Pirates Drop Series in Colorado

Posted by @ 07.28.14

The Pirates’ fourth game against the Colorado Rockies was not unlike their first three, at least in the early-going. With the Pirates falling behind early and nothing going against the not-very-good Brett Anderson, it appeared as if the offense would have to come late.

Not so. Charlie Morton and his electric stuff were TKO’d in the 7th inning. “Relief” came by way of the enigmatic Ernesto Frieri, who put out the fire with gasoline. The Pirates trailed 1-0 before the inning started and 8-0 when it was all over. A Jordy Mercer sac fly in the 9th was the only tally that the Pirates could record. In Colorado. Against a horrid pitching staff.

The Pirates were felled by the same score the following night, 8-1, in spite of facing an equally-inept Colorado starter, Tyler Matzek. Jeff Locke was battered for 6 runs and it could have been a lot worse. In just under seven innings, Locke surrendered 10 hits – including a double and three home runs – and three walks. Jeanmar Gomez showed up and made things worse, ceding a pair of runs over the final four outs. This time, it was Ike Davis who scored the lone run for the Pirates, homering in the 9th off of a mop-up reliever.

Facing the sweep, Josh Harrison put the team on his back and willed the Pirates to victory. Avenging the faltering bullpen and rotation, Harrison collected four hits – including a double and homer – and stole a pair of bases on one play by way of his now trademark run-down duplicity. Regard:

It is worth mentioning that Wilin Rosario, the catcher, is horrible. Still. Harrison stole 2nd, recovered from over-sliding only to find himself on 3rd base with nobody out, and scored the go-ahead run. The Rockies tied the game in the bottom of the 7th off of Tony Watson, The Adonis. It was all for naught, as the next Pirate batter, Josh Harrison, hit the first pitch of the 8th inning into the dumb foliage in right field off of the failed left-handed person, Rex Brothers.  Polanco followed-suit and made it 7-5, the winning score. Melancon pitched an uneventful bottom of the 9th that I will not bother to recount.

I don’t believe that the Pirates play up or down to particular opponents. That isn’t something that I think happens much in baseball. However, the six games that the Pirates played against the Colorado Rockies over the last 10 days provide an interesting counterpoint. Still, The Pirates took 4 of the 6 against Colorado and have won 6 of 9 coming out of the break.

Starting late tonight, the Pirates head to San Fran to face the flailing Giants. Worley, Liriano, and Morton will oppose Bumgarner, Hudson, and Lincecum. These games are important.

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Why Do the Pirates Strand So Many Baserunners?

Posted by @ 07.21.14

The Pirates strand a lot of baserunners, no? That’s certainly true according to the eye test – it’s something that is discussed following every loss and some of the wins – but what do the numbers say? TeamNumbers shows that the Pirates lead all of baseballs in stranded runners with 7.68 left on base per game.

Okay, so we’ve established that it’s true, but why is it true? One argument might be the erroneous notion that the Pirates aren’t clutch hitters and bat far worse with runners in scoring position. In all situations, the Pirates are triple-slashing .257/.333/.389; with runners in scoring position, the line is .250/.329/.391. So, it’s not that; they’re actually eerily close to being the same hitters with guys on base. Worth noting, the Pirates hit .251/.313/.381. If anything, you could argue that the Pirates are poorer hitters when nobody is on (or at least less interested in getting walked).

So that’s not it. Let’s go back to the triple-slash, this time with MLB ranks following each value: .257 (8th)/.333 (1st)/.389 (12th). OPS: .722 (10th)

You read that correctly, the Pirates lead all of baseball in on-base percentage and are in the top third in average and top half in slugging. The Pirate offense is quite effective this season, indisputably so. Therein lies the answer, though. The Pirates get the most guys on base in the league, but have a middling amount of power (12th in slugging). For most of the season, they’ve also had a bottom third of the order that has featured Jordy Mercer and his awful first two months of the year, Chris Stewart, Clint Barmes on some nights, and the pitcher. That Anti-Murderer’s Row hearkens back to 2012, when the Pirates had the Barmes/Barajas/pitcher black hole almost every day.

Given that the Pirates get a lot of guys on base, but don’t have a ton of power and have played a lot of the season with a horrible third of their order, then it’s not surprising that they strand a lot of guys. With Jordy Mercer turning the corner and Pedro inexplicably batting 7th, the Pirates should score more runs in the 2nd half. Probably.

