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Do you believe in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx? (If so that’s bad news for the Pirates) … second-half All-Stars …. and should the Pirates target Matt Garza?

SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – I don’t believe in curses.

 

But I do believe in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

 

If you believe in the SI cover jinx then what you saw last night on FOX might portend to more second-half troubles for the Pirates:

grill2

(Does this image portend to more second-half doom for the Pirates?)

 

The Sports Illustrated cover boy next week is the much deserving Jason Grilli as the preeminent American sports magazine chronicles the Pirates’ first-half as the “Strangest but Truest Story of the Summer.”

 

The Pirates’ bullpen is the collective face of the franchise this season. It has had as much to do with the first-half success of the team as any of the team’s components. Grilli has blown one save in 30 chances, has a 1.99 ERA, and is a compelling story, and engaging person, off the field.

 

But as Grilli said after blowing his first and only save of the season last month in Cincinnati: “It’s hard to be perfect.” It’s also hard to maintain the performance that typically lands athletes and/or teams on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

 

This is why I believe in the power of the SI jinx: it’s math.

 

It’s regression to the mean.

 

The magazine is typically profiling athletes or teams on its cover  that are at the top of their game so of course there is nowhere to go but down. That’s my theory.

 

I expect the Pirates to regress some in the second half.

 

For starters it’s hard for any team to play .602 baseball for an entire season. It’s not likely for the bullpen to sustain its performance and perhaps workloads will begin to weaken it in the second half. I don’t think Francisco Liriano or Jeff Locke will fall apart in the second half — I’m the president of the Liriano fan club —  but for them to repeat their first-half performances is asking quite a bit. Pedro Alvarez is probably due for another cold stretch, and the bench is thin, which would make any injury a big problem, and right field has been a blackhole of production.

 

Still, even with Grilli on the upcoming SI cover, even with the question of sustainability raised so often in so many corners this season, this is still a Pirates team that with limited regression  should end its 20-year losing streak and make the  postseason.

 

The Pirates don’t need to be as good as they were in the first half and having produced four first-time All-Stars it’s unlikely they play .602 baseball the reset of the season. But they don’t need to be great in the second half to advance to the postseason. They just can’t be terrible. They can regress some but they can’t crash back to the mean while the Nationals or a team in the NL West does begin to play .600 baseball.

 

How to avoid a second-half nosedive? Make a trade and find some second-half All-Stars.

 

SECOND HALF ALL-STARS 

There’s no All-Star game played after the season, I’m aware of this. But if the Pirates are going to push to win 90+ games they need some second-half performances to rival the first-half production of Locke, Liriano, Grilli and Mark Melancon.

 

Who might be ready for a second-half surge?

 

How about Neil Walker? Walker’s isolated power jumped from .126 in the first half to .184 in the second half last season. For his career he has a .744 OPS in the first half and a .779 OPS in the second half. The Pirates must find some more offense and Walker, assuming he gets healthy, is a strong candidate to have a better second-half than first.

 

Starling Marte is another candidate. He cooled off after a sizzling April in part because of approach issues and possibly because opponents had more video and scouting data to work off of. But if Marte can counter-adjust, he has the bat-to-ball skills, speed, and pop to be a dynamic player.

 

Perhaps it’s tough to expect much more from Justin Wilson, who did produce a 1.89 ERA in the first half. But his FIP was 3.33 telling of some good-luck fortune on batted balls in play. Here’s the thing Wilson has been getting better throughout this season. His velocity has increased  throughout 2013. He hasn’t walked a batter in July and he’s inducing more weak contact: a 15 % line drive rate and a double-digit infield pop rate in July. If there should be any issue with Melancon or Grilli, Wilson has the talent to be a competent end-game piece.

 

Gerrit Cole. The highly touted rookie has been very good early on, but he has the mental makeup and skill to be even better by increasing his strikeout rate. In a year with Shelby Miller and Jose Fernandez have been dominant rookies, Cole has the stuff to reach their level of performance.

 

PIRATES TARGETING GARZA?

 

The other way to mitigate second-half regression is through an addition via trade.

 

When most look at the Pirates’ roster they see holes in right field, the bench, and perhaps shortstop, where the club could improve via trade. But David Kaplan of CSN Chicago reported yesterday that the Pirates are one of a number of teams interested in Matt Garza. Garza is having a very good year and could be a competent No. 2 or No. 3 starter on a playoff team.

 

This is somewhat surprising given Garza’s cost will be relatively inflated even though he’s a rental because of the lack of quality arms expected to be  available and the number of interested bidders. It’s somewhat surprising because the Pirates don’t appear to be in need of pitching.

 

But there’s the old adage that a team can never have enough pitching and Garza would fortify the staff and hedge against any injury issues.

 

I’d suspect he’d cost a top 50 prospect and another top 10 organizational prospect. Alen Hanson and a pitcher, perhaps? Pure speculation on the price but that’s what I’d imagine it to be.

 

I expect the Pirates to be active near the deadline with their record and depth of minor league talent. They should be linked to a number of players. Stay tuned.

 

- TS

Comments

  1. Leo Walter says:

    No way I would trade Hanson for a rental. A 20 year old playing one of the toughest positions in pro ball with his offensive future ? No way ! But,Josh Bell ???? That is a another story.

  2. PhillyPirate says:

    Welcome back! Great to see the blog going again!

    Tim Williams has a nice overview of Garza’s trade value. Alen Hanson alone would be a huge overpay. I can’t see paying a high price for Garza; now is not the time to mortgage the future — especially for a rental.

