No Joke: Bucs Beat LA

I’ll take a win, no matter how unorthodox. Jeff Karstens, coming off the DL and having not thrown more than 60 pitches in a game since his last start in June, started and was on a quick hook. He pitched three mostly effective innings (one run and three hits), but was pulled after 48 pitches. In his place came Donnie Veal at the best of times. The Bucs were up and the starter hadn’t gone five. Thanks to two scoreless innings from Veal and shutout efforts from three others – including a perfect 9th from Matt Capps – Veal picked up his first career W.

The Pirates scored three unearned runs off Jon Garland. Blake DeWitt’s error in the first led to a sac fly from Garrett Jones. James Loney’s miscue in the third set up a two run, two out single from Brandon Moss.

Garland went six, gave up three unearned runs and whiffes six. He allowed six hits – five singles and a double.

The Good

A win.

Good pitching. Pirate starters walked none!

The Bad

Continued offensive woes.

The Rest

Last time the Pirates won a game in which the starter didn’t pitch five innings was 7-22-09 when Paul Maholm left after 4-2/3 in an 8-7 win over Milwaukee.

There are only four players in the Majors right now under the age of 30 with more than 100 career wins. Jon Garland is one of them. The others are Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia and Carlos Zambrano.

Moss has had three different two RBI games in September – his most of any month this year.

Last time the Pirates walked zero hitters in a game was August 22nd against Cincinnati.

Rajai Davis was in Sports Illustrated this week. Got me thinking – I hadn’t looked up his numbers in a while. So, how is the Rajai Davis Phenomenon doing? Let’s just say he is clearly having a better season than Moss is. Not really even close.

10 games left. Pirates need to go 6-4 to avoid 100 losses.


Maine, Mets Roll as Bucs Lose 7th Straight

It was bound to happen. Paul Maholm didn’t have a particularly sharp outing, though he was undone by one bad inning. The Mets batted around in a five run fourth inning to push open a 1-0 game. They would go onto win 10-1.

Maholm lasted six innings and gave up seven of the 10 Mets tallies. He struck out two.

On the flipside was John Maine. He won his third straight start with six innings of three hit ball. The Pirates only run scored on Paul Maholm’s first big league homer in the sixth inning.

The Mets had seven players collect at least two hits en route to a total of 17. Jose Reyes drove in three runs. Carlos Beltran homered off Maholm in the fifth.

The Good

Andy LaRoche cracked a pair of doubles

The Bad

Too much badness. Maholm was ineffective for once.

The offense continues to remain stagnant.

The Rest

The Pirates scored 70 runs in their first 15 games (4.7 runs per game) to go 9-6 in that stretch. In the most recent batch of 15 games, the club has scored just 56 times (3.7 runs per game) and went 3-12.

The last Pirate pitcher to homer was Matt Morris on 8/4/07 in his first start as a Pirate. Somewhere in Oakland, Rajai Davis is smiling. The last Pirate pitcher to homer twice in one season was Brian Fisher back in 1987.

Arroyo Runs Bucs Loss Streak to Four

The Pirates scoreless streak has reached 22 innings as former Pirate Bronson Arroyo threw 8 shut out innings to pick up his fourth win. He allowed just five singles and three walks while not allowing a runner past second base after the first inning.

Joey Votto had two hits and the game’s first RBI. Brandon Phillips hit a solo homer in the 8th and added sac fly in the 9th to give Cincy some insurance.

No complaints about Zach Duke’s effort. Five singles, a double, five whiffs and two walks in seven innings. His ERA fell to 2.21, while his record slipped to 3-2.

The Good

Duke. Keep on keepin’ on.

Nate McLouth returned. He hit into a double play in the first and reached on an infield single in the 9th.

The Bad

Where’s the offense?

The Rest

Last time the Bucs were shut out in consecutive games was June 20 and June 21, 2007 against the Mariners. Jeff Weaver and Felix Hernandez were the winners for Seattle. The Pirates scored a run in the first inning of the next contest as Freddy Sanchez doubled in Rajai Davis.

This was Arroyo’s fifth win at PNC Park and his first win pitching for someone other than the Pirates. Arroyo has 65 wins since being turned loose by Pittsburgh in 2003.

The Pirates cut Tim Wakefiled and he went on to win 166 games (so far) for Boston. Arroyo won 24 for the Red Sox. That’s 190 wins combined. You are welcome, Red Sox Nation.

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 hitterís plate discipline. Using O-Swing% (ďthe percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zoneĒ), 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%. Letís see how the Pirates are doing this year compared with 2007. (Note: pitchers are not included.)
To start, letís 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 Wilsonís 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.

The Bucs Should Have Tinkered with Rajai Davis

Congratulations are in order for Barry Bonds, of course, as the former Pirate passed Hank Aaron in baseball’s record books last night. I won’t say much more about that—there’s plenty of coverage all over the network—but I’ll tip my cap in Barry’s direction and thank him for allowing me to watch history being made.
It’s actually a nice transition into what I’d like to write about this morning, too.
The Matt Morris trade was one that received a lot of national attention over the past week or so; I’m still getting the occasional e-mail poking fun at the Pirates for making such a mind-bending move. Most of the comments have to do with Morris’ contract, but a few folks are wondering why the Pirates would give up a stud like Rajai Davis.
I’ll admit that when Jayson Stark called Davis “legit” in his post-deadline column, I did a double-take. Is there something I’m missing?
Consider what Pirate prospect expert WTM had to say about Davis entering 2007:

Considering his age—he’s only half a year younger than Chris Duffy and a full year older than Nate McLouth—and his mediocre [2006] season in AAA, Davis probably doesn’t project as more than a 5th outfielder. The Pirates seemingly agree, as they didn’t bother to give him a single start while he was in the majors [as a September call-up]. He’ll have almost no chance of making the team in spring training and should return to Indianapolis [to start the year].

