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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Easter brawlin’ and trouble brewin’

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PNC PARK – The Brewers and Pirates are not going to be friends in 2014.

Not only have the Brewers raised the profile of the rivalry and added to the Pirates’ frustration level by taking six of seven games from the Bucs this April, but I think we are all aware of what happened what in the third-inning of Sunday’s Easter game.

Clint Hurdle was asked afterward if the brawl can be something of a “galvanizing” effect on a team that is now embattled early this season. Hurdle said his team was already “galvanized”

“We don’t live in a perfect world. We play with intensity. We represent.” Hurdle said. “It shows people are ready to protect, to serve and protect.”

Even if the Pirates’ gain some short term energy bump from the fracas, I don’t think it will be meaningful long term. What was telling is there are some players with fire on the club from Gerrit Cole, to Russell Martin and Travis Snider.  So perhaps that carries some meaning.

Mostly the brawl was a side show Sunday, masking some of the Pirates’ troubling run prevention issues.

While we’ve talked a lot about small sample sizes here in April, when is early no longer early? When is it time to for the Pirate to be concerned and think about Plan B(s)?

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS

9. So about assigning blame … Who was at fault Sunday?

Start with Carlos Gomez who has provoked brawls before (ask Brian McCann) due to his bat flipping and general lack of on-field decorum. My take: If Gomez wants to flip his bat, fine. But don’t expect the opposition to be OK with it, and silent about it.

And don’t lie.

“I’m not flipping my bat because I thought it was a home run. I thought it was a fly ball out,” Gomez said.

Right.

“(Cole) tell me something … he walk to mound, everything is fine. … But some guy (Travis Snider), idiot, come out and do stupid stuff.

“Snider come out like a superhero trying to throw punches.”

Oh boy. When do these teams meet again?

 

8. I’m not sure if Snider and Gomez have a history. Snider did storm out of the dugout and was barking at Gomez.  That didn’t exactly cool the tension. But Gomez threw the first punch, or attempted punch, and really incited the affair by walking toward Cole.

 

7. Unlike Gomez, Cole was remorseful afterward and took responsibility. He said he wish he would have kept quiet. Russell Martin placed the blame squarely on the Brewers.

“Guys are prideful and stuff,” Martin said. “You are going to exchange words every once in a while. But when you get highly animated sparks are going to fly (re: Gomez). It’s like a band of brothers out there you are going to protect your own guy.

 

6. Snider did get Gomez on the ground, getting around the right edge of the Brewers’ human wall like a defensive end. Gomez was lucky he was not hurt. Great job by Trib photographer Chris Horner capturing the brawl. Check out the photo gallery if you haven’t. Gomez is a great player, a great talent. You wish that he was known mostly for leading the NL in WAR in 2013.

 

5. While the brawl was a sideshow, there is more important trouble brewing for the Pirates.

 

4. You don’t want your manager becoming a prisoner to history. And you also don’t want him pulling panic levers too early. Tough line to walk. That said, Jason Grilli doesn’t look right.  This isn’t second guessing, many wanted Hurdle to stick with Cole after he had thrown eight mostly dominant innings on Sunday, requiring just 91 pitches.

But Hurdle said afterward he wanted to get Grilli back out there as a soon as possible to remove Saturday’s bad taste. A night after leaving a fastball up to Ryan Braun – say what you will,  boo as you will, the man squares up everything – Grilli left a slider up.

Maybe Grilli can return to his first half form of 2013, and perhaps quickly, but he isn’t there now. In the first three weeks of the season he has already blown more saves (3) than all of last year (2).

The strange thing is his fastball velocity – 93.4 mph – is right where it was a year ago prior to his injury. His command is not there. His walk rate is up to 5.1 walks/9 compared to 2.7 walks/9 last season and he made critical location mistakes to Braun on back to back nights. Is this mechanical? Is this injury related? Can Grilli get back to what he was?

“It is the first time in two years plus he had back-to-back bad marks,” Hurdle said. “That’s going to show where everyone else is with Grilli. You jump off Grilli’s boat? Do his teammates, fans, do I? Or do you stick with him?”

