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Why is Miller Park a house of horrors for the Pirates? … Ground-ball pitchers, anyone? … and Liriano is throwing strikes


MILWAUKEE – The Pirates entered Wednesday’s series finale at Miller Park having won just seven of their last 53 games played in the building. The run dates back to 2007.


Crazy, right?


I can think of only one other similar house of horrors in major sport. Clemson, which I previously covered before joining the Trib, has never won a men’s basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C. Never. I believe the streak stands at 0 for 55 now. So, it could be worse #BUCN.


But getting back on point, it really is a dramatic run of futility. So what is it about Miller Park?

photo (2)

(Two things happen at Miller Park: the Brewers win and anyone can go deep)


The Pirates’ record there and the Brewers’ work there has raised some eyebrows. With some even wondering aloud on public forums if the Brewers are somehow stealing signs. On Monday and Tuesday it certainly seemed like the Brewers knew what was coming, after all Milwaukee middle infielders Jean Segura and Yuniesky Betancourt when the opposite way for home runs.


Noted fellow Pirates scribe Rob Biertempfel noted on Twitter today: “(The Pirates) are double- and triple-coding their signs to avoid, ahem, prying eyes @ Miller Park. So, you might see cross-up or two w/newbie (Jeanmar) Gomez.”


Stealing signs has been a part of the game since the game began. It’s accepted to a degree within certain boundaries. But boundaries are crossed if/when video and/or folks off the field are employed. Is that going on? I have no idea. Unless there’s concrete evidence it’s probably unfair to speculate.


What we do know is the Brewers like their home field. The Brewers went 49-32 at home last season. They are 9-5 at home this season.


But overall the splits from last season suggest nothing alarming. The Brewers hit .266 at home and .253 on the road. They hit 119 home runs at home, and 82 home runs on the road.  Things to consider: most teams have home-field advantages because their teams are tailored to the park, umpires give home teams borderline calls, and players are comfortable there. Moreover, Miller Park is a great hitter’s park as we saw when seven home runs left the yard.


The Brewers’ record against the Pirate at home might also be more dramatic because the Brewers have fielded some quality teams since 2007. The Pirates have not.


Still, 7-46?


What I do know is Pirates pitchers were not executing pitches against a solid Major League lineup in a very hitter-friendly park on Monday and Tuesday. I mean, even middle infielder Segura and  Betancourt went to the opposite field for home runs. Still, I do know this. Even if a MLB batter knows what pitch is coming, if it’s properly executed, it’s still tough to hit. See: Miriano Rivera’s slider.



With A.J. Burnett at the end of his contract, and with Wandy Rodrgiuez holding a player option for 2014, the Pirates will perhaps be in the market for multiple starting pitchers.

Tim Williams offered a good link to the 2014 free agent pitcherse with the highest groundball rates today.

The Pirates would love to keep Burnett around and he’s suggested he would be interested. Kuroda is a really effective and under-appreciated arm, but in this weak free agent class his price will be high.

I know this: after watching the Brewers tag six home runs at Miller Park over the last two days, the Pirates will be looking for ground-ball pitchers.



Francisco Liriano looks ready.

In his Triple-A start Tuesday night: 6IP, 4H, 0R, 0BB, 9K. Fastball was 90-94 mph.

We all know Liriano can miss bats but he hasn’t walked a batter in 11 Triple-A innings. In 16 rehab outings to date he has a 27-to-3, strikeout-to-walk ratio. Liriano is throwing strikes. That’s big if he can sustain it.

Clint Hurdle said Liriano will make one more start and then he should be ready for the a May 10 start in New York.




  1. NMR says:

    Hi Travis, really enjoying your work so far and hope you’re finding time to get comfortable with Pittsburgh.

    Slight quibble on the Brewer home field advantage analysis…their +36 homerun differential at home was the 2nd most in all of baseball. Haven’t looked at staff ground ball rates, but seems like there could be a correlation.

    Also, do you know or could you find out how the qualifying offer procedure could affect Wandy’s option?

  2. Clemson Travis,

    Again I find your writings entertaining. Thanks!

    Not sure I agree with your assessment, however, that “overall the splits from last season suggest nothing alarming.” 13 points! in Batting Average and a 45% increase in homeruns is more than just a team taylor-made for its home park. Does any other Central Division team have such dramatic splits? Does any other National League team? Are the Brewers’ pitching stats likewise skewed home-and-away?

    Goodness, the other day you stressed to me your disagreement on my saying 2/3 of an inning per start was not a big deal . . . . . . but now you want to dismiss out of hand 13 points! in BA and 45% increase in homeruns!

    It was very, very interesting yesterday in the 9th inning to see The Fort put down 3 fingers for a slider to Grilli——then Grilli throw a 96 mile an hour fastball. Obviously, the Pirates have an inkling of how the Brewers have been making such good swings.

  3. cmat0829 says:

    Did anyone ask Russell Martin what he was doing when on Tuesday he was jawing with the Brewers 3B coach? I think it had to be related to signs….

    To me, with hitters like Gomez and Betancourt and Seguera, you have to make them beat you on the inner half of the plate… you can’t let them have “up and out” fastballs they can just pop out to right field…too easy in Milwaukee.

    To win in Milwaukee, and other offensive parks, you NEED TO HIT THE BALL OVER THE FENCE. The Pirates in 2007/2008/2009/2010/2011 coudn’t do that. The Pirates of 2012 and 2013 can, will be interesting to see how this season ends up with the Brewers.

    But the Brewers are confident playing the Bucs at home and are very very comfortable in the batters box…pirates pitchers need to change that.

  4. Clemson Travis,
    Any chance you can get the IT boys and girls to fix your clock on this blog?
    I may be a “person ahead of my time” but not 4 hours ahead!

