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Entries in Pittsburgh Pirates (35)

Monday
Nov182013

'Cutch's All-Around Game Extends to Batter's Box, Too

Andrew McCutchen earned the 2013 National League MVP by displaying all-around excellence. There's the speed and savvy that helped him run down line drives destined for the gaps (+7 Defensive Runs Saved) and take extra bases at the highest clip (64 percent) among regular players. There's the patience that produced his second consecutive season with a .400+ on-base percentage. And there are those Gary Sheffield-esque wrists, allowing him to scorch pitches to all fields.

That last talent -- making loud contact in every direction -- may be the most impressive aspect of McCutchen's MVP campaign. Opposing pitchers, burned by throwing inside to 'Cutch in 2012, backed off and located on the outer half of the strike zone in 2013. McCutchen adapted, proving every bit as capable of stinging outer-half pitches to center and right field as he is pulling inside pitches down the line.

The Bucs' center fielder annihilated hurlers who threw him a pitch on the inner half of the plate in 2012, slugging .614 against those offerings. In response, opponents shifted to the outer portion of the zone this past year: 'Cutch saw the lowest percentage of pitches thrown inside (23.5) among all qualified right-handed hitters, compared to a league average 30 percent in 2012.

Did that faze 'Cutch? Not in the slightest. He slugged .526 versus pitches thrown to the outer half in 2013, besting all righty batters save for AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (.611) and short-time teammate Marlon Byrd (.540).

McCutchen's slugging percentage by pitch location in 2013

Thanks in large part to his crushing outer-half pitches, McCutchen was equally productive hitting the ball up the middle or to the opposite field (10 home runs, .621 slugging percentage) and pulling pitches to left field (11 HR, .613 slugging percentage). His all-fields approach is especially important at a venue like PNC Park, which smothers right-handed pull hitters. McCutchen's home park decreases home runs hit by righties by 36 percent and overall offensive production by 13 percent compared to a neutral stadium, according to StatCorner.

Through age 26, McCutchen's resume reads like that of a future Cooperstown inductee. He has tallied the third-most Wins Above Replacement (26.8) through that age in franchise history, trailing only Hall-of-Famer Arky Vaughan (48 WAR) and Barry Bonds (41.1 WAR), the last Pirate to win an MVP back in 1992. 'Cutch tops a score of others with bronze plaques, including outfielders Ralph Kiner (25.4 WAR), Paul Waner (23.8 WAR) and Roberto Clemente (20.8 WAR).

Unlike Bonds, McCutchen won't be leaving town after his MVP campaign -- he's signed through the 2018 season at what can only be described as a bargain-basement rate, given his skill and the new TV cash permeating the game. With 'Cutch locked up and both the major league roster and farm system loaded with young talent, the Bucs can finally forget about Barry and 1992.

Tuesday
Oct082013

Wainwright's Curveball Key to Bucs-Cards Game 5

The Pirates and Cardinals face off Wednesday night for the 24th and final time during the 2013 season, with a trip to the National League Championship Series on the line. The Dodgers' opponent in the fight for NL supremacy may be decided by whether the Bucs can accomplish something they failed to do in NLDS Game 1: Solve Adam Wainwright's curveball. Pittsburgh has struggled all year along against the curve, though a pair of trade pickups offer hope as the club tries to win its first postseason matchup since Willie Stargell and Dave Parker raked for the 1979 World Series champs.

Pirates batters are slugging a collective .268 against curveballs this season, which is 55 points below the MLB average (.323) and bests only the historically punchless Miami Marlins among all teams. In particular, Pedro Alvarez (.123 slugging percentage versus curveballs), Starling Marte (.237) and Russell Martin (.267) are flailing when pitchers snap off a curve.

For Alvarez, merely making contact against a curve is a coin flip. He's swinging and missing 49.1 percent of the time versus curveballs in 2013, the second-highest clip among qualified hitters (Dan Uggla whiffed 49.4 percent). Pitchers are well aware of his weakness, feeding him the seventh-highest rate of curveballs seen (12.6 percent) among MLB hitters. Unless pitchers hang a curve over the middle of the plate, Pedro's whiffing:

Alvarez's contact rate by pitch location versus curveballs, 2013

Marte, meanwhile, can't resist the urge to hack at curveballs thrown in the dirt. He's chasing curves at the fifth-highest rate (40.2 percent) in the National League. Like Alvarez, Marte's trouble with the curve is well-known: He has seen curveballs 11.8 percent of the time this season, the NL's eighth-highest rate. Marte expands his strike zone to go after low-and-away breakers:

Marte's swing rate by pitch location versus curveballs, 2013

Martin doesn't see as many curves as Alvarez or Marte (9.1 percent of total pitches), and he doesn't share their contact or plate discipline woes against the pitch. It's just that nothing happens when he puts curveballs in play. Martin is hitting a ground ball 62.5 percent of the time versus curves, the ninth-highest rate in the NL. Considering that Martin is a catcher with over 1,000 big leagues games to his name and his batting average on grounders (.228) is way below the big league average (.254), that's not a happy development.

Not all Bucs are scuffling against curveballs, however. Andrew McCutchen (.371 slugging percentage versus curves) and Neil Walker (.378) hold their own, while midseason trade acquisitions Marlon Byrd (.452) and Justin Morneau (.507) crush the pitch.

Wainwright, who throws the fourth-highest percentage of curveballs (27.3 percent) among starting pitchers and has limited hitters to a .230 slugging percentage (11th-best), schooled the Pirates with his signature offering in Game 1. He racked up six swinging strikeouts with his curveball, getting Alvarez, Byrd (twice), Marte, Martin and Morneau to chase out of the strike zone. Bucs batters went 0-for-11 against Wainwright's curve and didn't hit a single one out of the infield. If the Pirates are going to play for the pennant, that has to change in their Game 5 rematch.

