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July 27, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Pirates won the offseason (and had to). … Polanco breakout? … Buying at the deadline

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SOUTH HILLS –  Jung Ho Kang is starting to look like quite the find and quite the steal given the paltry $17 million committed to him over four years.

The Pirates deserve much credit from scouts on the ground in South Korea — the Pirates sent in multiple scouts for multiple looks – to the analytics staff that tried to translate his gaudy KBO production to MLB numbers (while there had never been a KBO position player to transition to the majors there had been many KBO hitters to go to Japan and many Japanese hitters to come to MLB. It’s believed that two degrees of separation is how the translation was accomplished), to Neal Huntington and ownership for pulling the trigger.

Kang leads the Pirates in pitches seen per plate appearances (4.1) and is second in on-base percentage (.363) and has been great and a critical time since filling in for Josh Harrison, batting over .410 since July 6. Oh, he can handle third base and short, defensively.

Over his first 80 games, Kang produced two Wins Above Replacement. If you pro-rate that production over 160 games, Kang is a 4-win player, which is worth $20-some million per year on the open market. Not bad.

But was he even the best acquisition of the offseason? Continue Reading →

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July 23, 2015
by Joe Rutter


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The day Ramirez left

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CAH-Ramirez-2-30

Twelve years ago, the Pirates lost another game (no surprise back then), yet there was a celebration in one corner of the home clubhouse.

I can still vividly remember Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton hugging and laughing after learning they had been traded to the Chicago Cubs. The announcement came moments after the Pirates were beaten 2-0 by the Houston Astros at PNC Park. And while the rest of their teammates looked on in stunned silence, Ramirez and Lofton acted like they had just won the lottery.

Which, in a way, they had. Continue Reading →

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July 23, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Shuffle the deck to find hidden value

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SOUTH HILLS – I hate to be the one to tell you this if you don’t already know, but the trade deadline rarely nets a contender a player that truly makes a difference — a player that either really impacts a team’s chances of reaching the postseason or propels them deeper into the postseason (more on this later in the week).

The benefits of deadline acquisitions are often limited, and the cost can greatly out weigh them. See Addison Russell for Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel last season, or a month of Marlon Byrd in 2013 for the price of Dilson Herrera.

Yes, the Pirates are banged up and scuffling out of the break but it’s still their 25- and 40-man rosters that will largely determine their fortunes regardless of what Neal Huntington does or does not do at the deadline. So instead of focusing just on potential external answers, perhaps more conversation should be spent on finding more value within the current roster.

Continue Reading →

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July 20, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Hurdle growing frustrated with 1B? Gomez. And depth to be tested …

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MILWAUKEE –  Pedro Alvarez was taken off third base on Aug. 17 last season against the Washington Nationals after his 24th throwing error, the most since Fangraphs.com began tracking throwing errors in 2002. Perhaps Clint Hurdle has a 4.5-month patience threshold. Is his patience running out in regard to Alvaerz’s new home?

Hurdle folded his arms as he hardly offered a stirring defense of the 2008 No. 2 overall pick on Saturday.

Some selections from Hurdle’s answers in response to a sequence of questions regarding Pedro Alvarez:

Hurdle on need for upgrade: “I’m not going to bang the drum when I have a team full of players.”

Hurdle on patience with Alvarez: “I think we’ll evaluate (Alvarez) as we did last year. I don’t know what is going to happen two weeks down the road. Could it be different? It could be. Could it be the same? It could be.”

Hurdle on first base alternatives: “Before you go talking about changing things, you have to have an identifiable Option B.”

That last comment was particularly interesting. Continue Reading →

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July 13, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-up Duty: is this magic sustainable? (trade deadline talk and more …)

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SOUTH HILLS – After the conclusion of another instant classic game Sunday night, after the Pirates closed the first half on a tear, my friend David Manel of BucsDugout.com and I had a post-game conversation that centered around this question: what, if anything, is fluky about this first half?

Did the way the Pirates march to a 53-35 mark contain too much good fortune?

Can it be sustained in the second half?

Can the Pirates win their first division title since 1992? Are they really the best team in baseball as the estimable Jonah Keri ranks them in his midseason stock report?

Continue Reading →

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July 11, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Is Polanco pivoting?

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Gregory Polanco is the great hope for the Pirates’ second half in regard to untapped run production.

