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How much do hitting coaches matter? And what the Pirates are seeking early in free agency (cross off Marlon Byrd)


LEBO - Jay Bell decided to leave the Pirates for the Reds’ bench coach position late on Monday. I’m not sure if Bell was unhappy in Pittsburgh, or if he views this as stepping stone to a manager position, or if he just really wants to work with Bryan Price, whom he knows from his time with the Diamondbacks.

But, Bell, who was in part blamed for the Pirates’ stagnant offense of 2013, is gone. (I’m told Pirates assistant hitting coach Jeff Branson is an internal candidate)

The Pirates have offensive voids at right field, first base and shortstop. But perhaps the new void at batting coach is an opportunity to improve.  How much impact can a hitting coach have?

In the NL, the Pirates ranked ninth in runs, 11th in batting average, eighth in on-base, sixth in slugging, third in strike outs and third in home runs in 2013. OPS+ was kinder to the Pirates, as the Pirates ranked 10th in baseball in OPS, which adjusts for park factors.

PNC Park is a tough place to produce runs but the Pirates’ offense was at best inconsistent. So can a hitting coach make much of a difference?

Many are inclined to think hitting coaches often add little or marginal value. What is more important is individual batting talent and the thousands and thousands of reps the player had taken before reaching the major leagues.

But I think the right hitting coach can make a difference.

Sean Foley was recently ranked as the No. 2 golf coach in the world. He coaches a number of top players like Justin Rose and Tiger Woods. Foley had some interesting things to say about coaching during a recent interview with Charlie Rose.

“‘People go, ‘Are you going to change his swing?’ You can’t change it. You have studied enough of the brain to know there is not going to be any changes of the swing. You’re going to insulate neural circuits and what have you, motor memory…

“A lot of times it’s just about like what I said to Justin Rose on the morning of the Sunday of the US Open. I got up in the morning … I sent Tiger a note and Rose a note. I wrote, ‘Let’s remember, Justin, this a super important day. Let’s not pretend you’re somewhere else (on a practice round). Let’s face the fact we are there. It’s going to take a lot of energy to pretend you’re somewhere you’re not. So accept it. … Pressure is a privilege.”

Mechanics do matter of course. Golfers have to be sound from “hip high to hip high,” in their swings as Foley says. He wants players to have steep landing angles on approach shots and uses a radar device to measure them. But the real value in a swing coach is perhaps elsewhere. It’s reducing the clutter, it’s the psychological.

Now they are different games. The golf ball is stationary, a baseball moves upward of 95 mph. But they are both very individual games, too.  Psychology, confidence are critical to success. And Foley’s approach reminded me of the one hitting coach who did make a big difference in 2013: George Brett.

On May 30th the Royals fired their hitting coach and replaced him temporarily with Brett. Most of the young Royals hitters were struggling when Brett came on board, including their most valuable asset: Eric Hosmer.

From the Kansas City Star:

“(Brett) few mechanical things to fix. (Hosmer’s) stride was too big. He was too close to the plate, choking off those long arms. But mostly, Brett saw a broken hitting soul.

Others saw it, too. Executives from other teams. Scouts who remembered feeling goose bumps on their arms watching Hosmer’s pure, natural swing — much of it natural, the rest molded into a wicked combination of violence and control with long days in a batting cage back home in Florida.

Where did that player go? What happened?

How did a talent worth $6 million out of high school and the cover of Baseball America while in the minor leagues turn into a dinking, dunking, slapping singles hitter?

Brett had an idea. General manager Dayton Moore did, too. So after Moore finally convinced Brett to take the hitting-coach job with Pedro Grifol as his assistant, he didn’t say anything about the swing or the leg kick or the arms.

“Rescue us mentally,” Moore told Brett.

Look at what Hosmer did after Brett’s hire

Eric Hosmer through May: .261, 1 HR, .653 OPS

Eric Hosmer since June 1: .322, 15 HR, .883 OPS

Brett, along with Kevin Long in New York, are examples of excellent hitting coaches who understand hitting, and understand it’s as much a mental process as a mechanical one. They must also be excellent communicators to have players buy in. For instance, Bell and Clint Hurdle wanted Pedro Alvarez to better use all-fields but he has remained a pull-heavy hitter. Is he unwilling or unable? Does he need someone else to deliver a message? Maybe a new voice can make an impact.


I spoke with an agent last night who believes most of the Pirates’ early free agency calls have focused on “high upside” pitching.

What I think that means is the Pirates are looking for pitchers that struggled to prevent runs but showed an above average strikeout rate or groundball rate, suggesting that perhaps their ability to prevent runs is better than what their ERA suggested.

Trust FIP, not ERA.

This is a similar approach the Pirates took with Francisco Liriano  and it’s a prudent one … but you just can’t expect to hit on every ‘high upside’ lottery ticket to the degree the Pirates hit on Liriano.

I also wonder what it means for the chances AJ Burnett returns to the club. Looks like Plan B is becoming more and more likely.


