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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Halfway home

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SOUTH HILLS – Technically we’re a game beyond the halfway point, but with the first three months of the season down, and three months to go, the Pirates have weathered a trying first half of the season with a 42-40 mark.

Given everything that has happened — that Francisco Liriano has one win, that Gerrit Cole has missed nearly a month of time, that the bullpen has blown 14 saves – it’s pretty remarkable that the Pirates are above .500. Remember this was a club that was once eight games below .500. The Pirates were below .500 when they  lost Liriano and Cole to injuries. Frankly, I’m surprised the Pirates are above water, and so is so is a key decision maker.

Said Pirates GM Neal Huntington on Sunday:

“If you had told me that we were going to rely on Jeff Locke, Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton to be stabilizers in June I would have told you we are probably not in a very good situation,” Huntington.

No doubt.

I doubted the Pirates starting pitching depth earlier this season, but that depth proved me wrong in June and has the Pirates in the mix of things. That depth along with an uptick in offense since the beginning of May – and a recent favorable schedule – has this team in contention entering the second half of the season. The Pirates are 1.5 games out of a wild card spot.

Could the Pirates use some further bolstering, perhaps a proven veteran arm, or upgrade at shortstop? Sure. But that the Pirates are in position to be buyer and not sellers later in July is something of a victory.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS 

9. David Price is a pipedream but he would look great atop this rotation. Problem is Baseball Prospectus estimatew the Pirates would have to give up something like Tyler Glannow, Josh Bell and Nick Kingham for Price. That’s pretty steep for a 1.5 years of control. No way Huntington does that, I would guess.

8. Do you want AJ Burnett back? If the price is low enough it might make some sense but I don’t think it was just dollars that kept the Pirates from bringing back Burnett in the first place. There will be other veteran pitchers available and Burnett is not completely healthy.

7. Aside from an impact arm, the biggest need is shortstop. Ben Zobrist?

6. As Jon Heyman first reported, the Pirates and Gregory Polanco continue to talk contract. The Pirates have been very aggressive here, offering up to 10 years. That tells you all you need to know what they think about Polanco. Special, special player who will be given a day off Tuesday.

5. It’s just one game but it’s interesting that Pedro Alvarez was very pull-oriented Sunday and had success against Bartolo Colon, with a home run and a double to right. While I thought Alvarez had the right approach this season, while I think he’s made some improvements, maybe he’s sacrificed too much power with his opposite-field approach.

Alvarez has been so opposite-field focused that I’ve noticed defenses have been shifting less against him. That’s great. But what the Pirates really need Alvarez to do is hit the ball above shifts and above the wall.

4.  Remember Austin Meadows? He’ll make his 2014 debut this week and Huntington noted he did essentially re-injure his hamstring. Meadows had an excellent GCL debut. This might be something of a lost year but there’s still a lot to like here.

3. Josh Harrison has been the best story of the season. He’s been a ton of fun to watch.  But he’s not an All-Star.

2. Huntington said Alen Hanson has the “tools” to stick at the shortstop. Still, I’m hearing there’s been way too many physical and mental lapses from Hanson and that might explain the recent lengthy layoff.

1. Gerrit Cole was rusty in his first stat back but most important was that he was healthy. He hit 97 mph with his first pitch. He’ll be better next time out.

STAT OF THE WEEK 2.5

Projected WAR Harrison will produce in 2014 according to ZiPS. Upset of the season.

HE SAID IT

Hurdle has moved away from tradition before but he’s not willing to in the bullpen:

“No, I’m not going to move the closer. A defensive metric system is a change in area. A position change in the bullpen is a change in role. There is a significant difference in that. You cannot have played the game and understand, but I think it helps to have played.

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION

Dined at Meat and Potatoes for the first time last night. It’s tough to live up to the hype, but it was a quality experience with plus to plus-plus food.

- TS

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Comments

  1. NMR says:

    -”A position change in the bullpen is a change in role. There is a significant difference in that. You cannot have played the game and understand, but I think it helps to have played.”