With few sellers and many buyers in this trade market as the deadline approaches– and this will likely often be the case in the two wild card era unless the deadline is pushed back — it’s likely offensive improvement for the Pirates will have to come from within the current roster.

Moreover, even if the Pirates wanted to make a big splash, like when they bid for David Price last July, the Pirates have farm system depth but perhaps not the top assets of other organizations. Despite 11 of the top 15 Baseball America preseason prospects graduating to the majors this season, only two Pirates prospects – Tyler Glasnow (No. 7) and Josh Bell (No. 46) – made Baseball America’s midseason top 50 this week. The Pirates are highly unlikely to move Glasnow, and beyond him there are not many players that projected as future impact pieces.  Jameson Taillon has fallen out of the top 50 due to his back-to-back lost seasons. Continue Reading →

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July 6, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Injury bug bites into Pirates’ hidden advantage

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PNC PARK – One of the strengths of the Pirates this season, perhaps thee strength that has not received proper attention, is health. The Pirates’ training, strength, and coaching staffs have done an excellent job keeping players healthy and on the field … until today.

(It also helps that the vast majority of the roster is under 30 years of age).

Josh Harrison appeared in the clubhouse Monday with his left hand wrapped in a bulky amount of gauze. He injured his thumb on a slide and might require surgery. He is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

Starling Marte had his upper body wrapped Monday after he left Sunday’s game with pain in his side.

Harrison is the first Pirate regular position player to land on the disabled list this season. The starting staff has been healthy outside of Charlie Morton beginning the season on the disabled list. A year after the Pirates had the fewest DL days in the sport, they entered Monday with the seventh-lowest number (Check out the totals here). And many of those days lost are tied up with spare parts like Andrew Lambo and Justin Sellers. It has been a critical, hidden edge.

Continue Reading →

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July 6, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Will (and when) Taillon be as good as new?

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The Pirates eventually need Jameson Taillon to be good.

The Pirates need No. 2 overall picks to be stars. We know they took Taillon over an emerging star in Manny Machado. And we’ve expressed the belief in this space before that clubs, more often than not, should lean toward position players with premium picks.

All that being said, there are some silver linings in the clouds hanging over a second straight lost season for Taillon. Continue Reading →

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June 29, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: SOS (strength of schedule) message … and the Pirates’ power outage

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SOUTH HILLS – After Tuesday’s win vs. the Reds, Gerrit Cole stared up a flat-screen television hanging from the ceiling in the PNC Park clubhouse in disappointment, seeing the Cardinals had won yet another game.

Cole jokingly — well, half-jokingly — wondered aloud if the Cardinals were going to go ahead and win the remainder of their games.  Cole tried to quickly calculate how many wins that would give the Cardinals.

“One hundred and thirty six!” exclaimed Cole.

The Cardinals are the first major league team to 50 wins – incredible since much of it has been without Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams and Matt Holliday – and are the fastest MLB team to 50 wins since the 2005 White Sox.

The Cardinals are going to be very difficult to catch even if they eventually cool off.

And while the Pirates are nine games over .500 (42-33), they remain significantly behind the Cardinals, and might have already benefited from their most favorable stretch of schedule this season.

Continue Reading →

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June 25, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Does Buchholz make sense for Pirates? Phillies scouting Pirates (and a podcast)

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PNC PARK – The Boston Globe reported earlier today the Pirates sent a scout in for the Red Sox game yesterday, ostensibly to watch right-handed pitcher Clay Buchholz, who continued his bounce-back season. The Red Sox are nine games back and in last place in the AL East at 32-42. The club could consider moving a chip like Buchholz for assets in retooling.

The 30-year-old owns a 3.86 ERA (2.72 FIP) and 1.29 WHIP this season, walking 23 and striking out 91 in 93 innings. If you dig deeper, his fastball velocity is up slightly to 92 mph and he has a career-best swinging strike rate at 11 percent. For his career, totaling 1008 innings, he’s been a mid-rotation pitched, recording 13.2 WAR.  In the NL, his numbers would play ever better.

He’s affordable, too. He’s owed roughly $6 million for the remainder of this season and has two club options: a $13 million option for 2016 ($500k buyout) and a $13.5 million club option for 2017 ($500k buyout). Continue Reading →

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