Results tagged ‘ Pittsburgh Pirates ’

MLB Season In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates Pitchers

By R.J. Anderson //

Biggest Surprise: James McDonald

No secret to regular Bloomberg Sports blog readers, is a favorite ’round these parts. McDonald is worthy of the endearment thrown his way because of his stellar strikeout rate (8.32 K/9 IP). His playable 4.09 ERA is backed by a 3.19 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA but strips out the impact of defense, park effects and other factors beyond a pitcher’s control). McDonald was acquired for a half season of a non-elite reliever, a technique Billy Beane described as “Building a Closer” in Moneyball.

Biggest Bust: Charlie Morton

One of the keys in the Nate McLouth deal, Morton’s 2010 season never opened the Pleasantville gates. Good build and strong velocity make Morton a pitcher scouts like, but his stuff ha yet to translate to strikeouts in the big leagues. After returning from the disabled list, the occasional big strikeout game disappeared too, making him virtually unwatchable. He’s better than the abysmal 8.11 ERA he’s posted this season, but there are many pitchers with a lot more potential, even in deep leagues.

2011 Keeper Alert: James McDonald

McDonald should get his first shot at a 200-inning season next year, which could translate into lots of strikeouts and solid ratios, even if the win total might falter playing for the rebuilding Pirates.

2011 Regression Alert: Paul Maholm

Maholm is a groundball-heavy pitcher who relies heavily on his infield defense taking fieldable balls and converting them into outs. Unfortunately, the infield defense did not do a worthwhile job this season, and thus, Maholm wound up with an ERA over 5. If the Pirates address their hole-filled defense this off-season, expect Maholm to bounce back and make for a nifty sleeper.

For more on James McDonald and better keeper prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

MLB Season in Review: Pittsburgh Pirates Hitters

By R.J. Anderson //

Biggest Surprise

Neil Walker stuck around the Pirates’ system for years as their next big catching prospect. For a while, he followed in the footsteps of J.R. House – the last great Pirates’ catching prospect who busted in the minors. But a position switch and depth failure led to Walker getting a chance at the majors this season. He responded by hitting .296 with a dozen homers.

Biggest Bust

Garrett Jones hit 21 home runs in 358 plate appearances last season. He’s hit 20 in 602 this season. His batting average has dropped nearly 50 points. It seems unlikely Jones will enter next season with any kind of assured playing time. Akinori Iwamura fits the bill too, although he is well removed from the Pirates’ organization and resides with the Athletics now.

2011 Keeper Alert

Andrew McCutchen continues to solidify himself as one of the best center fielders in the National League. Posting a .286/.365/.471 slash line as a 22-year-old is hard to top, so he may have disappointed by hitting only .279/.356/.447 this season. But he did manage to cut down on his strikeouts and continues to run the bases and play the field well. Youngster Pedro Alvarez is also worthy of a keep in all but the shallowest leagues.

2011 Regression Warning

Walker is the name here because the rest of the Pirates’ hitters are either legitimately good or awful with little in between and little due to bad or good luck. An elevated .342 batting average on balls in play and more than three times as many strikeouts as walks don’t exactly scream “.296 hitter!”

For more on Pedro Alvarez and better keeper prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Is James McDonald a Treasure?

By R.J. Anderson //

James McDonald’s career has been anything but usual. Originally positioned as an outfielder, McDonald was converted to pitching during the 2006 season. He made his major league debut two years later in a relief capacity. Entering the 2009 season, the Dodgers deployed McDonald to the rotation, but quickly pulled the plug after four so-so efforts.

Most of the narrative about McDonald’s 2010 season rests in the minors. He made four appearances for the Blue Crew with one start before Ned Colletti shipped him to the Pirates along with another prospect for Octavio Dotel. The Dodgers still had illusions of postseason berth and yet the consensus at the time was something along the lines of, “That’s a bit too much for a reliever.” The consensus seven starts into McDonald’s career is now, “That was way too much for a reliever.”

McDonald’s performance is more responsible for the attitude shift than Dotel’s – although worsened peripherals have lead to an improved ERA – as the 25-year-old lanky righty has adapted well to the new environment. The Pirates have a reputation for their inability to develop power – read: strikeout – pitchers. McDonald may not possess a great American fastball, but he makes up for it with a freedom ringing curve and glistening change. Both of which have whiff rates over 13% since McDonald has began to don the black and yellow. Observe the portrait of a good McDonald start (i.e. mixing locations and keeping his offspeed stuff down):


With all of this hype, McDonald’s 4.17 ERA looks unsavory, even sour. Where’s the fire with this smoke? The peripherals are ablaze; his FIP is 2.63 and his xFIP – which corrects his unsustainably low home run rate – is at 3.92. If he’s not giving up home runs, limiting his walks, and striking out most of the population, then how are teams scoring? Easy: the Pirates’ porous defense. That’s not just porous as in holey, but porous as in: the pitching staff is left saying, “Poor us.”

