Winter meetings, day 3 – Paulino traded to Phillies

Dejan reports that the Pirates are interested in Marlins shortstop Robert Andino.  Andino is 24, and has seen limited time with the Marlins in each season since 2005.  He never really hit well anywhere before last season, when he posted a .287/.352/.497 line in 181 at-bats at Triple-A.  Dejan speculates that the Marlins might be interested in Ronny Paulino.

12:25 PM: Here is a nice breakdown of Nate McLouth’s financial value in 2008.

1:40 PM: It looks like another team has added a shortstop that is not named Jack Wilson.  The Orioles are expected to sign Cesar Izturis.

8:10 PM: Dejan reports that the Pirates are expecting to make a trade that Neal Huntington referred to as “something small.”  This probably will be nothing exciting, but it could give us something to talk about for a change.

8:25 PM: Here’s a scary quote from John Russell:

The team we have now, we know we can play defense. With Nyjer Morgan and Brandon Moss, we can cover a little more ground on the corners in the outfield.

I think we are going to see way too much of Nyjer Morgan next season.

8:50 PM: Could the potential minor trade mentioned by Huntington be Brian Bixler to the Marlins for Andino?

9:30 PM: The Pirates have traded Paulino to the Phillies for switch-hitting catcher Jason Jaramillo.  Jaramillo is 26, and has spent the past two years in Triple-A.  He seems to have a decent approach at the plate and little power.  He is a decent defender.  A year ago, Baseball America said that “Jaramillo can become a reliable backup in the major leagues.”  He will likely compete with Robinzon Diaz as Ryan Doumit’s primary backup.

10:25 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports that Matt Joyce, a Pirates’ target in a potential Jack to Detroit trade, has been dealt to the Rays for pitcher Edwin Jackson.

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Pirates again lacked patience in 2008

In May, I took a look at the Pirates’ plate discipline in 2007 and 2008. In that small sample size, the team had slightly improved from the previous year. Now that the season is over, I figured it would be a good time to revisit this topic.
Here is an excerpt from my original post to get us started:

FanGraphs has some wonderful statistics that quantify a hitter’s plate discipline. Using O-Swing% (“the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone”), we can determine whether certain players are fishing outside the strike zone on a regular basis. In 2005-2007, the average O-Swing% was around 23%. Let’s see how the Pirates are doing this year compared with 2007. (Note: pitchers are not included.)
To start, let’s take a look at the 2007 Pirates. Jose Castillo (35.11%), Matt Kata (35.11%), Freddy Sanchez (33.43%), and Xavier Nady (30.19%) were all major free-swingers. Castillo and Kata were sent packing after the season, but Sanchez and Nady returned to the starting lineup for 2008. Jack Wilson (26.24%) was slightly above average, while Ryan Doumit (24.96%), Cesar Izturis (24.50%), Adam LaRoche (23.36%), Chris Duffy (23.05%), Jason Bay (22.12%) and Ronny Paulino (21.54%) were all about average. Nate McLouth (18.95%), Josh Phelps (18.95%), Jose Bautista (17.85%) and Rajai Davis (16.82%) were the most disciplined Pirates. Overall, the 2007 Pirates swung at 24.58% (EDIT: My numbers were slightly off at that time. The correct O-Swing% in 2007 was 24.61%.) of pitches outside the strike zone, just slightly higher than average.