I think the Pirates had some interest in retaining Byrd on a one-year deal as a bridge to Gregory Polanco, but Byrd has reportedly reached a two-year agreement with the Phillies for $16 million Tuesday. I doubt the Pirate were interested in entertaining a multi-year offer.

Byrd was a useful piece for the Pirates in 2013, he impacted games in September. But the Phillies are likely buying high on a player who is 37 and has a PED suspension in his past.




  1. Nate83 says:

    I have always felt like the Pirates needed a starting pitcher regardless of Burnett signing or not. If he doesn’t sign then I think they need two of them. Anything they get from Wandy is a bonus. I’m not sold on Locke although I do think he is better then he showed in the second half. He could be a nice number 3 or 4 starter but he also could disappear from the starting staff before the Pirates break camp. Stolmy, Mcphearson and Cumpton are all nice depth to have but I wouldn’t be penciling any of them in for 30 starts. You can never have too many starting pitchers. Stolmy can move to the bullpen if he is lights out. I would also bring Karstans back as insurance as long as it’s at a reasonable price.

  2. NMR says:

    -Hitting and pitching coaches never matter…until you actually see what a good one can do. Mr. Ray Searage, ladies and gents. Unfortunately, the Pirates treat the hitting coach like it doesn’t matter. Gregg Ritchie was promoted internally after producing nobody in the minor leagues. Jay Bell was, JAY BELL. And now we hear another internal promotion is in store. Anybody actually believe that is the best they can do?
    -There is absolutely a mental aspect to baseball, but I feel like that angle is being played to the extreme. Take the George Brett story for example. Gloss right over the little details of fixing Hosmer’s stride and position in the batters box. Gotta fix his SOUL! Thats it!

    Play this game if you actually think fixing Eric Hosmer’s soul is the reason for his improvement: use the Google machine to find articles where a hitter or pitcher was “fixed” mentally, leading to increased whatever. Now narrow those article down to those who didn’t incorporate some kind of mechanical change at the same time. I’ll hang up and wait.
    -The biggest reason golf and hitting have nothing to do with one another is that the golf ball can’t think. Biggest BS in major league baseball is that Hitter X should completely clear his mind. See ball, hit ball. Good luck hitting anything that moves or changes speed with that approach when everybody throws 90+ MPH these days.
    They say that preparation leads to confidence. If the Pirates aren’t going to look for a top notch hitting coach, why not promote a guy who will act as a liason between Dan Fox’s analytics department and Pirate hitters? Watch Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez, and Starling Marte last year then tell me those guys had a better idea of what pitcher’s were going to throw them than Fox. Pirate hitters have seemed clueless at the plate. Some of that is recognition, but some of it is also being prepared for what you will likely see.

  3. NMR says:

    Has anybody who says Pedro Alvarez is a pull happy hitter ever actually looked at his spray charts to check?
    The answer is no.
    The only type of contact Pedro pulls to the right side more than other fields are ground balls, and that result could easily be as much mechanical as mental.

  4. NMR says:

    I already love what Huntington is doing this off season.
    Guys like Burnett, Byrd, and Loney are players the Pirates need to get BEFORE bouncing back. Thats how this small market thing works, after all.
    This isn’t a knock on Burnett at all, but I think there are a bunch of pitchers available this offseason, more than either of the last two years, who could come close to matching what Burnett might do in 2014 but for half the price.

  5. Nate83 says:

    I think a hitting coach can help with approach more then the mental aspect. I have heard for years how good the Red Sox and Yankees are at taking pitches and making pitchers go deep into counts. Even taking a strike or two if it’s in a location that just doesn’t give you a good chance to get a hit. The thought process is after 5,6,7,8….. pitches the pitcher will make a mistake. The Pirates rarely get to that mistake. Mercer was excellant at this for example. He often fouled off tough pitches. Although some on the team did better at this last year it seems as if it’s something that could definatley be improved. I’m not exactly sure that is something that can be taught or if it’s just the way certain hitters are.

  6. Andrew says:

    I am agnostic to the impact of a hitting coach, how can an outsider evaluate the impact? There is a publication bias to hitters who are “fixed” by a hitting coach and all the analysis is post hoc. Everything I have read about hitting coaches have a whiff of the apocryphal, but if that is what we want the Pirates already have a guy on the staff, Jeff Branson.

  7. Bizrow says:

    This club is built on pitching

    You can as NH has shown us, build a bullpen

    Can’t build a starting rotation though without some solid depth

    Right now, we have none such

  8. Nate83 says:

    I have to disagree with you on that one. Very few teams have 5 or 6 solid options. In my opinion the Pirates have a better situation then most especially if they sign AJ. Liriano, Cole, Morton and AJ are a much better starting point then most teams can claim. Add Stolmy, Locke, Wandy, McPhearson, Taillon and Crumpton and it’s not bad depth at all. Not to mention the arms they have that are two or three years away.
    I still believe they should pick up a Johnson or Kazmir type because there is no such thing as too much depth when it comes to starting pitching.