    Love Hurdle, but this is incredibly ignorant.

    Closer is not a position. No “closers” were “closers” in Little League or High School. Very few were even “closers” in college or the minor leagues. Hell, a large percentage of them didn’t even start out as “closers” in the Big Leagues. The only way this role is learned in a manner that cannot be dynamic is if it is TAUGHT to be that way. As Manager, Clint Hurdle clearly can control this. He CHOOSES not to.

    -re: 5) Hat tip to blog contributor 21sthebest for making this observation earlier this year. Pedro has some of the best oppo power in the league, but he’s still hitting into the North Side notch in half his games. Gio Stanton may be the only man alive that’ll win that battle more than they lose it.

    -Josh Harrison for Mayor.

    -Aside from the injury, Gerrit Cole has taken a step back this year.

  2. dennis g says:

    “A position change in the bullpen is a change in role. There is a significant difference in that. You cannot have played the game and understand, but I think it helps to have.”

    I for one don’t even really know what this means, (syntax is really not his forte), but I am inferring that it means that only actual MLB’ers can understand the dynamics of a bullpen and therefore we ought not to question his judgment. The man certainly is confident. In the face of the 14 blown saves so far this year I would say there is no reason for it.

    Please don’t say what about last year, I was every bit as critical of his approach last year but on a different blog. The “closer” concept is a myth. There is zero validity to it.

  3. Andrew says:

    1) I’m still concerned about Gerrit Cole, I only saw parts of the first four innings on Saturday, I didn’t really have any observations other than Cole was really slow to the plate. However his pitch velocity charts look very similar to his last start, there is a noticeable decline in velocity.

    June 29th vs Mets
    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/cache/speed2.php-pitchSel=543037&game=gid_2014_06_28_nynmlb_pitmlb_1&batterX=&innings=yyyyyyyyy&sp_type=1&s_type=2&league=mlb&cache=1.gif

  4. NMR says:

    Interesting.

    Any particular reason you chose May 2nd as the control?

  5. Jim S. says:

    NMR,

    Mitch Williams called. Wanna guess what he had to say about closing games? :-)

  6. NMR says:

    You sucked me into the MLB Network, Jim, and I’ll never forgive you for it. Now I completely understand why you get frustrated. ;)

  7. Andrew says:

    I looked at 10-12 games from this season and last, and May 2nd was a about a month prior to DL trip. I could be making something out of nothing, but when it is a pitcher and a shoulder problem I’m concerned until proven otherwise.

  8. Jim S. says:

    9. The “price” of Price is way too high, if it is anywhere near what you are suggesting. Huntington would have to be insane to part with Glasnow, Bell and Kingham for 1.5 years of Price. No thank you.

    8. I don’t think we need a starting pitcher, especially if Liriano can get healthy and back close to where he was last year. I have no idea why Cole did not pitch in the minors to rehab for a couple of starts. I also have no idea why Neil Walker did not spend more time in rehab starts to shake off the rust. Do players make these calls on their own? Is there something in the CBA that allows them to make their own calls?

    6. To me, Polanco looks like he needs a rest of a few days. He needs to clear his head, as all young players do from time to time. He has not been hitting the ball very hard for about a week, Thursday night aside. I love the kid, but he’s a fairly inexperienced 22. LHP, especially, are eating him up right now. He’s going to be great. But, maybe he doesn’t need to play just about every single game this season. I’m glad he appears to be sitting tomorrow.

    5. Pedro is hitting .240-ish with 13 HR this year. The average is up, and the power is down a bit. But, he could still have a monster offensive season. The “easy power” he displayed yesterday was so sweet. He’s hard for me to not like, although I get as frustrated as anyone when he is winging throws into the seats. Maybe we are past that bad throwing spell now.

