Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Month – July 2015

Polanco Thriving Since Returning to the Leadoff Spot

It is hard to not view the first three months of Gregory Polanco‘s season as anything but disappointing. On July 5th the talented young RF of the Pittsburgh Pirates was saddled with a 231/300/330 triple slash line. The Pirates were facing a crossroad. Not only was Polanco struggling, but the team had just lost leadoff hitter Josh Harrison to a thumb injury that would sideline him until September. With the trade deadline looming less than a month away this was a crucial time for Polanco. The Bucs had to be considering the possibility of acquiring a replacement for Polanco in the near future – one that could possibly hit leadoff. Instead of continuing to bury Polanco at the bottom of the lineup manager Clint Hurdle decided on July 6th to instead pencil Polanco into the leadoff spot. The Pirates lineup had been very inconsistent much of the season and Polanco’s struggles were a big reason why. It seemed a curious move to put a hitter with a .300 OBP in the leadoff spot. But the young OF has responded to the challenge.
 
Since Harrison’s injury Polanco has served as the team’s leadoff hitter almost exclusively (the lone exception was July 12th against the Cardinals when he hit 8th). Since returing to the leadoff spot Polanco has hit safely in 16 of his last 18 games. He has reached base via a hit or a walk in all 18 of those games. Polanco is slashing a robust 288/366/466 during that time and has scored 11 runs. He has been exactly the table setter that the Pirates have needed. The lightbulb has turned on for Polanco. Maybe that his breakout happened at the same time as his return to the leadoff role is just a coincidence, but it sure seems like that was the spark. Now that the Pirates’ questions over the leadoff spot and lack of production from RF have been answered by Polanco, GM Neal Huntington can direct his attention at the trade deadline on more pressing needs.
 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 7-20-15 to 7-26-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 7/20/15 thru 7/26/15, the 16th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 4 Wins and 3 Losses, 32 Runs Scored and 33 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: Jung Ho Kang. Kang recorded multiple hits in 5 straight games this week. He was 11 for 28 (a .423 batting average) with 4 doubles and 5 runs scored.
 

Zero of the week: Pedro Florimon. Florimon proved this week why he is not a major league caliber player. He struck out in half of his 8 ABs this week, committed an error, and stood in the box dumbfounded as a ball he hit slowly down 1st base line rolled fair.
 

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon continues to just nail games down. Mark the Shark was once again a perfect 3 for 3 in save opportunities posting a scoreless inning in all 3 outings.

 

#HURDLED: There is just no excuse for allowing Charlie Morton to pitch to good left-handed hitters the 4th time through the order in a close game. Mike Moustakas made Clint Hurdle learn that lesson the hard way on Wednesday Night when the Royals 3B took Morton deep for a 3 run blast in the 7th inning.

 

Cannonballs: Travis Ishikawa, Pedro Alvarez (2), Andrew McCutchen, Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco, Neil Walker (2)

 
The little things that matter: Where should we start? How about Andrew McCutchen’s insistence to allow runners to take second base by making ill-advised throws to 3rd base in which he over shoots the cut off man? Or how about 3B coach Rick Sofield sending a runner to get cut down at the plate in the 9th inning of a game in which the Bucs were losing by 3 runs? The Pirates continue to botch fundamentals on a daily basis. It is amazing that it hasn’t cost them in the standings all that much…yet. THIS NEEDS FIXED ASAP!

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: A month ago Max Scherzer no hit the Pirates in a dominating performance. Entirely differently story this week. The Bucs took Scherzer deep….really deep…three different times. Two of the blasts cleared the stadium. Scherzer had not allowed 3 homers in a game since Sept. 15, 2011.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Mark Melanacon has converted 30 straight save opportunities. That is impressive. Melancon has not allowed an earned run since May 11th. That is downright mind boggling.
 

Records and Milestones: Mark Melancon recorded his 100th career save in the Pirates 10-7 win over the Royals on 7/20/15.
 

He said what: Max Scherzer had this to say after Gregory Polanco wore him out in a critical AB on Friday night:

He just grinded me all the way through. He did a great job of just fouling fastballs and keeping his swings short.