 

3. Wandy Rodriguez‘s performance has to be even more concerning.

We know about the velocity decrease. I had a scout tell me his curveball has also lost shape but it actually has a greater spin rate and movement this year, according to data from TexasLeaguers.com, and the shape doesn’t look noticeably different:

WANDY’S CURVE VISUALIZATION 2014

WandyCurve2014

WANDY’S CURVE VISUALIZATION, 2013

WandyCurve2013

So what gives?

“The fastball sets up the curveball,” Hurdle said. “The curveball has been in play at times but the overall consistency. … he’s not happy with it. We just need to continue to work. I saw some good ones, but not enough good ones. Not enough consistency.”

 

 2. Troubling to hear Luis Heredia dealing with shoulder inflammation and not ready to throw. Jameson Taillon is down, Tyler Glasnow coming back from a sore back, the Pirates put a lot of eggs in the pitching prospect basket and believe they can better the injury-wide attrition rates like the Rays have done. Pitching prospect health is critical for this club.

 

1. I expect a number of players to be suspended due to Sunday’s fight but, no, I don’t think Gregory Polanco will be called up.

Polanco is ready for the Pirates, the Pirates aren’t ready for Polanco. And this isn’t a case of the Pirates being cheap this is how the vast majority of MLB clubs operate.

 

CANDIDATE FOR QUOTE OF THE YEAR:

Martin on Martin Maldonado‘s right cross to the face of Snider.

“The fair thing would be for our team to hold down Maldonado so Travis (Snider) can go back and sucker punch him right in the face,” Martin said. “That would be the fair thing to do. … I don’t know if we’ve asked the Brewers if they’re going to be cool with that.

“If I cross the street I’m definitely not going to say ‘Hi’ to the guy.”

 

STAT OF THE WEEK: 25 percent

Rodriguez’s HR/FB ratio early this season – not good.

 

WHAT THE BREWERS AND PIRATES ARE NOT GOING TO BE 

(Great cover of the White Stripes, imo)

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Go track down Charlie Rose’s interview with David Brooks online. Brooks is one of the most interesting writers and thinkers out there regardless of your political preference.

- TS

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Comments

  1. Chuck H says:

    Sure, Hurdle, keep putting Grilli in to blow the game for you, and we will soon be so far below .500 that it will be impossible to break even for the season. You seem to have a vendetta against a starter finishing a game, no matter how many pitches he has thrown. The loss of this game goes squarely on (manager??) Hurdle. So much for Manager of the Year. He sucks!!!

  2. NMR says:

    re: Grilli – All you need to do is ask yourself one thing: is Jason Grilli a true-talent 20% home run rate pitcher?

    Do you really think he’s going to continue to give up a homerun for every 5 fly balls? After sporting an 8% rate for his entire career?

    Dejan wrote a great satirical blog last Spring about how the Pirates relievers will never allow another run again. Ever.

    Very, very pertinent to this discussion.

  3. Nate83 says:

    I’m not sure he attacked high in the zone his entire career like he did last year and this year so his home run rate may be based on safer low risk/low reward pitches. The difference is this year he is missing a few inches lower and catching the center of the plate. If he continues doing that the HR/rate could be very high. Last year he would get swings at balls high and on the inside of the plate. If his control comes back he will be fine.

    However the Pirates have good options to replace Grilli so I wouldn’t give him too much time to figure it out. His next game needs to be against the bottom of the line up or with a 2 or 3 run lead. I’m encouraged by the aggressive stance Melancon has taken this year. He’s really been efficient and going after hitters. I like what I see from Morris and I have always like Watson and Wilson. I think the overall bullpen will eventually end up being in the top half of the NL and possible top 5 again.

  4. NMR says:

    I promise that Grilli could continue pitching exactly as he has and he still will not sport a 20% homerun rate, Nate.

