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Monday Mop-Up Duty: A need for speed (updated with McCutchen ESPN commerical)


SOUTH HILLS – I hope some of you espace dwellers had a chance to take a look at our paper product on Sunday, which included our MLB Preview. Not to be nostalgic, but there’s still something to be said about actually holding a paper in your hand. It’s still the best way to present a story. I think the Trib team as a whole was pretty pleased with how the MLB section turned out and a lot of folks had a hand in producing it. I hope those that had a chance to read it enjoyed it. The cover story centered on what I think is one of the more interesting trends in the game: pitchers are throwing faster than ever before. And this has consequences. From 2008 to 2013, major league fastball velocity has increased every year. (And we can feel pretty confident about these numbers as PITCHf/x has given us an industry-wide standard with which to measure velocity).


2013 – 92.0 mph (Remember when 90 mph was considered an average fastball?)

2012 – 91.8

2011 –  91.7

2010 –  91.5

2009 – 91.4

2008 – 90.9

Now the difference between 2013’s average fastball velocity of 92.0 mph and 2008’s average velocity of 90.9 mph might not seem significant. But it is.This study covers an enormous sample size of pitches, hundreds of thousands, and every mph gained erodes precious hundredths of seconds with which hitters have to make a swing-or-take decision.

This increase has consequences. The fundamental nature of the pitcher vs. batter contest is tilting toward the pitcher.

Run scoring is on the decline and pitchers’ increasing timing advantage and explains a part of it in addition to shifts and PED testing, etc. Runs have  decreased every year since 2008. Batters cannot more quickly process pitches. The brain has processing limits. Velo also in part explains why strikeouts are up. Maybe in 10 years, baseball runs will be equal in value to Premier League goals. The velocity increase also creating separation between the Velocity Haves and the Velocity Have Nots.


Top 10  velocity teams: 85.6 wins per season 22 postseason berths

Middle 10 velo teams:   80.6 wins per season 15 postseason berths

Bottom 10 velo teams:  76.6 wins per season   7 postseason berths   Velocity isn’t everything but velocity is margin for error . The top 10 velocity teams won nine more games per season and were 300 percent more likely to advance to the postseason than bottom 10 velocity teams. And isn’t this interesting …


2013 – 92.5 (10th)

2012 – 92.1 (11th)

2011 – 92.0 (8th)

2010 – 91.3 (18th)

2009-   91.1 (17th)

2008 – 90.8 (18th)

2007 – 90.4 (24th)

What happened when the Pirates broke into the top 10 rank in baseball? They were competitive in three straight seasons and finally broke through in 2013 when they reached a velocity-best under Huntington, averaging 92.5  mph as a staff. Velocity is one reason to believe in the Pirates in 2014. And with Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham in the pipeline, it’s a reason to believe in the Pirates’ future.


9. Why is velocity up? Perhaps we should no further than the Velocity Plus program Bryan Morris used to strengthen his shoulder this offseason. Shoulder programs have really changed over the last decade in baseball in hopes of promoting better injury prevention (See: Tampa Bay). But a side effect is better velocity. Morris averaged 93 mph last season. His two-seamer was touching 96 mph this spring. He went from on the bubble to a potential end-game relief option later this season.

8. I think Doug Thorborn does tremendous working analyzing pitching mechanics and I was grateful he spoke with me for the story. One fun observation made: “We’ve never seen a bad-armed surfer” speaking to the important of building back-side shoulder strength, which the Velocity Plus Program is designed to do. Surfers do a lot of paddling to catch waves, building up those back-side shoulder muscles. Look no further than surfer and pitcher Gerrit Cole.

7. Now what does all this velocity mean for elbow ligaments? Can the body handle the extra force? An unintended consequence could be a spike in elbow injuries.   OK, moving on from velocity .. it’s Opening Day!

6. It’s foolish to take too much from one game of 162, but I am curious to see if Francisco Liriano can get off to a quick start. He’s never in his career put together back-to-back quality seasons.

5. One thing that concerns me about Liriano? 36 percent of his pitches were sliders last year, the second highest rate of his career and highest since he blew out his elbow in 2006.