Neal Huntington and the rest of the Buccos’ front office is top notch – no, really – and fixing the defense should be the primary objective this offseason. It would certainly be hard to downgrade the leather. With that in mind, McDonald makes for an interesting case. Given the division and pitcher friendly ballpark, as well as extremely low costs, McDonald might be worth keeping in deeper National League only leagues, or at worst placing him on the watch list for next season.

For more on the Pittsburgh Piratesand their keeper prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Closing Time in Pittsburgh

by Eno Sarris // 

When Octavio Dotel took his bag
of strikeouts west to Los Angeles, he left an open question in his
wake: Who will close in Pittsburgh? For once, there are two almost
equally qualified options in the bullpen.

The Bucs have made their initial choice Tuesday night, tapping big right-hander Joel Hanrahan to close out a 7-6 win over the Reds. Hanharan looked good in securing his first save of the season, allowing one hit, no runs, and striking out two.

HanrahanGrab.jpgStill, there’s enough mix-and-match potential here for two Pirates pitchers to be worth a look in standard mixed leagues. Do a side-by-side comparison using the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools, and you’ll see that both Hanrahan
and Evan Meek look like perfectly fine options – despite being very different
pitchers. Manager Jim Russell’s initial refusal to name a new closer suggests that he might just ride the hot hand. On the other hand, Buster Olney did say the team would install Hanrahan once Dotel was moved.

Meek’s strikeout rate (7.61 K/9 this year, 7.48 career) places him only slightly above league average. However, Meek has showed a solid walk rate (2.83
BB/9 this year), a development in his game that is a tribute to the
Pirates’ minor league coaches, who immediately helped him harness his
arsenal after years of struggling with his control. Not new to Meek’s
game is his elite groundball percentage. His current 54.7% groundball
rate is well above the average 44% groundball rate across
baseball, and near his already high career level too (53.7%).

is no vomit-taste jelly bean either (as an aside, these beans exist,
and apparently they started with pepperoni pizza and added a citrus
taste, says the Discovery Channel). The man with an Irish name and an
Iowa birth certificate is striking out batters at a career-high rate this
year (12.65 K/9), but given his very strong career rate (10.02), this isn’t a
huge surprise. What is a nice surprise is that he’s also stopped
walking people in Pittsburgh (2.64 BB/9 this year, 4.66 career). The
combination has been working well.

The only flaw in his game
might actually make him a better fit at the closer position,
ironically. Hanrahan is more of a strikeout/flyout pitcher, with a
below-average groundball rate (35.8% this year, 37% career). Because
groundballs can lead to double-plays, it might behoove the Pirates to
use Meek in situations where there are runners on as a way to
leverage his talents best. Because flyballs can lead to home runs, it
makes sense to at least start Hanrahan off without any runners on.
Coincidentally, this is usually how closers work.

The last piece
of evidence we can use is the two pitchers’ past usage patterns. Hanrahan has owned
the eighth inning for a couple weeks now, while Meek has had the
seventh, with some stints that spanned multiple innings. Most signs
seem to point to Hanrahan, so if you only have one spot to dedicate to
speculating on Pirates’ saves, he’s the man to pick up.

For more on other bullpen situations, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Age and Your Fantasy Team: Why We Should Be Worried about Garrett Jones

by Eno Sarris //

Age matters. We know, for example, that the age of a prospect matters. If he’s a 23-year-old slugger beating up on 19-year-olds in A-ball, that should be noted when looking at his stats. We also know that a slump at 37 is not the same as a slump at 27. But does the age at which a player debuts in the league matter?

It seems that it does. Baseball analyst /economist J.C. Bradbury took a look at age and career lengths (pay link) and Colin Wyers provided some summary and additional work at The JonesAge.jpgHardball Times late last year. It looks like the later you join the major leagues, the shorter your career is. Intuitively, it makes sense. If a player has to be closer to his peak to even make it to the bigs, then he will be gone earlier once he falls from that peak. To say the same thing in numbers, look at the table to the right. It shows the average career length by age of major league debut.

It’s always nice to see a player finally make it after struggling in the minor leagues for years. Ryan Ludwick, who crossed 300 major league plate appearances at 28, and Nelson Cruz (who did so at 26) are relative success stories for this group.

