Hey, the Pirates lost last night! And the bullpen and Jeff Karstens sucked! And my written thesis proposal is due today, which is why this recap is so short. Back to regularly scheduled posting sometime later.no comments
Braden Looper and Jeff Karstens go at 8:05 in Miller Park, a veritable house of horrors for the Buccos. Eric Hinske and Craig Monroe are getting starts tonight, Brian Bixler is still at short for Jack Wilson, and Freddy Sanchez is back at second base after a day off yesterday. Even with Freddy back, it's hard to look at this lineup and process that it's the starting lineup not just for a Major League team, but for one that's currently 11-7.
Jeff Karstens is going to have to pitch better tonight than he did in his first two starts if he wants to avoid getting rocked by Milwaukee's lineup. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are both heating up and it seems like Milwaukee's bats are due for a breakout some time in the near future. Here's hoping it's not tonight.
If you haven't seen it yet, one of our new FanHousers, Jeff Fletcher, did a Sunday piece about the Pirates' pitching staff and talked to Joe Kerrigan and Zach Duke about the improvement in the rotation this year (you might have noticed that we're hiring real writers at FanHouse now). The whole thing is interesting, but what really grabbed my attention was Kerrigan talking about what he saw when he first watched film of the Pirates' staff:
"I saw a bunch of good deliveries," Kerrigan said. "The numbers I saw just didn't add to up to what was on the video. I saw too many guys who were sound with their mechanics. It just didn't make sense."
Duke, a mainstay in the Pittsburgh rotation for the past four years, said he didn't get it either.
"The talent has been here the last few years," he said. "It's just been a matter of taking that talent and putting it into actually winning games. We're finally learning how to do that."
I thought that was interesting, because it is kind of true. I mean, every pitcher currently in our rotation except for Jeff Karstens was a pretty serious prospect at some point in time and both Colborn and Andrews focused on mechanical adjustments with the staff. Could it be that Kerrigan is just a better "professor of the game" if you will, and he's taught the pitchers what to do with their talent?
I guess that's possible, but the answer is really something else. Look at this screengrab from MLB.com this morning.
Look at the right side of that chart. You know what I'm going to say. The Pirates aren't even in the ballpark with the other teams with good ERAs when it comes to strikeouts. In fact, they're last in the league in strikeouts right now. I can't imagine a team has ever lead the league in ERA while finishing last in strikeouts. Through 18 games, the Pirates' defense has had to make somewhere between two and five more outs per game than the defenses behind other good pitching staffs. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it adds up very quickly.
For now, the Pirates are getting plus defense (according to FanGraphs' UZR) from everyone who's played a significant amount of time in the field except Nate McLouth and Ramon Vazquez. Can it last? Adam LaRoche is on pace for his best defensive season by a good measure. Vazquez is likely to get a lot of playing time at short with Jack Wilson out and he'll see more time at second if Freddy Sanchez gets hurt. Freddy is suddenly playing second like a much younger player. How long can that last? Can Morgan's speed keep making up for his awful route-running?
I know the pitching is the hot topic for conversation, but I think that the defense deserves a lot more credit and they might have a lot more control over how long this hot start lasts.
Tell me which of the following things seems the most improbable to you.
- The Pirates are 11-7 after playing on April 26th.
- Andy LaRoche has a ten-game hitting streak.
- Adam LaRoche has five home runs in April for a .288/.373/.621 line in the worst month for him.
- Zach Duke has three wins in April.
- Ross Ohlendorf has two.
- The Pirates won a game started by Eric Hinske, Brian Bixler, Ramon Vazquez, and Robinzon Diaz.
- The Pirates have the best ERA in the league.
- The Pirates have the second best defense in the league.
I can barely wrap my mind around any of these things at the moment, even if I'm still not convinced they're going to last.
Today, Ross Ohlendorf pitching seven innings and held the Padres to five hits over those seven. Two of those five were home runs by the Gonzalez brothers, giving the Padres their three runs, but what Ohlendorf did was more than enough for the Adam LaRoche-lead offense to stake the Pirates out to their seventh win in nine games this afternoon.