Thursday
Oct032013

The Black & Gold in a Sea of Red

The Cardinals and Pirates are meeting for the first time ever in a postseason game and everybody is talking about the momentum of the Pirates and desire for revenge for the postseason-returning Cardinals.

Let me get one key stat out of the way

We know as long as the Cardinals can get runners on base, they are going to be very dangerous.
  • The NL batting average with runners on was .257 - The Pirates hit .248, the Cardinals hit .313.
  • The NL batting average w/RISP was .251 - The Pirates hit .229 (only the Cubs were worse), the Cardinals hit .330 (all of MLB was worse).
So let's put that discussion aside and talk about who has the home field advantage.

The Black & Gold is the New Black

It was stunning to see and hear the Pirates fans in their dismantling of the Reds in the Wild Card play-in, but that surprise factor is gone and the Redbirds are going to be ready and the Cardinals fans are going to be inspired.

Only the Atlanta Braves (56-25) were more effective at home then the Cards in the NL this season.
Rk Tm W L W-L% GB Home Road
1 STL 97 65 .599 --- 54-27 43-38
2 PIT 94 68 .580 3.0 50-31 44-37
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/2/2013.

Note that despite the fact that the Pirates took the season series, 10-9, the Cardinals were 6-3 at home versus the Bucs. So, even though the Pirates were 7-3 against Cards in Pittsburgh's House of Thunder, three-of-five games are being played in St. Louis, Louie.

In Game 1 and if there is a Game 5, the match-up will be Adam Wainwright against A.J. Burnett.

The difference in the numbers is significant:
2013 NLDS Cards vs Pirates Games 1 & 5 Match-up
G IP IP/G ERA WHIP AVG SLUG OBP HR K BB K/BB Grnd%
Adam Wainwright at Home 17 121.0 7.12 2.53 0.942 .217 .314 .254 7 114 20 5.70 50.2%
A. J. Burnett - Away 16 96.0 6.00 4.22 1.365 .257 .388 .329 6 96 35 2.74 57.3%
  Burnett is clearly not as effective on the road as he is on his home turf, but Wainwright is very effective in the shadow of the Arch and that can't be minimized.

Pirates batters in St. Louis

Russell Martin did great against the Reds and all season long he hit the Cards well on their home field. The Cards will happily live with more of the same from Andrew McCutchen and be thrilled with Pedro Alvarez if he continues his flailing against the Redbirds in their home colors. Justin Morneau was 0-for-10 in St. Louis.
2013 Pirates @ St. Louis (min. 10 PA)
G PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS AB H 2B 3B HR K BB
Jose Tabata (PIT) 7 25 .391 .440 .696 1.136 23 9 4 0 1 4 1
Russell Martin (PIT) 7 31 .346 .452 .885 1.336 26 9 2 0 4 7 5
Clint Barmes (PIT) 7 23 .316 .409 .474 .883 19 6 0 0 1 5 3
Garrett Jones (PIT) 8 29 .308 .379 .654 1.033 26 8 3 0 2 6 3
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) 8 35 .276 .400 .414 .814 29 8 1 0 1 7 6
Starling Marte (PIT) 6 33 .269 .387 .423 .810 26 7 2 1 0 8 2
Tony Sanchez (PIT) 5 10 .250 .400 .250 .650 8 2 0 0 0 3 1
Pedro Alvarez (PIT) 9 41 .237 .268 .342 .610 38 9 1 0 1 13 2
Jordy Mercer (PIT) 5 14 .214 .214 .500 .714 14 3 1 0 1 4 0
Andrew Lambo (PIT) 5 11 .200 .273 .400 .673 10 2 2 0 0 3 1
Neil Walker (PIT) 7 32 .172 .219 .241 .460 29 5 2 0 0 7 2
Marlon Byrd (PIT) 4 14 .231 .286 .538 .824 13 3 1 0 1 3 1
Gaby Sanchez (PIT) 8 16 .083 .188 .083 .271 12 1 0 0 0 2 0
Justin Morneau (PIT) 3 11 .000 .091 .000 .091 10 0 0 0 0 4 1

Cardinals batters in St. Louis versus the Pirates

Jon Jay LURVES hitting against the Bucs at home. Matt Carpenter is close to a .400 batter, and and Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran both are over .300 hitters. Carpenter had nine extra base hits against the Bucs at home and Beltran slugged three doubles and two homers. It doesn't appear as if the Cards will miss Allen Craig here.
2013 Pirates @ St. Louis (min. 10 PA)
GPAAVGOBPSLUGOPSABH2B3BHRKBB
Jon Jay (STL)934.517.576.6901.265291550032
Matt Carpenter (STL)944.395.477.7111.188381552155
Matt Holliday (STL)940.333.450.424.874331130067
Carlos Beltran (STL)937.323.405.6131.018311030245
Pete Kozma (STL)932.250.344.286.62928710064
Allen Craig (STL)629.240.345.280.62525610043
Daniel Descalso (STL)517.214.353.286.63914310013
Shane Robinson (STL)511.200.273.300.57310210021
Matt Adams (STL)516.188.188.188.37516300030
Yadier Molina (STL)728.185.214.407.62227530141
David Freese (STL)829.160.241.320.56125410153

It looks like home field advantage for the Cards in this series

The Cardinals are not the Reds, they are a confident team (even with all their rookies) that won't be as surprised or rattled by the fabulous Pirates fans.

This season, the Cardinals have played well against everyone, including the Pirates, at home and they have the great Wainwright and they have him, perhaps twice, at home.

That's why I'm taking the red over the black and gold.