  9. Steelkings says:

    I agree. The Pirates do need to add a veteran for some depth insurance. If AJ’s heart isn’t into it, and with the long delay in making a decision, I doubt it is, and one of the other 4 starters goes down for a long period of time? Well you finish 3rd or 4th in the best division in baseball.
    Also I believe that the vet needs to come from the American league. I think National league hitters dont know what to do with guys they haven’t seen. AJB came over and went from SUCK to awesome right out of the gate. Liriano went from SUCK to awesome right out of the gate. I think for a struggling veteran to start well with a new team mentally can set you up for something REAL good.

  10. NMR says:

    I’m with you, Biz.

    Chances of turning this team into an offensive juggernaut in one winter are slim. This means they MUST at least maintain last years level of pitching in order not to fall back in the pack.

    Without AJ, and possibly without Wandy, the current 2014 rotation is undoubtedly inferior to last years AND to others contenders. Stolmy, Locke, and Cumpton are fine depth options, but not – IMO – when two of them are in the rotation at a time.

  11. Steelkings says:

    As far a Marlon Byrd goes…..The Bucco’s not signing him just up’ed the value of the first base position and big-time increased the possibility that GI Jones will be with the Pirates in Bradenton. They can bring him back for less than value if they throw in a few hot dogs. Obviously Polanco will not be up until around the break and hopefully the Pirates will not put all their eggs in Tabata’s basket. Tabata was a .282/.342 with 6 dingers. Anyone with better numbers than that will cost Marlon Byrd Type money. Marlon had a good season but on average he is a .280/.336 hitter. Agents will point to the 8 mil a year. Don’t look for the Pirates to land a big time Right Fielder.
    The Byrd signing up’s the value of the 1st base position by taking some of the “wait and see” patients away from the Pirates. If Loney or Morneau get anywhere near Byrd type money from some team not in Pittsburgh, well, The offense from last spring wont change much. People on this blog think the Phillies over paid for Byrd. Well, teams always over pay for players. But its different for the Pirates right now. If you don’t over pay and take the wait and see approach, there wont be any players left that are better than what you already have. This free agent period was supposed to be about taking the next step in improvement. I for one will be surprised if they improve either position. Perhaps the last 20 years has made me skeptical, but does the ownership really need or want to improve this team by spending money. Season ticket sales are blowing up. Ticket prices are up and there will be Butts in the seats without the need to buy a crap load of bobble heads.
    8 mil a year for for a guy who will keep you competitive in this division was not to much to spend. If you cant afford 16 mil over 2 years then why do you own a MLB team? To make money! That’s why. Enjoy the season Mr. Nutting.

  12. NorthPirateFan says:

    I can’t say whether Jeff Branson is “the best they can do” since I don’t know who else is available and interested, but I do think he is a good choice and have been arguing that he should have been the hitting coach for the past couple seasons based on his results in the minors.

    Unlike Ritchie and Hebner before him the best Pirates on the major league roster, McCutchen, Alvarez, Walker Mercer and several former Pirates who had success in the minor then cratered in the majors before leaving spent time working with Branson and did some of their best work, especially when it came to plate discipline & walks to strikeout ratios, when he was coaching them. No player provides a better example than Neil Walker who, let’s not forget, was no longer being considered in the Pirate’s future and thought to be on his way out of the organization before he became a project of Branson’s and in 2010 saw significant improvement at AAA in his walk rate, on base percentage bb/k ratio and was back on the Pirates radar and in the majors later that season.

    The biggest problem I see with Branson, and this applies to many others probably who share his approach and views, is that they appear to be at odds with Clint Hurdle’s, a former hitting coach, and I’m not sure how much success anyone is going have getting the Pirate hitters to be more patient and disciplined in an environment where his is going to be the final word.

  13. leefoo says:

    That is, when he, uh, actually HITS the ball…lol

  14. leefoo says:

    Biz….well, gee, the winter has just started. Who did we have last year at this time? Lonnnnnnng way to go.

    In NH I trust!!!!!

  15. NMR says:

    And there it is, folks! First official Nutting-is-cheap comment, nine days into free agency. Progress!

  16. leefoo says:

    Polanco…’obviously’? More than one scout (incl Keith Law) thinks he could start Opening Day. Now whether we’ll actually start him is another.

    Sooooooooooooooooo…..what are our RF options now?

    a) Polanco (with Tabby vs tough lefties) on opening day?
    b) an outside free agent?
    c) Lambo and Tabata until Polanco is ready?
    d) Trade or other?

    If I had to place money on one or the other, I would go with “C”. However, I can see arguments being made for any of those options.

    Now, first base is a whole ‘nother animal. We have Gaby at 1b as a platoon partner. Do we:
    a) Play Lambo at 1b (negating “C” above)
    b) Sign Loney or some other 1b Free Agent?
    c) Trade or other?

    My money is on b), but again, an argument could be made for any of those.

    I’m not saying I am FOR c) & b), just that I think those are the most likely to happen. Just a hunch….



