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Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: Nine New Year’s Resolutions

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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….

 

NINE RESOLUTIONS 

 

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?

 

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.

- TS

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Comments

  1. Travis Sawchik says:

    Worth a read if you’ve attended or are thinking of seeing Wolf of Wall Street http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/12/wolf_of_wall_street_prousalis.php

  2. Steelkings says:

    I know, I know…Its the Steeler’s own fault. But I cannot remember a more gut wrenching last 20 minutes of football between two team I could absolutely care less about. How many times did the Stee….Errr Chiefs get absolutely screwed down the stretch of that game. The imaginary false start? The over loaded line? The obvious fumble for a TD? OMG!!!!!

    Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

  3. LeeFoo says:

    SteelKings….I agree…I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

    However, it was VERY doubtful we’d get past either New England or Denver.

  4. LeeFoo says:

    9) Pedro will NEVER hit above .250
    8) Volquez will be slightly better than Jonathan Sanchez
    7) Marte may improve slightly in the patience department, but he will always be a free swinger.
    6) Melancon will fall off the cliff this year. Trade him while he has value.
    5) Clint will always make you scratch your head when he is in the dugout.
    4) Walker will never abandon hitting RH.
    3) NH will trade for Stanton in 2021. You heard it here first.
    2) Gerrit Cole is smart and competitive. He WILL go with the curve more.
    1) Unless he is injured, Cutch is the man in 2014

    Two predictions:

    Polanco will so impress the Bucs that he will go North in April despite everything being postured.
    Lambo will start at 1b in April. How long he stays there is up to him.

    4)

  5. LeeFoo says:

    In case you missed it and are not an ESPN INsider, Buster Olney rated our bullpen #2, our starters #5 (even without AJ) and our defense #10.

  6. Travis,

    When the time is right, and Theo takes the gloves off and starts spending in Chicago, you may wish the Pirates were in another division.

  7. LeeFoo says:

    I rarely go to a movie theater these days. I prefer to stream movies onto my 60″ HD LED TV. Better seating, same theater experience, no talking, no cell phones and I can pause it to go to bathroom anytime I want.

    Plus, the popcorn is cheaper!

    :)

  8. LeeFoo says:

    Dr….you may be correct in that assumption. But still, they have to spend well. Theo didn’t spend too well in Boston at the end.

  9. Warren says:

    Cole’s slider was deemed his best pitch over the last couple years from the likes of Keith Law and out scouts, so I don’t think abandoning the pitch would be the most prudent decision.

    Yes the separation in velocity resulting from use of the curve was a big reason for his success as the season progressed, but if Cole can master his slider on top of that? Hello Cy Young…

  10. Leo Walter says:

    What will the brilliant Theo spend all that money on Dr. A ? Huge contract extensions for position players like Rizzo and Castro ? $ 50 million 4 year contract for pitchers like Edwin Jackson ? Hire Dale Sveum to manage a crap team he provided him,then fire him 2years later ? Let him prove his brilliance,he just might come up a bit short.

  11. Leo Walter says:

    Cole will NOT go to the curve more,but you will see him go to the change up with the same frequency he used it in September. His slider is his best pitch.

  12. You are both right. He has already made mistakes, primarily with the Jackson contract. But he has built up the farm system to the point where it is ranked among the best in the game. When those players start to reach Chicago, he’ll be in a position to add free agents that the Pirates could only dream about.

    He’ll be in on Tanaka and future international free agents as well, a playground the Pirates don’t even consider. I would not let a few mistakes cloud your judgment – the more mportant point is that the Cubs have the money to blow the Pirates out of the division when the time is right.

  13. The Gunner says:

    Lee

    I think you have the Bucs 1B issue figured out but, I disagree with your projected ETA for young Polanco. We’ll have to put up with Scabata & Lunch Box Snider until Polanco’s June arrival – hopefully they will be adequate for the short term. Remember, the BMTIB lives and dies by the years of control mentality and Polanco will not be an exception.

  14. NMR says:

    Very much agreed, Warren.

    Slider is his best breaking pitch, by far. Travis makes a good point about speed separation, but it optimized pitch sequencing should take advantage of this, not dropping the better quality pitch all together.

  15. 21sthebest says:

    +1

  16. NMR says:

    Great blog, Travis. The research effort and quality is very apparent.

    -Pedro Alvarez is closer to a “monster” year than many think. We know that BABIP can fluctuate greatly from year to year. All Pedro needs to end up on the right side of “luck” with a .330+ BABIP to hit .260+. He already hit .244 with a .309 BABIP in 2012, after all.

    The other small change that could turn Pedro into a monster is simply hitting more fly balls. He has the second highest HR/FB rate in all of baseball over the last two seasons, yet ranks 60th in fly ball percentage. All the kid needs to do is hit more balls in the air and he’s a lock to reach 40 homeruns. His career batting average is also 151 points higher on fly balls vs grounders.