    4. I hope I’m wrong (a frequent occurrence), but it is a bit of a red flag to me that a young guy has missed this much time for a hamstring issue. My understanding is that he was mid-rehab from the first occurrence when he reinjured it. I don’t like the sounds of that, but maybe it is common and not a sign of anything long lasting.

    3. Josh Harrison. Can. Flat. Out. Hit. Can he keep it up to this level while playing everyday? I doubt it. But, after watching him get consistent playing time over the past 45 days, it appears to me that he has the sort of skill set that gives him a chance to hit for average with decent pop. He hits the ball where it is pitched. Not that many players actually do that.

    Your article on TJ yesterday was dynamite, Travis! Great work!

  9. Jim S. says:

    I still love it, though. Even when they make bad points, they are talking about baseball – and that’s a good thing.

  10. NMR says:

    Just asking since there doesn’t seem to be an appreciable drop in average velocity or max velocity. Just velocity per inning.

  11. NMR says:

    Oh man, how could I forget…ditto Jim’s comment on your Tommy John article yesterday, Travis. And extend the good work to the rest of the Trib staff putting it together. First time I’ve ever seen anyone map surgeries geographically.

  12. tomf says:

    Does Melancon only pitch to the outside portion of the plate ?

    (exaggeration – but to illustrate a point)

  13. NMR says:

    You aren’t exaggerating at all.

    When he struggled with the Red Sox in 2012, it was mostly due to giving up homeruns. A large part of his success with the Pirates has been NOT giving up homeruns.

    This isn’t due to magic or luck or regression, it’s due to command.

    Here’s his zone profile – the location of pitches thrown – in 2012 with the Sox:

    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/profile.php?player=453343&balls=-1&strikes=-1&b_hand=-1&time=month&minmax=ci&var=count&s_type=2&gFilt=&pFilt=FA|SI|FC|CU|SL|CS|KN|CH|FS|SB&startDate=01/01/2012&endDate=01/01/2013

  14. NMR says:

    Good stuff, Jim…

    re: 9) While I agree that a trade such as that one does not make sense for these 2014 Pirates, I’m not sure the value is that far off. Consider that the team getting Price has ample opportunity to replace a prospect of Kingham/Bell caliber by either trading Price again or taking the draft pick once he turns down the inevitable QO and signs elsewhere. Plus, Glasnow is your prototypical big arm with shoddy command that often makes a better prospect than pitcher.

    re: 4) I’m more worried about Reese McGuire’s development than Austin Meadows.

    re: 3) Harrison almost certainly isn’t a true talent +.340 BABIP player, but he’s shown solid contact skills ever since he’s been with the Pirates. The only major difference between what he’s done this year and what he did in 2011 is power. I don’t buy his ability to keep us this extra base hit pace, but I don’t see any reason he can’t continue shooting single into the gaps. Really fun guy to watch right now.

  15. Jim S. says:

    Yeah, I don’t really doubt Tampa can get that much talent for Price. Maybe I didn’t say that quite right. I just don’t want to pay that price in Pirates prospects. But, that’s my continual love affair with prospects.

  16. NMR says:

    Ha, nah not at all Jim. I just wasn’t clear. My point was that I think timing is a bigger issue than pure value.

    I think some of the prospect value can be made up, and to the right team Price’s value from his performance could be huge. I just don’t see these Pirates as a team in position to maximize a guy like Price.

  17. Jim S. says:

    Exactly. It is not as if we are one dominant pitcher away from a World Series.

  18. JoeBucco says:

    I agree on Josh Harrison, and though maybe not an All Star, very well may be team MVP so far this year. Not to slight Cutch or take him for granted, but J-Hay has picked this team up when needed many times this year so far. I hope he can keep it up, and I don’t envy Clint for trying to find a place to play him. But he has to.

    I’ve seen the All Day nickname tossed around with J-Hay a bit this year, but personally I think “Every Day” would be a better nickname. As in, that dude needs to play every day until proven otherwise.