McLouth, Sanchez, LaRoche, Doumit, Bay, Nady, Bautista and Wilson received the most at-bats for the Pirates in 2008. Sanchez and Nady continued their wild swinging, staying very close to their 2007 numbers. Sanchez chased 33.33% pitches, while Nady swung at 30.47% balls outside the strike zone before being traded. Doumit (30.60%) also became a very impatient hitter in 2008. Wilson (26.94%) was very consistent with 2007, while LaRoche (22.55%) and Bay (20.65%) both improved slightly. McLouth’s patience regressed this year with increased playing time (21.87%), and Bautista also fell off from last season (21.19%). However, both remained slightly above average. New additions to the team’s bench received a moderate amount of playing time. Doug Mientkiewicz (17.15%) was the most patient player on the team, while Chris Gomez (23.35%) and Jason Michaels (23.71%) were right around league average. Luis Rivas (25.42%) was a bit aggressive off the bench.
Several younger players began receiving playing time after the trades of Bay and Nady. Andy LaRoche (25.30%), Brandon Moss (26.93%) and Steve Pearce (24.77%) displayed a bit below average patience. Nyjer Morgan, the oldest of the group, chased 27.65% of pitches outside the zone. One of the main reasons I remain optimistic about the futures of LaRoche and Moss is their history of patience in the minor leagues. These numbers will have to improve soon as they adjust to Major League pitching. The fact that Pearce was right in the same neighborhood in O-Swing% as these two is somewhat encouraging, as he seemed to swing at everything at times this year. In reality, he was much better in 2008 than he was in 2007 (29.27%), although both were very small sample sizes. I’m not convinced that Pearce can be a quality Major League hitter, but I think he has shown enough to get the same opportunities as Moss and LaRoche in 2009.
Overall, the Pirates chased 25.11% of pitches outside the strike zone in 2008. That number increased slightly from the team’s 24.61% in 2007. Accordingly, the Pirates were 27th in baseball in on-base percentage, and 26th in walks. It seems that the Pirates’ strong early-season focus on patience was mostly forgotten as the season progressed. Another likely reason was the increased playing time for younger hitters after the deadline deals, although the loss of the free-swinging Nady probably offset that line of reasoning a bit. Hopefully, as players like Andy LaRoche, Moss and Pearce mature at the plate, these numbers will become more respectable.
One other note. The Pirates Z-Swing% (“The percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone”) dropped from 66.62% in 2007 to 63.16% in 2008. The 2005-2007 average was about 67%. I don’t think we can take as much from this statistic as we can from O-Swing%, as swinging at strikes is much more situational than swinging at balls. A batter should virtually never chase a pitch out of the strike zone, while there are many instances when swinging at a strike is the wrong decision. However, when examined along with the team’s O-Swing%, this may further indicate a lack of strike zone management.

Has the Pirates’ plate discipline improved?

Early in the season, many people praised Pirate hitters for utilizing a more patient approach at the plate. The most cited evidence of this improvement was the number of times a player took the first pitch he saw. John Russell and his staff were commended for coaxing this team of free swingers into taking some pitches. However, there is a danger in simply taking the first pitch every at-bat. Once opposing pitchers recognize this trend, hitters begin finding themselves behind in the count right off the bat. While being patient and forcing the pitcher to throw additional pitches is an important aspect of hitting, plate discipline is much more valuable. In other words, swinging at pitches in the strike zone and taking pitches that are not. Simple, right?
FanGraphs has some wonderful statistics that quantify a hitter’s plate discipline. Using O-Swing% (“the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone”), we can determine whether certain players are fishing outside the strike zone on a regular basis. In 2005-2007, the average O-Swing% was around 23%. Let’s see how the Pirates are doing this year compared with 2007. (Note: pitchers are not included.)
To start, let’s take a look at the 2007 Pirates. Jose Castillo (35.11%), Matt Kata (35.11%), Freddy Sanchez (33.43%), and Xavier Nady (30.19%) were all major free-swingers. Castillo and Kata were sent packing after the season, but Sanchez and Nady returned to the starting lineup for 2008. Jack Wilson (26.24%) was slightly above average, while Ryan Doumit (24.96%), Cesar Izturis (24.50%), Adam LaRoche (23.36%), Chris Duffy (23.05%), Jason Bay (22.12%) and Ronny Paulino (21.54%) were all about average. Nate McLouth (18.95%), Josh Phelps (18.95%), Jose Bautista (17.85%) and Rajai Davis (16.82%) were the most disciplined Pirates. Overall, the 2007 Pirates swung at 24.58% of pitches outside the strike zone, just slightly higher than average.
The Pirates made two significant changes to their lineup this season. Doumit began receiving most of the playing time behind the plate over Paulino, who was a slightly more disciplined hitter in 2007. And McLouth was named the everyday center fielder, giving the Pirates a much better batting eye in the lineup. Thus far, Doumit (18.44%) and Bay (17.11%) have been much better than last year. McLouth (17.37%) has continued his smart hitting. Nady (27.02%) is still a free-swinger, but has improved. The addition of Doug Mientkiewicz (14.06%) has also helped. But Sanchez (37.70%) has continued swinging at everything and an overmatched Brian Bixler (33.33%) has received a considerable number of plate appearances due to Wilson’s injury. In addition, Bautista (23.79%) has apparently lost his excellent batting eye. As a team, the Pirates have chased 23.76% of pitches outside the zone.
As you can see, the Pirates have improved their plate discipline, but only by a small margin. Because the improvement has been modest, it is no surprise that the team remains in the bottom half of the league in walks and on-base percentage. Without some improvement in these categories, do not expect the Pirates to continue scoring runs at the impressive rate that they have thus far.
P.S. Is anyone wondering why Freddy Sanchez has struggled so badly this year? Beginning in 2006, his yearly Zone% has been 55.26%, 53.96% and 49.92%. In those same years, his O-Swing% has been 30.45%, 33.43% and 37.70%. In other words, pitchers are throwing him far less strikes, and he is increasingly chasing pitches. That is a recipe for disaster. A disaster we may be witnessing right now.

