A MARRIOTT IN NORTHERN KENTUCKY NEAR THE CINCINNATI AIRPORT – In eight games between the Pirates and Reds this season there have been 16 hit batsmen, and that doesn’t include brush-backs, and heart-beat increasing experiences like Neil Walker’s Monday.
Ten Reds’ batters have been hit, including Shin-Shoo Choo six times.
Six Pirates’ batters have been hit. And Walker’s life flashed before his eyes.
Where does it end?
Does it end after Charlie Morton, professionally hit Choo in the calf with his first Tuesday? Do we have to fly Henry Kissinger in to the Great American Ball Park today to broker a peace deal before someone breaks a hand or worse?
No word on if Kissinger will be at the Great American Ball Park tonight
I asked Clint Hurdle after last night’s game does it end after the Pirates hit two Reds last night, though only Choo was hit with intention, I believe. Hurdle answered with a non-answer, which sort of leaves the situation in a state of not peace but, rather, a cease-fire.
“You throw out a term ‘bean-ball,’ I don’t go there,” Hurdle said. “It’s competitive baseball. When two teams are focused on winning and are not going to blink … you push the envelope a lot of areas, not just pitching but in breaking up double plays, a lot of areas.”
In other words, the ball is in Cincinnati’s court. The Reds have the choice to put the beanball war (BTW, I hate the term ‘beanball’) on hold or let it escalate. But since senses are “heightened” as Walker put it even a mistake pitch could give us another round of hit batters.
Hurdle said he does not think about “retaliation,” he’s concerned with “protecting players.”
Hurdle said Aroldis Chapman usually misses away to righties when he’s pitching up in the strike zone. Like vs. Walker, Chapman missed twice up-and-in to the Indians’ Nick Swisher who was also batting right-handed and had words for Chapman earlier this month.
Hurdle also indicated there was intent when Mike Leake hit Andrew McCutchen in the back with a fastball in an 0-2 fourth inning Monday.
“What I try to do is pay attention to what I see,” Hurdle said of intent. “I saw Leake throw 101 pitches and I saw one of them get away. I saw him follow the glove and dot the glove all day long.”
McCutchen said Leake indicated it was not intentional.
“(Leake) actually nodded at me when I got to first base,” McCutchen said. “It was kind of like ‘my bad.’”
Look, I get players have to police themselves. I get that this is what comes with a good rivalry. It’s good drama for the fans and players. I get that you have to protect players and Morton was well within his moral authority. But 16 hit batters in the last eight games? One near broken wrist for Brandon Phillips, once close call for Walker? With this frequency of hit batters and intent eventually a player is going to pay a price in the form of a DL stint. In that sense, but clubs are wise to let the firing cease.
THE PIRATES DEFENSE’S SUM IS BETTER THAN ITS PARTS
As Baseball Prospectus noted yesterday the Pirates are leading baseball in opponent batting average in balls in play (.271) and defensive efficiency (.729) which is essentially the same thing as BABIP, tracking the balls in play that are recorded into outs.
Don’t get me wrong, the Pirates’ have some fine defensive players.
Andrew McCutchen can run down seemingly anything in center field. Starling Marte – who had a great diving grab on Monday – is a center fielder playing left fielder. I’ve written about the obvious value (throwing out runners) and the hidden value (pitch framing, sequence) that Russell Martin possesses.
But I don’t think there’s a single player who is going to win a gold glove in the infield.
What the Pirates have done this year is three-fold:
*The Pirates now fully embraced defensive shifting, which I believe has had a major impact.
*Martin has helped the staff increase its strikeout rate by .5 as BP noted, and perhaps he has helped induce more weak contact.
*And I think there is real growth from the Pirates’ staff. I don’t think BABIP is simply a luck stat, I think it speaks to missing barrels. For instance Jeff Locke has thrown more two-seam fastballs this season creating more movement, missing more barrels.
Whatever the case, 70 games into the season, the Pirates have the best defense in baseball according to the numbers.
COULD THE PIRATES HAVE NINE TOP 100 PROSPECTS ENTERING 2014?
Baseball America updated the Pirates’ top 10 list on Tuesday and it’s the richest the top 10 the club has enjoyed in some time, even without Cole. In fact it might be the club’s richest collection of talent since the advent of prospect rankings at least since the Ramirez-Benson-Hermanson class.
1. Jameson Taillon RHP
2. Gregory Polanco OF
3. Austin Meadows OF
4. Josh Bell OF
5. Tyler Glasnow RHP
6. Reese McGuire C
7. Alen Hanson SS/2B
8. Nick Kingham RHP
9. Luis Heredia RHP
10. Tony Sanchez C
Players like Glasnow and Kingham have elevated their stocks. Luis Heredia was a top 100 prospect entering the season and has done little diminish his projection and he is ranked ninth. Heredia has top-of-the-rotation upside … so could the Pirates enter 2014 with nine top 100 prospects?
Nine would be very rare air. The Royals had nine in the Baseball America top 100 entering 2011 when everyone was placing their farm system in a historical context.
Could the Pirates reach that number?
Probably not. Talking to John Manuel over at BA, McGuire and Kingham are on the fringe of the top 100, most likely and Heredia is out since he has not even pitched yet this year.
Still, five to seven in the top 100 is a very strong system.
Interesting. Very interesting.