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July 21, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

17 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: A seller’s market, and if you build it in Pittsburgh …

PNC PARK – Cliff Notes from Neal Huntington’s media briefing on Sunday: it’s a seller’s market and the Pirates aren’t willing to trade too much of the future for today.

Moreover, Huntington doesn’t feel the Pirates have to do anything. Unlike a year ago, Huntington doesn’t feel there are glaring needs.

Some were lamenting on Twitter and elsewhere that this is too often the Pirates’ mindset, others suggested that the future is now. While Pirates are in contention, and the future has arrived to some extent, but I think Huntington’s position is a sound one.

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July 18, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

31 comments so far - add yours!

Second-half predictions

SOUTH HILLS – Greetings, folks. I’m back after an All-Star Break respite and recharged for the second half.  To begin? Let’s make some predictions.

There were some accurate pre-season predictions made in this e-space like  Neil Walker being in line for a break-out offensive season , Jason Grilli and Francisco Liriano being regression candidates, and Gregory Polanco being ready to arrive as an impact player in June. There were some not so great predictions like Pedro Alvarez becoming 2013  Chris Davis.

So with more information at our disposal, I’ll take a stab at what I think we’ll see transpire in the season’s second half. …

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July 14, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

42 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: A Pirate for Life?

CINCINNATI – Andrew McCutchen is looking very much like a back-to-back MVP isn’t he? How he rose to the occasion not once, but twice, on Saturday night in Cincinnati was remarkable even for such a great player. You can make the argument he’s not only the most talented player in the National League but the best value.

On Sunday we examined where McCutchen’s surplus value ranks among starting All-Stars. McCutchen ranked first among NL All-Stars and third among all All-Stars, trailing only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson. (Surplus value is a player’s actual wages subtracted from the actual value he produces).

He’s a rare talent with one of the most club-friendly deals in the sport. I think you can make the argument that it’s the best value contract in the history of Pittsburgh professional sports.

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July 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

8 comments so far - add yours!

Babe Ruth’s 100th anniversary, a baseball LeBron?, and the banged up NL Central

CINCINNATI – You might have heard LeBron James made his Decision 2.0 today, and it’s a big deal because it’s difficult to comprehend just how dominant an athlete he is.

He accounted for 2.3 percent of all basketball Wins Above Replacement last season. He’s a 21-WAR player in basketball and Jeff Sullivan has a fun read on what kind of equivalent that would be in baseball. Since, baseball plays twice as many games  as the NBA you have to imagine a 42-win baseball player … and of course there has never  been anything close to such a baseball player.

The top WAR season of all time according to Baseball Reference was Tim Keefe’s 20.0-WAR season in 1883. We all remember that campaign, right? The best post-1900 season is Walter Johnson’s 16-win year in 1925.

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July 10, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

24 comments so far - add yours!

New commenting policy

SOUTH HILLS – This decision comes from above my pay grade, but as I understand it you will now be required to have a Facebook account to comment on any blog or story on our Web site. This blog was one of the last holdouts.

I know many of you will not be happy about this but this is designed to create more accountability, more civil discourse (which hasn’t really been a problem in this space) across the board at I have really enjoyed your smart, thoughtful, spirited and almost always responsible discourse here, so I hope you’ll continue to contribute — under your real names. Just think twice before submitting comments!

This space was never intended to be a one-way conversation place … let’s keep it that way.

- TS


July 9, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

21 comments so far - add yours!

Subjectivity is still king. See: Abreu, Jose

SOUTH HILLS –  Bullpen usage would seem like a timely issue today with back-to-back, walk-off losses — and Ernesto Frieri being employed in a tie game in the ninth inning — but we just covered that issue in this space recently. So I’m going elsewhere.

In early June, when criticizing the Pirates about their tardiness in promoting Gregory Polanco, former GM turned ESPN analyst Jim Bowden wondered ‘What if the Pirates had landed Jose Abreu?; How might that have changed things? You’re probably aware Abreu has been dominant this year for the White Sox, on pace for a 50-home run season.

The Pirates don’t have a ton of lineup needs, but they don’t have a clear No. 4 hitter, or a first baseman of the future. I think in the offseason, even before knowing Abreu would be this good, I think the consensus was Abreu would have been an upgrade above a Pirates’ 1B platoon. Moreover, the Pirates don’t have a clear, future 1B in the pipeline. Abreu is 27. So why were not just the Pirates, but  the entire industry, unwilling to pay Abreu more than a 2-WAR player? Continue Reading →

July 7, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

97 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: The Locke conundrum

PNC PARK – No matter how well Jeff Locke pitches – and he’s pitching very well – there’s a chance he will simply not remain in the rotation. It’s simple math: when Francisco Liriano is healthy, the Pirates have six starting pitchers vying for five spots and Locke is the one pitcher who has options. Vance Worley, Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez are pitching well and are all out of options. Gerrit Cole is in the rotation when healthy and I think Liriano is, too. The Pirates want to protect their assets and their pitching depth so ….

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July 3, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

24 comments so far - add yours!

A Brandon McCarthy-Vance Worley switcheroo? … But do the Pirates need to make a trade?

PNC PARK – Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy has the worst luck in baseball. That makes him one of the best trade targets in baseball, and the Pirates are reportedly interested. McCarthy’s ERA  minus fielding independent pitching differential (xFIP) is among the greatest in the game. Yes, his ERA is unsightly at 5.11 but his xFIP (2.92) is seventh in baseball. Seventh! It ranks with some of the elite pitchers in the game.

He’s a free agent after the season and he’s owed just $4.5 million the rest of the way. Yes, he has a history of shoulder issues, but I spoke with one scout at the park tonight who just marveled at his fastball command, which is evident in his excellent walk rate. In short, if you need an arm, you should be interested. But do the Pirates need an arm?

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July 2, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

26 comments so far - add yours!

A modest proposal: a plan for Harrison … Charlie Morton’s curveball

PNC PARK – Clint Hurdle‘s job is more difficult, in a good way, with his entire lineup healthy.

After receiving at least three plate appearances in 16 straight games, and starting 15 of those games, Josh Harrison was held out of the starting lineup Wednesday, with the right-handed Chase Anderson starting for the Diamondbacks.

The Marte-McCutchen-Polanco outfield is healthy and productive. Pedro Alvarez is going to start at third against right-handed pitchers even though he’s playing defensively like a future first baseman (way too many plays have become adventures). No one is talking about Neil Walker giving up switch-hitting with a .280 average against lefties and a 106 wRC+ this season.

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June 30, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

53 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: Halfway home

SOUTH HILLS – Technically we’re a game beyond the halfway point, but with the first three months of the season down, and three months to go, the Pirates have weathered a trying first half of the season with a 42-40 mark.

Given everything that has happened — that Francisco Liriano has one win, that Gerrit Cole has missed nearly a month of time, that the bullpen has blown 14 saves – it’s pretty remarkable that the Pirates are above .500. Remember this was a club that was once eight games below .500. The Pirates were below .500 when they  lost Liriano and Cole to injuries. Frankly, I’m surprised the Pirates are above water, and so is so is a key decision maker.

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