And when he was with the Pirates, Rajai Davis was just that—a crummy extra outfielder of which we have an endless supply. I mean, Davis certainly doesn’t stand out of a pack that includes Duffy, McLouth and Indianapolis’ Nyjer Morgan.
It was Barry Bonds’ assault on Aaron’s record that gave me reason to take notice of a new Rajai Davis.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates, Barry Bonds, Chris Duffy, Matt Morris, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Rajai Davis. Comments Off on The Bucs Should Have Tinkered with Rajai Davis

Adding Morris, Pirates Must Look to Contend?

“I can learn from that man,” said Ian Snell of Matt Morris.
Just before the 4 p.m. trade deadline Tuesday, general manager Dave Littlefield sent Rajai Davis and a player to be named later to the San Francisco Giants for Morris, a right-handed starting pitcher.
Morris, 32, has a track record of major-league success. In 10 professional seasons, he has an earned run average of 3.83 and has won 118 ballgames. In his best year, 2001, Morris went 22-8 with a 3.18 ERA (though he hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00 since 2003). He was a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1995.
He’s paid handsomely, as pointed out earlier: Morris is making $9.5 million in 2007, will make the same in 2008, and has a $9 million option for 2009—though the Pirates can buy him out then for $1 million.
All told, the Pirates will owe Morris at least $15 million for his time spent in black and gold. He becomes the highest paid player in franchise history, surpassing Brian Giles and his $8.8 million salary in 2003.
Said ESPN’s Jayson Stark on the deal:

We love Matt Morris. Terrific guy. Has had a wonderful career. Should be a fine mentor to those young Pirates starters. But the Giants were just about begging teams to take Morris and offering to chomp big chunks of his money if they had to. Then this team going nowhere dropped out of the sky and took the man and the money. What a country. “That move,” said one incredulous front-office man, “is so far out of left field, it’s in the Monongahela.”

Not an unreasonable take, but consider the spin. Stark also said:

… The Pirates called. And wanted Matt Morris. His 7.94 ERA since mid-June? Not a problem. That $9.5 million he’s owed next year (counting his 2009 buyout)? Not a problem. And so they swooped in and finished off a deal for Morris minutes before the deadline—for a legit prospect (Rajai Davis) and a second [PTBNL] …

I disagree with Stark’s tone. I don’t think that the trade is inherently bad:

  • In what alternate reality is Stark living? “Rajai Davis” and “legit prospect” in the same sentence? No. No no no. Davis is nothing more than a fringe major leaguer, one of those guys that can tear up Triple-A but will never amount to much in the bigs. He is fast as lightning, but he has no instincts, can’t get on base and plays mediocre (or worse) defense. Legit prospect? Definitely not. Too much for eating Morris’ contract? We’ll see.
  • If Stark brings up Morris’ 7.94 ERA since mid-June, he has some journalistic responsibility to mention his 3.34 ERA in April, 2.50 ERA in May and 3.86 ERA in June. In 114 innings before the All-Star break, Morris had a 3.55 ERA. In 22 innings after, he has an ERA of 8.34. Maybe it’s a case of what have you done for me lately, or maybe we should consider that for the majority of the 2007 season, Morris has been effective. I think the reader should have an opportunity to make that decision for himself rather than being force-fed the fact that Morris is slumping.
  • It comes down to what Morris can do in Pittsburgh. He’s had success at PNC Park—in five starts here since 2004, Morris has a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings. Part of that may have to do with the Pirates’ miserable offense, but another part may be that the expansive left field keeps balls in the yard that would leave in smaller stadiums. If he pitches as he did in the first half, then I can’t see anyone calling the Pirates losers in this deal.

Dejan Kovacevic says it best, as usual:

… The Pirates have only X number of dollars, and they rather easily dispense it when it comes to certain older players—Morris, Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa—but are uncommonly tight-fisted about it when it comes to the building blocks of the franchise, whether that is bypassing a superior prospect in the draft or failing to compete for top talent in Latin America. …

If sinking 20 percent of the team’s 2007 payroll has a significant effect on spending next year—that is, if the Pirates traded for Morris and consider themselves complete—then this is a horrible move.
If, though, Dave Littlefield (or a new general manager) is given the proper funding to address the offense this off-season, the Morris deal might not be so bad. But I don’t mean Burnitz money. The Pirates must take the savings from any Jack Wilson trade, add a few million dollars more, and make a serious run at a free agent bat; alternatively, they could trade from the farm to acquire legitimate talent.
Most certainly, the Pirates will need to take the best possible talent available in the 2008 draft to save face. There’s no reason to spend $9.5 million on Matt Morris, $5.5 million on Jack Wilson and $0 million on Matt Wieters.
Adding Matt Morris doesn’t turn the Pirates from chumps to champs, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a step backwards, either. The jury will remain out on this one until we see how Morris pitches in 2007 and how the Pirates put together their roster in 2008. If he returns to form—even a 4.00 ERA would be a tremendous boost—and if Littlefield adds a bat or five, then perhaps all hope for next season isn’t lost.
But if Morris is our big-ticket item, the player expected to push us over the edge and into a position to compete in 2008?
We’ll be in trouble. Not because of Matt Morris, though—because of Ronny Paulino, Jose Bautista, Chris Duffy, etc.
We’re not one player away from competing, but the possibility exists that the Pirates may have a salvageable core of major-league talent that, with cultivation and expansion, could produce a .500 winning percentage.