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February 13, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


8 comments so far - add yours!

The case against shrinking the strike zone

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SOUTH HILLS – There’s a number of reasons for baseball’s decline in offense, as run scoring contracted for an eighth consecutive year last season to 4.07 runs per team per game. That’s fewest runs per game since 1981.

There’s the proliferation of shifts, the increase in throwing velocity (which partially explains the deluge of strike outs), the fact that almost all new data and technology flowing into the sport has helped run prevention. (See: shifts, batter’s hot zones, etc.) But there’s something else interesting at work against hitters tied to new technology.

Jon Roegele of The Hardball Times found in studying PITCHf/x data that the strike zone is expanding. In comparing 2009 to 2014, the strike zone has expanded by 35 square inches for left-handed hitters, according to Rogele, and 46 square inches for right-handed hitters . Yahoo! baseball columnist Jeff Passan reported yesterday the study has drawn the interest of Major League Baseball. New commissioner Rob Manfred wants to add offense to the game and some estimates indicate the expanded strike zone is responsible for 30 percent of the run scoring erosion.

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February 12, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


17 comments so far - add yours!

Mechanical engineering: Hall of Famers from the vault, and one analyst projects stardom for Kang

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SOUTH HILLS – Jonah Keri has supplied us with a mid-winter treat as he went behind the scenes at MLB Productions recently and came away with some never-seen-before footage as you can view/read about in this fantastic Grantland.com article.

Keri reported about an interesting project that is underway. Wrote Keri: “The Major League Baseball Film and Video Archive’s contents date all the way back to 1905 and contain more than 200,000 hours of footage. During a recent trip to the MLB Productions headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey, I watched as dozens of technicians worked on converting thousands of games into digital format.”

Keri found one particular gem (which you can view if you go to the link), a newly discovered two-minute video of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson. You know, just three of baseball’s four original Hall of Famers. Continue Reading →

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February 10, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


26 comments so far - add yours!

Can the Pirates’ pen be elite again?

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SOUTH HILLS – The one area where the Pirates could regress to the mean in a significant, positive, low-cost way in 2015 (progression to the mean?) is simply through a better bullpen performance.

Recall, one of the reasons the Pirates were so good in 2013 and out-performed their runs scored vs. runs allowed measure is the bullpen was unassailable until September. Of the first 77 leads the Pirates took into the eighth inning, 76 of those games resulted in wins.

Recall the nightmares of last season when the Pirates’ pen made nearly a 180-degree pivot and blew 24 saves, which was the third-worst in baseball. Remember Frieri? (The Pirates were actually on a much worse pace for blown saves until tightening up the ‘pen in September. The Pirates blew 15 saves in 2013).

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February 9, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


33 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: where the Pirates and Padres differ, windows, and spring training battles

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SOUTH HILLS – If you eliminate climate, street tacos, and time zone, there’s actually quite a number of similarities between the Pirates and Padres.

Pittsburgh ranks 22nd in television market size, according to 2014-15 demographics compiled by  Nielsen, San Diego ranks 28th.

The Pirates play in a pitcher-friendly park and the Padres play in the most run-depressing environment in baseball.

Both teams have long title droughts, in fact, the Padres have never won. The Pirates were irrelevant for 20 years until back-to-back playoff berths. And the Padres have mostly been irrelevant until this offseason which they capped with the signing of James Shields today to a four-year, $75 million deal.

(The good news for the Pirates is Shields did not land in the division as the Cubs were thought to be interested).

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February 6, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


9 comments so far - add yours!

At what price is Shields right for the Pirates? And ZiPs forecasts the 2015 Pirates

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SOUTH HILLS – The last really good free agent pitcher available is of course James Shields. Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com reports he’s expected to sign by the end of the week. The Padres are reportedly the favorite.

Shields is not an ace. He’s a really good No. 2 starter who has evolved from relying less on a wiepout changeup and more on an effective cutter. It seems like he posts 220 innings every year and maybe that is the reason he’s still available. Shields turned 33 in December. He’s also thrown 1,910 innings in his career. That’s a lot of mileage. He wants a five-year deal but may have to settle for four (or less?). Still, that will take him at least through his Age 36 season.