Even if not, it is important to remember that stranded runners are often the symptom of a good offense, not a bad one. In case you’re wondering, the Padres have stranded the fewest runners per game (5.92/game) by far. They’re on pace to score 13 more runs than the 1968 White Sox, which will be good for the second fewest runs scored by a team in a season, all-time.

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Pirates Sweep Kenny Powers, Rockies

Posted by @ 07.21.14

The Pittsburgh Americans started the de facto second half of the season with an exciting sweep of the Colorado Villains over the weekend. An admixture of grit, can-do thinking, and baseball-ing prowess were required to fell the aforementioned Villains and their mulleted shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, The Jerk.

The Pirates broomed away the Rockies via three comeback-type victories. They trailed each of the horrid Rockie starters at one point or another and launched their comebacks against their maligned bullpen. Likewise, the Pirate bullpen stood tall and allowed said comebacks to occur. Over the three games, the Shark Tank pitched 11 innings, allowing one run, unearned. The winning hits were struck by Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer (The Pittsburgh Kid), and Neil Walker (who is also from Pittsburgh, supposedly).

With the sweep, the Pirates are firmly entrenched in the thick of the NL Central race. The Dodgers are coming to town tonight for three games, none of which will be started by Zack Greinke or The Immaculate Clayton Kershaw, before heading out to the West for games against the Rockies, Giants, and Diamondbacks before hosting the Marlins, Padres, and Tigers (Oh My!). Given that the Giants have gone 11-23 over the last month and a half, the Pirates should make hay in their next 20 games. Should. 

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Chris and Tim Talk Talk About Stuff at the All-Star Break

Posted by @ 07.17.14

Chris: Good Liriano or Bad Liriano, going forward, and how much does it matter?

Tim: Bad Liriano. Our only hope is that he can put together two really good starts prior to the deadline and try to trade him for something, anything. His problems are related to declining velocity and he can’t seem to survive without it given that his control has always been suspect. The Pirates should absolutely not try to re-sign him unless he comes at a steep discount.

Should the Pirates be buyers or sellers at the deadline?

Chris: I’m gonna give a cop-out answer and say “It Depends.” And I’m going to give a Breaking Bad answer and say “no Half Measures.” If they have a chance to make a David Price-shaped splash, that’s one thing. And if they have to give up the odd dinky piece for whatever the pitching equivalent of a Marlon Byrd type is, go for it. Just don’t give up a Pretty Good Prospect for someone like Huston Street, is all I ask. I don’t have a lot of worry that this will happen, but it’s really the only thing I’m worried about–and that’s including doing nothing and missing the playoffs by a couple of games. I’m actually okay with the “go home” part of “Go big or go home.” And to clarify, the big is metaphorical, so no Bartolo Colon, either.

Given his higher walk rate and lowered K rate, will Pedro bust out in the second half?

Tim: That’s tough to say. So his walks are up, K’s are down a lot, and his average is up slightly. This is all coming at the expense of his power. His ISO is down to .175 from .240, a pretty big sacrifice. Net: He’s roughly as valuable a hitter as last year (by wRC+), but rather a different hitter.

If he can raise his power and hit 30 plus homers again and maintain the higher walk and K rate, then it would certainly constitute a breakout campaign. It seems like the change in walk and K rates is by design and Pedro is a bit more of a slap hitter than before, so I would expect that he’ll finish with a .240ish average, 25 homers and a slightly worse season all around compared to 2013. Bummer, man :(

Chris: Yeah, I think there’s maybe a 1-in-3 chance that Pedro goes all Frank Thomas in the second half. I really do. And one of those other 2-of-3s have him hitting for something close to his usual power while maintaining his newfound discipline. He’d have been fine as a 3-4 WAR player hitting .225 with 35 homers every year, but I like the higher-risk, higher-reward path that he may be taking the first steps on. The path of becoming a genuinely good hitter and hoping/expecting that the power will follow again once he’s acclimated to that.

Tim: His defense and base-running are both rating really poorly this year, so he’s only on pace for about 1.5 WAR this season. Unrelated: If I were him, I’d never in a million years re-sign here given that Clint seems to hate him and bats him 7th for some reason. I think Jordy hit in front of him once this season. C’mon, man.