4. Liriano has said this spring he is focused on throwing more fastballs in 2014. Only four out of 10 pitches from Liriano last season were fastballs. That’s not a sustainable model for most starting pitchers.

3. The other thing I’ll be keeping my eye on is the first base situation. But I think we’ve covered that ground. It’s not going to be a pure platoon. Gaby Sanchez will begin the season with the lion’s share of at bats. (UPDATE: Travis Ishikawa will get the start today at first base. It will be interesting to see how this split works).

2. Can the Pirates get anything for Vin Mazzaro?

1. How do you feel about Barry Bonds being in town?

STAT OF THE WEEK: 43,750,000 Dollars guaranteed to Bonds when he signed the then richest deal in baseball history after the 1992 season. Adjusted for inflation that would be worth $73,000,000 today…. or a quarter of Cabrera’s deal.

CLUBHOUSE LEADER FOR QUOTE OF THE YEAR: From DK’s season preview column … Jeff Locke on A.J. Burnett: “Look, there’s A.J. and there’s J.A., as I always tell him. The J.A. was for jackass. He could be that, and we all knew it. But he’s A.J. That man did so much for this team and city, and no one can deny that.” Life after A.J./J.A. begins in earnest today.

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK: I made my third trip to Gettysburg over the weekend en route to Philly for the final spring training games, four-hour pit stop. (No, I’m not an reenactor). If you haven’t been, I recommend you do so. It’s some of our most historically important real estate and Gettysburg is a neat small town. Well worth the trip.

photo (38)



SONG OF THE WEEK Your Pirates are coming home today.

That should be reason enough to put a smile on the old mug, eh? That and 60 degrees.

– TS



  1. NMR says:

    Sitting at my desk with butterflies in my belly, just like every year. How this still happens, I can’t explain.

    Speaking of undescribable, the amount of time Barry Lamar Bonds is on that field cannot end quick enough. Absolute shame that Pirates management would have him presenting Cutch’s MVP.

  2. Steelkings says:

    Get over it!

  3. Nate83 says:

    Maybe it’s because I don’t actually live near or in Pittsburgh but I have very little angst towards Barry Bonds. I’m really not offended he is giving the award to Cutch. He was the last MVP to play for the Pirates and he is kind of passing the torch to Cutch. That doesn’t mean that Cutch has to end up just like Bonds. In fact we know he won’t because he has proven he’s not a me first person. I’m sure cutch doesn’t mind getting the award handed to him by a top 10 player of all time. It’s Barry the baseball player giving the award not the Barry the person.

    I really do respect your opinion on this and the many others that share it so I’m not really trying to start a debate just looking at it from another angle.

  4. NMR says:

    I can’t explain it, but I’m a grown man (hold the jokes) and yet there is something about that guy that just makes my skin crawl.

  5. Nate83 says:

    Does Lance Armstrong have the same effect on you? I can’t explain it but he seems to trigger more negative reaction from me the Barry Bonds.

  6. NMR says:

    Armstrong is an awful human being. Much worse, IMO, than Bonds.

    I think Barry belongs in the Hall, I think Barry is one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, but I cannot stand the guy and hate that he’ll be sharing the spotlight with real man like Cutch.

  7. Andrew says:

    I feel the same way the amount of time spent on the field cannot end quick enough, for Travis Ishikawa.

  8. Nate83 says:

    Well played. It’s an interesting nod to start Ishikawa. This next comment is specifically for NMR because I know he loves these and I want to do the first one of the year.

    Maybe Gabby is something like 0-8 against Samardzja (sp?) and Ishikawa is 2-5.

  9. NMR says:

    Ha! I already looked it up, brother!

    Gaby is 1-10, Ish hasn’t played in the big leagues since the Shark was catching touchdowns in South Bend.

  10. NMR says:

    I know I’ve said it before, Andrew, but Clint Hurdle knows a hell of a lot more about baseball than I do, and I’m assuming he’s seen some big transformation in Snider and Ishikawa.

    Otherwise, it is utterly asinine to give both Snider and Ishikawa starting roles based on a couple decent weeks of Spring Training baseball.

    Just simply zero logic, what-so-ever.