 

Tweet of the week: Brent Morel had a hero moment in his brief call up this week. On Friday Morel shot a double into right center for a game winning RBI. On Saturday he was DFA’d.

 

Front Office Notes: A fine piece of GM-ing by Neal Huntington this week as the Bucs acquired 3B Aramis Ramirez to plug a hole in the injury riddled left side of the infield. Welcome back Aram!
 

On The Farm: Since coming off the minor league disabled list Tyler Glasnow has struck out 53 hitters in 33.2 innings for AA Altoona. This is the most dominating minor league pitcher the Pirates have ever had in my recollection.

 
Highlight of the week: Gregory Polanco and Max Scherzer locked horns in an epic 12 pitch battle on Friday. Polanco fell behind in the count 0-2 before battling back to fill the count full. Then he wasted 5 straight fastballs on the outside corner with foul balls. Finally Scherzer made a mistake by hanging a breaking ball which Polanco launched over the Clemente Wall to tie the game. It was an incredible AB, and this video has every pitch. Scherzer’s reaction is priceless!
 

 

Breaking Bad Starring Clint Hurdle

There is no question the Pittsburgh Pirates were dealt a bit of a bad hand coming out of the All Star Break. The break could not have come at a worse time for what had been the hottest team in baseball throughout the first two weeks of July. Thanks to a pair of dramatic come from behind walk off wins over the Cardinals in the last two games prior to the All-Star Game the Pirates were set up for all kinds of momentum heading into the second half. But the four day layoff effectively poured cold water on the red hot Bucs. The timing of the break was bad for the club as they headed to Milwaukee to start the second half, but injuries sustained soon afterward was even more troublesome. Francisco Liriano was scratched minutes before a start paving the way for an unprepared Vance Worley to take the hill in the second game of the series in Milwaukee. Worley was staked to an early 3-0 lead. By the time he exited in the 4th inning the lead was gone and the Brewers had pulled ahead. The Pirates would go on to lose the second straight game of the series. But the worst turn of events was the loss of SS Jordy Mercer with a sprained knee. The Pirates infield depth was already depleted since Josh Harrison went on the DL earlier in the month. Now the Pirates are cobbling together a punchless lineup that includes the likes of Sean Rodriguez and Pedro Florimon. It is little wonder that the Bucs went 1-5 in their first road trip after the break.
 

Make no mistake, this team is feeling a palpable malaise, and A.J. Burnett admitted as much:

If you want to know the truth, and I mean this honestly, I don’t think we responded too well to the All-Star break, coming off all the good stuff that happened before, then being off for four days like that. – AJ Burnett

But before we chalk up the poor performance to bad luck and poor timing we should also put the skipper under a microscope. Clint Hurdle deserves a significant amount of blame for how poorly this Pirates team has played in the last week. He is the man that decided to set up the back of the rotation to toe the rubber in Milwaukee. Earl Weaver once said that “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher”. The Pirates decided to hold their best out for the first three games in Milwaukee. What kind of message does that send to your team? What does that say about the urgency of the second half for a team that is still fighting uphill to catch the first place Cardinals?
 

If that was Hurdle’s only sin it would be excusable. It was perfectly legitimate to reason that Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett could use an extended break. However, this was far from the only piece of mismanagement that Hurdle has been guilty of in the last week. In 6 straight games a Pirates’ starting pitcher has faltered in the middle of an inning. Hurdle hung on far too long with Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton. The most egregious example was allowing Morton to pitch to Mike Moustakas last night for the 4th time in the game with Pirates trailing the Royals 2-1 in the 7th inning. Moustakas has some extreme platoon splits. To not bring in a southpaw reliever in a game that was close and late in that situation was negligent. The result was predictable – Moustakas smashed a 3-Run Homer that ended all doubt that the Pirates would take yet another loss.