There’s also Garrett Jones knocking on the door after his great 2009 season. In just 358 plate appearances, Jones made an impression, especially as a slugger. Take a look at the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools JonesGrab.jpgspider graphs on the left for an idea of how good he was last year.

While Ludwick and Cruz have gone through slumps and have made it through to the other side, Jones is currently slumping. Since he debuted at 26 and didn’t get a regular gig until last year at 28, it’s possible that we should be more worried about his current slump than we should about your garden-variety slump. After all, the average player that debuted at 26 only lasted three years in the bigs.

In Jones’ defense, players with lesser debuts might be happy to be putting up the .259/.352/.411 line that he currently sports. Those numbers are above-average compared to the average hitter, but slightly below average for a corner outfielder. But after showing a .274 ISO (isolated slugging, i.e. slugging average minus batting average) last year, his slugging has fallen off, and his current .152 ISO is below his .192 minor league ISO. Since ISO takes 500 plate appearances to stabilize, his career major-league .219 ISO is just barely statistically significant. If he did experience a little power surge, it would take Jones away from a guy on pace for 20 home runs to one closer to being useful in mixed fantasy leagues.

But it’s no sure thing that a surge is coming. For one, Jones is chopping the ball into the ground (47.7% this year, 41.8% career) while his flyball rate is low for a supposed power hitter (33.6%). Via, we can see that Jones has hit more groundballs than flyballs every year since 2006 in the minor leagues. Even during last year’s big league breakout, he hit just 41.3% flyballs. He’s no flyball-heavy slugger.

Most of his swing rates are similar this year to last year’s breakout numbers, but there’s evidence that the league has adjusted to Jones in the pitching mix he’s seeing. FanGraphs tracks Linear Weights, which use game-state statistics to attempt to give value to specific pitches. Jones was very good against fastballs last year – his plus-14.6 runs put him just short of established sluggers Lance Berkman (+15 runs) and Brad Hawpe (+16.4 runs) against the heater. So this year, pitchers are throwing the fastball less often: 49% of the time, versus 54.9% of the time last year. It’s up to Jones to adjust now.

Given the fact that Jones hits a lot of groundballs and is seeing a different pitching mix this year, we probably shouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s power binge — and he probably isn’t a good buy-low candidate. Placing him in the context of other late-blooming players like Cruz and Ludwick only makes the picture worse. If you own Jones in a deep league, you might as well just hold. In a shallow league, you might find something better on the waiver wire.

For more on Garrett Jones and other late-blooming baseballers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Bloomberg Sports 2010 National League Central Preview

By Tommy Rancel

The St. Louis Cardinals have won six of the past 10 NL Central titles. In 2010, they are once again the favorites, but will have to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers, the upstart Cincinnati Reds, and the Chicago Cubs, in what might be Lou Piniella’s last stand with the team. The Houston Astros are lacking enough firepower to make much noise and the Pittsburgh Pirates are improved, but not enough.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards are the most complete team in the division, led by the greatest hitter on the planet in Albert Pujols. Nearly a consensus top pick in Fantasy drafts, Pujols will likely be the top hitter in baseball once again in 2010. St. Louis also re-signed Matt Holliday, who is likely to maintain his steady numbers in the senior circuit.

Keep an eye on a pair of youngsters to provide offense behind the superstar duo. Center fielder Colby Rasmus was merely average last season, but is talented enough to make the leap to All-Star status – his Opening Day home run was a monster shot that showed his prodigious power. Third baseman David Freese had a hot start to his career, but only has 17 major league games to his credit. Both will see significant playing time in 2010. The Cards lineup packs plenty of punch, but is not a good source of speed.

The Rotation is led by bona-fide aces in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Behind them Brad Penny will try to replace Joel Pineiro as Dave Duncan’s new pet project. Ryan Franklin will reap the benefits of all the talent in front of him and is likely to top 30 saves pretty easily, assuming he keeps his job all year.


Chicago Cubs

Derrek Lee remains among the game’s most underrated sluggers, though a pullback might be coming, given he’s into his mid-30s. Meanwhile, other high-profile Cubs players simply underperformed last season, for a variety of reasons.

The Cubs biggest off-season addition could be hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. The former Texas Rangers hitting guru will be reunited with former pupil Alfonso Soriano in hopes of rejuvenating the aging left fielder’s career. Soriano is ripe for at least a small bounceback after seeing his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) drop nearly 30 points from his career total.

In addition to Lee and the potentially improved Soriano, the Cubs will need Aramis Ramirez back at full strength. If healthy, Ramirez is a legit 30-home run threat in the middle of the lineup.

