There Was No Doubt About It

A Pittsburgh Pirates Blog

Bucco Bloggers Predict the 2nd Half, 2016 Edition

07.15.16 Posted by

Hey, it’s this again.

For the fourth straight year, we’re asking prominent Pirate bloggers, over the All-Star break, to predict the Pirates’ win total at the end of the season. Tim and I make our own predictions, and we compare it to a few algorithms, and then see who comes out on top.

In 2013, Jim Rosati of North Side Notch was the only one to nail the final total (94). In 2014, Rosati tied with Brian McElhinny of Raise the Jolly Roger, with both coming within two of the final total. And last year, only Rich of This is Getting Old correctly predicted at the break that the Bucs would win 98 games.

If we took this poll a couple of weeks ago, it’s fair to say these predictions would be a good deal less optimistic, and I think more than one would’ve been sub-.500. But for the second year in a row the Bucs enter the break on a hot streak, and with a big series win against the division leader.

Here are the predictions:



87 (Blogs: 88.4, Skynet: 83.7)Average

Things of note:

  • The average algorithm prediction is almost exactly in line with the Pirates’ current win pace
  • The most optimistic algorithm prediction is still lower than the most pessimistic blogger prediction.
  • The algorithms and bloggers were virtually identical in 2013, but the bloggers have won the last two years, once by more than two full wins on average.

Related to that last point, there’s been some speculation, based on the last few years, as to whether or not projection systems have trouble accounting for things like defense, defensive shifts, teams that emphasize contact hitting, or exceptionally good bullpens, given that both the Pirates and Royals keep outperforming their projections. Hopefully that’s the case here.

Filed under: Predictions!

Tapped Out: Cubs 10, Pirates 5

06.20.16 Posted by

The Cubs have swept the Pirates. The Pirates are three games under .500. Their schedule from now until the All-Star Break is still difficult. It’s going to take another strong second half merely to get back to that infuriating Wild Card game.

I’ve been writing recaps and previews of virtually every game (with a couple post facto or smashed together over travel concerns and random softball scheduling stuff), but at this point, there’s very little to say about this team on a game-to-game basis. The problems are clear. The Pirates have obvious strengths and obvious weaknesses, and they’re quite obviously somewhere from “Above Average” to “Good,” and they’re not going to get beyond that range until those obvious weaknesses are dealt with.

For now, we can enjoy the development of Gregory Polanco and hope Jameson Taillon figures things out quickly. Beyond that, the Bucs have to survive this stretch, play better in the second half, and hope to win that one game that has eluded them the last two seasons. And at that point, anything can happen. Hopefully the Pirate team that has to confront those challenges will be better than the one we have today.

Filed under: game recaps, Jameson Taillon

Pirates at Cubs: Taillon For the Save

06.19.16 Posted by

Taillon vs. Hendricks, 8:05 PM

I doubt I’m alone in saying this game, in and of itself, has little meaning for me. We can’t beat the Cubs, the division deficit is massive, and at this point we’re playing for another Wild Card game. The Wild Card game started the year (and last year, for that matter) as the frustrating fallback to our failure to win a division, and suddenly it’s something we have to aspire to again.

What today’s game does do, though, is give us a little look at what things might be like next year. At this point it seems fairly likely Jameson Taillon will stick in the majors, at least for a bit. And it’s easy to envision a 2017 where Cole and Taillon start tag-teaming opponents the way Arietta and Lester have this year. Throw in a little normal pitching regression, another year of maturity for Gregory Polanco, and it should be a different story. But that’s next year. This year, and today, we’re reduced to simply caring about how this young pitcher does, because we’ve already reached an unfortunate point in the season where the development of individual players (especially this one) matters more than the outcome of the game. It is a familiar feeling for any long-time Pirate fan.

Taillon draws Kyle Hendricks, the black sheep of the Cub rotation which his bloated 3.05 ERA. Like every Cubs starter he’s outpitching his peripherals. It’d be nice to get those numbers back in line, and for Taillon to do to the Cubs what Cole did to them the last time we finished a three-game set.

First pitch is at 8:15 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Jameson Taillon

Better, But Still Bad: Cubs 4, Pirates 3

06.19.16 Posted by

There’s something really off-putting about a game like this. Obviously, losing 6-0 and never really being in it is worse, both for morale and for any forward-looking analysis of the team’s underlying skill level. But to lose a different way the very next day creates a weird sort of frustration, too.