 

The Pirates are in a tough spot. They are undermanned and face a daunting schedule over the next few weeks. There is still plenty of season left, and eventually some help will arrive – either via trade or the return of injured players. In the mean time if the ship is going to stay afloat the skipper needs to do a better job of steering it.
 

MLB Jung Ho Kang vs. KBO Jung Ho Kang

Perhaps it is foolish to have expectations on anyone that attempts to do anything that has never been done before. But this is baseball we are talking about and prognostication has become a cottage industry within the sport. So when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Korean sensation Jung Ho Kang who posted video game offensive numbers in the KBO last season everybody jumped at the chance to place their expectations on Kang. Some felt Kang would struggle against superior pitching. No other position player in the KBO has ever made the jump to America to play Major League Baseball. But there were others that were much more bullish on the 28 year old Korean infielder. In a post on Fangraphs.com last February Dan Farnsworth predicted Kang would hit .280 with 25 HRs. It is safe to say that Kang will not reach those lofty numbers. At the All-Star Break he sits with a .268 batting average and just 4 home runs. But despite not showing anywhere near the power he displayed in the KBO, Kang is meeting most of the lofty expectations that were heaped on him by morphing into a completely different hitter.
 

One of the concerns people had with Jung Ho Kang’s hitting skills were some considerable swing and miss tendencies. Kang’s high leg kick generated a ton of power in the KBO, but it also led to some high strikeout numbers. In 2014 Kang struck out 21.2% of the time. That was significantly more than the KBO league average of 17%. In the smallish stadiums in of the KBO Kang was willing to take the big swing with the high leg kick to generate home runs to his pull side at the expense of strikeouts. Most people seemed to think that was just a part of who Kang was as a hitter. But in the four months that Kang has been playing with Pirates he has shown a tremendous ability to adapt. The vast left field area at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is not kind to right handed pull hitters. Kang seemingly recognized the difference very early on. The big leg was replaced with much more of this:
 

 

That there is a great piece of right field hitting with absolutely no leg kick. Kang doesn’t always forego the leg kick, but it is rare to see it on a two strike count. Even in a good hitters count it appears he has cut down on the kick from what it was in Spring Training. The result is a hitter that has actually cut down on his strikeout rate this year despite being matched against much more talented pitching.
 

Jung Ho Kang 2014 KBO Strikeout rate – 21.2%
Jung Ho Kang 2015 MLB Strikeout rate – 20.2%

 

Jung Ho Kang might not be the same home run hitting monster he was in KBO, but he has still been a damn good hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unless you were actually expecting Babe Ruth then you have to be happy with what Kang has done. He has been a far better hitter than I imagined he would be, and I have pretty wild imagination.
 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 7-6-15 to 7-12-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 7/6/15 thru 7/12/15, the 14th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 6 Wins and 1 Loss, 28 Runs Scored and 21 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: This week had so many heroes that picking just one seems like an injustice. Andrew McCutchen, Jung Ho Kang, and Neil Walker all could easily have staked a claim to being the hero this week. I give this one to Cutch simply because that walk off homer in the bottom of the 14th inning on Saturday Night was magical. It was the biggest HR for a regular season game in PNC Park history. Cutch also did some handy work in helping to save a PNC Park grounds crew member from becoming a human burrito.

 

Zero of the week: Rather slim pickens for the zero award. Every player pulled their weight. I guess it has to go to Arquimedes Caminero for a brutal outing in which he gave the lead to the Cardinals in the 10th inning on Sunday Night. The Cards scored twice on Caminero and would have added more if not for a tremendous play by Neil Walker. Luckily, the Pirates bailed out the hard throwing reliever with another heroic comeback in the bottom half of the 10th. In fact, Caminero actually was credited with his first major league win for this putrid outing.
 

How do you spell relief? M-A-R-K M-E-L-A-N-C-O-N. Mark Melancon just keeps on putting up zeros. This week he picked up 2 mores saves, pitched 3 more scoreless innings, and was named to the All-Star game for the 2nd time in his career

 

#HURDLED: We have a substitute HURDLER this week. Bench coach Dave Jauss took the reins after Clint Hurdle was ejected in the second inning on Saturday and made us all appreciate our big purple skipper a whole lot more. Jauss made a series of questionable moves from double switching Starling Marte out of the game (which meant Cutch was followed in the lineup by a pitcher) to electing to pitch to Jhonny Peralta in the 14th inning with light hitting Pete Kozma on deck. Peralta delivered a base hit to give the Cardinals the lead.