  19. JoeBucco says:

    I might be disappointed if we gave up even one of those guys for Price. 1.5 years for a great pitcher, you’re talking about maybe 45 games pitched out of him. For a team that is .500 or better for a while now, and with decent depth, that means we’d probably win 23 of those games anyway. With Price, maybe that number goes up to 28? I don’t see giving up that much for 5, maybe 10 wins, over two years.

    And once you get to the postseason, it’s a crapshoot anyway. Michael Wacha took the Cards to the series, and while he’s a good pitcher, he may be Glasnow or Kingham 1.0.

  20. cmat0829 says:

    Trav and the asylum, thanks for these Monday conversations, really look forward to thoughtful content on this blog.

    * Price: not in the cards for the Bucs (but the Cards may have the bucks) and you guys nailed the reason why… 2014 is not the right time to go big like that. Too many question marks on this team, a ‘go for it’ move like that could backfire.

    * AJB: really not sure he’s better at this point than Locke, Worley, Volquez, Cumpton. Sure he puts up the occasional great game, but it’s not that you can just sit back and count on him putting up a W nowadays.

    *SS upgrade. I like Zobrist a lot but not sure I go crazy in what I’m offering the Rays for him. What I like most about Zobrist is his versatility and for now that’s JHay’s domain on this team. Oh, wait a minute, can Zobrist play 1B?? If so, GET HIM.

    * No doubt – JHay and AllStar should not be in the same sentence. Love JHay but that really is ridiculous.
    * Cole – glad he’s healthy, but he really needs to start attacking hitters. All season long he has nibbled, driven up his pitch count, etc.
    * Did anyone read the fascinating Astros trade notes that were leaked via MLBTradeRumors… NH and the Pirates were mentioned in there… to me, it validates that NH is indeed willing to deal prospects but correctly balks at the high asking price, especially for somone like Bud Norris.
    * And that is really the point here…. I’m kinda over the Bud Norris type acquisitions… we have plenty of that type of depth… at some point, perhaps next season, there will be a time when I’m ready for NH to give the Stanton and Price types of asks in terms of prospects…yes, even 3 top prospects if need be. But timing is everything.

    * I really expect the deadline move to be a solid reliever first and foremost. It’s the weakest part of this team right now in my opinion. If we can get back to that “lead after 6 innings, lock it down” program, that will be a huge boost to this team.

  21. cmat0829 says:

    I’m 50/50 on this… I think Hurdle’s point was just saying that there are human elements that are to be factored into these decisions, not just the analytics. From what I’ve heard (maybe it’s just MLB Network but I don’t think so), the modern major leaguer wants to know their role… and theoretically perform better with this stability.

    Again, I said I’m 50/50 on this, maybe because I’m susceptible to the many voices in the game (almost all managers and general managers) who believe the defined closer role is the way to go. It’s certainly not just Hurdle. I agree that if a manager wanted to make a change, he would do so, and that would be that. But I’m willing to give the current decision makers around MLB the benefit of the doubt.

  22. cmat0829 says:

    I get it, but you can say the same to the other 29 major league managers who also do it this way. And there are plenty of teams that have great success doing it this way. And plenty of teams who change closers because they blow saves (Romo in SF the most recent to lose his job), but they still have ‘defined’ roles.

  23. Donald says:

    I’ve seen the AJ Burnett and Brandon McCarthy rumors is several places. If the Pirates are going to pick up a starter, it HAS to be an ace…. PERIOD. It can’t be either of these guys. Starting pitching is not an area of need. We already have Cole, Volquez, Liriano, Mortin, Worley, Locke, and Cumpton…. there are at least five better options on that list than either AJ or McCarthy. And you don’t have to give up anything for them.

  24. Jim S. says:

    Didn’t I read that Bo Porter actually had the nerver to pitch his closer in the 8th inning recently based on where the opponent was in the lineup at that time? He better be careful or he’s not going to be on the Christmas list of any other MLB Managers pretty soon. Doesn’t he understand that not everyone can get those last 3 outs? #Must.Have.Defined.Roles.