The Pirates did not get kicked around yesterday: they jumped out to a 3-1 lead on the strength of a homer, an RBI single, and a HBP with the bases loaded. Getting only three runs out of the three things I just described is fairly remarkable. And that mattered, because the Cubs scored just enough to win: four runs, three of which came on solo home runs. Niese, like Liriano, continues to be dogged by a bizarrely high HR/FB rate, though he’s done well enough apart from that that most of them are solo shots. But when you give up three, that’s not much consolation. Especially when one of those is from David Ross, who’s pretty mediocre against almost every other team he plays, but has a 1.400 OPS against the Bucs in 13 games.

All you really need to know about the Cubs this year is that they lost their young catcher, replaced him with a 39-year-old, and that replacement is already two-thirds of the way to his career high in WAR. Like I said: good and lucky.

Filed under: game recaps, Jonathan Niese

Pirates at Cubs: Inflection Points

06.18.16 Posted by

Niese vs. Lester, 8:15 PM

For the first month or two of the season, we tried to figure out how good or bad some of our new players were. We got pretty emphatic returns on John Jaso and most of the bench hitters, as well as offensive players who weren’t new, but had the potential to perform at a new level. We got good early returns on Juan Nicasio, then terrible ones, then okay ones…and now the dust seems to have settled mostly near “terrible” with the occasional step towards “okay.”

Jon Niese has been one of the harder players to pin down: struggled tremendously out of the gate, had a good run for six starts, then got rocked against St. Louis his last time on the mound. He was, of course, not as bad as those early starts suggested, nor as good as the ones that followed. All the data we have suggest he’s been average-ish, but seems worse because he’s giving up an unusually high number of home runs. He’s still getting lots of ground balls, though, and his K and BB numbers are both a little higher than last year. So far, on net, he’s about the same guy he was when he acquired him, which is kind of a disappointment given that most of us have a Searage Adjustment built into our expectations when any new pitcher is added to the team. That hasn’t materialized here.

When you’re having trouble giving up home runs, you don’t want to face the Cubs, and you don’t want to be in Wrigley. Niese has to contend with both. It might not be pretty. Especially given his mound opponent, Jon Lester, who’d be the talk of baseball if not constantly in the shadow of whatever sinister bargain Arietta’s still under warranty for.

The Pirates don’t need to beat the Cubs to make the playoffs, and they don’t need Jon Niese to be great, either. But they can’t get destroyed by the Cubs, and Niese can’t be terrible. We’re 41% of the way through this season: the underlying metrics matter less with each passing game as the reality of the results overtakes them. Both Niese and the team at large have to start converting if they want to be in the mix again, rather than spending the last couple of weeks in September looking towards next year, like we used to.

First pitch is at 8:15 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Jonathan Niese

Below the Waterline: Cubs 6, Pirates 0

06.18.16 Posted by

I’ve said this a few times, but basically no pitcher is good enough to put up the kinds of results Jake Arietta’s been putting up, with the possible exception of Clayton Kershaw. You get to these results by being both good and lucky. And yesterday’s game was a perfect example of that.

Was Arietta good? Yes. He struck out 11 in six innings and gave up no runs. Was he lucky? Absolutely. He allowed multiple base runners twice, including loading the bases with one out, and got out of it both times. His strand rate last year was 80%, and this year it’s even higher, and the splits don’t seem to indicate that he gets appreciably better at striking people out with runners on, either. Maybe Arietta has discovered some new way to pitch from the stretch that renders him immune to typical strand rate regression, but that seems unlikely. And it sounds goofy to say any of this, because it sounds like I’m saying he’s good because he’s lucky, when I’m really saying he’s both.

On the other side, Liriano gave up two runs on two pitches (which is, in case you were wondering, the maximum number of runs you can allow on that many pitches)…and then settled down for several innings. He left with some runners on in the 6th, so his line ended up looking pretty bad, but considering the opponent and the first two pitches he threw, it had the makings of something a lot worse. At this point I’m convinced Liriano is unlikely to round into shape enough to get his overall numbers roughly in line with the last few years, but I’m also unconvinced he can’t be a productive starter in the second half. Others have made a convincing case that what looks like several different problems may actually be one with multiple ripple effects, and I just can’t believe (not yet, at least) that he’s suddenly twice as susceptible to the long ball.

The Bucs managed just three hits yesterday. Since his three double game against Colorado, Gregory Polanco has just one extra base hit (a double) in eight games.

The Pirates are below .500 for just the second time this season, and the first time in two months. They’ve lost eight of nine and they haven’t beaten the Cubs in any game where Gerrit Cole wasn’t wearing a cape.

Filed under: Francisco Liriano, game recaps, Gregory Polanco

Pirates at Cubs: A Threat and a Chance

06.17.16 Posted by

Liriano vs. Arietta, 2:20 PM

The Bucs are getting raked over the coals by the nefarious schedule makers again, following up a recent one-day “series” in Colorado by playing an afternoon game in Chicago right after an evening game in New York. And to make matters worse, they face Jake Arietta to start things off.