That said, I'm still not certain what to make of Ohlendorf. His peripherals today (three walks and three Ks, only 55 of 95 pitches for strikes) were not great, but today he managed to get 13 ground balls and only 5 flyballs (a considerably better ratio than he had been delivering). Compare his pitch selection from today with the the pitch selection from six days ago against the Marlins. Keep in mind that PitchFX has a hard time distinguishing fastballs and sinkers and considering that Ohlendorf seems to be throwing his power sinker almost exclusively instead of a straight fastball. Against the Marlins, Ohlendorf threw 51 sinker/fastballs, 16 changeups, and 20 sliders. Today, he threw 71 sinker/fastballs, 10 changeups, and 14 sliders. So why the dramatic change in pitch selection? I thought the combination of his off-speed stuff with the power-sinker was devastating against the Marlins, so why pare it down in this game? Is this part of a Joe Kerrigan game plan, or is Ohlendorf still not that confident in his off-speed stuff?
In each of his three good outings, he's given a little bit of a different look each time out. Is this something we can expect from Ohlendorf, or is he going to settle into more of a style? Whatever the case, he's certainly interesting to watch this year.
Jake Peavy and Ross Ohlendorf at four. Jack Wilson to the DL, Brian Bixler into the lineup. Can the Bucs win a third straight series?no comments
I haven't seen many wins as complete as the Bucs' domination of the Padres last night. Five hiters (Freddy Sanchez, Craig Monroe, Andy LaRoche, Eric Hinske, and Jason Jaramillo) had multiple hits while the Pirates scored in six of nine innings last night. Zach Duke went a strong 8 1/3 innings and if not for a horrible route to a ball in the outfield by Nyjer Morgan that became a Scott Hairston triple, he would've been gunning for his second shutout of the young season. When Duke did finally hit the wall in the ninth, Evan Meek came in and threw two pitches to record the last two outs and nail down the win. After getting hit hard last Sunday against the Braves, Duke only allowed two hits in the first eight innings, striking out five and walking two.
After a tough extra-inning loss on Friday, it was just what the doctored ordered in every way for the Pirates. Facing Jake Peavy on Sunday, they really needed a win last night and even without Nate McLouth, the offense gave them what they needed. Duke provided some much-needed rest for the bullpen with a strong start that we all needed to see from him after his bad start last week, and Meek bailed him out without blinking an eye.
One other thing I noticed last night during the game: the FSN cameras got a good shot of Joe Kerrigan in the dugout, studying some incredibly detailed batters' charts. Who remembers Andrews or Colborn doing any such thing? The most impressive thing about the pitching staff to me this year is that they just seemed much more prepared to exploit hitters' weaknesses. Last night, Duke was great at catching Padres' hitters off balance just like Ohlendorf did against the Marlins. Maybe we should stop being so surprised when we see this sort of thing.
Zach Duke gets tasked with following up last night's 11-inning marathon, meaning he's got to do his best to keep the bullpen out of the game. He'll have a little help in Evan Meek's arrival in San Diego, as Craig Hansen was placed on the DL earlier today and Meek has apparently made it to Petco with plenty of time to be ready for tonight's game. That's good news because Donnie Veal was the only other reliever not used in last night's game.
Duke's facing Shawn Hill and the Pirates are again without the services of Nate McLouth, as they're playing it safe with his oblique injury and hope to avoid the DL. That means Craig Monroe in the outfield tonight and batting in the three spot. Gulp.
It's never officially baseball season until the Pirates leave 10 men on base, Ian Snell walks 5 hitters, and something improbably bad happens with the bullpen to allow the Pirates to lose a game that they probably should've won. Last night, it all happened with Matt Capps walking two batters in the eleventh inning. When does Matt Capps ever walk two batters in an inning? It's like the universe is trying to level the Pirates out all by itself or something.
Of couse, Nate McLouth being out with a strained oblique didn't help things, as Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez combined to go 0-for-10 in the two and three slots in the lineup, leaving a ton of guys on base. I don't have much else to say about this one since I didn't see it, but Snell's five walks are never a good sign. He's now struckout 15 and walked 14 in 22 innings, giving him a whopping WHIP of 1.73. If he doesn't do something about his control issues, his 4.50 ERA is about to balloon big-time.