  5. For all the talk last season about shifting, the real reason they were stingy when it came to giving up runs was the pitching staff kept the ball in the yard. There is no shift to fix that unless Andrew McCutchen can be stationed in the batters eye shrubbery.

  6. Nate83 says:

    I agree it won’t be 20% but it will be higher then we want and closer to 15% then it is to 8%. You can’t live up in the zone if you don’t have your control.

  7. NMR says:

    I don’t disagree with that at all. Grilli has to regain his command.

    As does Wandy.

    But I’m just far, far from making judgements on two guys coming back from serious arm injuries. This is what is SUPPOSED to happen. Guys are SUPPOSED to struggle with command.

  8. NMR says:

    Great point, Hidden.

    2013 HR/FB rate was 8.9%

    2014 HR/FB rate is 16.8%.

    Lotta regression coming our way, folks. It’s April.

  9. Jim S. says:

    I’m not going to get into a debate for the 2nd time today about whether Grilli is pitching effectively or not. I will just say that, with 91 pitches of very effective pitching to his credit over 8 innings, I would not have pulled Cole there. Not with the current Grilli as the closer, or very many other closers for that matter. Travis sent a tweet at the time, asking about whether he should be pulled after 8, and I have to say I was stunned at the mere thought of it. I thought there was no chance it would happen. Sure enough, though, I was wrong about that. And, the more I thought about it, I remembered this is exactly what managers do. They bring in veteran closers in the 9th inning, whether it makes the most sense or not.

    It also doesn’t surprise me that Clint said he wanted Grilli to get right back on the horse, or whatever cliche he used there. I guess he’ll really want him back on that horse tonight! That should be fun. It is time more managers treated the last 3 outs as 3 outs and not some magical accomplishment that only certain veteran pitchers can get.

    I still like Clint, though. I think managing is more inter-personal skills than in-game tactics. I think Clint is great at the inter-personal stuff.

  10. Jim S. says:

    To your point, Hidden, I believe the Bucs may lead the league in both HR hit and allowed right now.

  11. cmat0829 says:

    For what it’s worth:

    I think Clint is doing the right thing to this point with Grilli. His performance, and standing on this team, deserves every bit of support he is getting. It is also right, at this point forward, to set the expectations with Grilli that he needs to get the job done or there are other options. But I’m not there yet. Another blown save or two, different story. But anyone who wants the plug pulled on Grilli now, or even before now, is being a bit harsh in my opinion. These are players, teammates, human beings… not pegs on a fantasy baseball board. I think if you yank the rug out from under Grilli it has repercussions across the tight-knit team. He is not Ishikawa or even Wandy..this is Grilli, a leader on the team.

    As to Wandy, definitely concerned, and I think Clint and NH were very forthright on this… there is concern, and the next 2 starts or so I’d think are very important for Wandy…

    But if we all want a culprit for the Pirates slow start, and especially the 1-6 record against the Brewers (which pretty much are the same thing, outside of the Brewers the Bucs start is decent)….THE OFFENSE. Won’t win many series with Marte/Cutch/Pedro, the core of this offense, putting up what they have so far vs Milwaukee. Cutch will get it going… and Pedro is likely in one of his funks at the moment, but Marte to me is most concerning. His K rate is off the charts and his confidence appears to be very low. This may seem weird, but it could be that Polanco’s arrival in a month or so is not just to plug into RF alongside Marte and Cutch, but to give CH more of a chance to ‘rest’ Marte a lot more, especially vs. tough RHPs.

    On the positive side… love the start Neil Walker has gotten off to… I opined before the season that I had a feeling this might be the year for Neil to put it together… so far so good.

    Also on the positive side, Chris Stewart behind the plate was unnoticeable, as compared to Russell Martin…and very noticeably more able, as compared to Tony Sanchez. We didn’t see the many balls being dropped, awkward position on balls in the dirt, and of course ,not throwing the ball all over PNC.

