The future of the defense – Part 1, Outfield

As Pirate fans, our focus is currently on the future. The team is likely two seasons away from any clear improvement, and a potential championship club is years away. With that in mind, I wanted to take a futuristic look at an important aspect of the team that often receives little attention: the defense. Let’s start with the outfield.

The Pirates’ defense was near the bottom of the league in 2008, as it has been for the last several years. When the team dealt Jason Bay and Xavier Nady at the trade deadline, they also unloaded two pretty poor fielders. Nate McLouth won a Gold Glove, but virtually every advanced defensive statistic had him well below average among center fielders. I think McLouth was shortchanged a bit by those metrics, but Gold Glove caliber defense is a stretch. He’s probably about average, maybe slightly below. Long story short, the Pirates boasted a pretty lousy defensive outfield in the first half of 2008.

The 2009 outfield will likely consist of Nyjer Morgan in left, McLouth in center, and Brandon Moss in right. Moss is similar in ability to Nady. With younger legs and sturdier hamstrings, he is probably a tad better. With limited space to cover at PNC Park, we’ll say he is about an average fielder. Morgan, despite a weak arm and the occasional bizarre route, is a much better fielder than Bay. His tremendous speed allows him to cover a great deal of ground, which is necessary in the vast left field of PNC Park. That speed will also compensate for his lack of arm strength a bit, as he can get to balls much more quickly. Over the course of a season, replacing Bay with Nyjer is probably a two-win defensive improvement in itself.

The most exciting part is that the outfield should be greatly improved over the next two years. Andrew McCutchen will join the team sometime this season, and Jose Tabata will likely be arriving in 2010. McCutchen will push McLouth to left, and Tabata will switch from center to right when he arrives. That will give the Pirates three outfielders that originally came up as center fielders. That is quite a bit of range to work with.

Further down the road, there is some additional athleticism we can envision wandering around the outfield grass. Robbie Grossman and Wesley Freeman, two highly-touted high school outfielders from the most recent draft, are center fielders with good range. They may find a place in the Pirates’ outfield one day.

Overall, there is an encouraging outlook for the future outfield defense. Next up, the infield.

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Random thoughts

I have a few disjointed thoughts rolling around in my head as I eat lunch today.

 

Nady Trade

Remember when the Yankees absolutely stole two of the Pirates’ best players for nothing at the 2008 trade deadline? Let us briefly recap that trade. The Yankees received a 29-year-old fourth outfielder and a 33-year-old LOOGY. The Pirates received three youngish pitchers with question marks and some potential upside, along with a 19-year-old top prospect playing at Double-A. I wonder how much Xavier Nady’s post-trade line of .268/.320/.474 helped the Yankees down the stretch. CHONE projects him to hit .273/.327/.456 in 2009.

 

Excessive Expectations

From today’s PG:

Almost every time Pedro Alvarez swings his mighty bat around here, the names fly.

Matt Wieters.

Albert Pujols.

Ryan Howard.

Then Manny Sanguillen dropped the big one.

“Pedro Alvarez has Willie Stargell’s swing,” the patriarch of Pirates catchers was saying Thursday. “I played with him a lot of years. I know that swing.”

Wow. Nothing like unnecessary pressure on a guy that has yet to make his first professional appearance. Let’s all take it easy for a while, and let Pedro Alvarez develop into Pedro Alvarez. I’m guessing that will probably be plenty impressive in itself.

Posted in Pedro Alvarez, Xavier Nady. Comments Off on Random thoughts

Random thoughts

I have a few disjointed thoughts rolling around in my head as I eat lunch today.

 

Nady Trade

Remember when the Yankees absolutely stole two of the Pirates’ best players for nothing at the 2008 trade deadline? Let us briefly recap that trade. The Yankees received a 29-year-old fourth outfielder and a 33-year-old LOOGY. The Pirates received three youngish pitchers with question marks and some potential upside, along with a 19-year-old top prospect playing at Double-A. I wonder how much Xavier Nady’s post-trade line of .268/.320/.474 helped the Yankees down the stretch. CHONE projects him to hit .273/.327/.456 in 2009.

 

Excessive Expectations

From today’s PG:

Almost every time Pedro Alvarez swings his mighty bat around here, the names fly.

Matt Wieters.

Albert Pujols.

Ryan Howard.

Then Manny Sanguillen dropped the big one.

“Pedro Alvarez has Willie Stargell’s swing,” the patriarch of Pirates catchers was saying Thursday. “I played with him a lot of years. I know that swing.”

Wow. Nothing like unnecessary pressure on a guy that has yet to make his first professional appearance. Let’s all take it easy for a while, and let Pedro Alvarez develop into Pedro Alvarez. I’m guessing that will probably be plenty impressive in itself.