There is no Pirate more divisive than Nyjer Morgan right now. Some people see his speed and enthusiasm for the game and can't think of a more exciting player. Others see players like him as relics of a bygone era where Omar Moreno could bat leadoff with a .310 OBP because he was fast. What's interesting is that there doesn't seem to be any common ground between the two sides. Nyjer apologists seem to think that Nyjer haters can't possibly see any value in a player like Morgan, while Nyjer haters seem to think that Nyjer apologists are blind to the fact that he might not be a good player.
I'd guess that most readers think I fall into the "Nyjer hater" class, but I don't think this is entirely fair. I think there's room for a player like Morgan on a Major League team, provided that he can be productive. The problem, at least in my eyes, is that I think that Morgan has to be better than people realize to be productive. Without much power and with much of his OBP tied up in walks, Morgan probably has to hit .320 or .330 to be a productive leadoff man, whereas Nate McLouth can be a productive 3-hitter with .270 average so long as he shows some pop and takes his walks.
While trying to think of a way to address this gap, I came up with a new stat that I'm going to call NewlY adJusted Efficiency Rating, or NYJER. We'll start with a simple tweak to a familar formula; adjust on-base percentage by subtracting caught stealings from times on base and adjust slugging percentage by adding stolen bases to total bases. Then add them together like OPS. It's more or less a hacked version of raw equivalent average and it's certainly flawed, but I think it's a good start.
It's not quite perfect, though, because it seems like an OPS analogue and it's not because it strongly overvalues stolen bases. This is because caught stealings count against plate appearances, while steals count towards at-bats. For example, if a batter is hitting 30-for-90 with 10 walks and 45 total bases (.333/.400/.500), and has stolen 10 bases in 20 chances, his NYJER adjusts to .300/.611 = .911. Thus, he's gained on his OPS for stealing bases at a very poor rate.
I'd much rather this stat be used mostly for comparison purposes, especially with leadoff hitters. To avoid confusion, let's just set a baseline by determining what would be a good number for a leadoff hitter. For the answer to that question, let's look at the two guys I find Morgan to be compared to the most, Juan Pierre and Willy Taveras. Pierre is a great example of a Nyjer Morgan style player; he was a good hitter with the Marlins when his batting average was high, but since his average has started to drop, he's been a black hole of outs in lineups all across the country. In both 2003 and 2004 with the Marlins, his equivalent average was above .270, which is pretty good (league average is always .260). I think that's about the level Morgan has to reach to be a good enough player to consider keeping him in the lineup. Anything under that, and he should be headed to the bench.
In 2003, Pierre hit .305/.361/.373, stealing 65 bases and getting caught 20 times. His OPS is .734, but accounting for his steals adjusts that to .319/.470 = .789. In 2004, he hit .326/.374/.407 with 45 steals in 69 attempts. That adjusts to .323/.473 = .796. Using those numbers as a guide, we'll set the NYJER baseline for a productive season at .790 and divide any number we get by that. A NYJER of 1.000 is a good number for a leadoff hitter, while one of below 1.000 isn't.
NYJER = [(times on base - caught stealing)/plate appearances + (total bases + stolen bases)/at-bats]/.790
To test that baseline, let's look at Willy Taveras last year. He sucked something awful for Colorado, hitting .251/.308/.296, but he was awesome on the basepaths, stealing 68 bases in 75 tries. Does NYJER skew his line too heavily? By my adjustment, he's at .276/.438 = .714, which gives him a NYJER of .903. It's not perfect (if I wanted perfect, I'd just use equivalent average), but it's easy to calculate and most importantly, it's easy to understand, so while you won't see it on BP, THT, or FanGraphs anytime soon, I think it works for our purposes.
Right now, Morgan's hitting .323/.371/.415 with six steals in seven attempts. That's .343/.508 = .851, which is a NYJER of 1.077, which is pretty good. But the point is that there's not a ton of leeway. If we just drop 20 points of batting average (not an absurd proposition by anyone's standards, I don't think) and put him at .303/.351/.395 and throw in one more caught stealing, he drops right down around the 1.000 mark. So if Nyjer Morgan's going to be a good player this year, he's got to continue right along at the rate he's playing at right now and he doesn't have a ton of room for error.