    -Pitch sequencing will be the greatest area of improvement for Edinson Volquez. He already made the switch to a sinker-heavy approach last season, but it produced his lowest ground ball rate since ’09 and also contributed to a drop in strikeouts. On the bright side, increased contact also lowered his walk rate significantly. I said it before, but not much needs done to turn him into a completely viable backend starter that gives 180+ IP with an ERA between 4-4.25.

    -Neal Huntington will never have a budget that allows him to trade for Giancarlo Stanton, even in arbitration. Meaningless to even bother discussing prospects. He needs money first.

    -As a fan, I resolve to enjoy every step Andrew McCutchen takes on the baseball field. There is a very real chance that Pittsburgh never sees a better ball player in my lifetime. Savor it.

  17. Steelkings says:

    Are you talking about the Chicago Cubs? The same team that has only won one playoff series since 1908? The Chicago Cubs who’s sole purpose in life is to lose?

    Good luck with that prediction

  18. LeeFoo says:

    Gunner….I agree with the ‘control’ issue…….but, I just have a hunch.

  19. LeeFoo says:

    steel….agree…..I’m more worried about the Cardinals….you know, a well run org.

  20. LeeFoo says:

    NMR….for Pedro to have a ‘monster’ year, Pedro is gonna, you know, actually hit the ball more than he is now. Unless his K rate comes down, he is a left handed Mark Reynolds.

    As a Bucco fan, I hope you are right, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The man can’t hit off speed stuff and left handers. He should be platooned, but….

  21. bradthedad says:

    Travis – I’m a reader rather than a poster and I really enjoy your blog. Good stuff going on here. Don’t have the numbers to back it up but Walker strikes me as a more than adequate defensive 2nd baseman so I’d rather they didn’t go the platoon route. But the splits are too bad for status quo. Wonder if he’s ever faced lefthanders from the left side and if anybody has made the same transition successfully.

  22. MJS says:

    Does anybody know why Andy Oliver still occupies a spot on the 40 man with no options? I was hoping he would be the one traded for Chris McGuiness instead they trade Miles Mikolas with an option left I thought Mikolas could have been good depth this year and probably in the bullpen next year.

  23. NMR says:

    No, he won’t. And no, he’s not.

    Mike Napoli struck out more than Pedro last year and hit .259.

  24. NMR says:

    Even if Andrew Lambo is the only lefty capable of playing first base on the Pirates 25-man roster Opening Day, there’s no way he’ll be the “starter”, as in the guy taking all the at-bats against righties.

    Hurdle batted Gaby against righties more than lefties last year, and that was with Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau.

    Absolutely no way Lambo gets more starts in April than Gaby.

  25. PetroSteel says:

    Queston 1: Even when hitters know that the fastball is coming from Cole they can’t hit it. Is it too hard on his arm for him to just throw 98 every time? The Cards were waiting on his off speed pitches because they couldn’t get around on his fastball. The runs/hits he gave up were off his off-speed pitches.
    Question 2: Why does Hurdle use the shift when Cole pitches when batters can’t get around on him? I don’t get it.

    Comment: NH/BN…We need A. J. You said you would spend when we were ready to contend. Well, we are ready to contend. Go make it happen. We need him on the mound and we need him in the dugout/locker room.

  26. NMR says:

    Because he throws 95 mph, with his left arm? Thats all I got.

  27. Arriba Wilver says:

    According to Fangraphs Cole had a 49.1% GB rate, which was above league average.

  28. Jim S. says:

    Well said. The popcorn is much cheaper, Foo.

  29. Jim S. says:

    I agree, NMR. If the combo is Lambo/Gaby, Lambo better get 2 hits in his first game or he may not get a 2nd start for a week. Clint has come a long away in a short amount of time, but I still think he will usually pick the veteran over the young guy – reality be d*mned! The ghost of Earl Weaver could appear above his bed every night telling him platoons can be a good thing and he still won’t trust them.

  30. Jim S. says:

    I agree, Dr. The Cubs M.O. will be to build the farm system AND spend with the big boys. Theo is smarter than Cash-Man and the Steinbrenner boys.

  31. Jim S. says:

    I think most Pirates fans don’t even realize how good Andrew McCutchen truly is. He has hit 50+ homers over the past 2 seasons in one of the most HR-suppressing fields (LF/LC at PNC) in all of baseball. I am glad he is being recognized for the superstar that he is. But, if that guy ever got to play 81 games in a park like Camden, Citizen’s Bank, Great American, or several others … oh my. Add a dozen or more HRs combined the last 2 years and then think about how good he would be.

    I have hopes that even though Polanco may not be the hitter Cutch is, he could put up similar HR #’s due to the more friendly RF wall.

