Blogs | Sports | News
Bucco Blog

Do you believe in momentum? And the Pirates’ 2013 secret to success is in jeopardy


ST. LOUIS AIRPORT – I don’t believe in momentum.


I do believe in your next day’s starting pitcher.


Friday was a make-or-break day for the Pirates: at stake was an 0-2 hole or gaining home-field advantage in the NLDS. What more can you say about Gerrit Cole? The kid delivered again on the biggest stage of his life and in the most meaningful game he has pitched in since leading UCLA over TCU in an elimination game in the 2010 College World Series. You’re right, Clint Hurdle. Cole does wear “big-boy” pants.


Because of what Cole did Friday, because Francisco Liriano is the Game 3 starter – 0-3 0.75 ERA in three starts vs. Cardinals this season – the playoff pendulum has swung in favor of the Pirates.


It’s not because of some nebulous force we call “momentum” in sport. The Pirates now have the advantage because Liriano vs. Joe Kelly is a lopsided match-up in favor of the Pirates.


*Carlos Beltran is a much better hitter vs. RHP.


*Despite being right-handed, 21 of Matt Holliday’s 22 home runs have come vs. RHP.


*Matt Carpenter is 50 OPS points worse against LHP, though he’s still very good and perhaps the most underrated player in the game. Only Robinson Cano has a higher WAR among second baseman.


*David Freese is 0-for-8 in his career vs. Liriano.


*Poor Matt Adams has never faced Liriano or his slider which Liriano threw 44 times vs. the Reds and generated 34 strikes and 13 swinging strikes. His first 12 sliders thrown to lefties vs. Reds generated eight swings and misses. It’s a devastating pitch he’s thrown more often than any time since his rookie year.


The playoff pendulum  has swung not because of some shapeless force we call “momentum” but because of Liriano and because of Mike Matheny.


Send thank you notes to Matheny for sending Kelly to the mound as a stating pitcher in this series.


Yes, I know Shelby Miller might be tiring. Yes, I know Kelly had success in two starts against  the Pirate this season. But he did allow base runners and two starts is a small sample. What is more useful in predictive analysis is Kelly’s strikeout rate (5.3) and walk rate (3.2), which are both mediocre. Kelly has a 93-96 mph fastball but he has no real effective off-speed offerings.


Kelly is the Cardinals’ Jeff Locke.


His FIP is 4.01. His ERA is 2.69.


He is going to regress at some point.


His regression might very well begin in his first postseason start, on the road, in a rowdy PNC Park.


It’s a great matchup for the Pirates.


Game 4 will be more difficult because Michael Wacha is nearly the talent Cole is. Wach’s changeup is crazy good.


Call it momentum, call it whatever, but because of home-field and its advantages, because of the Game 3 pitching match-up the advantage has swung.




The most troubling thing to happen in St. Louis for the Pirates happened off the field.


It happened during Neil Walker’s pre-game press conference on Friday.


Reporters from and the Chicago Tribune started asking Walker about the Pirates’ dramatic shifting. I’ve been told that several major league front offices have discussed the Pirates comprehensive defensive plan


“It’s going to be universally implanted in baseball if you ask me,” Walker said. “But it’s going to take some time.”


The Pirates’ secret weapon, its comprehensive defensive plan, is no longer a secret. As one of my Twitter followers said, when it’s in the papers it’s no longer a market inefficiency,


More and more teams will dramatically increase their use of shifts and combine it with increasing their pitchers’ two-seam useage. More groundballs into more shifts.


The defensive plan is one reason why the Pirates have an 11-10 game advantage over the Cardinals this season despite the Cardinals’ vastly superior offensive capabilities.


The Pirates defensive improvement from 2010 to 2013 has been worth 12 wins.


The challenge for the Pirates, for Dan Fox and his associates, is now to find the next market inefficiency. The defensive one, is closing.





  1. Worth 12 wins?
    For doing something the Milwaukee Brewers were doing LAST season, and look at their records?
    Mark Twain!!!

  2. BostonsCommon says:

    It’s not just the shifting. That’s only part of it. It’s Burnett and Liriano ditching the four seem fastball for the sinker and joining Morton as a league leader in GB ratio… I mean this stuff has already been covered… They’re preaching pitch to contact, ground balls, and everything, all through the minors… The college guys they draft in later rounds can all at least touch mid 90s and throw heavy sinkers… Same goes for the free agent relievers they bring in… I’m thinking J. Gomez here.

