Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pirates Struggling with Kang in Lineup & Some Weekend Listening

A nice win Friday night in Los Angeles as the Pirates started a six-game west coast road trip against the two NL West leaders. Two hits and a great defensive play by Andrew McCutchen once again raise hopes that he has figured out how to actually be, you know, Andrew McCutchen. Obviously that would go a long way to ensuring the Bucs make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
Jung Ho Kang sat last night and has now started only 13 of the 24 games since the All-Star break and only two since August 4. We can all speculate as to the impact of the events of June 17 and the ensuing sexual assault allegations on Kang's performance, but it appears Kang has lost his job as the Pirates starting third baseman. Coincidence, correlation or causation, who knows exactly, but the Pirates are 10-1 in games NOT started by Jung Ho since the ASB and 2-11 in games he has started. Do with that what you will. If I'm Clint Hurdle, Kang goes the way of Gregory Polanco down the stretch in 2014 and only gets 1-2 starts a week.
I had some great guests on the show this week that I thought I'd link to if anyone would like to listen to the podcasts. On Monday I spoke with Pirates beat writer Travis Sawchik about his interview with GM Neal Huntington, thoughts on the deadline and the mood in the Pirates clubhouse. On Tuesday I spoke with Mike Petriello of Mike and I talked about the evolution of technology in MLB stadiums and specifically the data that is gradually becoming widely available, Pitch Fx, exit velocity, launch angles, spin rates, route efficiency and throw velocity among other things. We talked about how he analyzes the data, how major league teams and specific players are parsing and using the data and what is on the horizon in the months and years ahead.
On Wednesday and Thursday Joe Sheehan and Jonah Keri joined me. Joe is a weekly guest (usually Tuesdays) and this week we discussed ARod and the impact of PEDs. Joe (and Keith Law) is generally of the believe that there is no evidence that PEDs make baseball players better and, if I may paraphrase as best I can, believes the Steroid Era of the late '90s, early '00s is mislabeled. We followed that with a wide-ranging talk about the races going on right now. Jonah joined me Thursday. We hit on some of the same topics. Jonah and I share the view that PEDs did have an impact on the game and just because it isn't easily quantifiable, that doesn't mean it didn't exist. I also asked him whether he was outraged by the Pirates' moves at the deadline (Joe, like Charlie, generally thinks the Liriano trade was, for lack of a better term, a disgrace and something, with today's revenue sharing setup, that should never happen). We finished up with a look at the race in the NL West and for the NL wild card.
I also had my weekly Pirates discussion with Bob Smizik (Part 1 and Part 2) on Thursday. Bob's one of my favorite guests and, if you have a listen to this, I think you'll be more than convinced that Bob is right on top of what is going on with the Bucs.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Smorgasbord Heading into, um, Locke & Vogelsong

Some quick-hitters this morning with the trade deadline behind us. Warning, some of these thoughts/points may actually take a positive tone (some, not all, I promise), so if you are an unswayable member of the attack mob, please don't be distracted from your original targets. In many cases I am just a messenger.
1.) Don't look now, but with last night's win over the Braves and losses by the Marlins and Cards, the Pirates are one game back in the loss column for the second wild card spot. But with so many off days of late, the Pirates have played two fewer games than the Mets and Cards and three fewer than the Marlins, so there is still plenty of work to be done.
Trade Deadline:
2.) After some very strong criticism of the Pirates-Toronto trade, including Charlie's scathing rebuke, some well-known analysts have come out with more positive views of the deal. Keith Law (sub required) felt that both sides got some value out of the deal and specifically addressed the comparisons made to the Arizona-Atlanta deal made last season:
Both players (Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez) have some value, but this isn't like Arizona giving up Tuoki Toussant, and they had been passed by better players in a strong Pirates system.
He concludes that it is a reasonable deal for both teams suggesting that if the Pirates can help Drew Hutchison rediscover the hard slider that he flashed at the end of 2014 the Pirates will have a bargain on their hands. Certainly a big if.
