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Monday Mop-Up Duty: framing the question … and shifting left

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SOUTH HILLS – At first glance, the Pirates’ acquisition of Chris Stewart seems inconsequential but it’s a savvy move that takes advantage of a remaining market inefficiency, and improves the backup catching position. (Backup catchers play a lot).

 

The trade means the Pirates now possess two of the top six pitch-framers in baseball, according to the pitch-framing leaderboard  over at CBSSports.com. Dan Fox strikes again.

 

Stewart ranked second last season in runs saved via pitch-framing – the ability to turn borderline balls into strike calls – and Russell Martin ranked sixth. The Pirates really value this skill, which is a paramount reason they were so quick to jump on Martin last offseason. The Pirates were also worried that this market inefficiency would soon be exploited and adopted by most major league teams, but apparently it’s still lacking traction. (We’ll have to see who the PTBNL is before fully assessing the deal).

 

Stewart is also an improvement over Michael McKenry in controlling the running game. He ranked 5th in the AL last season in throwing out attempting basestealers (17) and he has thrown out 33 percent  of attempting basestealers for his career. McKenry – who was designated for assignment on Monday – was sorely lacking in this area.

 

Because Stewart is out of option years and is a stronger defensive catcher than Tony Sanchez, I’d expect Sanchez to open 2014 in Triple-A. If Martin is not back in 2015, Sanchez and Stewart could be competing for the starting job.

 

But as for 2014, improving a 94-win team has focused on adding runs, but it’s also about improving at the margins in saving them, which the Pirates did on Monday.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS … 

 

9.  You know who might be a better free agent value and fit than the 37-year-old AJ Burnett? The 29-year-old Scott Kazmir.

 

Kazmir regained his velocity last season in Cleveland  (92 mph average fastball) and CBSSportsline.com projects him to earn a two-year $17.5 million deal this offseason compared to the projected one-year, $12 million price for Burnett.

 

Burnett led the NL in strikeout and groundball percentage last season… but he was helped by the Pirates’ two-seam philosophy, shifting and pitch framing. So Kazmir could expect a similar spike in strikeout rates and an additional boost in moving to the National League. He is the Francisco Liriano of the 2013-14 offseason, in this scribe’s opinion.

 

8. There’s another reason why Kazmir, or someone like him, makes sense: he’s left-handed.

 

 

100 percent agreed.

 

Moreover, who are the hitters the Pirates are going to be most concerned with over the next two seasons? They are the bats from their divisional rivals the Reds and Cardinals. And guess what,  most of those clubs’ premium bats in 2014-15  - Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Matt Carpenter, Oscar Taveras, Matt Adams – are left-handed.

 

As mentioned PNC Park’s outfield dimensions – really deep left field – are favorable to left-handed pitchers  and the Pirates’ system is really deep in right-handed arms but lacking in left-handed arms. That’s a problem given the depth of talented left-handed bats in the division.

 

7. Now do you trust Kazmir with a two-year deal? He’s undersized and injury derailed his promising career. But it’s the risk that makes in affordable and he’s a risk worth taking.

 

6. Other intriguing lefty free agent arms: Chris Capuano, Bruce Chen, Johan Santana (shoulder) and Oliver Perez (remember him? He’s probably a relief-only option now)

 

5. And, hey, remember the Pirates targeted left-handed pitching in the free agent market last offseason with Liriano and a lottery ticket in Jonathan Sanchez.

 

4. No, I’m not suggesting David Price should be a trade target. The ask would be incredible and the velocity ticked down last season.

 

3. It might be time to for the Pirates to become aggressive in finding a rotation arm. Another high-upside free agent pitching option went off the board over the weekend when the Twins signed the right-handed Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million  deal. Hughes’ fastball effectiveness is trending the wrong way, and he allows too many flyballs, but Target Field could be an ideal home. I’m not sure if he was ever on the Pirates’ radar.

 

2.  On another subject, the addition of Jaff Decker probably makes Travis Snider a non-tender candidate prior to tonight’s tender deadline. Garrett Jones will also be non-tendered if he hasn’t been traded. The Pirates are expected to tender their eight other player eligible for arbitration.

 

1. Here’s a list of service time and projected costs from Pirates Prospects:

 

  • Garrett Jones, OF (4.158): $5.3MM (non-tender candidate)
  • Neil Walker, 2B (3.166): $4.8MM
  • Pedro Alvarez, 3B (3.085): $4MM
  • Charlie Morton, SP (5.010): $3.9MM
  • Mark Melancon, RP (3.098): $3MM
  • Gaby Sanchez, 1B (4.025):  $2.3MM
  • Travis Snider, OF (3.091): $1.4MM (non-tender candidate)
  • Vin Mazzaro, RP (3.021): $800K

 

STAT(S) OF THE WEEK:

Gregory Polanco‘s projected tool grades by Baseball America

 

Hit: 60

Power: 60

Speed: 70

Arm: 70

Glove: 70

 

That’s an elite, better-than-Marte package, and it’s close. Polanco is playing well in Winter Ball. Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle watched him play in the Dominican late last month.

 

HE SAID IT

 

Mets GM Sandy Alderson was surprised by the Jhonny Peralta deal (me, too). Via the NY Post:

 

“I don’t know if anybody was terribly surprised by the McCann contract,” Alderson said of Brian McCann signing with the Yankees for five years and $85 million, with a vesting option for a sixth year. “I think people have been surprised about the Peralta contract.” 

 

NON BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Strong new stuff from Kings of Leon:

– TS

 

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