  11. Andrew says:

    I agree with that, and there could easily be some match up dynamic like Snider has been good (for however short of time) against the Samardzija pitcher type. I think that Ishikawa was just the least bad of bad options, maybe he will be lesser version of 2011 Casey Kotchman for the Rays.

    The biggest thing is if the team realizes mistakes were made, I hope they identify them and correct them quickly. But as has been discussed here and on DK’s blog all teams have holes not matter the payroll.

  12. Nate83 says:

    I think we see more of Snider then Tabata and I personally don’t get it. I know Tabata is already signed and Snider is in a make or break type year but what did Tabata do last year to not earn a majority of at bats. Further more what has Snider done ever to deserve the bigger role. I don’t understand the decision but I’m willing to trust Hurdle’s judgement and see how it all plays out.

  13. Andrew says:

    I expect a platoon, not in the true sense but splitting of playing time, we’ll see. I cannot get too worked up over anything in first month or so, other than Adam LoRoche and his slow starts. Maybe Adam could have done some reflection at some point and realize maybe I should start my off-season workouts a little sooner.

  14. Nate83 says:

    Like during hunting season. If he was still on the team two years ago he would have been able to volunteer for the entire team to do the skeet shooting charity event or whatever it was.

  15. Jim S. says:

    Hasn’t Ishikawa in his career vs RHP been basically the same as Gaby was before the last 2 awful years? I am not happy with Ishikawa being on the roster, either. But, if Gaby was 1-10 career-wise vs. Smardzija, and he really hasn’t hit many RHP at all the last 2 years – was it so awful to not start Gaby today?

    Clint said this morning that Gaby will not be sitting vs. all RHP. But, when he thinks the matchup favors Gaby sitting, Gaby will sit. Personally, I don’t see that as anything but logical. And, as Clint said, Gaby will get his starts vs. RHP. I happen to think if he hits well enough against them early on, he may very well get the majority of starts vs RHP. It will play itself out as time goes on. I also believe Ishikawa will play himself out … of a job as time goes on.

  16. Jim S. says:

    Snider will get some chances vs. RHP early on, as they really need to try to find out if there is any reason to keep him around once Polanco shows he is ready. Since Tabby tends to hit both RHP and LHP similarly, I think he has a better chance of sticking as an occasional starter and PH off the bench than Travis once Polanco arrives. I would think that, of the 3 starting OF at that point, the one most likely to sit out some games would be Polanco vs. LHP while Cutch and Marte will basically always start. Tabby would be a better fit in those spots than Snider to me. Just guessing at what seems logical to me.

  17. Jim S. says:

    “The lox … Plunder the lox.” The man, quite simply, is comfortable in his own skin.

    Maybe he needs to get one of those commercials as well.

  18. Jim S. says:

    This is random, but what the heck.

    I caught a little of the late innings of St. Louis at Cincy today. A few random snippets I heard from Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley of the Reds announcing team:

    * Wainwright was good, but his control was spotty. 7 inn, 3 hits, 4 BB, 0 runs. Stranded a lot of runners.
    * Hamilton was 0-4 vs. Wainwright – all 4 were K’s. Brantley said Hamilton got a steady diet of breaking pitches.
    * Yadi went deep for the only run of the game.
    * Cueto pitched 7 strong, only allowing 3 hits, including the Molina HR.

    Brennaman has one of his many long standing feuds going with the Cubs. I’m not sure why he hates them. Maybe it has something to do with how Thomm’s tenure with the Cubs ended. Anyway, Marty announced during the game, “Well, we had the first ever MLB video protest today, and it was by the Chicago Cubs. Typically, being the Cubs, they lost the protest.” Then, as he and Brantley both chuckled heartily, Brantley asked, “What did they protest, the game winning HR by Walker?” More chuckling ensued. A few minutes later, Marty mentioned it again and made sure he stuck the knife in a little deeper. I’m no Cubs fan, but if I were, it would have really ticked me off. It really had no place in this broadcast. I guess Marty figures he is a 75 year old man, and he can just say whatever he wants – although he has been shooting his mouth off like that for 30 or 40 years now. It was pretty amazing to hear. Totally inappropriate and classless.

  19. Steelkings says:

    Samarge is a top of the rotation Pitcher. One of the best in the NL. Gaby might get starts verses 2,3,or4 in the rotation right handers. Not the ace.