On the pitching side, Carlos Zambrano is nowhere near the ace he used to be. Both Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster are safer bets. Meanwhile, Carlos Marmol goes into the season as the unquestioned closer. His walk rate remains among the highest of any closer in baseball, though, making him something of a risk.


Cincinnati Reds

Led by elite young hitter Joey Votto, the Reds should put up plenty of runs at the Great American Ballpark, especially if young outfielder Jay Bruce follows with a breakout season of his own. Outside of Bruce and Votto, the Reds offense features a member of the 30/30 club in Brandon Phillips, as well as former All-Star Scott Rolen.

Phillips is a good bet for 20/20, a mark he has hit in each of the past two seasons. Rolen, 35, can still hit, as evidenced by his 2009 OPS of .823 – but he’s also an annual DL candidate.

The rotation, led by Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, is pretty average across the board. Johnny Cueto has the stuff to stand out, but remains too wild and inefficient with his pitches. The wild card in the Reds rotation is prized off-season acquisition Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban national with a 100-mph fastball is the Reds player you must keep tabs on all season, especially in a shallow league where he may still be available on the waiver wire. He starts the season in the minor leagues.

Milwaukee Brewers

While Pujols and Holliday might be the NL’s top 1-2 punch, the Brewers duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are not far off. Braun has averaged 34 home runs in his three big league seasons, while Fielder has topped 45 home runs in two of the past three years. There is nothing to suggest anything less from each in 2010. New addition Carlos Gomez should provide fantasy value with his stolen bases, but he’s also an OBP drain who should be batting at the bottom of the order.

Rickie Weeks will return to the top of the order after missing most of last season with a wrist injury. Weeks looked poised to break out in 2009 before the injury, and had an excellent spring showing no ill-effects from the surgery. If he can finally play a full year, he could be primed for a breakout.

Yovani Gallardo is the unquestioned ace of the pitching staff, but he is followed by several question marks. Randy Wolf was signed to be the #2 starter, but buyer beware on Wolf this season. In the bullpen, At age 42, Trevor Hoffman is still going strong, but because of his age, he’s not a sure thing to last the season. One sneaky note about the Brewers: The addition of Gomez in center and slick-fielding Alcides Escobar at short should greatly improve the defense. Teams like Tampa Bay, Seattle and Texas have already shown us how a jump in a team’s defensive skill can go a long way toward improving run prevention – and thus the fantasy stats of a team’s pitchers.


Houston Astros

The Astros spent money this off-season, but on the wrong players. Pedro Feliz was signed to be the team’s third baseman, but he’s a lousy hitter who shouldn’t be rostered. The Astros also spent big bucks on Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom, leaving Houston with two overpriced, undertalented options for the closer spot. Lindstrom gets first crack, but you might consider drafting a top set-up man like Chicago White Sox lefty Matt Thornton a few rounds later, and focusing on offense and starting pitching at that point in your draft.

Lance Berkman is in his contract year, and remains the team’s biggest offensive threat. He’ll start the season on the DL with a knee injury, though. Hunter Pence has 25-home run power and could be a 20/20 threat if improves his stolen base percentage (58% career). Michael Bourn is a budding lead-off man, and is a fantastic source of steals (102 steals since 2008), though he provides little power

The rotation is led by Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez. Oswalt battled injuries last year while Rodriguez was one of the few bright spots for the team in 2009. Both pitchers are likely to benefit from new shortstop Tommy Manzella’s slick fielding. The rest of the rotation looks shaky at best.


Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen is the team’s best offensive weapon after less than one full major league season. McCutchen showed decent power and has an outside chance of pulling off a 20-homer/40-steal campaign. Go get him.

Beyond McCutchen, the Pirates have some interesting former top prospects that have yet to live up to potential, as Lastings Milledge and Jeff Clement finally get chances to prove themselves as everyday players. Last year’s breakout Garrett Jones blasted 21 home runs in 82 games, but can he maintain a home run to fly ball rate of 21% over a full season? It’s a long shot, but you have to love his two homers on Opening Day.

The rotation has a few nice back-end guys like Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf and Zach Duke, but none is a front-line starter. Beware of them in NL-only leagues, as there is a possibility of them becoming trade candidates come July – especially Duke. Octavio Dotel is the team’s closer, but has battled injuries this spring and is a trade candidate for the summer as well. If something should happen with Dotel, keep an eye on Evan Meek as a potential source of cheap saves.

For more on Albert Pujols and the rest of the NL Central, check out Bloomberg Sports’ kits.