Ray Searage goes back to work

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NEW YORK – Much has been made about Ray Searage‘s ability to spin yarn, or at least Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and others, into gold.

Searage’s track record the last several years has been sterling, his ability to communicate with players uncanny. But Searage has some work to do in 2014 as the Pirates’ starting staff has gone from a strength in 2013 to a great area of concern. The Pirates’ offense  has actually improved –  having scored the fourth most runs in the NL in June – and the bullpen is bound to improve when looking at those underlying skills.

But the rotation? Too many pitches have been up in the zone this season, or out of the zone, and the trend continued at Citi Field.

Continue reading Ray Searage goes back to work

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Monday Morning Mop-Up: Cole vs. Strasburg, who ya got?

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CITI FIELD  –  Which former No. 1 overall prospect would you rather have – and try to be objective here – Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg?

Considering everything, the contracts, club control, skill sets, age, physical characteristics, Jonah Keri ranked Cole as the 26th most valuable property in baseball, Strasburgh 15th in his trade ranking sin December. I think that’s fair – but I think Cole has also closed the gap. I think you can argue the Pirates now have two of the top 20 assets in baseball in Cole and Andrew McCutchen.

Continue reading Monday Morning Mop-Up: Cole vs. Strasburg, who ya got?

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Lessons from the Wandy Rodriguez Experience

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates’ front office ran out of patience with Wandy Rodriguez yesterday, designating him for assignment. Even though his velocity wasn’t that far off his career average, even though his curveball appeared to have the same break and spin rate as it had before he left a start June 5 last season in Atlanta with elbow pain, Rodriguez was never again the same pitcher. This had more to do with command and fastball plane, I suspect.

Anyways, after Rodriguez’s posted sixth highest ERA among pitchers with 20+ innings pitched this season, the Pirates and Astros will eat the remaining dollars on his $14 million contract.

Continue reading Lessons from the Wandy Rodriguez Experience

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Revisiting Machado vs. Taillon

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SOUTH HILLS – If the first 40+ games haven’t been painful enough to many in Western Pa., if Tuesday night wasn’t disappointing enough with Francisco Liriano rocked by the Orioles, there was also Manny Machado playing third base at PNC Park – for another team.

Now Machado is off to a slow start this season, coming off a knee injury and resulting surgery. But as a 21-year-old last season he posted a remarkable 6.2-WAR campaign for the Orioles. And had the Pirates selected him, he would be playing his natural shortstop position, an area where the Pirates have struggled to generate production.

The great debate in the 2010 Pirates’ draft war room was Machado vs. Jameson Taillon. Machado has already made an impact at the major league level and could become a superstar. Taillon is in Bradenton, Fla. rehabbing following Tommy John surgery, a living reminder of the dangers associated with drafting and developing young pitching.

Continue reading Revisiting Machado vs. Taillon

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Monday Mop-Up Duty: first quarter report

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NEW YORK – The Pirates salvaged something from their series in New York by splitting Sunday’s gaffe-filled doubleheader. But as we’ve officially passed the quarter pole, the Pirates are in a tough spot. There’s still a lot season to play, there’s still a lot to like about this roster (and some not to like), but the Pirates are without much margin for error. They are seven games under .500 (18-25). The Cardinals are beginning to look more like the Cardinals. The Pirates have regressed in just about every area, including now apparently, base-running.

Continue reading Monday Mop-Up Duty: first quarter report

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This is why we can’t have nice things

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MILLER PARK – I didn’t get much of a chance to comment on Jose Fernandez earlier as I was traveling and had to immediately get to work at the ballpark Tuesday, but what an absolute shame for not only the Marlins but the entire sport as this was perhaps the best young arm in the game.  While Tommy John surgery doesn’t end his career, it puts a career on hold, and the procedure is not always the automatic cure many believe it to be. Just ask Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano. Even Stephen Strasburg isn’t quite as electric as he was before surgery. I hope we get to see Fernandez return as what he was: a remarkable talent.

What’s troubling, including and beyond Fernandez, is this: of the 22 major league pitchers who have had Tommy John since Feb. 18 – an astonishingly high number –  the overwhelming majority have been young. The surgery patients have averaged 23.4 years of age. Think about how young that it is? Think about what that tells us? Think about what that might mean, for, say, Gerrit Cole. (Including minor league arms, the TJ toll is at 34 this spring, including Jameson Taillon.)

Continue reading This is why we can’t have nice things

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Monday Mop-Up Duty: There will be blood

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PNC PARK –  Last night’s loss seemed soul crushing for the Pirates, blowing a late, golden opportunity to win the Million Dollar Arm Publicity Game. But big picture, the Pirates still finished their homestand with three series wins. It was a very good homestand (Jon Hamm even showed up). It could have been great.That’s progress.

The Pirates are relevant again as they head to Milwaukee. And if Pirates-Brewers was not a rivalry before the Easter Brawl of ’14, it is now.

The  two teams meet up for the first time Tuesday since the brawl last month that resulted in a number of suspensions, a black eye for Travis Snider, and Russell Martin challenging Martin Maldonado to Pay-Per-Vew fight.  So there figures to be some interesting drama unfolding over three days on the coast of Lake Michigan. But of course the more important question is can the Pirates or anyone else in the NL Central catch the Brewers? Continue reading Monday Mop-Up Duty: There will be blood

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Smart money is on Polanco … and approaching elite talents early

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates have fallen out of the gate, but you can applaud their off-the-field strategy of aggressively targeting young, core players to lock up to long-term deals. Earlier this offseason I wrote and about how teams should – and might have to be – more aggressive in locking  up young players as free agency and arbitration salaries continue to soar, lessening the incentive for players to sign long-term deals early in their careers, particularly as they draw closer to arbitration and free agency.

And the Pirates were as aggressive as any team in baseball history in offering a contract to Gregory Polanco.

Continue reading Smart money is on Polanco … and approaching elite talents early

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Up in smoke

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SOUTH HILLS – So you’ve probably heard bullpens are prone to volatility from year-to-year more than any other position group in baseball. This is in large part due to small sample-size, but you also see more max-effort pitching deliveries out of the bullpen, which leads to more stress, which leads to more injuries and performance drops. We knew it would be about impossible for the Pirates’ bullpen to be as good as it was a year ago, because it was nearly perfect for the first four months of the season. We knew there would be decline — but this is ridiculous.  Continue reading Up in smoke

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