  25. Chuck H says:

    The biggest weakness on this Pirate is not their pitching, although they are near the bottom according to the ERA figures. The biggest flaw is with their hitters swinging at terrible pitches. I’ve watched Marte, Alverez, and lately, Walker swing at pitches that actually hit in front of the plate. You don’t get many hits that way. They need more plate disipline.

  26. tomf says:

    Harrison may not be an all star – but he is playing like an all star

    offense – and defense

    Harrison’s .306 batting average places him somewhere in or near top 20 (all MLB)

    and Harrison has made a number of outstanding plays on the field (including 3 or 4 EPSN Top Ten plays)

    Harrison has also made some solid less-flashy plays – including plays at second base – and a threw out a runner attempting to score on a shallow ball to LF (not a difficult play – but a perfect one-bounce throw to home)

  27. jay says:

    I see the same kinds of swings where the batter looks worse than me…but is it really discipline or are they just plain fooled…given the speed of these pitches the batter has only a split second to start his swing…it’s too late for discipline to matter, maybe even pitch recognition…sometimes I laugh when a pitch is described as ‘off speed”…have you ever tried to hit an 83mph pitch w movement…it’s a wonder these guys ever get contact

  28. jay says:

    BTW…also love when our pitchers are described as throwing pitches meant to bounce practically on the plate so as to get batters to swing and miss while counting on Martin to catch or at least block a wild pitch…love it when guy strikes out on pitch so ugly they wind up at first as catcher runs to backstop

  29. Steelkings says:

    9. The NL central has always been vulnerable to quality left-handers. Did anyone notice how David Price absolutely dissected the Pirates?
    Think about 1.5 years of David Price this way. Price, Cole, Morton, Worley, Locke/Cumpton….. without a guy like Price. Cole, Morton, Worley, Locke Cumpton. The Pirates proved last year that they are not going to pay Liriano or Volquez anywhere near what they will make on the market. Those guys are gone. Also the acquisition of Price would keep him off the Cardinals or worse, The Brewers rosters.

    8. The Pirates would not want AJ Burnett. His current salary is higher than they wanted to pay and theres that player option that goes with him.

    7. If you are acquiring a rent a shortstop. Steven Drew is still a better option. You could also talk to Boston about Lester in the short term. Pitchers do well jumping leagues in the short term.

    6. Polanco does not have more value than McCutchen. And if he thinks he does, I would seriously start talking again to Miami about Stanton.

    5. Perhaps Alvarez should try and hit right handed.

    4. You know you are in the yawner part of the baseball season when the topic turns to a Gulf coast 19 year old with a bad hamstring.

    3. All Star or not, Without Harrison the Pirates would be looking up at the Cubs.

    2. Hanson also possesses the tools to be an auto mechanic. Just saying!
    Hanson is also living proof that the BMTIB cant figure out the shortstop position.

    1. Garrett Cole is to young and inexperienced to be consistent. That will change.

    SERIOUS BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK:
    http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2014/jul/01/norman-chad-statistics-taking-fun-out-of-sports/

  30. NMR says:

    There’s a value aspect to this conversation, as well.

    Relievers get paid on saves, especially in arbitration. Mark Melancon will literally cost more money because Clint Hurdle put him in for a one out, three run save the other day.

    That’s just plain dumb, no matter how you look at it.

  31. Perhaps the Pirates can buy low on Stephen Drew and his .143/.169/.190 line.

  32. Steelkings says:

    It would be the Pirate thing to do If they went and traded for a short stop who hits .249 and has played BY FAR more games on the right side of the field than he has on the left.

  33. Steelkings says:

    Zobrist spent most of his SS days backing up Jason Bartlett.

  34. Steelkings says:

    If you want a REALLY GOOD READ, read a book called “Scorecasting” by Tobias j Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim. Its sabermatrics of unconventional sports thinking.