  17. NMR says:

    So then lets all agree to not blog at all until Opening Day. Deal?

  18. leefoo says:

    I loved this Polanco tweet:

    Gregory Polanco ✔@El_Coffee

    “Congratulations Clint Hurdle on winning the NL Manager of the Year Award.. I hope I get to play for him very soon! #Pirates”

    Me, too, Greg, me, too.

  19. leefoo says:



  20. leefoo says:

    NMR…sorry…I lied….I’m blogging again. Just. Can’t. Stop!!!!

    :) :) :)

  21. leefoo says:

    NMR….yep. Can’t believe Nutting didn’t spend any of his paper money on Nelson Cruz or some other RFer.

    That ‘wait and see’ approach sure didn’t work for us last year.

    Btw, does anyone know the dates we signed Martin, Liriano, etc, etc?

    I think we’ll be okay. The best guys don’t always get signed first.

    Plus, who knows if we’re working on any deals?

    In NH I trust!

  22. leefoo says:

    steelking…what is a ‘wait and see’ patient? Is that someone with lots of patience in a doctor’s office?

    Just messin’


  23. Travis Sawchik says:

    162 of the balls Alvarez put in play in 2013 were to his pull side, 62 were to left field …. career ratio is 465 to 227

  24. leefoo says:

    With Polanco on the horizon, it is hard for me to see the Bucs giving ANY FA OFer more than one year.


  25. leefoo says:

    Thanks Travis…

  26. Travis Sawchik says:

    Andrew, valid points. There’s no doubt it is difficult, and perhaps a fool’s errand, to try and measure a hitting coach’s value. And as I wrote, I think in general their value is limited if at all.

    You can argue that the Brett-Hosmer case became an easy after-the-fact, post-hoc narrative for writers as it was a nice story.

    But we still can’t measure everything in this game as much as us with an appreciation for analytics would like to. Not everything is in the book. And I do believe their is an important psychological aspect more so than a mechanical one.

  27. Travis Sawchik says:


    Brett did make slight mechanical adjustments with Hosmer, that’s true. And sometimes a mechanical tweak makes all the difference, like the famous Jose Bautista leg kick.

    But I still think for the most part Brett got Hosmer in a better place mentally, he got him back to being more aggressive in his swings and in thinking again about driving the ball again. (The previous hitting coach’s philosophy had been on valuing contact over power). The change in aggressiveness is pretty apparent on video. And to me that’s playing swing whisperer/psychologist. Hosmer was thinking differently at the plate after June 1. Brett was more effective in getting Hosmer to focus on overall approach rather than hand placement. That’s how I see it.

  28. leefoo says:

    About hitting coaches….has any of the ones we’ve employed actually helped Pedro? Most of his hitting metrics went down (ISO and Line Drive rate were slightly up), so has he improved?

    Sure he had a .768 RISP, but he still K’s too much. Has any of our other hitters (outside of AMac) improved?

    That’s what I’d be asking.

  29. leefoo says:

    Travis….’There is the mental aspect’ which is most important. I agree 100%.

    Wasn’t it Yogi who said hitting is 90% mental and 50% physical?

  30. NMR says:

    Swing whisperer! I love it!

  31. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think the years were as much as an issue as the dollars with Byrd. They need a one-year bridge, that’s all.

  32. leefoo says:

    For those who have ESPN INsider, Jim Bowden does a great job on pricing the FA’s. Some of the ones rumored to be Bucco targets are reasonable.

    I am NOT a big Bowden fan, but his thoughts seem to fall in line with others like Heyman.

    Some rumored pitching depth (going back to what Biz said above) like Josh Johnson, Kazmir, etc, seem to be in our price range as are Loney, Hart, at 1b. There doesn’t seem to be too many viable RF targets that are in our price range.

    He thinks AJ will sign for $12 mil.


  33. NMR says:

    Pull up spray charts for Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez and then tell me which one is the “pull-heavy” hitter.

  34. NMR says:

    Hey Foo, I posted links for you, but they’re awaiting moderation. Keep an eye out.

  35. NMR says:

    Haha, I would never hold you to it. Baseball is too much fun.

    But take it easy on Biz. Key words were “Right now…”, and he is correct.

  36. leefoo says:

    NMR…Biz is okay in my book. We’ve communicated lots of times privately. He’s a good man.

  37. leefoo says:

    AMac is definitely a pull hitter, but at least he hits for average.

    Pedro, not so much.

    Will a hitting coach change help him, or is he just a LH Mark Reynolds?

  38. leefoo says:

    Travis…I thought Wells’ comment to Bautista was to start his swing earlier?

  39. NMR says:

    Yes he is.

  40. Travis Sawchik says:

    McCutchen is a pull-heavy hitter, too. …. 229 balls put in play to pull side in 2013, 95 to opposite field.

    Being a “pull-hitter” has taken on an undesirable connotation in some circles. But David Ortiz is a heavy pull hitter as is Jose Bautista and scores of other great hitters. Heck, Ted Williams was a pull-heavy guy. Cleveland trotted out the first well-publicized shift against Williams in 1946.

