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Trouble with the Curve: Marlon Byrd’s trip to Mexico and the Pirates vs. Wainwright…. And what to make of the Pirates’ ‘cluster luck?’

ST. LOUIS – Marlon Byrd did a thing few veteran players do last offseason: he took a trip to Mexico.


No he wasn’t going to a sea-side resort in Cancun, or to enjoy street taco tour along the Pacific coast. No, Byrd, in need of a major league job,  went to play baseball for Cuilacan in the Mexican Pacific League League, which is akin to Triple-A baseball with fewer amenities.


Byrd said he was looking for a place to get reps and work on his new swing mechanics. But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Byrd was in search of something in particular.



Marlon Byrd has worn many hats, including this one of the Culiacan Tomateros


“He wanted to improve an area of his game, hitting (off-speed),” Hurdle said. “Where better to go then Mexico? A league full of pitchers that spin the ball. They are not concerned about establishing the fastball. He has no ego. He has no fear.”


Byrd has struggled against off-speed pitching in recent years.


This is Byrd’s runs above average against various pitch types via

——————   FB    SL    CT    CB    CH

2010  Cubs       22.9 -3.1   1.2   -1.6  -4.8

2011  Cubs        2.0  -5.1  -0.8   0.7    2.4

2012 (2 teams)-5.0 -1.9 -0.7 -0.5  -0.3

2013 (2 teams) 11.4  4.1 -0.1    1.9   1.1


Notice that Byrd has improved against sliders,  curveballs and change-ups this season.  The home run that moved the earth on Tuesday in the wild card game? That came via changeup.


Byrd said he knew players like Jacque Jones and Adrian Gonzalez went to the Mexican Leauge and took it seriously. He became curious.


“I wanted to go where the competition was going to be toughest for me,” Byrd said. “In Venezuela and in the Dominican (winter leagues) those guys have good fastballs. In Mexico, they pitch. I saw 86-mph sliders. I saw guys with plus fastballs. I got hit by pitches. Some guys can workout outside part of the plate. I saw changeups in 3-0 counts. I went down there where I thought the competition was going to be the best and it helped.”


We wrote about the swing adjustment Byrd made while working with a high school coach this offseason but perhaps the South of hte Border experience also played a role. And the Pirates hope it plays a role Thursday.


Why Thursday?


Cardinals Game 1 stater Adam Wainwright has second the best curveball in the NL behind only Jose Fernandez, according Baseball Info Solutions.


The Pirates have been the third worst team in the majors against curveballs, per Baseball Info Solutions.


Wainwright vs. the Pirates this season: 1-0, 21IP, 15H, 7R, 20K.


Byrd knows a challenge awaits.


“It’s not a pitch to hit. It’s a pitch he wants to swings on,” Byrd said of Wainwright’s curveball. “He’s unbelievable at locating it, at throwing it short behind the plate. …  You don’t see spin. That what makes him so good. The breaking ball is so tight.”


But it’s a challenge Byrd is more prepared for given his trip south of the border.




I received an  interesting email from Ed Feng, of Power Rank tonight. He has been studying  something he calls “cluster luck” in baseball which he defines as identifying which teams tend to clump their hits closely and which teams have scattered them.

“You can show that there is no skill in having one or the other.  Hence the name ‘cluster luck.’ It has some interesting consequences for the Pirates.  They have scored 34 runs less than expected (given up the expected number of runs).  The Pirates have been unlucky.  Of playoff teams, only Tampa Bay has had worse luck.”
If you believe Feng and his research then the Pirates have been unlucky to a degree this season and perhaps they have some offensive upside ready to be untapped at the most timely of occasions.


  1. “then the Pirates have been unlucky to a degree this season and perhaps they have some offensive upside ready to be untapped at the most timely of occasions.”

    and the Cards have been OVERLY lucky?

    I’ll take that for a $1,000, Alex.


  2. Byrd seriously has to drag Pedro along with him this winter.

  3. It doesn’t matter if we lost 20-0, 8-1, or 2-1, it’s still only 1 game, but when the plane
    landed in St. Louis, how come the hitters didn’t get off? We have that kind of game about
    every 5 or 6 games. And, as usual, our manager didn’t know Burnett was not Burnett
    today, walking their pitcher and a few others. Mr. Auto Out must have left his glove in the plane and forgot how to throw to first base. It’s O.K. to let your better hitting shortstop sit
    on the bench. We’ll get them tomorrow. GO,BUCS!!!

    • They have what kind of game every 5 or 6 games, the 1 run from the offense or the 9 runs from the pitchers?

      In fact the offensive output is fairly typical of what we’ve seen all season and it’s the fact that the pitchers have been able to keep the opposing offense to under three runs so frequently that has enabled so many wins.

      Burnett may not have been himself as you say but it’s pretty irrelevant … 4 hits, 0 walks and 1 run just isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs and if you’re pitching has to shut out the opposition every time to earn a win, should probably start making those off season plans.

      • You know I meant the kind of game where nobody hits, especially with RISP.
        And our brilliant manager, who doesn’t take a pitcher out until it’s too late.

  4. Occum’s Razor gents. Why go to all the fuss and bother of trying create an new and different explanation of this when a much simpler one already exists? This is not luck, this is the failure to properly construct lineups I’ve been talking about all season, nothing more and we saw it again last night in the first playoff loss.

    The best in a particular situation either sitting on the bench or coming to the plate with oh-fers in front of them when they collect their hits because the manager refuses to yield his old school notions to the realities of the game.

    Keep putting a right handed hitter who can’t hit RHP and is a strikeout machine in the lead off spot against some of the best RHP strikeout pitchers in the game so your three hitter has nobody to drive in, keep your best left handed power hitter so far down in the lineup his home runs more often than not come with empty bases, keep your left handed hitters on the bench while you fantasize about the offense created with speed even though it rarely gets on base.

    Given what we’ve seen all season it’s actually rather surprising to hear they ONLY scored 34 fewer runs than expected.

    • I agree with everything you said. I’ve been saying it all season. If we had a smart mgr.,we
      would have won the division by 5 games.

    • Occam’s Razor would be that Wainwright is a darn good pitcher, who has had arguably the best season of his career. The Pirates’ offense has a wRC+ of 106 on the year, 5th best in the NL, park factors matter. I agree that the lineup construction is less than ideal (Hurdle was known to put low OBP speed guys at lead off with the Rockies), but they have gotten the 4th best production in the NL .756 OPS out of the lead off spot. However the fatalism is not warranted, the 2nd best pitcher in the league can make most lineups look limp.

  5. Soooo, is the next blog post going to be titled, ‘Trouble with the Heat’ and be about Cole dominating the Cards.

    Bucs in the driver’s seat now. And I think we should chant ‘Mi-key’ or Wacha’s name INcorrectly on Sunday. Do something a little unexpected.

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