Can the Pirates’ patchwork rotation keep things going and keep them in contention down to the wire?

Chris: I say no, with the caveat that it may not have to. Obviously, the injuries to Cole and Liriano have forced the Bucs’ hand, and it’s worked out wayyyyy better than we’ve had any right to expect. And Liriano might not be all that good any more. But we’re not going to have any more Wandys, and by most accounts the Bucs are just being really cautious with the Cole injury. He might not be untouchable again like he was late last year, but I’d be really surprised if he’s not better in the second half than he was in the first. So I think we can handle some regression here.

An interesting question is where it might come from…and where it might not. Volquez might still blow up (in the bad way). But I think Locke’s for real. I think he’ll stay in the rotation the rest of the year, and I like his chances of contributing at at least an above-average, middle-of-the-rotation level pretty much the whole time. If you assume that he does, then suddenly the rotation looks pretty passable even IF Liriano is hit-and-miss (or miss-and-hit, since he’s a pitcher, I guess), and even IF Cole remains mediocre. It seems increasingly likely that this team can contend without the rotation having to recapture even half of the magic it had last year.

How many wins do you think it’ll take to get in the playoffs this year? It took 90 last year, but I feel like 87 or 88 might do it this time.

Tim: I think it’s going to be about 88. The Nats and Barves are both going to make the playoffs with 90ish wins each, largely as a product of playing in a horrid division. Only one team is coming out of the West, the Dodgers; the Giants are a sinking ship. So that leaves two playoff spots for the old NL Central. The battered Cardinals will probably make a big move and win the division, leaving the last spot for the Pirates, Reds, and Brewers; I think it will either be the Reds or Pirates and require the aforementioned 88 wins.

Who has been the biggest surprise on the team so far? The biggest disappointment?

Chris: There’s a fair bit of competition for both, eh? Hard not to pick Josh Harrison as the biggest surprise, but I think serious consideration has to be given to Jeff Locke. Most of us wouldn’t have given him so much as a single start in the majors after last year, but he’s clearly reinvented himself. I’ll go Harrison anyway, even though his minor league numbers suggest the hitting isn’t a total fluke, just because it’s insane how many good plays he’s made at different defensive positions. But Locke’s contribution, while less surprising, may be more valuable.

Biggest disappointment is tough–the biggest flameouts like Wandy and Grilli aren’t exactly surprising. And the biggest overall dropoff in performance (Liriano) is something a lot of us feared might be coming, too. But it has to be Liriano anyway, just because I think we all figured he’d at least be decent. And a small part of most of us, I think, thought there was at least a CHANCE he’d be very good again. Instead, his ERA’s a half-run higher than his career average–and it’s been a pretty checkered career, at that. Same question for you.

Tim: I’m pretty much in agreement with you: Harrison over Locke as the biggest surprises. I’ll throw Tony Watson in as an honorable mention; he’s been absolutely dominant this season and our best reliever by far. Liriano’s got to be the biggest disappointment. He has gone from the staff ace to being hard to watch.

Chris: Will Andrew McCutchen become the first Pirate in history to win consecutive MVP awards?

Tim: I think he has to be considered the front-runner at the moment. He’s the reigning MVP and having a better offensive season than last year.

The fact that the Pirates will likely miss the playoffs hurts his chances, though. In the NL WAR race, Cutch is behind Troy Tulowitzki by 0.6 (5.2 to 4.6), which is a significant margin. That said, the Rockies are HORRIBLE and won’t help his chances any. Carlos Gomez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Todd Frazier are right there with him in the WAR race, but I think it will come down to Cutch, Tulo, and Yasiel Puig. What do you think?

Chris: I think Cutch’s biggest challenge to winning again is someone like Lucroy, since the Brewers figure to be in the playoff hunt. I’ve never liked it when people weight the MVP race (except maybe on the margins) for playoff contention, but it’s something that might work for us in this regard. Enough people think that way that it’ll almost certainly hamstring Tulo’s chances (plus, he probably hurt himself just now, simply because someone somewhere said the word “hamstring”), and likely Stanton’s as well. But Lucroy’s having a great year at the toughest position, and he’s playing a TON of games at catcher. Assuming he continues to do that without (somehow) wearing down, he could be the guy that snags it.

Tim: Also, how would you assess the job that Clint Hurdle’s done this season so far?