    The key difference between them and Alvarez is the strikeout rate and swing-and-miss rate. I believe Alvarez led baseball in swing-and-miss rate in 2013. He might simply lack average bat-to-ball skills. I’m not sure if a hitting coach can do much about that … but I think the idea was if he focuses on the opposite field he’ll stay on the ball longer, his eyes will stay and the ball.

  41. leefoo says:

    Btw, my Philly buddies out here near Harrisburg AND a lot of the Philly press aren’t real thrilled about them signing Byrd.

    I’d post some link, but it appears this blog “don’t like no stinkin’ links”.

    You’ll just have to take my word for it.

    :) :)

  42. leefoo says:

    some ‘linkS’ (plural)

  43. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think the bullpen is actually the biggest concern in regard to maintaining 2013’s level of performance.

    Bullpens are the most volatile area of a ballclub from year to year and the Pirates’ pen was the best in baseball for the first four months of the season. The Pirates’ record after eight innings was incredible until Melancon’s late-season meltdowns.

    I don’t expect the Pirates to make many moves to their pen but they have to hope Grilli is back near his self and the small-sample of year-to-year bullpen performance doesn’t have a significant reversal in 2014

  44. Travis Sawchik says:

    Apparently posts that include links — and first-time posters — require moderation. Your links should now be appearing

  45. NMR says:

    I, personally, think the Pirates outfield need is overstated.

    Our division rivals, for instance, have at least as big of a question mark(s) and neither have a backup that could fill a need as well as Jose Tabata.

    I doubt giving $8m to James Loney would work out much better than giving $8m to Marlon Byrd, but the difference is need. Far larger, IMO, at 1B than outfield.

  46. Clemson Travis,

    1/ Francisco Liriano’s MO statistically is to follow a terrific season with a bad one.
    2/ He had his best season ever last season
    3/ Pirates have him signed for only one more season, then he is a free agent without any recompense for Bucs (see Hanrahan, Joel)
    4/ Neal Huntington has established in the past that he prefers to trade a player “at his highest upside” (see McLouth, Nate or Bay, Jason or Lincoln, Brad or Snell, Ian [whoops, wrong list])
    5/ Neil Huntington is establishing right now that he does not want to devote appropriate salary for appropriate performance (AJ Burnett) because that appropriate salary “uses up too high a % of total team salary”
    6/ Players such as Ryan Vogelsong or even Roy Halliday are out there at reduced rates or for incentive-laden contracts (like Liriano last season).
    7/ Huntington has made his living taking chances on the Lirianos and the Jeanmar Gomezes and AJ Burnetts and Charlie Mortons and Joel Hanrahans and James McDonalds
    8/ Huntington has had much more success on his chance pitchers than his chance hitters: Travis Snider, Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, Clint Barmes, Ronny Cedeno, Aki Iwamura, Robizon Diaz, Chris Snyder, Jeff Clement, Andy Laroche, Lastings Milledge, John Bowker, Delwyn Young, Brandon Moss, Brandon Inge, John McDonald, Casey McGehee, Rod Barajas

    9/ Therefore, don’t you think Huntington should trade Liriano NOW, while his value is highest and he still has value, to pick up a quality shortstop (right now Profar, Hechiverria, Theo Epstein’s young AAA guy behind Castro, Cabrera or your fav Lindor (after poor Minor League season last year) from Cleveland, or one of Houston’s 3 quality shortstops seem available) or a quality 1st Baseman?

    I’ll hang up and listen for your response.

  47. NMR says:

    Thanks for the responses, guys. Ton of good points.

  48. NMR says:

    Reason I don’t put much stock in those aggregate ball-in-play numbers is that I don’t believe all contact is created equal.

    David Ortiz shows a pretty distinct pull tendency on all types of balls in play, grounders, liners, and flies. He clearly tries to pull most pitches. Jose Bautista is another noteable example.

    Pedro almost exclusively pulls ground balls while the rest of his hit types are evenly distributed.
    Far from clear that approach is the issue with him. Maybe he’s rolling over pitches on the outer half because he’s trying to pull them…or, maybe he’s trying to hit those pitches to the opposite field but his mechanics won’t allow it.

  49. Travis Sawchik says:

    I believe that’s correct. And Bautista added the leg kick as a timing mechanism to start his swing earlier (I think)

  50. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think we learned the Pirates felt Option A or Option C are preferable to paying Marlon Byrd $16 million over two years.

    Option B: Can the Pirates get a short-term free agent bridge that is a better value than Byrd? Unlikely. I could see the Pirates beginning the season sticking with internal options

  51. NorthPirateFan says:

    Using the suggested 8 million figure, is James Loney really that much of an upgrade at first over Garrett Jones that the Pirates would spend twice as much to get him while non-tendering Jones?

