Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Pirates Wild Card Roster: Hurdle Buys the Whole Life Insurance Policy

On Monday I opined on the Pirates Wild Card Game roster. Having taken a look at what Clint Hurdle did in 2013 and 2014 I assumed he would again go with 16 position players and 9 pitchers. He did. But there were two differences in what I projected Clint would do and what he actually did.

The two guys I projected to be on the 25-man roster who aren't are left-handed hitting outfielder Jaff Decker and left-handed reliever Bobby LaFromboise. In their stead Hurdle chose to carry pitcher Francisco Liriano and catcher Elias Diaz. I understand the choice of Liriano, he's rostered in case Gerrit Cole strains a lat or turns an ankle in the first three innings or the game goes more than 12. Ok, I can buy that. A little bit of insurance, that almost assuredly won't be used.

I don't understand carrying Diaz. The guy has played three major league innings. In his career. While Liriano is around in case one specific player, Cole, gets injured early or the game goes deep, Diaz is around in case two guys are injured. The Pirates haven't had to use an emergency catcher all year. I don't see Clint pulling Francisco Cervelli for a pinch-runner early in this game and I don't see him using Chris Stewart as a pinch-hitter in the first nine innings with so many other options. Clint is going to save Stewart because he absolutely won't want to use Diaz. So they are basically playing with a 24-man roster with Diaz as the ultimate insurance policy.

Does it matter? Probably not. The Pirates have a deep bullpen, added bench guys and Clint did roster the guy who I think could make a big difference as a pinch-runner, Keon Broxton.

But, in dropping Decker, the Pirates will only have one left-handed bat on the bench, Travis Snider, (although Pedro Florimon is a switch-hitter.) And in not rostering LaFromboise, they will only have two lefties against a Cubs lineup that features some great lefty bats. Broxton is a pinch-runner and Florimon basically is as well, (while also providing insurance for Mercer at short.) Those two guys could make a difference as I've pointed out, as the last 19 or 20 base stealers have been successful against Jake Arrieta. But Clint did go conservative with the roster. As is the goal with most insurance policies, Pirates fans should hope this one is never discussed again.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Pirates 2015 Wild Card Roster and Why Keon Broxton Could be the Difference

Three years in a row. The Pirates reward for the second-best record in baseball is hosting a one-game playoff at PNC Park for the third year in a row. They now get the privilege of going up against the guy who just posted the best second half anyone has ever seen. So how should Clint Hurdle align his roster to give the Bucs the best chance to beat Jake Arrieta and the Cubs? Let's look back and see what Hurdle did in 2013 and 2014 when faced with similar scenarios.

Both games Hurdle carried 16 position players and 9 pitchers. And in each case, versus Dusty Baker and the Reds in '13 and Bruce Bochy and the Giants in '14, the opposing manager opted to go with 15 position players and 10 pitchers. I think 16 position players is still the way to go. Here's how it should look.

Position Players:

Catchers: (2) Francisco Cervell, Chris Stewart

Each of the past two years Hurdle elected to carry three catchers and you can probably win a few cold ones at the local knowing that Tony Sanchez was that guy both games. Sanchez did start 2015 on the Opening Day roster due Chris Stewart's injury, but he only played 3 games, got just 9 at bats and his time in the Pirates organization is probably weeks away from being over. The Pirates did carry a third catcher in September when rosters expanded, promoting Elias Diaz, but he played a grand total of three innings which now accounts for his entire major league resume. I think it is safe to say that Hurdle won't be carrying three catchers this year.

Infielders: (8) Pedro Alvarez, Pedro Florimon, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Michael Morse, Aramis Ramirez, Sean Rodriguez, Neil Walker

The big question for Hurdle is what his starting infield will look like. Neil Walker will get the start at second and Jordy Mercer will be at short. The question is who of Alvarez, Harrison and Ramirez sits. Two weeks ago it probably would have been Harrison, but he finished the season on a tear posting a .375/.419/.575 line in his last 40 at bats. Hurdle has been known to play the hot-hand and he had Harrison in the lineup for the last two games of the regular season, which were both meaningful. Alvarez sat against a lefty on Saturday while Ramirez sat against a righty on Sunday. Ramirez finished cold going 2-for-his-last-20. The other bench guys are easy choices. Rodriguez brings defensive value, Morse is a big right-handed bat and Florimon is the only other shortstop on the roster with Jung Ho Kang injured.

Outfielders: (6) Keon Broxton, Jaff Decker, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Travis Snider

After the starters, and no, I don't think there is any chance Polanco sits in favor of Harrison in right, Snider and Decker are left-handed bats with Decker being the better defensive outfielder. And the 16th guy is Keon Broxton. He could be the difference in this game. Believe it or not Jake Arrieta does have a weakness. 19 of the last 20 would-be base stealers against Arrieta have been successful. With so many position players available off the bench, Clint Hurdle should look for an opportunity, maybe as early as the 4th inning, to have Broxton pinch-run against Arrieta. He has to be on the roster.


Starter: (1) Gerrit Cole

Bullpen: (8) Joe Blanton, Antonio Bastardo, Arquimedes Caminero, Jared Hughes, Bobby LaFromboise, Mark Melancon, Joakim Soria, Tony Watson

This is pretty straightforward. The only choice is Bobby LaFromboise as a third lefty or Vance Worley as a long-man. LaFromboise only pitched 8 innings this year but he was generally effective giving up just 5 hits, 1 walk and striking out 8. With Blanton, Caminero and Hughes all able to go multiple innings I'd rather have LaFromboise as a situational lefty, if needed.