 walks, and not finishing 6 full innings is not what I consider good work for a starting pitcher. Sunday night was more of the same from Locke. Nibbled at the corners, walked a bunch of hitters, threw way too many pitches, and then exited the game early. This time he couldn’t avoid being tagged with the loss. For the week it took 193 pitches for Mr. Nibbles to labor through 9.2 innings. He gave up 6 earned runs, 7 walks, and 12 hits.

How do you spell relief? T-O-N-Y W-A-T-S-O-N. Tony Watson took the ball and did his job flawlessly 4 times this week. He pitched 4 scoreless innings, whiffed 5 hitters, and recored 3 Holds in the process. Watson has not allowed a run since April 21st.

#HURDLED: Did Hurdle lift Francisco Liriano too quickly on Friday night? I dunno. These late West Coast games kill me. I fell asleep with the game on. When I woke up I found that the bullpen imploded, killing the Pirates 7 game win steak. Liriano was dominating the Padres through 6 innings. He was under 100 pitches, albeit barely.

Cannonballs: Francisco Cervelli, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jung Ho Kang, Gregory Polanco (2), Starling Marte

The little things that matter: This week Pedro Alvarez beat the shift with three routine ground balls through a vacated hole at shortstop. Pedro is showing more situational awareness at the plate this season than at any point of his career.

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Here is a quick recap of A.J. Burnett‘s season.

First 5 Starts: 0-1 with 1.45 ERA
Last 5 Starts: 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA

The difference is the Pirates have scored 36 runs in his last 5 starts while totaling just 7 runs in first 5 outings.


Stats that blow my mind: Jeff Locke has never had a season in which he posted a FIP below 4.00.Vance Worley has posted a FIP under 4.00 every season with the exception of his injury riddled 2013 campaign. Why do the Pirates continue to favor Locke over Worley?

Records and Milestones:

He said what: Christian Yelich crushed two balls off of Gerrit Cole on Wednesday afternoon. Starling Marte robbed Yelich of a homer on the first one. The second hit found the seats. Cole had this to say about Yelich after the game:

As far as I’m concerned, we’re even.


Tweet of the week: Pedro Alvarez has made a lot strides as a hitter this year, but as David Todd points out he looks horrible defensively at first base.


Front Office Notes: Radhames Liz was DFA’d to make room Charlie Morton


On The Farm: The bad news is that Nick Kingham is officially done for the year. TJ Surgery on his elbow will sideline him for 12+ months. The good news is that Jameson Taillon has progressed to throwing simulated games. He should begin a rehab assignment in competitive minor league games soon.

Highlight of the week: Jung Ho Kang crushed this majestic home run into the second deck at Petco Park.



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