Chris: Hurdle’s a really tough manager to gauge, because there’s clearly a hugely important side to coaching (in baseball and any other sport) that we don’t see. You can be a good manager and a bad tactician if you keep players focused–especially in baseball, given how many games there are and how hard I imagine it is to go full bore during all of them. I’ve been really impressed by my fellow Pirates fans in this regard, at least online, because most seem to understand that Hurdle appears to be pretty good at motivating his players. But there’s really no serious argument that he gets how to properly use a bullpen, and he’s not much better with lineups and matchups.

I still think he’s an above-average manager, too. And while the day to day stuff is more infuriating (and we have more examples of it), I feel like an entire season’s worth of goofy decisions can be offset by one good meta one, like rolling with defensive shifts. A lot of guys who’ve been around as long as he has would fight that, so that buys a lot of good will with me.

That said, fixing the tactical stuff should be the easiest thing by far, and it’s almost certainly cost us a couple of games this year. And the way things are going, those couple of games might be the difference.

Tim’s Win Prediction: 82
Chris’ Win Prediction: 87

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Bucco Bloggers Predict the 2nd Half, 2014 Edition

Posted by @ 07.16.14

Last year we asked a number of prominent Pirates bloggers (and fine upstanding young algorithms), at the All-Star break, to predict the Pirates’ win total. Most came pretty close, but the consensus/average undershot the total by 2-3. The only person/algorithm to nail the total was Jim Rosati of North Side Notch, and his prediction was also the highest.

So, we decided to do this again. And I think it’s safe to say that the degree of difficulty is higher. Last year the margin the Bucs had racked up by the break made a low-90s win total almost a foregone conclusion, but everyone was pretty clearheaded about the likelihood of some second-half regression.

This year, on the other hand, has defied narrative at almost every turn. From a slow start to a tremendously strong two months, to performing as well or better even after key injuries. An inexplicable number of players have stepped up to outperform the people they replaced, but some of them might be doing it with smoke and mirrors. There are a lot of major variables at play.




Note that there’s a slightly larger range this time among the bloggers, and that Rosati is once again the highest (though tied with a couple of others). Also worth noting, but not evident from the table above: of the six non-TWNDAI bloggers listed above, five gave the exact same win prediction they had in the preseason.

The thing I find most encouraging is that the Bucs are on pace for 84 wins even with all the injuries, and with that horrid start, so they can afford to play a bit worse than they have been the last couple of months and still finish in the high 80s, which is probably what they’ll need to snag a playoff spot.

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Pirates, Morton Beat Cubs, but Who Cares? OMG POLANCO adfjas;kdfjawehasfd’adjfa

Posted by @ 06.10.14

Never you mind that the Pirates defeated the Chicago Quislings last night in thunderous fashion. Disregard those seven extra base hits struck by our brawling, mountain men. If you were going to regale yourself with the seven inning story of Chuck Morton and the Foul-Smelling Cubs, then do not.

Nay. Cast thine eyes elsewhere. Firstly to Mr. Neil Walker and his ailing and soon-to-be-removed appendix. Consider it thusly. Consider next that for every appendix removed, a phenom prospect outfielder is promoted to his parent club. At least that’s how the saying goes.

St. Gregory Polanco will make his debut tonight against the odious southpaw, Travis Wood. He will bat second and man right field. Francisco Liriano will attempt to not walk everyone in attendance.

Only in my most private moments have I imagined what will become a reality tonight: an outfield with #6 in left, #22 in center, and now #25 in right.

Opposing batters be damned, today is the day!

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Posted by @ 06.10.14

The wait is over.

Look at this picture. Freakin’ look at it:


Look upon this outfield, ye’ mighty gap hitters, and despair. The fly ball genocide begins tonight. The ritualistic slaughter of runners at home commences immediately. Nary a blade of grass shall be disturbed.

And gentlemen in Indy now afield will hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks who caught with us upon Polanco Day.

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Metropolitans’ CF Robs HR, Guns Runner Out at Home, Enjoys Smooth, Healthful Dairy

Posted by @ 06.03.14

Entering my radar is Metropolitan’s rookie outfielder, one Matt den Dekker. Continuing the lineage of important Dutch New Yorkers, den Dekker’s defense is quickly carrying him up the ladder, pulling close to even with the likes of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Peter Stuyvesant.