  12. cmat0829 says:

    I think it is two parts Grilli back on the horse and 1.5 parts Cole giving up the HR to Mark Reynolds in the 7th… that said, I was rooting for Cole to get the shot to close it out, and majorly bummed when Braun hit the HR… not only because it was Braun, who I despise; but it tied the game, which sucked; but also because Grilli is a very good guy and this just is another doubt that creeps in there…. classic ‘bad guy’ wins out over ‘good guy’ and that was depressing.

  13. Nate83 says:

    I agree completely in both players cases. They both have long careers that prove what we are seeing currently from both is not the standard when it comes to command. I just was pointing out that Grilli switched his pitching to more of a high risk/high reward style recently because he trust his stuff and his command.

    The Pirates have the luxury of other options but all things considered the best option is to leave everyone in the roles the excelled at last year. Grilli should get at least another 5-7 games to figure it out. He as earned that much. Hopefully most of them will be situations with more margin for error then facing a top 5 hitter in the NL with a 1 run lead.

  14. Yes, 16.8% HR/FB is not a sustainable number. But I think we all knew that repeating what they did last year was quite unlikely too. Most of these homers have been well struck no doubters. We all know the ball carries better in the summer months too. Bottom line is this team is going to give up more runs this year, so the offense better keep up.

  15. Nate83 says:

    Not to mention it is never a bad idea to get a complete game from a starter and rest your bullpen. Saying that in hindsight is easy. Cole could have just as easily came in for the 9th and gave up the tying run and cost our bullpen 5 innings of work and we would be yelling at Hurdle for that decision.

  16. Jim S. says:

    That is true, Nate. There is no guarantee Cole was going to put up another 0.

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    UPDATE: Wandy Rodriguez to DL with “right knee inflammation.” Jared Hughes called up from Indy.

  18. Andrew says:

    League average HR/FB is 9.5% to 10.5%, and the Pirates play half their games in a park that suppress home runs by 10%, what is so unsustainable about 8.9% HR/FB rate. I think the more unsustainable aspect of Pirates pitching was performance in high leverage situations.

  19. Nate83 says:

    And I don’t think that will continue. As NRM has been pointing out there are some HR rates that are just not sustainable. Even if Wandy, Morton and Grilli continue to have some of these issues they will eventually have a reduced role or be replaced.

    Last year they where 15th in the NL in giving up HR’s. Better then anybody else. That doesn’t happen by accident and most of the staff has remained the same. They will not continue at anywhere near the current pace. There a number of concerns early in the year but there are a lot of reason to like their chances to improve upon what has happened up until this point.

  20. Steelkings says:

    Grilli gave up a 2 out single to Bonifacio, who was hitting like .900 at the time of his first blown save and HR’s to a guy named Ryan Braun. Two guys pretty good at baseball.

    Hindsight……..Pitch around a guy who has been absolutely torching Pirate pitching forever and Pitch to Lacroy.

  21. Andrew says:

    Interesting, I wonder who spot starts.

  22. Nate83 says:

    Well that didn’t take long. I wonder if he is compensating for something going on with his arm and it caused this injury. I hope he gets straightened out. Hughes being called up is interesting. Does that mean Stolmy gets Wandy’s next start?

  23. NMR says:

    Ahh yes, well done boys.

    A nice little trip to the Convenience List should help.

  24. Jim S. says:

    cmat brought up Marte’s struggles. I have been wondering about something with him, and maybe there’s nothing to it at all. But, I’ll throw it out there for the group. I’m sure there are #’s to refute or affirm it, but I admit I don’t have them.

    Could it be that Marte was told in the off-season that they like him at leadoff, but that 25 walks for an entire season won’t cut it? So, he is trying to be more patient and take more pitches in an effort to increase his walks. In doing that, although he has definitely increased his walk rate, when you take more pitches to draw more walks, it means not only taking more balls but also more strikes. So, mabye he is risking more strikeouts by going deeper into counts? Could that be part of why his walks and strikeouts are up? I wonder if trying to draw more walks might be screwing with who he is, fundamentally. Some guys just don’t have the make-up to take a lot of pitches.

  25. NMR says:

    Those guys are, in fact, good at baseball! Well done. #analysis

  26. Jim S. says:

    Jared Hughes? What about Cumpton?

