Braves Pounce on Pirates

Jeff Francouer delivered a two run single in the first and Casey Kotchman added another RBI knock later in the inning to put the Braves in front early against Zach Duke and the Pirates. Javier Vazquez and the Atlanta bullpen needed nothing else to hold the Pirates down.

Atlanta tagged on several more runs as Martin Prado hit a three run homer in the fourth and former Pirate David Ross added a three run blast in the 7th.

Atlanta almost made turned this series into a three straight shutouts. But, the Pirates put together a two out rally in the 9th to score a run. When Ramon Vazquez was HBP to force home a run. I’m assuming by then that most of the nearly 15,000 who turned out had departed to listen to talk about the upcoming NFL draft.

The Good

Freddy Sanchez and Nyjer Morgan both had two hits, with Sanchez smacking his NL leading 7th double of the year.

The Bad

After Joe Kerrigan was hired, the Bucco Blog did a nice study on whether or not 1st inning runs allowed is really a big deal or not. This is something that seemed to plague the Pirates last year with Duke (19), Snell (22) and Gorzelanny (24) giving up a bunch of runs in the first frame (compared to 10 by Maholm).

The Rest

David Ross came into the game hitting less than .200 in 86 PAs at PNC. He doubled in addition to his homer.

Braves reliever Jeff Bennett is best remembered (at least by me) as one of the Pittsburgh Five when five Buccos were lost in the 2003 Rule V draft in the first six picks. In addition to Bennett, the Pirates lost Chris Shelton, Rich Thompson, Frank Brooks and Jose Bautista). Check out Baseball America’s synopsis of the draft. Have to love Brian Graham’s quote: “What this shows is we have a lot of depth in our system.” Really, Brian? Where?

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Pirates defense according to PMR

David Pinto has been releasing his 2008 Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR) numbers, so I figured we should check out how the Pirates performed. PMR is a fielding metric that basically uses an assortment of play by play data from Baseball Info Solutions (such as direction and velocity) to determine an expected number of outs for each team or player. Using the expected number of outs and the total number of balls in play, David can calculate the expected Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER). Finally, he compares the actual DER and the expected DER to come up with the PMR ratio. A ratio above 100 signifies a positive defense, while a ratio below 100 indicates that the defense is hurting the team.  (Click here for more details.)

Dan Turkenkopf converted these ratios to defensive runs above or below average per 4000 balls in play, or approximately a full season.

Here is how the Pirates fared in 2008, position by position.

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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.

Game #142: Loss #82 Comes in the Form of a 10 Run Inning

AT&T Park | 4:05 | Karstens vs. Jonathan Sanchez | Box
It was bound to happen. But, this was plain ugly. Jeff Karstens had faced just nine Giants through the first three innings. And the Pirates had a 5-0 lead. But Karstens committed a throwing error on the lead off hitter in the fourth inning. Then the next seven hitters reach base. Then Karstens was pulled for T.J. Beam. But the damage was done. SF scored 10 times in the fourth and that was plenty.
The Pirates managed just three hits over the final five innings. Osiris Matos relieved Jonathan Sanchez after he lasted just three innings. Despite giving up two runs in two innings, Matos was the pitcher of record.
Good news, bad news. Robinson Diaz, who the Bucs got earlier in the year from Toronto for Jose Bautista had a pair of hits. Nate McLouth had to leave the game after he made a diving attempt at a liner that short hopped and caught him above the eye, causing a gash that needed stitches.
All that and sixteen straight losing seasons.
Pre-Game Thoughts
Will today be the day for #82?
Jonathan Sanchez who spent some time in August on the DL with shoulder issues will try to make that happen. He has not won since June 29 and is 0-6 with a 6.30 ERA since then in eight starts. One the year he is 8-10 with 139 strikeouts in 142 IP.
He lost to the Pirates on May 6. In 5-1/3 IP against Pittsburgh, his ERA 18.56. The Pirates are 9-19 against Sanchez. Both Ryan Doumit and Adam LaRoche have homered.
The Pirates will counter with Jeff Karstens he is coming off of a very tough four game stretch that has seem him go winless and post an ERA of 6.04 in 22-1/3 innings. Karstens has yet to face the Giants. Bengie Molina is the only Giants hitter to face Karstens. He is 1-3 with a double.

Pearce to Indy

Doug Mientkiewicz is back with the Pirates, and the team sent Steve Pearce to Triple-A to make room for him. I am disappointed with this move, as it is becoming more and more obvious that management has little planned for Pearce moving forward. They never fully committed to giving him regular playing time after the deadline trades, and now he’s back in the minors. I understand that he has been lousy this year, both in Indy and Pittsburgh, and may never be an impact Major League player. But he still has much more potential than Jason Michaels or Nyjer Morgan. Hopefully this was just a roster crunch. With Nate McLouth still battling an illness, the team may have decided to keep Morgan up for a few days. Of course, I thought the same thing when Jose Bautista was sent down. Now he is in Canada. We’ll have to wait and see whether Pearce gets some playing time after September 1.

Jose Bautista traded to Blue Jays

The Pirates shipped Jose Bautista to Toronto today for a player to be named later. This caps Bautista’s very quick falling out of favor with the team. After his slow start to the season, Doug Mientkiewicz began receiving regular playing time at third base. In the past two weeks, Bautista dropped to a utility player, was demoted to Triple-A, and now has been shipped out of town for the infamous PTBNL.
This is surprising, as Bautista appeared to have a future with the team as a utility player. He was not happy after losing his starting spot, and this move likely had something to do with his reaction to the acquisition of Andy LaRoche. Or maybe he was no longer in the Pirates’ long-term plans, so they simply did him a favor and worked out a trade that would allow Bautista to get on the field for another organization. Either way, I would have liked to have kept him in the system.
No word on who the Pirates will receive in return.

Bautista Optioned

Jose Bautista didn’t see it coming. But, he was demoted. I’m a little shocked, as well. But, taking a step back, I think it makes sense. Andy LaRoche plays third. Neil Walker is supposed to be able to play third. Bautista had previously played 130+ games total at all three outfield spots. But, I’d rather see what Steve Pearce, Brandon Moss and perhaps even Jason Michaels can do.
As the Post-Gazette’s coverage points out, playing time in Indy might be scarce for Bautista with Walker at third and an outfield full of prospects. Did I say prospects? I meant Chris Duffy and Nyjer Morgan.
Bautista has had over 1500 ML PAs. I don’t think his career is over by any means. I don’t think he’ll ever see significant playing time in Pittsburgh again without a severe injury or someone completely failing.