Game #21 vs. St. Louis

PNC Park | 7:05 | Snell vs. Todd Wellemeyer | Box
It looked bad early for the home team. The Cardinals scored two pairs of runs of Ian Snell in the first. But he battled and allowed no more runs through six innings. The bullpen yielded just one hit over the final three innings.
Meanwhile the offense battled back. Jason Bay’s two run homer in the fifth got Snell of the hook and knotted the game at 4 each.
In the 8th, the Pirates ganged up on flat hat wearing Anthony Reyes. With two gone and Ryan Doumit on second, Jose Bautista delivered an RBI single. After Brian Bixler doubled, Doug Mientkiewicz singled to drive in the winning margin. Mientkiewicz was thrown out going for two and lost his mind. Nice to see that kind of fire.
You have to go back to early September of last year to find two straight games where Nate McLouth went hitless. Tonight was just the fifth time all year that both Adam LaRoche and Bautista had hits in the same game.
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Pirates’ 2007 in review – infield defense

This is the second installment in a series reviewing the performance of the Pirates’ defense in 2007. For this purpose, I will be using Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR) and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) by Baseball Prospectus (BP). Along with the statistical analysis, I will incorporate what I have seen while watching the team play this year. Since fielding statistics are not as precise as offensive measures, I welcome any disagreement you may have with any of my assessments. Feel free to explain an opposing point of view in the comments section. Here is the first segment on the Pirate outfielders. Today we will discuss the infield.
The Pirates infield in 2007 was Jack Wilson and those other guys. Wilson rebounded from a poor 2006 season, returning to his top defensive form of a few years ago. Outside of his play, the infield was mostly average.
Adam LaRoche was quietly solid at first base this season. He was not a regular on nightly highlight shows, due to his below average range. But he fielded everything hit to him, and made many a difficult play look simple. LaRoche was a steadying presence on the right side of the infield, producing an FRAR of 15 and an FRAA of 6.
Jose Bautista showed some promise at third, but inconsistencies kept his defense from elevating above the level of average. It is possible that his versatility has hurt his defensive development, as he has shifted all over the field since joining the Pirates. In 2007, he was finally given the opportunity to settle in at one place. He was fantastic at third early in the season, but came back to earth as the year continued. Overall, he finished with an FRAR of 9 and an FRAA of -2.
In the second half of the season, many described the defense of Freddy Sanchez as Gold Glove caliber. While it is true that he improved over the course of 2007, we cannot forget how poorly he played in the first half. Early on, Sanchez seemed to botch several makeable plays in each game. Most likely, his injured knee was hindering him, severely limiting his range. His defense did improve dramatically as the year wore on, and it is very likely that the second half Freddy is the real one. But we cannot just toss out all of the struggles he endured before summer began. In April and May, Sanchez’s defense was very detrimental to the team. He finished the season with an FRAR of 7 and an FRAA of -15.
Jose Castillo, as we could have expected, performed unpredictably during limited playing time all over the infield. Cesar Izturis was good after joining the team in July to back up Jack Wilson. Josh Phelps was about average while relieving LaRoche at first. Matt Kata, Don Kelly, Ryan Doumit, Brad Eldred and Steve Pearce each spent irrelevant amounts of time in the infield. Overall, this group produced an FRAR of 14 and an FRAA of 2.
Obviously, Jack Wilson was the component that kept the Pirate infield going. After a couple of years as one of the top defensive shortstops in the league, Wilson attempted to add some strength before the 2006 season. The defensive results were not positive, as Wilson’s range dropped dramatically due to his increased bulk. He slimmed back down for the 2007 season, and his excellent defense returned. Ironically, he was benched for several games in June after a particularly poor showing in the field at Yankee Stadium. But that seemed to light a fire under him, and he played very well the rest of the year. Wilson had an FRAR of 37 and an FRAA of 19 this season.
Overall, the Pirates infield had a total FRAR of 82 and an FRAA of 10, much of which came from Wilson’s excellent defensive numbers. There is the opportunity that this could become a very solid infield next season, mostly because of Sanchez. It seems evident now that Freddy’s early season struggles were enhanced by injuries, leaving him as a very poor second baseman. It is quite possible that he can be an above fielder next season, giving the Pirates a strong middle infield. With a steady LaRoche and developing Bautista manning the corners, the Pirates could gain a win or two with their infield defense in 2008.

Posted in 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates, Adam LaRoche, Brad Eldred, Cesar Izturis, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jose Bautista, Jose Castillo, Josh Phelps, Matt Kata, Steve Pearce. Comments Off on Pirates’ 2007 in review – infield defense

’08 Bucs: Who’s on Board, Who Walks the Plank?