  20. Steelkings says:

    come on Jim,

    Brennaman has earned the right to say what ever he wants with in the limits of the moral majority and the FCC. Baseball announcers, especially on the radio are very one sided. And…I hate the Cubs too! Lovable losers my ass.

  21. Jim S. says:

    I am not saying what he said was illegal. I said it had no place.

    I really can’t stand the Cubs, Steel. They are my #1 most disliked team. But, if you had heard him and Brantley, I think you would have agreed that you wouldn’t want a Pirates announcer going off another team for no reason like that. I don’t listen to them often, but I got the feeling from that little episode that he trashes the Cubs all the time.

    I’ve heard him ripping the Cards as well. And, he has had feuds with individual players over the years, too. I guess it’s pretty easy to do that when you don’t have to actually take the field.

    Do you remember when his son, Thomm, ripped Jeff Locke during a game last year, then denied he meant what he said? Maybe that was a harmless mistake. But, it seems to happen a lot with those 2.

    I think it makes the Reds look bad. You don’t have to agree.

  22. JohninOshkosh says:

    Every American should visit Gettysburg.

    People talk about stadiums as hallowed or sacred ground. Hogwash. That earth at Gettysburg is holy. I’m writing this right now because of the men buried there.

  23. Trainframe says:

    able at times, and thus, he epitomized all thaFor many years I was so angry with Bonds. He left my beloved Buccos, and with him the winning was gone. For 20 years we endured the losses, and with it Barry went on to success and greater things. The human being he was through that was deplorable at times, and thus he epitomized all that was wrong with baseball. As he “juiced’ himself, and went to greater glory, the Bucs floundered. So now the Bucs are winners again, and Barry is trying to repair not just an image, but relationships that suffered through it all. I think that it was great the Pirates reach out to all former MVPs still living, and that includes Dave Parker, who had batteries thrown at him by hometown fans, which was just deplorable. These men represented, and helped the franchise win titles, or at least get to the post season. They deserve their due! Remember it was Cutch’s final decision to have Bonds there, and if he was gracious enough to do that, then we as fans should be gracious enough to accept that, and applaud it!

  24. NMR says:

    Jim, I believe people like Andrew and I would argue that making any decision over 10 at-bats is in fact illogical.

  25. NMR says:

    I will say that Snider has noticeably shortened his swing. Unfortunately, I wonder if this has come at the expense of his power.

    Regardless, he makes for an awful 2-hole hitter. Low OBP, high K, and absolutely zero bat control.

  26. NMR says:

    But your overall point is absolute fine. In the end, it probably didn’t really matter.

    Frankly, if Ish is gonna take up a roster spot, I’d rather them at least use him.

  27. Steelkings says:

    I get to hear Brenneman a lot living in Indy. He is an equal opportunity ripper. He gets his own team as well. Last year as I was driving to Cincy for game two of the final series with the Reds. Pirates up a game and the Reds needing to win two in a row to host the wild card game, Marty absolutely berated the Lizard for starting Arroyo in game two. He said that the Reds have no idea what its like playing in front of Jacked up Pittsburgh fans in that stadium. He said “Just ask the Bengals”. He went on to say that if the Reds had to play there they had “No Shot”.

  28. NMR says:

    Anybody hear how Taillon’s trip to the Doctor turned out yesterday?

    Figured the Pirates would’ve announced he needed Tommy John five seconds after Walker’s blast. ;)

  29. Nate83 says:

    Expense of his power??? What power? I know he has mythical power but have yet to see it. So until it happens his power is in the same category as unicorns and leprechauns as far as I’m concerned. Which in my eyes makes him singles hitter with some gap power. Which is what Tabata is a better version of. Not sure why Snider will get a majority of at bats.

  30. JohninOshkosh says:

    It’s always kinda humorous how fans, and sometimes even media types, use OD to comment on the success or failure of a team’s player acquisition or departure during the off season.