Interesting side note I read last night: no free agent pitcher has ever received more than $50 million when signing after February 1. So what if Shields’ price really comes down from those $100 million expectations? At what point does he make sense for the Pirates who finished with the second lowest WAR among starting pitchers last year?

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February 4, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


22 comments so far - add yours!

Time for MLB to expand? And beyond U.S. borders? (Also, thoughts on Lombardozzi)

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SOUTH HILLS –  In the modern era of baseball expansion, since 1961, we are in the longest period of Major League Baseball having not added a new a franchise. MLB has not added a new team since adding the Diamondbacks and Rays to the mix in 1998. So it’s been 17 years since a team was added. The previous longest gap was a 16-year expansion drought was ended with the additions of the Marlins and Rockies. (I’m not including the Expos’ relocation to Washington).

So is it time for MLB to expand?

When you think about MLB expansion you might immediately turn to familiar domestic cities mentioned like Charlotte , N.C. (which makes some sense with it being second largest banking center in the country and the Carolinas having strong passion for amateur baseball), Portland, Las Vegas and San Antonio. But new MLB commish Rob Manfred keeps saying interesting things in his first days on the job.

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February 2, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


27 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up: State of the Pirates

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SOUTH HILLS – You can argue the Pirates will be challenged to reach the playoffs again in 2015.

While the club did a nice job of scrambling this offseason, they did lose a player I voted as the team MVP in the local baseball writers awards in Russell Martin.

Will the club have enough pitching depth? Was 2014 indicative of the true talent level of Josh Harrison? Is Jordy Mercer really an above average shortstop? We all know the questions.

While there is some uncertainty about the club’s 2015 prospects I don’t think there is much debate about this: the Pirates are well positioned for the remainder of the decade. And they just might be becoming a model franchise that can consistently compete year-in and  year-out, says one prominent national writer. After a 20 consecutive losing seasons, it’s one of the more remarkable turnarounds in North American sports history.

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January 28, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


20 comments so far - add yours!

How many eggs are in Polanco’s basket? (Updated with podcast)

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SOUTH HILLS – So the Pirates were not quite done shaking up the roster this offseason, sending projected fourth outfielder Travis Snider (a ‘superhero’ as described  by Carlos Gomez) to the Orioles last night for prospect Stephen Tarpley and a prospect to be named later.

On the surface this struck many in the public as a curious move.

The Pirates are expected to contend and compete in 2015, and they traded a valuable reserve for a pitcher who spent last season in short-season ball and is not considered a top 100 prospect in the game. Is there now a risk in expecting too much of Gregory Polanco in 2015?

Pirates GM Neal Huntington doesn’t believe so. Continue Reading →

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January 28, 2015
by Rob Biertempfel


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Snider traded to Orioles for two prospects

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PTR-Bucs03-092414My friend Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun has sniffed out news that the Pirates may be close to dealing outfielder Travis Snider to the Orioles.
Talks between the teams for a straight-up Snider-for-Brian Matusz deal fizzled during the Winter Meetings. The Pirates are confident they have plenty of outfield depth — Corey Hart, Andrew Lambo and, yes, Jose Tabata — so discussions heated up again the past few days. Continue Reading →

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January 27, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


6 comments so far - add yours!

Thames and Cantu as Rosetta Stones?

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SOUTH HILLS – Humans are always in search of  translation tools.

Because the Rosetta Stone had text in three different scripts it became the key to understanding Egyptian language.

The film Imitation Game detailed how Alan Turing cracked the German enigma code, which undoubtedly hastened the end of WWII and saved countless lives.

While we’re just talking about a game in this Web space, baseball analysts are also very interested in code-breaking and translations and that’s what makes the signing of Jung Ho Kang the most interesting Pirates-related story of this upcoming spring. Continue Reading →

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