Baseball is a fickle mistress. The game returns while the world around us is in full bloom, with colors exploding, the days becoming longer and warmer. Then, just as the temperatures chill and those hues fade, fans are left with the prospect of a cold, long winter without the greatest game in the world.
Don’t worry. There will be plenty of activity between now and February (say it with me- pitchers and catchers report..)
The schedule may be complete, but as any astute baseball fan will tell you, there is no offseason. Between free agency, arbitration and the Rule V Draft, there is enough activity for a baseball junkie to survive the winter.
Today, let’s look at the status of some “on the fence” players- those who may or my not return in black and gold next season. For each player, I have provided a reason for a return (Welcome Back) and a devil’s advocate take on why the player may end up in another city (Hit the Road). In addition, the players in question have been broken into smaller groups: Trade Bait, Non-Tender Candidates, Pending Free Agents, and DFA (Designated For Assignment) Candidates.
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How long will Jim Tracy manage the Pirates?

On Tuesday, the Pirates officially announced that Neal Huntington would be the team’s new general manager. Since coming on board, team president Frank Connelly has maintained that the new GM would make the decision on Jim Tracy’s future with the team. That subject was raised several times during Huntington’s first day on the job. Let us take a look at how he responded.
From the Post-Gazette:

For me to speculate on any one individual or any personnel moves or any staff changes or any player changes, I’m not ready or equipped to do that. We’re going to tirelessly gather information. We will thoroughly and fairly evaluate our personnel and how we’ve done things.

From Pirates.com:

I need to learn about the Pittsburgh Pirates — who we are, what we do, how we do it — and at this point to speculate on any one individual, personnel member, staff member, player, I’m not equipped to do that. Out of fairness to all those people, I understand that there is some instability. I understand that instability creates discomfort. It’s my duty to walk through that information gathering and evaluating process appropriately.

From the Beaver County Times:

I don’t think it would be right for me to say on the first day on the job what changes might be made. I’m in the beginning stages of evaluating the organization and I’m excited about assessing our strengths and weaknesses. Usually, changes are made when there is a switch in general managers and I’m sure there will be some changes, some that unfortunately may be quite painful. However, I want to evaluate everything before I make any decisions.

Finally, from the radio broadcast of Tuesday night’s game:

I think to comment on anyone in particular at this point in time is inappropriate, but what we will do is ensure that the process is thorough, ensure that the process is fair. I respect these people as professionals, but…we do have to make some changes. Unfortunately, some good people may be put in different positions or may not continue with us.

It is often said that when a GM gives his manager a vote of confidence, his job is very much in jeopardy. Frequently, this is an accurate notion. However, I suppose that the indication is much more negative when the GM is directly asked and refuses to lend his support to the manager. It appears that Huntington is either not sure on Tracy’s future or simply not making his thoughts public. It also appears, at least by his comments, that he is leaning toward a new manager.
Up until recently, I was apathetic towards Tracy and his future. While I was not particularly enamored with many of his decisions, he did not seem to be the root of the problem. However, as the season winds down, he seems to become more and more illogical. The fact that he has started Nyjer Morgan virtually every day while Steve Pearce and Nate McLouth sit on the bench makes my head spin. Maybe that decision is coming from above, but the way Tracy speaks of Morgan makes it seem to be his choice. His affection for players such as Morgan and Cesar Izturis (and Mike Edwards, and Jose Hernandez, and…) has not helped his cause with Pirate fans. Finally, do not forget his continual insistence on forcing a one-legged Xavier Nady into the lineup during a lost season. Tracy has proven to me that he does not understand the concept of an injured hamstring.
In addition, Tracy seems to have lost much of his authority in the clubhouse. Last week, he requested that both Jack Wilson and Salomon Torres return to the team within two days of the birth of a child. To be blunt, it is insane to ask a man to disregard his family to play in a meaningless September baseball game for a last place team. These players agreed, went above Tracy seeking more time away and found a sympathetic ear. Tracy does not seem to be on the same page as management.
Pat Lackey made an interesting point, that the Pirates might as well leave Tracy alone for a year as they begin rebuilding. Once Huntington can get some talent in place, he could make his pick for manager in 2009. This seems like a decent idea, but I would be cautious that Tracy might not be the right person to lead a young, developing team. His handling of Pearce and Tom Gorzelanny this season, among many other things, has made me very skeptical that he is serving a purpose in this organization.
To conclude, let us take a look at the lineup Tracy sent out on Wednesday night. Izturis, hitting .257/.301/.315, was batting second. Jose Bautista (.259/.345/.422) and Nate McLouth (.256/.349/.457) hit fifth and sixth respectively. I simply do not understand. Neither do many other people.