    Sure last year wasn’t great for him but over their careers Loney and Jones look to be pretty much the same hitter. If the Pirates are going to start spending money to address the first base situation I would hope for a little more of an upgrade after spending 8 million … and if they’re going to spend that much is it really that big of leap to revisit the case for an attempt at an Adam Dunn trade? I mean sure 15 million is a lot more but that certainly is an UPgrade.

  52. NMR says:

    Value? To the Pirates, specifically? I have to disagree.

    I don’t think it is very likely, at $8m per year, that Marlon Byrd would be a good value for the Pirates. We know intuitively, and by their own actions, that the Pirates cannot value wins per player(WAR) as much as other teams. If they used their payroll on $7m/WAR players, they would suck.

    As much as people question his power being sustainable, the aspect of his game that is even more likely to regress is his average. 36 yo fly ball hitters do not regularly post +.350 BABIP seasons. Byrd is striking out 25% of the time. Even if his BABIP “only” regresses to say .310 – still well above average – Byrd is no more than a .260 hitter. This means that the Pirates would be counting on well above average power from a 36 yo right handed hitter playing half his games at PNC Park. Yikes.

    We have no idea what other contracts might look like, but I think you could easily get as good, if not better value from David Murphy.

  53. Travis Sawchik says:

    I agree there is a divide between what is a value on the free agent market and what is value to the Pirates.

    I don’t think the years (including a vesting option) worked for the Pirates. And the Pirates are probably, and rightfully, expecting regression from Byrd.

    Still, Byrd is coming off a 4-win season and changed his batted ball profile from an extreme groundball hitter to a flyball hitter. He’s a good athlete and solid defender. I think his annual average value represents value on the open market or the Pirate. The bigger issue is the duration of the contract.

  54. Travis Sawchik says:

    Trade Liriano?

    Fascinating idea.

    If you could land the return Tampa received from Kansas City for James Shields (a top 10, blue-chip prospect in Wil Myers) you have to strongly consider that. You probably have to pull the trigger and accept the negative fan backlash. It’s a smart long-term play and the Pirates are build for a window that will be open beyond 2014.

    If you can’t get an elite prospect back I think you hold and hope the alterations Liriano made under Ray Searage – going from reliance from a four-seam to two-seam fastball – make him less prone to regression in 2014. If Liriano repeats anything close to his 2013 performance he’ll be a remarkable value in 2014 when he’s guaranteed just $6 million.

  55. Travis Sawchik says:

    I completely agree. I think it’s more likely they stay internal at RF

  56. Andrew says:

    Also I am not criticizing the stories they are interesting, and while I discount individual instances of a hitter’s turn around, if you string several stories together you have a case-series which is a low level of evidence. Now if someone could just leak Hit/Fx.

    Certainly there is a mental aspect but again I am going to lean toward being agnostic about its effects.

  57. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think Loney is one of these guys who is a good value until every one starts identifying him as a good value pushing his price up to $7-8 million. Then he’s no longer such a great value and Garrett Jones begins to look more attractive.

    I wonder if trade and not free agency presents the best route for upgrading at first base.

  58. NMR says:

    re: Loney

    Bingo. Very much like Marlon Byrd in that regard.

    North, the biggest difference I see is that if you got Loney, you could probably go without Gaby Sanchez and his salary of $3m or so. Opportunity cost is then closer to $5m for 1B.

    We know the Pirates have SOME money to spend. Unless they plan to sign a shortstop or drop $20m on starting pitchers, first base looks to be the largest hole. Adding Loney and dropping Gaby could also free up enough to sign a bounce-back outfielder like Byrd was last year.

  59. leefoo says:

    One aspect of Loney’s game, with all offensive facets being equal, is his ability as a defender. Without looking, I believe he has had Plus War on the defensive side his whole career.

  60. leefoo says:

    I have seen the reference to trading Liriano mentioned quite a few times. I agree that it depends on his return, but I honestly don’t see him repeating his 2013 season.

    If we keep him, of course I hope he DOES repeat it!!

  61. NMR says:

    We’re obviously talking hypotheticals, so please don’t take this as me saying you’re wrong or anything like that.

    But Huntington has shown he isn’t afraid of signing and trading players.

    Signing Byrd for two years means nothing about the duration he actually spends as a Pirate, UNLESS he ends up turning back into the player he’s been over the rest of his recent history. Then you’re stuck with him.

  62. NMR says:

    And I’ve seen him considered an above average base runner for the position. Something nobody would say about Jones and Sanchez.

  63. Steelkings says:

    Perhaps I meant Patents. The Pirates have a patent on the free agency wait and see.

    At Travis — Dont forget this factor —
    ““He meant a lot to our club,” he said. “The big man could play some defense and swing the bat. He brought an edge, major league experience. He showed up every day; preparation and attention to detail was there. We’ll miss Marlon.”

    Read more:
    Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook

  64. leefoo says:

    NMR….I’ve seen those Byrd peripheals and I agree with you. He is due to regress.

    Like one of my Phillie Phriends wrote: “Note to Ruben Amaro…REBUILD! Don’t keep signing older guys than we already have”.