  5. RobertoForever says:


    Good stuff on the Pirates at Miller Park. I can speculate, since I am not a journalist. If Russ Martin’s jawing with the 3rd base coach had anything to do with stealing signs, then I am backing the veteran backstop.

    Also, interested in your theoretical thoughts on how they could be relaying signs to the batter. Its one thing to steal the sign, its another to get the info in a real time basis to the batter to be used.

    With respect to the record there since 2007, when does it become less relevant? Last year the Bucs went 3-3 there….until they played there in late August and got swept. I would say those last 3 loses had more to do with the Bucs winning few games anywhere in late Aug, vs the venue of Miller Park.

    And if the Bucs end up with a 1 game lead in the season series this year, do you think that the media drop the ‘house of horrors’ moniker. Will it take 2 seasons winning there? 5 seasons? At some point comparing 2008 team win/losses has as much meaning as blaming Cutch for 20 years of losing because he fell way off in Aug last year.

    That said, they need to find a way to win more there.

    Go Bucs! #BUCN

  6. Terry M says:

    The Penguins literally went years without winning in Philly. I can’t remember the exact number but I believe it was over 30 games.This was in the 70s and 80s.

  7. Arriba Wilver says:

    Groat–aren’t you posting anymore on DK’s thread? Just askin’.

    Travis–people are noticing your work . . . and that’s a good thing.

  8. John says:

    The Pirates pitching staff in general seems to always pitch poorly there for whatever reason. I think that is the main reason they tend to loose the series. Seem to also make more errors than usual and some baserunning gaffes. Also, cringe every time I think the Pirates had a chance to draft Ryan Braun but instead chose somebody else who I bet is either out of baseball by now or is still in the minor leagues. Hopefully when the Pirates become a better team (so far, so good) on a more consistent yearly basis they must draft better players. Hope this is the year they finally at least break .500.

  9. Arriba Wilver says:

    Braun was taken 5th by the Brewers in 2005. Pirates took at #11 Andrew McCutchen in 2005.

  10. Jim S. says:

    I agree with you. I imagine the Reds might have similar home/road HR splits. I’m just guessing there. But, they play in a bandbox also.

  11. Jim S. says:

    Amen! A big part of pitching effectively is tailoring your plan not only to each batter, but to the park. If you play in a park where there is a jet stream to RC, don’t throw high and away fastballs to righty flyball hitters. The Brewers also made that mistake quite often. McKenry’s HR appeared to sail 50 ft. farther than the CF/RF originally projected once it got up.

  12. Travis Sawchik says:

    Groat, I’ll see what I can do

  13. Jim S. says:

    They need to do more than .333 in Milwaukee over 1+ seasons after less than .200 winning % over the previous 5 years to get rid of the “House of Horrors” moniker. I think baseball is so much about pitcher-hitter match-ups. For whatever reason, we continue to have pitchers that simply do not match up well with their hitters. One could argue that for most of the time since 2007, our pitchers have not matched up well with many batters, but the Milwaukee situation has been ridiculous and seems statistically near impossible all things being equal. But, to my point, the Cardinals and Reds have both been better than the Brewers the last 2 years, and for whatever reason we give them a very hard time. I think we must just match up better vs. those teams. I’m not saying we cannot alter the outcome. Our pitchers have to keep the ball down in Milwaukee, and cut down on the walks and hitter’s counts. The Brewers feasted this week. Fortunately, we gutted out Game 3.

  14. Travis Sawchik says:


    Thanks, man. Really appreciate it. My goal here is to be interesting and thoughtful, hopefully that’s what comes across.

  15. Jim S. says:

    True, and I believe the Atlanta Falcons have won maybe once vs. the Steelers ever. And the same for the Jets.

  16. Jim S. says:

    Arriba: Good point! Hard to argue with either team’s #1 pick that year! To the larger point, I don’t think our drafts have gotten appreciably better as far as finding impact hitters, but we certainly seem to be doing a whole lot better in adding young hitters in Latin America the last few years. The pipeline is filling up with them now. Thank you, Rene Gayo & Company!

  17. Jim S. says:

    Excellent point. They are a much better hitting team at home, and I bet their pitching looks far better on the road due to their home park as well.

  18. Jim S. says:

    I found it interesting that John Wehner made a comment on Monday’s game about there being “rumors” that Milwaukee is up to something with regard to stealing signs. But, when pressed about it, he said it was just speculation, and it would be hard to prove. He obviously didn’t want to be misinterpreted and was not accusing them of anything. He was only pointing out that the word around the league is that teams have wondered this for years. Like everyone said, though, if you make the pitches it is a moot point.

  19. Travis Sawchik says:

    I’m glad you’re finding the posts infotaining!

    Now to your points …

    The Pirates double- and triple-coding of signs is suggestive that they believe the Brewers are stealing sings. But I think the Miller Park numbers are at least in large part skewed as it’s a very, very friendly hitters park. I mean, their middle infielders are going to the opposite field for home runs. So I’m not sure a 13 batting average spike or 36 more home runs is due to cheating or Miller Park simply being a band box. Maybe it’s both. I just don’t know. I do know even if you know a 90 mph fastball is coming, it’s still hard to hit. …

    What I can say about the quality innings stat is this: I know 108 added innings from middle relief is significant regardless or park.

  20. RobertoForever says:

    Jim S,

    Agree that Bucs pitchers have to keep the ball down there.

    But you missed my point if you thought I was saying. 333 is good enough. Not at all.

    My point was, look beyond the record. If all 9 games had occurred after Aug 10 or so, the Bucs would have been 0-9. If they had all been in May-July, I am guessing they would have been 6-3. And they were 3-3 vs Brewers prior to the collapse. They had a losing record to the Cubs during the collapse.

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