  3. Nate83 says:

    I guess it all depends on the Pirates evaluation of Hanson. He has way less value if they do not think he can stick at shortstop. If they evaluate him not to be a major league shortstop then he is the one prospect out of the top 8 that I would be OK with trading for a rental.

  4. Travis Sawchik says:

    There’s a lot of doubt in the scouting community about whether Hanson can stick at shortstop. He could be the club’s future 2B…. I like him, but I don’t think he’s untouchable

  5. NMR says:

    Saying Gerrit Cole has shown similar stuff as Miller and Fernandez is a disservice to those pitchers.

  6. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks for sharing. Nice look at Garza’s trade value

  7. Travis Sawchik says:

    Similar results? Not quite. … But I think Cole is similar to Miller in that they are both nearly one-pitch pitchers this season. Cole has thrown his fastball at a 71.4 percent rate, Miller 73.9 percent rate. Cole has more velocity than Miller, but Miller has better extension and gets more swings and misses.

    I’d take Fernandez over both of them. I think he has three plus pitches right now, when he can command them: fastball, changeup. curve. Plus makeup … And he’s 20.

  8. Travis Sawchik says:

    I pretty much agree with this position, Nate. I don’t think he’s a shortstop in the end 2B of OF

  9. Nate83 says:

    I agree with both of you. I think Cole will be great but I currently don’t know why a majority of the fan base feel extremely confident we will get a quality start when he takes the mound. Opposing batters have made solid contact against him in most starts. A lot of balls are being squared up and hit hard.

    I think he will be at worse a solid number 2 with the ability to be a dominate number 1 but he is not that right now. He is limited in what he can do and feels comfortable with but he is smart enough to not allow it to get him in to much trouble. I love his passion and knowledge for the game. I can’t wait to see how he developes going forward.

  10. Leo Walter says:

    From what I see and gather,there are as many industry folks who think Hanson can stick at SS as don’t. And,if he does stick after dealing him for a rental,you have made a colossal error Travis ! The kind that will haunt an orginization for a long time. Particularly if you are trading in your own division. Do you remember how it felt every time Aramis Ramirez came up and hurt the Bucs ? I do !

  11. PhillyPirate says:

    Even so, if he can stick at 2B, I think his bat plays there (not so much at a corner OF). I think even as a 2B he has way too much value to trade for Garza.

  12. John says:

    I keep hearing suggestions the Pirates may have an internal option for a power hitting right fielder. The player being current AAA player Andrew Lambo. The Pirates got him about two or three years ago along with James McDonald from the Dodgers for then Pirates relief pitcher Octavio Dotel. I don’t understand why but at some point I think he at least deserves at least a chance. Sure would be nice to have a power hitting right fielder.
    The guy I feel good for right now is Pirates general manager Neil Huntington. With the roster the Pirates had when he first started he had to take chances on players in trades and free agents. Finally most the players they got in trades and/or signed in free agency are playing well. Trade I like the most was with the Braves when they got Jeff Locke. It could not have happened to a nicer team meaning I still remember that infamous playoff game when Sid Bream scored the winning run. Second trade I liked is getting Mark Melanson from the Red Sox. I bet a lot of Red Sox were surprised but also mad to see him as an All Star. I get so tired of the ESPN or Fox Sports Major League Baseball Sunday Night game and even during the week games being Yankees-Red Sox, Yankees versus this team, Red Sox versus another team. Would you please show the Pirates!

  13. leefoo says:

    If you believe in the SI jinx, well, the Cards had all of their starting pitchers on the cover.

    How has THAT worked out?

    :)

  14. NMR says:

    I consider the definition of “stuff” to be quality of pitches.
    .
    Miller’s fastball, as you said, is better than Cole’s despite less velocity and his curveball puts either of Cole’s breaking pitches to shame.
    .
    What Fernandez can do to a baseball is just filthy. No contest, especially when it comes to the changeup.

  15. Chuck H says:

    Definitely not a trade for Garza. We don’t need pitching, we need HITTING, and I believe
    we have good hitters at Indy. Give Andrew Lambo a shot at the major league level, and
    why is Alex Presley playing at Indy. He is a much better hitter than anyone on our pathetic bench. I agree with John, about MLB network doing too many Yankee games. They are on almost every week, sometimes 2 or 3 times. What is it with this love affair MLB has with
    the Yankees? The Pirates get on maybe once or twice a month. The Yankees aren’t so
    great anymore. Neil Huntington, go get some hitters for our bench. and get rid of those
    automatic outs/ GO, BUCS!!!

  16. Travis Sawchik says:

    The Cardinals starters a have a combined 4.65 ERA in their last 38 games. Jinxed.

  17. PhillyPirate says:

    Anytime. I enjoy your work! Keep it up!

  18. Joe D says:

    The first moves I would make if I were the Pirates.
    Unload/cut… Inge, Barmes, McHenry.
    Promote from Minors would be better than to keep trotting these 3 out on the field.
    Bring up Sanchez, d’Arnaud, and get a rental Right Fielder.

    Don’t know if they need another Starting Pitcher or another Relief Pitcher.

  19. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think Lambo could be a useful bench piece, which the Pirates need. They might prefer a veteran option for down the stretch, though

  20. Travis Sawchik says:

    I agree the bench needs help, and the team needs a bat … but I also know pitching depth can be exhausted quickly so that the Pirates are kicking the tires on Garza doesn’t surprise me

  21. Travis Sawchik says:

    Chuck,

    I’ve heard the Pirates brass believes they should be in line for a Sunday night game or two down the stretch. If they keep winning they are going to become darlings of the national media. See this week’s SI cover

  22. JP says:

    The jinx lives on…grilled cheese just got hurt.

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