  65. leefoo says:

    Steel Kings….I like the ‘patent’ line…we are patently patient??

    It does seem to work……..until it doesn’t….lol

  66. leefoo says:

    NMR….So, if not Loney (who I think IS the best FA 1b out there…I think his bad seasons were the outliers), then who do we go after?

    Gaby did his part vs LHPs. I can’t see getting rid of him (OR playing him fulltime)


  67. leefoo says:

    yeh…Jones wasn’t that slow….just stupid….:) :) :) (okay, to be politically correct, not instinctive :) )

  68. Andrew says:

    NMR I do not understand your point? Is it just that Alvarez is not a pull hitter?

    Just based on simple physics a hitter is going to hit more ground balls to pull side and fly balls to their opposite side. I agree with Travis that Alvarez’s main issue is a dearth of contact.

  69. leefoo says:

    I just heard that there is a 3rd year option?? Anyone read that? I couldn’t find anything, but just reading what someone posted on another blog.

  70. leefoo says:

    Travis….which is why you never spend lots of money on a bullpen.

    Year to year, you never know what you’ll get. MM and Grilli could be duds. Do we try to deal either one assuming they WON’T repeat their good years??

    If only NH was prescient!!!

    :) :)

  71. NMR says:

    My original comment was in response was to this:

    “They must also be excellent communicators to have players buy in. For instance, Bell and Clint Hurdle wanted Pedro Alvarez to better use all-fields but he has remained a pull-heavy hitter.”

    I’ve heard Hurdle and every other Pirate fan say the same thing. Stop TRYING to pull the ball.

    I don’t think Pedro is TRYING to pull, or else all of his contact would show it. I think Pedro has mechanical flaws that don’t enable him to consistantly take the ball where it is pitched, no matter how hard he tries.

    And yeah, contact is obviously the main issue. But without looking at the data, seems like he swings through an awful lotta balls over the plate and in as well. I think Pedro is just one of those guys that swing and miss a lot. No more to it than that.

  72. leefoo says:

    Andrew…that was me who spoke to Pedro’s dearth of contact.

    Travis may be brilliant, but I am brillianter! :)

    Guinness Foo

  73. leefoo says:

    NMR….good links…I may be old, but I love that stuff.

    I am a Fangraphs Fan. I never saw the Brooksbaseball site. Thx

  74. NMR says:

    Yep, another $8m triggered if he gets 600 PA’s in 2015.

  75. leefoo says:

    Is Danny Moskos still in our org? If so….

    “The Orioles are willing to trade catcher Matt Wieters, sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter).
    An extension is unlikely for the Scott Boras client and the Orioles believe that he is set to hit the open market after the 2015 season, barring a dramatic change in thinking.

    Wieters, 27, had a solid season in 2013 (.235/.287/.417 with 22
    homers) but it wasn’t quite on the level of his previous two campaigns. Rosenthal suggested over the weekend that the O’s could conceivably move Wieters and target a replacement
    such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the open market. If the Orioles move him now, however, it’ll be selling low on one of the best young catchers in baseball.

    (btw, he also had a very poor OPS vs LHPs…not unlike PRNW)

  76. leefoo says:

    NMR…you beat me to it….I posted something reduntantlee below.

  77. NMR says:

    Tough question, FOO.

    Gaby’s great at what he does, but I cannot find him a match. Gaby doesn’t work without a good lefty bat, and isn’t defensively versatile enough to warrant a PH role, IMO.

    I’m honestly an Adam Dunn believer. I know it is a little nuts, but I believe he made real changes in approach last June that will turn him back into the .250 range hitter he was before coming to Chicago. I’m well aware of the K’s and defense, but I think he could be a .250/.350/.500 40+ HR guy in Pittsburgh.

    If the Pirates have money left after getting pitchers, I’d risk taking on $10m of Dunn’s remaining contract over signing Loney.

    And yeah, this is one of those suggestions that’ll probably look really, really dumb a year from now.

  78. NorthPirateFan says:

    Perhaps but then absent a full time RF you also lose one of the left handed options there and off the bench.

    Honestly I don’t have a problem with Loney and think he’s the type of player who might benefit from league and division as well as playing in PNC.

    I was just thinking that if the team is going to spend money to churn the roster and they were actually thinking on spending that much on a guy like him, maybe they could spend a bit more and think bigger.

  79. NorthPirateFan says:

    I don’t remember the who originally raised the Adam Dunn issue, was the suggestion based on anything more than our own wishful thinking?

    And I think your suggested lines of production here are not silly at all and well with in reason if not a floor for what we might expect. Even after his move to the AL and with his drop in average he’s still drawing sick walks and posting OBPs in the .320+ the last two seasons.

    I’m convinced he’d, like a lot of other players, would benefit greatly from a move back to the NL and especially the friendly confines of PNC.

  80. NorthPirateFan says:

    Do we, really?

    Is the team simply committed to never giving Travis Snider the playing time he needs to establish his true level of ability? If so why did they even trade for him?

