SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates have a chance to have the most athletic in outfield beginning in June when Gregory Polanco is presumably called up and joins Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. It’s a group that could be together through at least 2018. The most athletic outfield in the game? Those aren’t my words, that’s what Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told me October. While we think defensive acumen has considerable value, while defensive metrics have improved, we still really don’t know how much value individual defenders possess. We can’t quantify what a speedy outfielder’s range really means or what it really is. We don’t know how to measure his routes and first-step quickness. That’s about to change.
MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman made an an exciting announcement at the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference this weekend, noting MLB plans to have a player-tracking system installed at every park by the start of the 2015 season. Like PITCHf/x tracks every pitch in baseball, this system will track every batted ball and every player movement. It will give analysts millions of new data points to create new and better metrics when it comes to baserunning, defense and the nature of batted balls. It’s truly revolutionary…. if it works. (SportVision has run into issues with its FIELDf/x tracking system over the last couple of years and it looks like it has lost the competition.)
From the article:
The goal is to revolutionize the way people evaluate baseball, by presenting for the first time the tools that connect all actions that happen on a field to determine how they work together. This new datastream will enable the industry to understand the whole play on the field — batting, pitching, fielding and baserunning — and enable new metrics for evaluation by clubs, scouts, players and fans.
For instance, on a brilliant, game-saving diving catch by an outfielder, this new system will let us understand what created that outcome. Was it the quickness of his first step, his acceleration? Was it his initial positioning? What if the pitcher had thrown a different pitch? Everything will be connected for the first time, providing a tool for answers to questions like this and more.
We think a Marte-McCutchen-Polanco outfield will be incredibly valuable. This system will for the first time let us know just how valuable such a outfield group is — and that’s a big deal. My guess is we’ll learn Marte-McCutchen-Polanco is a bigger deal than any of us can guess.
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. Wandy Rodriguez threw two effective, pain-free innings Saturday, which is for me, the biggest story of the spring to date .
“I threw all my pitches with good location,” he said after Saturday’s outing. “Got everything going today. I feel good.”
Even 170 innings from the lefty would be a major boost for the staff.
8. It was only one at bat in one spring training game, but how about Pedro Alvarez taking a breaking ball from Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle to deep center for a double on Friday. Alvarez’s two great weaknesses are of course left-handed pitching and offspeed/breaking stuff from any-handed pitching. New hitting coach Jeff Branson’s greatest challenge is getting more from Alvarez. If Alvarez can cut down on strikeouts just a little bit, if he can better stay on off-speed stuff, if he can be a little more competitive against left-handed pitching …maybe he can be Chris Davis 2.0. The Pirates believe there’s more in there.
7. Then again there isn’t much statistical evidence to suggest Alvarez is going to improve against lefties. I thought Mark Reynolds would have made sense as a platoon partner. Reynolds signed with the Brewers this offseaosn.
6. Gaby Sanchez‘s banged up knee doesn’t make the first base situation look any better. Does it compel the club to ramp up its efforts bring in another option? Add Mike Carp‘s name to the list of candidates, according to the Boston Globe
5. I don’t know if the Darryl Strawberry comps are justified but Greogry Polanco just looks like a monster: that size, that swing, that precocious plate discipline. Crazy potential. We’ve seen him homer and rip a double off Burnett in a four-day period. So maybe trading Polanco and Jameson Taillon for Giancarlo Stanton would have been insane. Polanco looks like he’s one of the clubs top 25 players if not top 15 players. But I doubt he’ll be with the team Opening Day.
4. Can the Pirates fix Edinson Volquez? It’s a major storyline to watch this March and it might determine whether the Pirates can reach the playoffs writes Dave Golebiewski.
The Pirates are again betting on fielding-independent pitching (FIP) over ERA, which is typically a smart move. Francisco Liriano and Burnett also had FIPs that suggested their true performance was superior to what their ERA suggested.
Volquez had the greatest difference between ERA and FIP in baseball last season -1.68, which suggests he wasn’t as bad as his overall numbers suggest. Volquez has been a mess but FIP can lead you to an undervalued pitcher.
3. Jaff Decker kind of looks like Nick Swisher. Can he be a poor man’s Swisher? That minor-league OBP is very interesting.
2. With Robinson Cano now blocking Nick Franklin in Seattle, the young switching-hitting SS/2B would be a perfect double platoon partner for both Jordy Mercer (vs. R) and Neil Walker (vs. L). I haven’t heard his name connected with the Pirates but he would be a perfect match, I think.
1. I’m kind of surprised Travis Snider has not been a candidate to take reps at first base. The Pirates like his defensive ability in right field, but he’s another left-handed bat that will be looking for a new home once Polanco arrives.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 0
Combined seasons of 200+ IP from Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano
The only starter who has thrown a season of 200 innings in his career in camp is Rodriguez.
Pitching depth matters and I’ m not sure the Pirates have enough in 2014. Sure, Jameson Taillon can potentially be an impact arm in the second half but Brandon Cumpton is a back-of-the-rotation arm, Locke’s first half of 2013 is unlikely to be repeated again in his career, Stolmy Pimentel?
HE SAID IT
Rene Gayo on Polanco:
“Part of scouting is to make comparisons. But when you say Clemente, everyone gets terrified. There’s only one Clemente. Whether Polanco can become that type of player, the only ones who really know are God and Polanco. Does he have the talent to do the kind of things Clemente did? Yes. Will he? Time will tell.”
The Americans isn’t in the class of True Detective, but it’s worth a watch.