3.) My biggest issue relating to the analysis of the deal is the constant reference to McGuire and Ramirez as top 10 prospects. They were both top 10 prospects coming into the season. They were also both top 100 prospects in the game at one point in time. But, the 2016 minor league season is almost over, so that is a massive amount of data that will be poured over to re-evaluate where players stand. McGuire and Ramirez have not done anything this year to improve their prospect status. As Dave Cameron noted after the deadline over at Fangraphs:
The Pirates agreed to give both up because they just weren't really hitting this season; both in Double-A, McGuire had a 94 wRC+ and Ramirez had a 112 wRC+ based on a .363 BABip, but neither was showing any semblance of power.
Recognizing that process is as much the issue as talent here, I recognize this doesn't have to be the defining aspect of the deal, but it's worth noting.
Obviously how the Pirates allocate the $20+ million saved at the deadline and with Liriano off the books next year will be a huge component of how this deal is viewed.
4.) I had Joe Sheehan on my show yesterday to talk extensively about the trade deadline. In part 1 we reviewed the Pirates four deals and his take was similar to Charlie's, though maybe not as strong, in regard to the Liriano trade. We did actually discuss the other three as well. In part 2 we took a quick look at some of the other deals that went down. I really enjoyed this.
5.) Various analysts ranked all the prospects traded at the deadline. Again over at Fangraphs, Eric Longenhagen had Taylor Hearn, Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire all ranked in the same tier with a FV grade of 40 which he projects to bench or middle reliever, which was players 18-25 of the 42 players moved. FWIW, he listed Hearn above Ramirez and Ramirez above McGuire.
6.) There is a clamorous debate about whether the Pirates improved themselves for 2016 at the deadline. I'll pass on that, but the Pirates have undoubtedly gone a long way to strengthening their bullpen for 2017. With Tony Watson under contract the Pirates have a formidable trio of lefties in Watson, Felipe Rivero and Antonio Bastardo if he returns to his odd-year form in 2017. Others under team control for next year include Juan Nicasio, Jared Hughes, A.J Schugel and Arquimedes Caminero. It would figure that Neftali Feliz who, coming off this strong bounce-back season might command something like $21M/3 years, will be out of the Pirates price range.
On the Field:
7.) The Pirates bullpen has been lights out since late June. Here are some numbers since June 25, yep an arbitrary endpoint: 29 Games, 119 IP (4.1/gm), 1.89 ERA, 1.092 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 24.9 K%, 2.6 BB/9, 7.2 BB%, 0.68 HR/9. The Pirates are 18-12 during that stretch, .600 baseball. Play .600 the rest of the way and they will finish with 88 wins.
8.) I have no idea how to describe Gerrit Cole's season. He's made 16 starts, but only thrown 92.1 innings, less than 6IP/start. But his numbers are outstanding and his peripherals solid. Meaningful? Meaningless? The team in 8-8 in his starts. He hasn't had an 8 strikeout game this season and he's only had 4 double-digit K games in 89 career starts. (Liriano has had three this year.) His fastball often appears flat, as was the case last night, and when that's the case he has trouble putting guys away in 2-strike counts. He threw 34 pitches to 11 batters with 2-strike counts last night, a really high number. Here is how they went (not sequenced by pitch):
1 pitch, popout
1 pitch, K (Freeman)
2 pitches, ball, single
7 pitches, 5 fouls, ball, double
4 pitches, 2 fouls, ball, K
3 pitches, ball, foul, double
2 pitches, foul, K (Freeman)
6 pitches, 4 fouls, ball, double
3 pitches, ball, foul, single
4 pitches, 2 fouls, ball, ground out
1 pitch, K (Freeman)
34 pitches, only 6 balls and didn't walk a batter. But 5 of the 11 reached base via hit and he gave up 15 foul balls. That's how you throw 97 pitches in five innings walking only two. Thank goodness for Freddie Freeman.
9.) Francisco Liriano and Jon Niese lead the Pirates in innings pitched going into tonight's game in Atlanta. Jeff Locke, making the start tonight, is third.
10.) Schedule for the next 3 series:
Pirates (8): @ ATL (2), Cin (3), SD (3)
Marlins (7): ChiC (1), Col (3), @ SF (3)
Mets (8): Yanks (2), Det (3), @ AZ (3)
Cards (8): Cin (2),  @ ATL (3), @ Cin (3)
LAD (8): Col (2), @ Bos (3), @ Phil (3)
This would be a great time to run off six in a row or seven of eight. Locke, Vogelsong, Taillon and Nova are making the next four starts.