SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – In previewing the Pirates-Rockies series last week I wrote that it was going to be interesting to see how the Pirates’ run-prevention ability translated to the thin air of Coors Field, where humidor or no humidor, it’s still an environment that promotes offense.
The Pirates’ brand of low-scoring baseball not translate well.
Francisco Liriano had never pitched in Coors Field and I doubt he has any interest in returning soon. A.J. Burnett was also rocked in the high altitude and Jeff Locke continue to walk batters at too high of a rate, again testing his magical ability to strand runners at an MLB-best rate.
Yes, it was a small sample size, but it was a reminder that park factors matter. The Pirates are built for PNC Park and spacious parks like it. A strong finish is important for a myriad of reasons, including the ability to avoid playing, say, a one-game play-in game on the road and a hitters’ paradise like, say, Great American Ballpark.
(I think we can cross Coors Field off of Liriano’s free agent destinations in 2015)
Home-field matters. It’s an important element to play for going forward.
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. Locke’s second-half walk rate has climbed to 5.79 BB per 9. His first half rate wasn’t great either at 3.88. That is a disturbing trend. That’s simply not a sustainable way to make a living as a major league starting pitcher, especially one that lacks elite velocity and breaking stuff.
8. I asked Clint Hurdle about Locke’s increased walk rate earlier this month and Hurdle brushed off any concerns saying it might just be the league adjusting to a pitcher with relatively little experience. He said there’s more concern out the organization than within. Yes, hitters and pitchers make constant adjustments, but there’s no substitute for fastball command.
It’s no longer a question of if Locke will regress, he is regressing. The question is how deep and painful will the regression be? His FIP is 3.75 which is equal to his second-half ERA.
7. The Pirates combined for eight runs in three games at Coors Field. It’s another anecdotal piece of evidence of how anemic this offense is. Free Andrew Lambo? Mark Reynolds, anyone? Are there any answers?
6. Yes, Liriano’s ERA ticked up by nearly an entire run after a career-worst start Friday. Because it was just one start at Coors Field, I don’t think there’s reason to be concerned. Liriano’s improvement is for real. His fastball command is improved, combined with elite velocity for a lefty, allows for his offspeed stuff to really play up. He’s had it more often than not. Unless he starts playing half his games at Coors Field, I’m not concerned and still waving the banner.
5. Hey, at least Gerrit Cole wasn’t psychologically damaged by pitching at Coors this weekend.
4. Speaking of Cole, he is having his next start skipped – which would have come Wednesday in St. Louis – ostensibly to keep his workload totals down. It makes sense to save Cole’s bullets for September and October. The Pirates haven’t said what his workload limit is in 2013, but he has a limit. And I think it’s probably around 190 innings, which is a 25 percent increase over his 2012 innings totals. He was on pace to throw 190 inning this season between Triple-A and the majors.
Also, by skipping Cole’s start you get Liriano (Wed vs. Shelby Miller) and Burnett (Thu. vs. Lance Lynn) to both pitch in the St. Louis series. Charlie Morton matches up with Adam Wainwright on Tuesday. The decision to ease off on Cole tells me the club is also seeing him as a postseason option for the rotation.
3. Morton has struggled with consistency but he’s coming off arguably his best start since his return from Tommy John. Morton posted a 13-to-1, groundball-to-flyball ratio against the Marlins in his last start. He’ll need similar command of his sinker against a tough Cardinals lineup that roughed him up in his last outing. Tuesday will be tough as the Pirates and Morton face the Cardinals ace in his home park.
2. The Pirates are facing the Cardinals at a good time as Yadier Molina is still out. The Cardinals pitching staff has missed the game’s best defensive catcher, and without Molina’s arm behind the plate the Pirates would be well served to take advantage of their greatest advantage over the Cardinals: team speed.
1. The recipe to win at Coors is still to out-slug teams. The Pirates aren’t built for that baseball. So keep an eye on the Reds, who are now just two games behind the Cardinals and five back of the Pirates. The Reds hope to get Johnny Cueto back at some point in the second half and could call up a pinch-running, game-changer in Billy Hamilton in September. The Reds also have the best player in the division in Joey Votto. Don’t sleep on them, it’s still a three-horse race. And Cincinnati is not where the Pirates want to be playing postseason games this October.
STAT THAT MIGHT ONLY INTEREST ME: .942
First-round pick Austin Meadows‘ OPS in rookie ball, a 100 points higher than No. 5 overall pick Clint Frazier, who hails from the same town.
Meadows, and fellow first-rounder, Reese McGuire, each have a chance to go down as first-round steals. Only a so-so senior campaign kept Meadows out of the top 5, but then again how many high school arms were going to challenge Meadows who was regarded as the best prep player in the country entering the spring?
HE SAID IT:
“I didn’t exactly volunteer, but it was mentioned to me (in the dugout), and I said I could do it. When Clint met me on the mound, he said, ‘I never thought I’d have to have this talk with you on the mound.’ I just wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. I wasn’t worried about giving up a home run.” – Josh Harrison on becoming the first Pirates’ position player to pitch in a game since 2004
Skip two more Cole starts before the third week of September.
If you take away 300/18 innings pitches between now and October, that’s three postseason starts he could make before reaching 190 innings. And that might also keep Cole fresher October.
If you’re not watching Breaking Bad it’s time to start making some Netflix requests and catch up. It’s the best television drama of the 21st century, imo, beating out The Wire and Sopranos.