 

Cannonballs: Andrew McCutchen (2), Neil Walker, A.J. Burnett

 
The little things that matter: If the Pirates proved anything this week it is to never ever quit. When things looked like they were about to get away from them they came up with big plays to stop the bleeding. A double play in the 5th inning on Saturday helped end a Cardinals rally and hold the deficit to only three 3 runs. On Sunday Neil Walker saved a run with a diving play in the 10th inning to keep the Pirates within 2 runs. If not for these huge stops at critical moments the later heroics never would have occurred.

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: Hidden Vigorish was strongly in the Pirates corner this week. In the 14 years since PNC Park had opened the San Diego Padres had not lost a series on the North Shore….that is until the Pirates brought out the brooms and swept the Friars this week. Then the Bucs did the unthinkable by mounting two epic come from behind wins to walk off the Cardinals in back to back games. The Cardinals were previously 44-1 when leading after 8 innings. The Pirates broke them twice. Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal had allowed just 3 runs all season prior to this weekend. The Pirates torched him for 4 runs in two games as he twice coughed up late leads. I cant explain it….so it must be Hidden Vigorish.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Gerrit Cole picked up his 12th win of the season 13th win of the season. The last Pirates pitcher to win a dozen games 13 games before the All-Star break was Ken Brett in 1974 Dock Ellis in 1971.
 

Records and Milestones: Four Pirates were selected to the all-star game: Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Melancon. For Burnett it was a well earned first time honor at the ripe old age of 38. This is Burnett’s 17th MLB season. Only two other players have played longer before being selected for the Mid-Summer Classic for the first time: Arthur Rhodes (19 seasons) and Doyle Alexander (18 seasons).
 

He said what: Clint Hurdle makes a valid point that umpire Vic Carapazza needs his hearing checked. Carapazza is hearing phantom foul tips…maybe he is also hearing phantom foul language.

Both times, it would have been the third out. (Cervelli) is upset; let him go. For me, no game awareness. … It was wrong. He said (Cervelli) said something personal? You know what? We are professionals. He heard a foul tip? There was no foul tip

 

Tweet of the week: Some absolutely inspiring baseball was played this week. Also this happened….


 

Front Office Notes: Trade deadline rumors are heating up. Will no move be the right move this year?

 

On The Farm: Pirates AA 1B Josh Bell slugged a two run homer in the Futures Game.

 
Highlight of the week: How many regular season games will you truly never forget? Whatever your answer you can also add this one to your list.
 

 

The Calming Influences of A.J. Burnett

38,000 fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates were lustily booing umpire Vic Carapazza after his phantom foul tip call gave Cardinals’ slugger Mark Reynolds a second chance that he would not waste. Reynolds drove the very next pitch from A.J. Burnett over the left field wall to stake the Cards to a 1-0 second inning lead. PNC Park was a powder keg ready to explode. Francisco Cervelli was melting down in rage after his quick ejection by Carapazza after voicing a few words of displeasure over the obvious missed call. Manager Clint Hurdle was turning 50 shades of purple. He too was sent for an early shower. While chaos was ensuing all around home plate A.J. Burnett casually took a baseball and milled around the mound area until the rest of the Pirates coaching staff could drag Cervelli and Hurdle off the field. Burnett had every reason to be chapped. You have to believe inside he was boiling. He was just burned by a terrible call and his catcher was being taken away from him in what was setting up to be a pivotal game. 5 years ago Burnett would surely have gotten himself tossed in a situation like that. 10 years ago he might have been tossed and broken a hand on a water cooler. But in this moment Burnett looked like the calmest man in PNC Park. When play would resume Burnett would go on to do what he has done every 5th day all season long – keep his team in the game and get them to the 7th inning.
 