  81. NMR says:

    Pretty sure I was the first to bring up Dunn around the trading deadline when it became apparent that the White Sox were shedding salary like the plague and the Pirates obviously needed a 1B.

    I brought up the idea again once Chicago signed Jose Abreu. Now Dunn could obviously DH, and thats probably where he belongs at this point in his career, but I have a hard time believing the Sox want to be spending $15m on that position with all of their other needs.

  82. cmat0829 says:

    I think teams will factor all of this in to what they are willing to pay for Liriano. 1) he’s a FA after 2013 2) he has the track record of regression. The original idea to trade Liriano seems to factor these things in as being the reason… bad idea, given these reasons will drive down the return you can get for him.

    If a team is willing to overpay, you always listen regardless of who you are trading, but given what teams will likely give up for Liriano (and no folks it’s not Jurickson Profar) then best Pirates bet is to hang on to Francisco and have him anchor the staff.

    Did anyone see the rumored talks between STL and BALTIMORE (Shelby Miller & JJ Hardy)? If that has any truth to being even a discussion for STL, then map out what Liriano’s return is.

  83. cmat0829 says:

    The LAST thing this lineup needs is another STRIKEOUT, boom or bust hitter in the lineup. Especially a left-handed one. And the defense will have us pining for GI Jones.

    Loney fits in a lot of ways, he is a contact hitter which is what the Bucs need most of all. As we all recall, the offense scored mostly based on home runs last year… biggest issue is situational hitting and putting ball in play. Let’s not add the Donkey to the fire.

  84. Andrew says:

    Alright, I missed that or got lost in some 80 comments. I honestly do not know how to define a pull hitter is, let alone why it is pejorative. I think your point with Alvarez is correct, to my untrained eye I think he has a uppercut swing and the relatively high upward angle his bat passes through the zone compared to McCutchen’s swing, is the issue.

    This would explain some of his spray chart and why Pedro “rolls over” and produces pulled grounders, lacks many line drives to his pull side, and has a concentration of popups and fly balls around 3B and in left field. I tried looking at baseball heatmaps spray angle data but it is too noisy.

    Like you stated I do not think Pedro is “fixable,” I tend to think major players are optimized, Pedro’s swing is why he is a major leaguer player. If I’ve remember correctly the issue with the Royals and some of their hitting prospects, also Brandon Moss was coaches tried to alter their swing angle in order to make more contact and the results were bad.

  85. NMR says:

    We should also recall the failed Justin Morneau experiment and how useless contact can be.

  86. cmat0829 says:

    here’s an idea.. .let’s have NEITHER a high K defensive liability AND a no power slow contact hitter at 1B. let’s try harder. Loney/Gaby platoon much better option. Hell, Lambo/Gaby platoon is too.

  87. NMR says:

    Pretty sure we would’ve already covered it if it were that easy…

    Loney/Gaby might cost you $10m AND take up two roster spots.

    Lambo/Gaby could work AND be terribly cheap.

  88. NMR says:

    The Max Scherzer trade talk would be a better baseline.

    Shelby Miller’s value would be a lot closer to Gerrit Cole’s than Liriano’s.

  89. NMR says:

    Pedro also has a hard time keeping his front side closed. When he hits off a stiff front leg, his hips stay on the ball and hands stay tight allowing him to take the ball where it is pitched. Freeze any video of a hard hit ball to the opposite field at contact and you’ll see this position.

    When you see him get out his game is when that front knee collapses and allows hips to fly open and hands cast out around the ball. Think Travis Snider. That is where I believe a lot of those grounders to second base come from.

    Jose Bautista was another guy who was told to hit line drives and to the opposite field all the time. Until the Jays unleashed him, that is.

    If Pedro can’t get to that good swing more often, I’ve said before that all he needs to do is hit more fly balls. A guy with his power would easily hit 40 home runs if he got closer to 40% fly balls rather than his 35% career average.

  90. ronen_sokol says:

    Finally I have found my friends from the asylum!
    I missed you guys!
    Why does leefoo use bug on a rug’s picture? ;)

  91. NorthPirateFan says:

    Describing a guy who over the course of a season will draw 100 or most walks while posting the lineup’s second highest second on base percentage(no matter what his average is)and along with all his power a boom or bust hitter is ridiculous and is the very sort old school nonsense that needs to be purged from the organization before it will be able to field an adequate offense.

    The last thing the Pirates need is another contact hitter because the lineup is filled with them already and it’s the very root of the Pirates’ offense problem because at the end of every game the vast majority of that contact results in outs and not making outs is the key to scoring runs which Adam Dunn is very, very good at doing.

  92. leefoo says:

    Ronen…we’ve moved to

  93. leefoo says:

    The trouble with Dunn in the NL is that he’d probably let more runs in at 1b than he could ever drive in or create in the batter’s box.

  94. Leo Walter says:

    Bautista had 2 toe taps when he was with the Bucs,and when he was first wuith the Jays. He was told if he didn’t lose the second one he would never get out of AAA.

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