The Pirates are huge underdogs in this game, and they should be. The one nice thing about this series, as poorly time as it is, is that if the Bucs win it (or, amazingly, sweep it), that’s a pretty emphatic statement. Insofar as you believing in “turning points,” this would potentially be one of them. I wouldn’t bet on either of those two things happening, and I’m not sure I’d ascribe a ton of importance to them if they did, but it’d be nice to know it’s still possible.

Arietta, at least, is looking a bit more human these days, allowing four, zero, three, and two runs in his last four starts. That’s a 3.38 ERA, but that’s what passes for a slump with this guy right now. Liriano, on the other hand, is still mostly flailing, though his last outing was a bit better (four runs but only one earned in six innings). The last time he faced the Cubs (which was also in Chicago), he allowed eight runs.

If the Bucs can just survive the upcoming schedule, I think they can make a run in the second half. And if they can play with the Cubs now, in the state they seem to be in, that could bode well for their ability to hold their own over the next few weeks.

First pitch is at 2:20 PM.

Filed under: Francisco Liriano, game preview

Little and Late: Mets 6, Pirates 4

06.17.16 Posted by

One of the more disheartening things about the Pirates’ losses recently is how they feel over so quickly. A few times I’ve turned the game on an inning or two late, and nearly every time it seems like the Bucs are already losing by a few runs. Often they’ll scrape back into the game, like they did last night by scoring four runs in the final two innings, but that’s not going to get it down when you spot the other team a 6-0 lead.

There’s not much to analyze here: Nicassio gave up six runs in 4.1 innings largely because he allowed three home runs. The Bucs didn’t do anything against Colon until the 7th, and that’s the more disconcerting part, as this vaunted offense has been…well, whatever the opposite of vaunted is over the last few weeks. The Pirates’ team OPS was .826 in April, .755 in May, and it’s .655 so far in June. In terms of National League ranks, that’s 3rd, 6th, and now 14th. They have the second worst team OPS in June.

A lot of things about this team make me think a second half run is possible…maybe even likely. It’s easy to imagine things going a lot smoother if and when Nicassio moves to the bullpen (and adapts to it reasonably well), Liriano improves (I still think he’ll be better, if not good), and Cole and Taillon eating up half of the remaining starts. The offense is probably closer to the lineup we saw in April and May than June, too. But given the way they’re playing right now (they’re at exactly .500 right now), and how tough the upcoming schedule is, it seems like a second-half surge is going to be necessary just to earn the right to make it to a fourth consecutive Three Hour Coin Flip.

What’s that they say? You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone?

Filed under: everything is terrible, game recaps, Juan Nicasio

Pirates at Mets: Series Win Up For Grabs

06.16.16 Posted by

Nicasio vs. Colon, 7:10 PM

Thanks to the Gerrit Cole injury, Juan Nicasio stays in the rotation for now. He gets the Mets, which is an easier lineup than most of those he’s faced, but he’s still been unpredictable, and even when good he hasn’t often gone deep into games, and the Pirates have so few reliable arms that no lead is safe in those middle innings.

The good news is that we’re not facing one of New York’s three best starters this time: instead, we square off against the ageless (and largely shapeless) Bartolo Colon, AKA The Ricky Henderson of Pitchers. Colon turned 43 less than a month ago, but somehow remains useful. Not as useful as his ERA suggests (his xFIP is a run higher), but useful nonetheless. The formula is clear: control. He walks fewer than two batters per nine, and it’s not that hard to be at least decent if you can do that, even if you, like Colon, have a K/9 rate under six.

First pitch is at 7:10 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Juan Nicasio

Not Even Close: Mets 11, Pirates 2

06.16.16 Posted by

There was no point at which the Pirates felt like they were in this game. The Mets took a 3-0 lead in the first and it only got worse from there. They led 11-0 going into the ninth when the Bucs finally scraped together a couple of runs. Locke failed to go even five innings again, and has now given up 18 runs in his last 9.2 frames. And Syndergaard nearly shut them out, allowing five hits, no walks, and 11 Ks through 8.1 innings.

There’s virtually nothing to like in this game. Caminero was the only Pirate pitcher not to allow a run, and he allowed a walk and two hits instead. John Jaso went 3 for 4, but only one other starter had even one hit.

It’s an awful game, at a pretty bad time, and it really feels like the Bucs are hurtling towards a stretch of very tough opponents at a time when they’d probably struggle against mediocre ones. If they come out the other end of this over .500, it’ll be very pleasantly surprising.

Speaking of .500, the Bucs are on pace to win 82 games. Remember when that was a thing?

Filed under: Arquimedes Caminero, game recaps, Jeff Locke