    “X player homered, I bet X team regrets losing him.” Or, “X pitcher was.dominant. What a great deal he was for X team.” etc

  31. Nate83 says:

    Agree completely. For instance Billy Hamilton is going to be horrible because he went 0-4 and struck out 4 times. Now I’m not as high on Hamilton as most but I know he probably won’t face a pitcher with a curveball as good as Wainwright’s the rest of the year. It’s odd to make any conclusions from opening day. Except one. Snider is no good but that’s more based on 4 years of evidence then yesterday and that comes from a Snider supporter over the last two years.

  32. Steelkings says:

    SK’s Starting nine

    Leading off:
    Billy Hamilton might find it hard to steal 100 base’s unless he can figure out how to touch a baseball with the bat. Hamilton went 0-4 with (4) 4 pitch K’s.

    Batting 2nd:
    I wonder what it cost the Pirates to bring in Bonds to present the MVP?

    Batting third:
    Washed away with the Pirates 1-0 win was the fact that they scored 1 run in 10 innings. In fact Walker was the only Pirate to touch 3rd base on offense.

    Clean up:
    This division is extremely close. The key to making the playoffs this year is dominating the Cubs. The team or teams that handle them will win this division.

    Batting 5th:
    Im not sure I have ever seen a defensive shift hurt a guy more than it does Pedro Alvarez.

    Its a shame that Jack Wilson was born 6 years too early. He would be perfect for this team.

    Someone explain to me why Snider is swinging early in the count with Marte running. Ok . Run and Hit. I get it. But why not let you lead off guy with better than average speed steal a base? Castillo couldnt get him out last year. What makes anyone think he cant now?

    While Liriano was good, he was also a bit lucky. It is hard not to give up runs when you follow a lead off base hit with a walk. A trick he did twice.

    It was interesting that Right handed Josh Harrison was picked to Pinch hit over both Sanchez and Tabata. And almost equally interesting is that with the line up they started yesterday, the Pirates dont have a left handed bat for the bench. Did I miss something?

  33. NMR says:

    The power he showed throughout his minor league career, which was real and inarguable.

    The more he’s cut down on his swing, the less power he’s shown. Which was my point.

  34. Nate83 says:

    Sorry NRM. It was just my attempt at being funny. Just a silly observation of the power he has shown in the majors. I’m personally not concerned about him hitting for power especially if he’s batting 2nd. This team hits for enough power. If he can shorten his swing and get his average up to the .265-.280 range with his good walk rate he can be a valuable player. I’m not convinced he can hit for a good enough average to offset some of the other stuff he is average or below average at.

  35. NMR says:

    I like the format, Steel! Can we expect this for every game? ;)

    7th: Snider displays zero ability to control the bat. No reason he should be batting second, other than that in three week stretches spread over five major league seasons he’s shown decent on-base skills.

    8th: I don’t particularly consider it lucky if you have the talent to rare back and strike your way out of jams. Liriano’s good at baseball.

    9th: I thought Harrison was the correct call. If you pinch hit Tabby, then you have no outfielders left to replace Snider later in the game against lefties, and I don’t see any reason to burn Gaby in the pitchers turn of the order to pinch hit against a RHP.

    But I do believe you are correct about the lack of lefties on the bench.

  36. NMR says:

    Hahaha, got me Nate. I must be off my game this morning! Sorry for overreacting(is that one word? I feel like it looks like two words.).

  37. Nate83 says:

    I’m the last person to ask about proper spelling or grammar (I had to look up how to spell grammar because I spelled it as grammer and it didn’t auto correct). Easily my worse subject in school.

  38. Andrew says:

    I could go for a Steel Starting nine for each series, every game might be a bit much.

    Leading off: I kept hearing Hamilton had a great spring, but he won’t be facing a Cy Young candidate every game.

    5th: Ryan Howard, Chris Davis, David Ortiz, are hurt much more by the shift, but Alvarez is the the player type that it is designed to limit.

    7th: When I think hit and run I do not think Travis Snider at the plate.

    Probably the best summation of the Pirates situation concerning Polanco I’ve read.

  39. Nate83 says:

    Good column about Polanco. I found it interesting that Super 2 players make that much more then a non-super 2. I would think the fact that they are generally for the most part better players has to play a role in that. Typically a fringe prospect isn’t brought up until after the Super 2 status passes because the team isn’t gaining much. It’s the studs that are more likely to contribute that teams decide it’s worth the extra year of arbitration that get called up. They can’t afford not to have them on the team. I find it hard to believe bringing up Polanco 1 month earlier would cost them 10 million more. I would think it would be 3-5 million.