Posted in Pedro Alvarez, Xavier Nady. Comments Off on Random thoughts

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 #162: Pirates at Padres

Petco Park | 10:05 | Ohlendorf vs. Cha Seung Baek |Box
Welcome to the off-season of the 16th straight year of sub-.500 baseball.
The Pirates hit a pair of solo homers off of rookie Wade LeBlanc to take a 2-1 lead and then tacked three on in the 9th to run away with a W in game #162. LeBlanc was in after starter Cha Seung Baek left after straining a calf muscle.
The three runs in the 9th were charged to Heath Bell. Two were driven in by Jason Michaels and the the other by Adam LaRoche. Back in the fourth, LaRoche and Steve Pearce connected on the back-to-back solo dingers.
Unfortunately, Ross Ohlendorf didn’t last long enough to get the win. Leading 2-1 (after an RBI double from Brian Giles in the third gave the Pads a short lived 1-0 lead), Having already thrown 98 pitches, Ohlendorf was pulled with two on and two out. Jesse Chavez got Kevin Kouzmanoff to end it. Then five more Pirates hurlers combined to complete a six hitter. Tyler Yates and not Chavez was credited with the win, per the official scorer’s right, after striking out the side in the 8th on twelve pitches.
Fear not Pirate fans, my co-writer, Matt Bandi and I promise to not abandon ship this Winter. We will update the site with pertinent Pirate news, outlooks for 2009, recaps of 2008 and in my case, probably some non-so-pertinent Pirate history, plus anything else that comes to mind.
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Revisiting the Nady/Marte trade

Now that it has been about six weeks since the Pirates traded Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte and Jason Bay, let’s take a look back at how each of the players involved have performed with their new teams. Today we take a look at the deal that sent Nady and Marte to the Yankees in exchange for Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen and Jeff Karstens.
At the time of the trade, many people saw the Pirates giving up a .330 hitter with pop and a dominant left-handed reliever for three mediocre pitchers and a talented minor league troublemaker. Let’s start with the players we gave up. Nady has increased his power production since leaving Pittsburgh (ISO: PIT-.205, NYY-.242), but has not reached base as often (AVG: PIT-.330, NYY-.286; OBP: PIT-.383, NYY-.341). The increase in isolated power combined with the drop in batting average has balanced out to keep his slugging percentage pretty steady (SLG: PIT-.535, NYY.528). Certainly, the increase in power has come from a ridiculous home run/fly ball ratio of 24.4% for the Yankees. It was 14% with the Pirates, which is about his career average. I highly doubt that he can maintain that elevated rate. Digging a bit deeper, Nady’s walk percentage has been closer to his career average of 6% (BB%: PIT-7.1%, NYY-5.8%) while his strikeout rate has been way above his career average of 19.9% (K%: PIT-16.8%, NYY-26.1%). He has chased many pitches for both teams (O-Swing%: PIT-30.47%, NYY-32.55%), but his contact rate has been much lower in New York (Contact%: PIT-81.70%, NYY-72.59%). His line drive percentage is still solid, though it is a bit lower than his April-July rate (LD%: PIT-26.5%, NYY-23.3%). This has led to a predictable drop in BABIP (BABIP: PIT-.367, NYY-.330). Overall, Nady has looked a bit more like the player he was in 2007 since joining the Yankees.
Marte has struggled since heading to New York. He has posted an ERA of 6.28, and a WHIP of 1.33. However, he seems to have experienced some bad luck. He has put up a K/9 of 13.19 and only allowed one home run in 14.1 innings. His BB/9 is high at 4.40, but that still leaves him with a solid K/BB ratio of 3.00. His BABIP is at .362, and the DER behind him has only been .667. In addition, his strand rate is only 53.8%, down from 74.9% with the Pirates. His struggles just go to show how silly it is to place too much value on a solid reliever. Their numbers fluctuate too much.
On to the new Pirates. Tabata reported briefly to Bradenton to rehab a sore hamstring. When he arrived in Altoona, he took the Curve by storm. Only 19-years-old when he initially arrived, Tabata hit .348/.402/.562 in 89 at-bats with Altoona. He also hit three home runs and stole eight bases without being caught. In 294 at-bats in the Yankees’ organization, Tabata hit .248/.320/.310 with just three home runs. Overall, his BB% was over 8% for the season. That is a great sign for such a young player in Double-A. He should be in Triple-A in 2009, and I am very encouraged about his future.
Ohlendorf was very solid in seven Triple-A starts after being acquired by the Pirates. He posted a 3.47 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP, and struck out 40 compared to eight walks in 46.2 innings. He has struggled in two starts since his recall to the Pirates, but I like what I have seen from Ohlendorf. He throws hard, pitches inside and is said to have quality off-speed stuff, though we have not really seen it so far. With some improvement in his command, I think he could be a solid starter in the Majors.
McCutchen was decent in Indy, sporting a 3-3 record with a 4.69 ERA in eight starts. He struck out 41, walked only seven and allowed 49 hits in 48 innings, all excellent numbers. His WHIP of 1.17 was very solid. McCutchen’s downfall was allowing a ridiculous amount of home runs. He allowed 12 home runs in those 48 innings, which led to the inflated ERA. If McCutchen can limit the long ball, he could have a very promising future.
Karstens was brilliant upon his arrival in Pittsburgh, throwing six shutout innings in his first start and flirting with a perfect game en route to shutting out Arizona in his second. Since then, he has posted an ERA over seven. I don’t see much in Karstens’ Major League future. He has struck out just over three batters per nine innings in 97.2 career innings, and I can see him only marginally improving those numbers. He looks like a right-handed Zach Duke that allows a few more home runs. Like Duke, he will probably end up as a fifth starter/rotation depth in the end. I think he will sneak into the 2009 rotation, at least at the outset of the season.
All in all, this trade looks much better than it did at the time it was made. The eventual outcome will obviously be determined by Tabata’s future performance. He lost quite a bit of his top prospect status with his struggles earlier in the year, but his stellar performance at Altoona should alleviate some of the concerns that he could end up being a bust. Even if it was a very small sample size.