  32. Jim S. says:

    Because TX didn’t want him. That would be my guess. They know we need help at 1b.

  33. Jim S. says:

    But, his teams won two World Series trophies, right?

  34. The Gunner says:

    Don’t hold your breath on AJ. I think his last meltdown in the playoffs sealed his fate with the BMTIB.

  35. Confusing the current Cubs organization – you know, the one with Baez, Soler, Bryant, Almora, Alcantera, etc – with past incarnations is just as silly as comparing the current Pirates to their ancestors.

    How many championships did the Red Sox win prior to Theo’s arrival? He won two for them, but he can’t do the same with the Cubs? Think again.

  36. Foo says:

    Jim…and THAT is the most important thing!

    :):):)

  37. Foo says:

    Regarding McGuiness…..Sounds like this guy is an Ishikawa clone. Good defensively, but not much else.

    Not getting too excited. He and Ishi are AAA depth.

  38. tedwins says:

    Yup foo, seems to make sense to have more bodies at that position

  39. NMR says:

    I can always count on you and your park factors, Jim! Excellent point. Topping 30 homeruns is quite a feat today. Doing it as a righty in PNC Park is impressive. Doing it as a centerfielder is incredible.

  40. NMR says:

    Given how the market has developed and the player types Huntington looks to be focussing on, I think it makes a ton of sense for him to go get Daric Barton from the A’s. Barton bats lefty, strikes out less than league average, has a career .360 OBP, and is truly the best defensive 1B in baseball. Even better than James Loney.

    Oakland doesn’t have a clearly defined role for him as he only plays 1B, where Brandon Moss has the lefty half of the platoon covered and the A’s boast four solid outfielders. First year arb eligible, and DFA’d twice last year.

  41. NMR says:

    Apropos to nothing other than keeping conversation going, MLB.com just wrote articles about the best individual team drafts of the last decade. The 2009 Cardinals got a vote, as I’m sure we know all about.

    But the other selection was the 2009 Angels, and this got me thinking about how much the Pirates suffered from the old draft rules during their rebuilding process.

    The Angels and Pirates first picks in the 2009 draft are very similar. Both Tony Sanchez and Randal Grichuk are right handed hitters who have shown plus potential, but ultimately have not yet lived up to their promise.

    The Pirates picked 4th that year while the Angels picked 24th. The narrative, and frankly conventional wisdom, say that the Pirates had an advantageous drafting position picking so high. The Pirates took Vic Black with their second pick, but what doesn’t get mentioned is that it came at #49 overall. The Angels, on the other hand, picked FOUR more times before the Pirates first and second choices netting them Mike Trout, Tyler Skaggs, and Garrett Richards. Five picks before the Pirates picked twice.

    The Pirates clearly did not draft exceptionally well, but their high first round location should not be factored negatively.

  42. Foo says:

    Wasn’t he a free agent and decided to sign back with Oaklad?

  43. Foo says:

    NMR….good stuff.

  44. Jim S. says:

    I’m not getting too excited either, Foo. As long as they are still going to pursue another option through trade, I have no problem with an extra body in an area of need. They did not trade a key pitcher to get him.

  45. NMR says:

    Hey buddy…he’s actually arbitration eligible and was tendered by the A’s. Not projected to get much more than a million bucks.

    Situation seems similar to the Pirates with Travis Snider. No strong reason to keep him around, but also not much risk in doing it.

  46. Jim S. says:

    Great points, NMR.

  47. NMR says:

    I think we have to consider how young and inexperienced Theo was with the Sox. We’ve seen how much Huntington has learned in his six years, no reason to think Theo hasn’t as well.

    Also can’t be forgotten that Jed Hoyer is actually the General Manager, and a fine one at that. More smart guys than just Theo in that organization.

  48. Jim S. says:

    I think it will be almost like having the Yankees with brains in our division. The Cubs will never quite have the money of the Yankees, but I don’t think they will be the same dumb Cubs any more. They are totally remodeling Wrigley to be an even greater cash cow and the farm system is already being revamped.

    Maybe a better way to look at it would be that they may end up as savvy as the Cardinals, but with much deeper pockets due to greater local TV revenues and the ability to charge higher prices for tickets due to the greater population.

    Believe me, I want the Cubs to continue to fall flat on their faces. But, sadly, I don’t think that is going to be the case going forward.

  49. NMR says:

    Very much agreed, Jim.

  50. Jim S. says:

    I am becoming Captain Park factor before my own eyes!

  51. Jim S. says:

    I wonder that as well, brad. It certainly sounds logical to have him just bat lefty all the time, but I think there is more to it than that. Neil strikes me as a pretty bright guy, and if he has serious reservations about making that switch I think there is a very good reason for him feeling that way. But, I also get people saying that if he continues to hit for a low average with little “pop” from the right side, it is time to either employ a platoon or force 100% LHB on Neil.

 
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