  35. Steelkings says:

    With the Reds and Cards playing on the West coast, and the Brewers at the tough Toronto Blue Jays, This could be a huge series for the Pirates. The Bucco’s could get back in the division race (Which I for one have not given up on yet) with a sweep of the Diamondbacks.

    The Pirates will face in the next 6 games
    (1) 3 – 6 Lefty followed by 5 Righty’s with a combined record of 19 – 31. Only 1 of the next 6 pitchers they face has more wins than losses

  36. tomf says:

    I realize Mercer is not tearing it up and Barmes has issues

    but I believe both are contributing at a high level

    Mercer’s bat finally woke up – and although he may not be a plus fielder, he is not hurting the Pirates with errors

    Barmes is solid and has played well when inserted; key hits and walks – and consistent defense

    just recently (last game ?) he made an outstanding late game play

    the organization as a whole is thin at middle infield however

  37. cmat0829 says:

    There is no way, in no universe, that Stephen Drew is worth picking up at this point. He just came off a 1-34 stretch and is very close to losing his job in Boston, a team that was desparate for SS help that they begrudingly signed him. NO WAY. NO WAY. NO WAY.

  38. cmat0829 says:

    Just look at what the Dodgers just did, made up 9.5 games on a juggernaut-looking Giants team in 3 weeks… so way way too early for anyone to be giving up on the division race.

    Also, the Reds are now being championed as they have climbed into 2nd place in the division..they just went on a good 2 week streak and are sitting like a game ahead of the Bucs. Perception is reality I guess.

    Bucs need to just take care of business, keep winning series, let the chips fall where they may. It actually HELPS the Bucs to have 4 teams in the Central playing well, should bring the Brewers back to the pack. Cubs are also not a pushover this year.

  39. cmat0829 says:

    I dont think there is any actual information the Pirates are targeting a SS at this point… NH has admitted they are looking for bullpen and possibly starting pitching help…my biggest fear is that they trade for AJB or McCarthy… just say NO to that.

    I also don’t think its the time to trade Glasnow- Bell- Kingham for an ace… not this year — next year, maybe.

  40. Andrew says:

    Cole never had issues with losing velocity as the game progresses, he does this then goes on the DL, and then shows the same trend in his first start back, that is my concern. Could be nothing but I’m concerned

  41. Andrew says:

    The Pirates are in the bottom 3rd of the league in chasing pitches out of the strike zone.

  42. NMR says:

    They most certainly were not desparate for shortstop help, and he’s in the equivalent of the 3rd week in April relative to normal seasons.

    Nobody in their right mind would be judging a player the 3rd week in April.

  43. Andrew says:

    I think it is logical to look at SS as a position to upgrade, only the Red and Brewers have gotten less offense from the SS position in the NL. And it is not like Mercer is a wizard with the glove. That said I don’t think the Pirates are in the target rentals territory. I be looking for starters with multiple years of control or who are improvements to the rotation but I would wait a little longer to get a better picture on Worely and Locke.

  44. Steelkings says:

    +++++

  45. Steelkings says:

    Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish hears from a source with knowledge of the situation that the Pirates would be the “single best fit” for A.J. Burnett and that a trade involving the veteran right-hander is likely before July 31.
    This comes on the heels of a report from John Perrotto of USA Today, who mentioned that the Pirates have Burnett and Brandon McCarthy of the Diamondbacks on their radar as they consider possible rotation upgrades. Of course, Burnett had a 3.41 ERA from 2012-2013 with the Pirates before signing with the Phillies this past offseason. The 37-year-old has the ability to reject trades to 21 teams, but he reportedly would be open to a return to Pittsburgh.

  46. NMR says:

    I see the Bat Signal circling the North Shore as we speak.

  47. jay says:

    But what would commissioner Gordon have to say…and the Joker, the Riddler…ok, I have officially gone over the edge

  48. NMR says:

    Welcome.

  49. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, Jim! Glad you enjoyed it thanks for reading.

 
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