EAST OF THE ROCKIES – Many of us will make resolutions for self-improvement on New Year’s and forget them by February. Our hearts are in the right place but we have commitment issues. We get it.
The Pirates would do well to make some resolutions for self improvement by Wednesday and stick with them, because, despite the added national television dollars and attendance spike in 2013 there are not going to be any big-ticket free agents coming down 376 into the city, and there’s not likely to be any impact prospect help until June.
So what can the Pirates resolve to do to improve internally? Let’s take a look….
9. Pedro Alvarez resolves to hit a changeup.
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Alvarez led baseball with a swinging strike rate of 16.4 percent in 2013. If you’ve watched much of Alvarez you know that he was highly susceptible to off-speed/breaking stuff down in the zone last season. Alvarez profiles as if he was a fastball guess hitter in 2013: he was excellent against fastballs but was badly overmatched by any type of offspeed pitches. Given that he faces more right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers, and given that the preferred lefty-neutralizing pitch by a right-handed pitcher is a changeup, it would greatly behoove Alvarez to improve his pitch recognition of the pitch. This will be a great challenge for Alvarez and Jeff Branson but if he can improve against off-speed pitches as Chris Davis did in 2013 … Alvarez could be threat to hit 40 home runs and drive in 110+ runs.
The Pirates’ best hope to improve its offense is to get more from Alvarez.
8. Edinson Volquez resolves to throw strike one.
It looks like Volquez is going to be a member of the starting rotation unless AJ Burnett surprises us. Volquez was one of worst starting pitchers in baseball last season but it had nothing to do with stuff. It had everything to do with first-strike percentage . If Volquez can better get ahead of opponents, he still has a wipeout change-up that is nearly the equal in quality to Liriano’s slider. Russell Martin and Chris Stewart‘s framing will help, but it’s also going to require some Ray Searage magic.
7. Starling Marte resolves to be more patient.
There’s a lot to like about Marte’s five-tool game. He’s one of the more valuable young players in the game. But he swung at 37 percent of pitches out of the zone and he has a below-average 4 percent walk rate in two straight seasons. If he wants to live at the top of the lineup he has to not only better hit right-handed pitching he has to be comfortable taking a walk.
6. Mark Melancon resolves to shelve his four-seam fastball.
Melancon had a career year last season despite running into a rough period in September and a large part of his success was tied to a career-high number of cut fastballs. He had watched the master of the cutter, Mariano Rivera, while with the Yankeese changed his grip and increased useage of the pitch to a career-high 61 percent in 2013. Now, perhaps he should completely shelve the four-seam fastball.
5. Clint Hurdle resolves to be more creative with lineup construction.
Look, I think Hurdle was a deserving manager of the year as he did an excellent job of getting his staff to buy into the Dan Fox Orthodoxy. But there are some things to question about lineup construction – namely allowing Marte to bat lead-off against right-handed pitching last season. It’s not in a bad place but there is room for managerial growth in 2014.
4. Neal Huntington resolves to trade for Giancarlo Stanton. …. Because I’m required to be in the stadium for batting practice every game.
Seriously though, Huntington said last season he would do something “stupid, just not insane” prior to the trading deadline to improve the club. Trading Polanco and Taillon for Stanton if it’s eventually on the table, to me, might be stupid but it’s not insane.
3. Neil Walker resolves to give up hitting right-handed.
He’s a career 80 wRC+ vs. left-handed pitching and we have a pretty large sample to work with at this point. Walker is useful player, a good teammate and a great dude. But the team might be more effective with Jordy Mercer playing 2B vs. left-handed pitching in 2014 (Barmes at shortstop)
2. Gerrit Cole resolves to ditch the slider and focus on the curveball and changeup.
It was the velocity separation that allowed him to become the ace he was in September. It was the curveball that gave him velocity separation.
1. Andrew McCutchen resolves to …. repeat 2013. Can he really be expected to improve in any area? I think he’s about maxed out but it’s a pretty darn good max out.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 26 million
Dollars spent on free agents by NL Central teams this offseason minus the Jhonny Peralta contract.
The Pirates are in the right financial neighborhood and should fight any future realignment to the bitter end.
HE SAID IT
A brewing rivalry?
The Gregory Polanco HBP last night could be the start of a long rivalry. 99 MPH FB on the knee from StL. Cardinals reliever Carlos Martinez
— John Dreker (@JohnDreker) December 29, 2013
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK
I was skeptical about the film but Saving Mr. Banks is worth a ticket as is American Hustle to a lesser extent. If you’re interested in seeing The Wolf of Wall Street, to save yourself from some awkward moments as I’d recommend not going with your parents.