Last night in a stroke of pleasing whimsy, den Dekker robbed Ryan Howard of a home run by way of terrific leaping catch. As an encore, he threw out Reid Brignac at home plate with a firm, on-the-money strike. Both plays can be viewed here.

And what did he do next? After collecting two literal defensive runs saved, Mr. den Dekker, before all of America, treated himself to a long, cool drag from a previously-concealed sleeve of what appears to be Yoplait Go-Gurt (TM).

Matt den Dekker Gogurt

Defensive wunderkind, Metropolitan outfielder, future Go-Gurt spokesperson. Enjoy your moment in the sun, Mr. den Dekker, just as you are enjoying that smooth, restorative Yoplait Go-Gurt (TM)!

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Jordy Mercer, Pittsburgh Kid, Ravishes Padres Near Woodshed

Posted by @ 06.03.14

Jordy Mercer, who the savvy reader will remember as both the Pirates’ shortstop and Pittsburgh’s favorite son, has been mired in a slump lasting the better part of his 27 years on this earth. “No more” thundered Jordo as hit one into the left field seats to start the third inning in San Diego.

Mercer HR

The resurrected Vincent Price looked on in pixelated ambivalence.

Mercer HR Stunned

 Prior to the Mercer home run, Padres hurler Tim Stauffer, retired the Pirates in order in the 1st inning and pitched around a single in the 2nd. Two innings, one hit. Starting with Mercer’s homer, the Pirates tallied 15 base hits and drew 7 walks in the final seven innings of the game. I think it’s fair to question how they only scored 10 runs. Mercer went 4 for 5 with a walk; J-Hay, Neil, and Pedro also threw in 8 total base hits. Because nobody is truly perfect, Andrew McCutchen proved to be a bit of an inning-killer, going 1 for 5 and GIDP-ing with the bases loaded.

At first glance, Charlie Morton pitched pretty well last night – 2 runs on 3 hits, 3 walks, 9 K’s. Though, it is also important to note that he got satisfaction from three Padres, hitting them with his “electric stuff.” Through that lens, Chuck travailed through his 5 innings. The bullpener du jour – Hughes, Wilson, and Gomez – pitched four innings, ceding just a run on two hits and two walks. It appears that the bullpen is starting to stabilize and we, the Pittsburgh Pirates and their benefactors, are finally cashing in.

10-3 was the final score and the Pirates were on the right side of it. They got hits with runners on base and lots of hits and walks in general. The pitching did its part, even in the rout against the poorest of offenses. Don’t look now, nearly a month after falling to 12-20, the Pirates are 27-30, closing in .500, that elusive minx. A .500 record is, of course, not the goal here, but that is merely to say that the Pirates have been playing better, not a lot better, but better.

Gerrit Cole will dust off his American Songbook and warm up his pipes tonight. The Padres will send out the alto right-hander Jesse Hahn, a man who has never pitched above the AA-level.

A win would be useful, Gerrit. Consider achieving one, thusly.

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Edinson Volquez Punches Through Glass Ceiling, Bloodies Hands, Elevates Los Buccos

Posted by @ 06.02.14

After dropping two out of three games to the stupid Mets, the Pirates, unfathomably, won three of four games against these Los Angeles Dodgers. Fresh off of walking five New York Metropolitans, Edinson Volquez, an apparent master of surprises, out-dueled his mound-mate, Evil-Bert doppelgänger, Mr. Zack Greinke.


Pictured: Mr. Zack Greinke circa his 2006 season at AAA Kabul


The implication of winning said duel is that the Pirates managed some runs. Which, indeed. Aqua Velva Man, Andrew McCutchen, provided quite a bit of base-balling last night. He doubled and scored on a Pedro 2-run single in the first, homered to right-center in the 3rd, doubled and scored on another Pedro single in the 6th, and made a spectacular catch to rob Drew Butera of a hit in the 7th.

Wilson, Watson, and Melancon shut the Dodgers down for 3 innings, limiting them to a walk. Grilli came in for the 3-run save and allowed a run during its conversion. The Jolly Roger was raised in gay celebration for the 3rd time in 4 games.

Next up? Three games in San Diego against the toothless Padres. Charlie Morton will engage in fisticuffs with Padre right-handed-person Tim Stauffer.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war, Chuck.


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