    Can Stolmy still be built up enough to start?

    Jeanmar? Ugh!

  27. Steelkings says:

    Uncle SK Prediction:

    In two weeks we will hear that Rodriguez is having TJ.

  28. Andrew says:

    I spend too much time fooling around on Texas Leaguers there appears to be a change in the Wandy’s curve ball horizontal movement 2014 compared to other time periods, excluding last year, but I have no idea what the measurement error is with their Pitch/Fx algorithm.

    Anyway, his curve ball was being crushed this year, LD/GB/FB, 37.5/54.2/8.3 with zero pop ups, HR/FB ratio of 50%, and BABIP .478. He was getting 15.8% swing strike, all of these numbers were well outside career norms and it is only 100 pitches, but something was/is likely wrong.

  29. NMR says:

    Marte has a 22:3 K/BB ratio over his last 12 games.

    He certainly ain’t trying to take pitches right now.

  30. Nate83 says:

    It’s amazing his average is as high as it is with the strike outs. His BABIP average has to be all world. His swing and miss rate this year has to be higher then any other 20 games stretch in his career. I don’t know how a guy can miss so many balls completely but square up the ones he does hit so well. It has to be pitch recognition. Maybe he should go out of his way to hit the other way until he gets back on track. Oddly enough his walks are up.

  31. Steelkings says:

    Somebody get Roy Oswalts agent on the phone. In Fact, I think Oswalt is the guy who answers that phone.

    “Thank you for calling Bob Garbers office, This is Roy. How may I direct your call?”

    “Roy, This is Neil. How would you like to…………………..”

  32. NMR says:

    On his right knee?

  33. Nate83 says:

    So how does this process work exactly? He gets 10 days off then starts pitching in simulated games for 2 or 3 weeks and then starts a rehab stint in the minors. Isn’t there something like a 30 day limit for a rehab before they would have to make a roster move? So this buys him about 2 months to figure it out.

    Or if Uncle SK is correct with his prediction none of that matters and Wandy will never pitch for the Pirates again.

  34. Andrew says:

    The knee has an ACL, PCL, MCL, and LCL, but no UCL.

  35. They gave up just 101 homer runs all last season. That is the second fewest of any team in 20 years. It is more than just HR/FB. It is also the 52% GB rate that is unlikely to be sustained. You could also make a pretty good argument this staff was going to get less Ks than last year too, and so far they have.

  36. NMR says:

    Too many CL’s. Speak engrish, please.

  37. NMR says:

    Hell if I know. Sounds good enough to me!

  38. NMR says:

    Wait a week, then his walk rate will be right back down to normal.

    Biggest concern for me right now is the total lack of power combined with the K’s.

  39. Steelkings says:

    Yes, And the surgery will be performed by Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine and Dr.Howard.

  40. NMR says:

    Why is a 52% GB rate unsustainable?

  41. NMR says:

    Location, man.

    It is that simple.

  42. Andrew says:

    Hidden I am not arguing with regression, Pirates are not going to give up only 3.56 runs/game, and Burnett’s loss with certainly drive down the K rate and GB%, I just didn’t follow the homerun argument.

  43. Andrew says:

    Certainty, I was just wondering if anything was showing up, but a scout is always better in small samples.

  44. NMR says:

    Gotcha buddy. Texas Leaguers is just nuts. I wish I had two screens at home. Wife would never see me (so maybe she wishes I did as well).

  45. Chuck H says:

    All this talk about starters and relievers makes sense, but the season, so far, boils down to the fact that there are still too many automatic outs on this team, including those who aren’t usually auto outs. I’m talking about Mc Cutchen. and Martin, and Marte (the wild swinger) and this ,pretty much involves the whole team. The batting instructor has got to stress more patience and not to swing at so many awful pitches in the dirt. Come on BUCS, I know you’re not as bad as you are playing lately.

  46. Chuck H says:

    As long as he keeps putting his fastball where it shouldn’t be, he is asking for trouble.

 
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