Even at age 38 A.J. Burnett hardly appears to be the most mature guy in baseball. He almost always carries an edge with him. This is a guy that relishes telling strikeout victims to “Sit the F Down”. But when the Pirates need a calming influence, a rock to lean on, Burnett is that guy. Andrew McCutchen is the soul of the Pirates. Gerrit Cole is the heartbeat. A.J. Burnett is surprisingly the steadying influence for this club. As long as A.J. is holding it together every thing else will be fine. And that is what happened in this epic 14 inning Pirates win over the Cardinals on Saturday night. A.J. Burnett steadied the ship and gave the Pirates a chance to win – just like he has all season.
 

Pirates TWIBB Notes for Week of 6-29-15 to 7-5-15

Here are your This Week in Buccos Baseball Notes for 6/29/15 thru 7/5/15, the 13th week of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 regular season.
 

Weekly result: 5 Wins and 1 Loss, 30 Runs Scored and 19 Runs Allowed.
 

Hero of the week: Neil Walker. The first half of the season has mostly been a disappointing struggle for Neil Walker – until this week that is. Walker was a man on fire this week. He pounded out 13 hits in 29 ABs with 9 RBIs. He was absolutely clutch too. Walker drove in either the go ahead or game tying run in 4 of the Pirates 5 wins this week.
 

Zero of the week: Arquimedes Caminero. Caminero gave up just as many hits as outs he recorded this week. In 2.1 innings he was torched for 7 hits, 3 ERs, and walked 2 hitters.
 

How do you spell relief? D-E-O-L-I-S G-U-E-R-R-A. Deolis Guerra pitched in only one game this week, but it was perhaps the gutsiest relief outing the Pirates will get from a reliever all season. Guerra held the Detroit Tigers’ potent lineup in check over 3 scoreless extra innings to help the Pirates snag a victory in 14 innings on Tuesday night. Guerra gave up 3 hits and whiffed 3 batters in the outing. The Tigers were threatening to tie the game in the bottom of the 14th inning until Guerra induced a game ending double play.

 

#HURDLED: On Sunday in the bottom of the 2nd inning Clint Hurdle allowed Gerrit Cole to pitch to the number 8 hitter in the Indians lineup (Roberto Perez) with a runner on third base and two outs. You have the pitcher on deck, an American League pitcher at that, why are you pitching to Perez? Perez made the Pirates pay for the mistake by driving in the run.

 

Cannonballs: Neil Walker (2), Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez (2), Francisco Cervelli, Andrew McCutchen
 

The little things that matter: There just are no words for this. Gorkys Hernandez, what are you doing????

 

 

It must be Hidden Vigorish: When Pedro Alvarez took Indians pitcher Danny Salazar deep in the 5th inning on Sunday it marked his first home run of the season with a man on base. Pedro’s previous 11 homers were of the solo variety.
 

Stats that blow my mind: Gerrit Cole picked up his 12th win of the season. The last Pirates pitcher to win a dozen games before the All-Star break was Ken Brett in 1974.
 

Records and Milestones: Deolis Guerra picked up his first major league victory.
 

He said what: Apparently Victor Martinez isn’t a fan of the Pirates after getting hit with a Gerrit Cole fastball.

I mean, I have no respect for no one on that team, including Cole and their coaching staff

 

Tweet of the week: Jeff Locke is no longer a liability. Not only did he pitch the best game of his career on Saturday, but he has been throwing pretty well for a while now.


 

Front Office Notes: In a bit of a head scratcher the Pirates claimed Travis Ishikawa off of waivers. Here is my two cents: Ishikawa plays good defense. This gives the Pirates two options to replace Pedro for defense – a left and right option and both have positional versatility.

 

On The Farm: Don’t expect Jameson Taillon to help the club this year. His rehab has been derailed by an inguinal hernia. He will be shelved two months as he recovers from the surgery to repair it.

 
Highlight of the week: Neil Walker delivers the game winning hit in the 14th inning on 6/30/15.
 

 

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