Houston Rallies Late to Beat Bucs

Steven Jackson gave up three runs in 1.1 innings of work over the 7th and 8th innings as the Pirates dropped two of three to Houston. Miguel Tejada delivered a two out RBI infield single in the 7th to break a 3-3 tie. On that play former Pirate Matt Kata scored from second, not stopping on the play since there were two gone. In the 8th, Jackson put two on with one away and was relieved by Jesse Chavez. He allowed run scoring hits to Humberto Quintero and former Pirate Jason Michaels to put Houston up 6-3.

The Pirates scored once and brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Freddy Sanchez in the 9th, but couldn’t come through LaTroy Hawkins.

Ian Snell gave up three runs in six innings. He walked one and whiffed three. Astros starter Felipe Paulino left in the second with a groin issue. He gave way to Russ Ortiz, who tossed 4-1/3 innings of shutout ball. Ortiz was in line for the win but the Pirates scored twice in the visitor’s half of the 7th off of Tim Brydak, setting up Jackson’s ineffective effort.

The Good

Andrew McCutchen logged his first three hit game.

The Pirates defense recorded three double plays, including a strike ’em out/throw ’em out.

Snell was decent. That’s a positive sign.

The Bad

Tough when the bullpen falters.

Ramon Vazquez bobbled Tejada’s grounder in the 7th, allowing

The Rest

This was the 11th career game in which Humberto Quintero had two or more RBI. Three of those are against Pittsburgh. This was his second career three hit game.

Michael Bourn has two hits in five of his last six games.

Jeff Fulchino picked up his first ML win.

Sanchez is in the midst of a 2-18 (and 4-27) streak.





Duke Sparkles Again

Not sure where this has come from. Magic? Joe Kerrigan? Whatever it is, Zach Duke has won back-to-back starts for the first time since June of last year. After that start 6/9/08 vs. Arizona, Duke’s record was 4-4. He would go 1-10 the rest of the way.

Duke walked two and allowed four hits. The Astros didn’t advance a runner to third until two were out in the seventh. He struck out five. The effort was Duke’s third career shutout. His final win last year was a shutout of SF.

Every Pirate starter had at least one hit – and, no, Andy LaRoche didn’t start – contributing to the win. Adam LaRoche hit a two run homer as part of a five run third and Ryan Doumit added an “oh by the way” solo homer in the 8th to cap the scoring at 7-0. Freddy Sanchez had three doubles.

The Pirates offense was unkind to Astros starter Brian Moehler, who fell to 0-2 on the season.

The Good

More, please from Zach Duke. It’s like 2005 all over again. Good grief, where did this optimism come from?

Adam LaRoche had three hits, giving him his first three hit April game since 4/18/06 when he was still with Atlanta. LaRoche had just one homer and five RBI for all of April 2008. This far into the season, he has two dingers and four RBIs. Is that more optimism?

The Bad

Harry Kalas passed away today. Very sad. Other than Harry Caray, there is probably no other broadcaster I have tried to (poorly) imitate. Here’s a long winded story for you: My brother belongs to a local sports club in Cincinnati that has some wicked cool displays of baseball memorabilia. The club also brings in speakers – numerous Hall of Famers have been in along with a lot of ex-Reds. Mike Schmidt – a Dayton, OH native – was in last week. Part of the program involves a random door prize, which my brother has never won. However, with the Schmidt event, they decided to add a trivia side as well and bring some skill into the contest. The question was off which pitcher did Schmidt clout his 500th homer. The answer, of course, is former Bucco Don Robinson. My brother, of course, knew it and won the door prize – an autographed pair of game worn Mike Schmidt cleats. Upon hearing the story all I could hear in my head was Harry Kalas’ call of the homer – “Michael Jack Schmidt…” And now he is gone.

The Rest

Former Pirates OF Jason Michaels started and had one hit. Former Bucco farmhand Jeff Keppinger – traded in the Kris Benson deal to the Mets – also started and had one hit.

Houston entered the game with the worst offense in the NL, scoring 2.67 runs per game, a full run less than Arizona. This effort won’t help. They were also shutout on Sunday by St. Louis.

Because it was the home opener, Steve Blass threw out the first pitch to celebrate his 50 years of affiliation with the franchise. Unlike Michael Keaton a few years ago, I’m assuming he didn’t criticize the team in a press conference following the pre-game ceremonies.  

Michaels signs with Astros

We got some good news today, as the Astros have signed Jason Michaels to a one year, $750,000 deal. I was concerned that the Pirates might seriously be considering bringing him back, but it doesn’t appear that they had any real interest. Michaels had some huge hits for us last season, but he was very poor overall. He is the definition of a replacement level player at this point in his career, and there is no justifiable reason for giving him a major league contract. Let Ed Wade be the one to be enamored with a “solid player” who “can give you a professional at-bat in a tough situation.”  Neal Huntington can keep his focus on scoring runs.

The Pirates are also one of several clubs to show interest in non-tendered free agents Ty Wigginton and Daniel Cabrera. There should be a considerable market for each, so I wouldn’t expect the Bucs to be major players.

Posted in Jason Michaels, Neal Huntington, Ty Wigginton. Comments Off on Michaels signs with Astros

Four veterans file for free agency

Doug Mientkiewicz and Chris Gomez filed for free agency yesterday, the first day in which players were permitted to do so. Jason Michaels and Luis Rivas are also eligible for free agency, assuming the Pirates decline Michaels’ $2.6 million option.

Mientkiewicz is the only one of this group that I would like to see the team retain, as the other three are well below average offensively. Mientkiewicz, on the other hand, is useful off the bench because of his good on-base skills. But he seemed to grow disenchanted with the clubhouse late in the season, and I doubt he will be interested in returning. We may not see any of these players with the team next season.

EDIT: Michaels and Rivas are also free agents. The Pirates declined Michaels’ option.

Posted in Chris Gomez, Doug Mientkiewicz, Jason Michaels, Luis Rivas. Comments Off on Four veterans file for free agency

2009 Defense

I stumbled upon Chone Smith’s 2009 defensive projections today, so I thought I would take a look at how the Pirates stacked up. Here are the players I tentatively expect to make up the starting lineup, along with each one’s projections. COF stands for “corner outfield,” as there are no separate projections for left and right field.

Read the rest of this entry »

JVB, Belisario removed from 40-man

The Pirates continued cleaning up the 40-man roster today, removing some additional spare parts. John Van Benschoten and Ronald Belisario were sent to Triple-A Indianapolis in a move that was not surprising by any means. We have all witnessed JVB’s struggles the past few years, as his return from injuries has gone anything but smoothly. His future as a starter is bleak, and there is little reason to keep him on the roster with the increased pitching depth in the system. Belisario has lost some velocity after injuries, and is not really a prospect at this point.

This leaves four open spots on the 40-man roster, two of which will go to Tom Gorzelanny and Phil Dumatrait when they come off the 60-day DL. Doug Mientkiewicz, Jason Michaels, Chris Gomez and Luis Rivas will soon become free agents, creating four additional openings. The Pirates must add several minor leaguers to protect them from the Rule V draft.

Posted in Chris Gomez, Doug Mientkiewicz, Jason Michaels, John Van Benschoten, Luis Rivas, Phil Dumatrait, Tom Gorzelanny, Transactions. Comments Off on JVB, Belisario removed from 40-man

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.