  40. NMR says:

    By the way, Pedro put the ball in play twice yesterday. Both to the left side of the diamond.

  41. Nate83 says:

    Hopefully it’s a sign of good things to come. He would become a much different hitter if he hits the ball where it’s pitched. Showed signs of it late last year and during spring but old habits die hard so we will have to see.

    Nice to see Walker kick start his year like that. He is capable of more then he gave them last year. He is probably the player I feel has the best chance to improve on his play last year and give this team a boost offensively. Obviously Snider could do that as well but I think Walker is capable. I’m not so sure Snider is.

  42. NMR says:

    Ha, ironically, Walker had the worst at-bats of any starter up to that point. Weak contact all game. Kid will be juuust fine, always is.

  43. John Lease says:

    Too bad he was 2 for 3 huh? Hope it didn’t bum you out!

  44. John Lease says:

    I’m all for trashing the Cubs. The consistently trashiest fans of any team, including all teams from NYC.

  45. Nate83 says:

    I taped the game and watched it. It was late by the time I got around to being able to watch it and kind of only watched the jambs Liriano got out of and Walkers home run. I was thinking during his at bat how uncomfortable he looked in that at bat. Actually fouled off a very hittable pitch right before the one he hit for the home run.

    I like that they only had 3 strike outs and that they had some hard hit balls especially the two times they got doubled up. Besides Walker I think the entire team having a better RISP batting average is the easiest way to improve offensively. Our pitching will be fine even if Volquez struggles. People forget just how bad are 5th starter was last year for the first few months. For that matter we had a few bullpen arms that just pulled down the overall bullpen stats. This years bullpen seems solid top to bottom. Melancon actually is the one that scares me most for regression. There seems to be other options if that is the case. Hopefully they don’t wait too long (they usually don’t) to put Morris, Watson, Wilson in the 8th inning role if he does struggle.

  46. NMR says:

    Nate, excellent observation regarding the Shark and his strikeouts, or lack thereof. Last season he averaged over a K per inning against the Bucs.

  47. Steelkings says:

    NMR Said

    But I do believe you are correct about the lack of lefties on the bench

    Most teams are filled with right handed relievers. If you start Travis I, without another lefty on the bench you have basically eliminated Gaby as a pinch hitter.

    NMR Said

    I don’t particularly consider it lucky if you have the talent to rare back and strike your way out of jams.

    The first time the pitcher didnt execute the bunt and bunted into a double play. I believe the stat I read here ( ) says when the lead off guy gets on, he scores 37.5 % of the time. I’m gonna assume that stat goes up significantly when you follow the lead off guy getting on with a walk. Jus Sayin. However you point remains. Liriano is good at baseball

  48. Nate83 says:

    I hope he bats .400 for the first 15 games before regressing to what he is eventually (which is a .250 hitter with little power) and getting replaced by whomever whether it’s Lambo after a good start in AAA or somebody we get in a trade. Guys like him just don’t figure it out all of a sudden. I hope he proves to be good reliable depth in case of injuries but I personally do not want him part of any season long platoon.

  49. Steelkings says:

    I just listened to Barry Larkin on the radio talking about Hamiltons 4 K’s. He said he never ever struck out 4 times in one game. He said he never played with anyone who struck out 4 times in one game

  50. david s says:

    right on about gettysburg. been there a few times, and it’s always a moving experience. it’s so vast, try to spend a couple of days to take it all in if you can …

  51. NMR says:

    I don’t have much doubt that Hamilton will be dominated by frontline starting pitchers, especially lefties. His skill set and past performance in the upper levels of the minors make that pretty clear.

    But luckily for the Reds, Adam Wainwright is really, reeeaallllyyy good at baseball. Hamilton will be plenty successful against scrubs to prop up a serviceable stat line as long as he doesn’t mentally check out when he struggles.

  52. Nate83 says:

    Didn’t Marte strike out 4 times in one game last year. Heck Rizzo struck out 3 times yesterday and if Frankie could have kept his pitch count down he probably would have struck out 4 times.

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