    It’s a philosophy that everyone has to buy into, including Hurdle. And it’s a philosophy that requires these types of pitchers, and above average infielders like Barmes.

    It’s not an accident at all.

  3. JohnH says:

    My guess is the next market inefficiency will be using the opponents defense shift to predict the pitch being throw.

  4. RobertoForever says:

    Well, predicting losing a market inefficiency assumes your competition is willing to abandon their approach to follow yours.
    I think there are enough old school front offices, and old school managers and pitchers unwilling to give up the strikeout that we won’t see wholesale use of it. Maybe if the next 2 or 3 World Series champs do it, you might get converts. But wild card winners don’t shift the balance alone.

  5. Andrew says:

    The efficiency gained from shifting is not 12 wins, it is much less, Billy Beane admitted this in interviews a decade ago. (I read the last section as referring to the shifts; if this post is referring to overall defensive plan ignore what follows, however the comments have focused on shifts) The advantaged gained is much smaller, the Pirates shift usage did not dramatically increase until this year, so using 2010 as a comparison is a little suspect, still that 8 win improvement from 2012 is also an overstatement.

    If you look at the positional defensive statistics, the Pirates defensive from center and 3rd is improved; they have had nearly a full season of Marte and most importantly they added Martin. I think these factors far outweigh any advantage gained from defensive shifts. In a Santelli piece on defensive shifts from July, the estimated effect of the shifts was five runs at that point. (Yes it could more, you could link Alvarez‘s fielding improvements to shifts but this is a little speculative).

    Granted Martin’s acquisition and having a center fielder in a spacious left has been a part of the Pirates overall defensive plan so stating they have gained several wins from an emphasis on fielding/defense is an accurate statement. Overall the arbitrage from shifting is less and it is cost intensive, as compared to emphasizing OBP over batting average. I do not think they we become ubiquitous; you need a proprietary defensive metric system, strike outs are outs 99.7% of the time, (the Twins pitch to contact with bad results,) and the payoff is relatively small. Defensive shifts are just one parts of the Pirates’ overall strategy.

    Travis fine work over the season, I enjoy the blog, and let us hope we see some Joe Kelly regression.

  6. NMR says:

    Michael Wacha hype machine has hit overdrive on the Bucco Blog.

  7. NorthPirateFan says:

    The question I’d ask is, just because “the secret” is out, does it follow that teams will soon follow?

    It’s simply a matter of fact that in just about every industry including professional sports, the people at the top making the decisions are usually the ones who have the most experience and as such tend to be so utterly convinced of their own superior knowledge and abilities that they are typically the least likely to adopt new ideas and methods.

    Indeed, we don’t need to look any further than the 2013 Pirates for an example of this. Sure Clint Hurdle adopted the concept of the defensive shifts but virtually everyone who’s spoken or written about it has made a point of telling us how unenthusiastically and with suspicion he did so …

    And yet at the same time there are still other efficiencies, well documented and in use by other teams, especially when it comes to use of players in offensive roles that Hurdle has steadfastly refused to accept and implement and by all appearances he refuses to give up on his notions from a bygone era.

    I don’t believe it automatically follows that just because something has been demonstrated to work in the game it will be quickly and widely adopted by other teams. That’s not been the pattern of behavior amongst the good ol’ boys of MLB where ego reign supreme.

  8. Leo Walter says:

    Plus 1 NPF,I couldn’t agree with you more.

  9. NMR says:

    Baseball works at a snails pace, Travis.

  10. RichW says:

    One issue with your Kelly vs Miller analysis: Miller absolutely stinks against the Pirates. Pitching Kelly at PNC is a no-brainer. And it almost worked. If Kelly doesn’t get a lot of glove on Morneau’s grounder, that’s at least one out and possibly no early runs for Bucs.

Other blogs
Sports: Rob Rossi | Steel Mill | Chipped Ice | Bucco Blog | iPreps | Pitt Locker Room | Penn State Sports
News: This Just In | Trib List | ICycle | Flow Back | Stories Behind Trib Stories  

» Top Sports » Top News » Top Breaking News