Archive for Pirates

Job Posting: Pirates Data Architect

Position: Data Architect

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Description:
The Data Architect is responsible for putting into place and maintaining the processes and systems to efficiently integrate and effectively make available baseball related data from both external and internal sources in order to provide the backbone of evidence based decision making.

Responsibilities

Primary:

  • Responsible for the daily operation, performance, and maintenance of the data assets used within Baseball Operations. Makes use of Pirates’ standards and industry best practices to implement efficient and high performance access to data.
  • Design, create, and extend processes for data extraction, transformation, cleansing, and load to and from internal and external data sources for both structured and unstructured data.
  • Evaluate potential data providers and design and implement data models for storage and access to new types of data that integrate with the existing data and application architectures.
  • Design, create and maintain reporting structures using SQL Reporting Services and Tableau and participate in one-off research projects to answer specific questions.
  • Design and implement data mining processes as a part of predictive modeling in conjunction with the Quantitative Analyst and other staff members.
  • Design and implement data mining processes as a part of predictive modeling in conjunction with other staff members.

Secondary:

  • Departmentally: Participate in gathering and documenting user requirements for existing and new systems. Understand business processes and required outcomes of the system and creates requirements definition document defining the business use cases.
  • Organizationally: Acts as a resource for database and SQL coding projects within the organization. Assist other staff developing SQL scripts, stored procedures, and other database objects where required.
  • Industry: Acts as the point of contact with MLB in understanding and planning for future infrastructure needs and changes as the structure and breadth of information changes over time.

Position Requirements

Required:

  • Bachelor’s Degree or higher in Computer Science, Information Systems, or equivalent.
  • Two years experience administering enterprise level data structures using SQL Server technologies including SQL Reporting Services and SQL Server Integration Services.
  • Expert knowledge of SQL and database administration tools. Knowledge of SQL Server replication topologies. Understanding of database documentation and design tools.
  • Experience with cloud based architectures and tools including Amazon S3, EC2, Databricks required.
  • Experience participating in multiple aspects of the software development life cycle including requirements definition, design, development, testing, and implementation.
  • Demonstrated ability to work with users to understand business processes, document system requirements, and develop data structures that meet business objectives.

Desired:

  • Experience with Python, .NET..
  • Experience with statistical analysis software such as R, SAS, SSPS.
  • An understanding of sabermetric techniques for player evaluation strongly preferred.

The Pirates are an equal employment opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status or any other characteristic protected by law.

To Apply:
Please apply here.


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/11

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Andres Gimenez, SS, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, 3B

Notes
Gimenez is a 19-year-old shortstop slashing .280/.350/.430 in the Florida State League. That’s good for a 107 wRC+ in the FSL. Big-league shortstops with similar wRC+ marks are Trea Turner (a more explosive player and rangier defender than Gimenez) and Jurickson Profar, who have both been two-win players or better this year ahead of the break. Also of note in the Mets system last night was Ronny Mauricio, who extended his career-opening hitting streak to 19 games.

Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/9

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Rehab   Age: 21   Org Rank: 1   FV: 65
Line: 0-for-1, BB

Notes
Robles has begun to make rehab appearances on his way back from a hyperextended left elbow that he suffered in early April. He’s gotten two plate appearances in the GCL each of the last two days. The Nationals’ big-league outfield situation should enable Robles to have a slow, careful rehab process that takes a few weeks. He is one of baseball’s best prospects.

Adam Haseley, CF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Hi-A Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45
Line: 2-for-5, HR

Notes
The homer was Haseley’s fifth of the year and his slash line now stands at .301/.344/.417. He’s undergone several swing tweaks this year, starting with a vanilla, up-and-down leg kick last year; a closed, Giancarlo Stanton-like stance early this season; and now an open stance with more pronounced leg kick that loads more toward his rear hip. All that would seem to be part of an effort to get Haseley hitting for more power, his skillset’s most glaring weakness. But Haseley’s swing plane is so flat that such a change may not, alone, be meaningful as far as home-run production is concerned, though perhaps there will be more extra-base hits.

The way Haseley’s peripherals have trended since college gives us a glimpse of how a relative lack of power alters those variables in pro ball. His strikeout and walk rates at UVA were 11% and 12% respectively, an incredible 7% and 16% as a junior. In pro ball, they’ve inverted, and have been 15% and 5% in about 600 pro PAs.

Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, SB

Notes
Baddoo is scorching, on an 11-game hit streak during which he has amassed 20 hits, nine for extra-bases. He crushes fastballs and can identify balls and strikes, but Baddoo’s strikeout rate has doubled this year as he’s seen more decent breaking balls, with which he has struggled. Considering how raw Baddoo was coming out of high school, however, his performance, especially as far as the plate discipline is concerned, has been encouraging. He’s a potential everyday player with power and speed.

Jesus Tinoco, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23   Org Rank: NR   FV: 40
Line: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Notes
Tinoco didn’t make the Rockies’ offseason list, as I thought he had an outside shot to be a reliever but little more. His strikeout rate is way up. He still projects in the bullpen, sitting 93-95 with extreme fastball plane that also adds artificial depth to an otherwise fringe curveball. He’ll probably throw harder than that in the Futures Game.

Travis MacGregor, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20   Org Rank: 21   FV: 40
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 R, 6 K

Notes
MacGregor is a projection arm who is performing thanks to his ability to throw his fastball for strikes, though not always where he wants. His delivery has a bit of a crossfire action but is otherwise on the default setting and well composed, with only the release point varying. It’s pretty good, considering many pitchers with MacGregor’s size are still reigning in control of their extremities. MacGregor’s secondaries don’t always have great movement but should be at least average at peak. He projects toward the back of a rotation.

Austin Cox, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Short Season Age: 21   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 10 K

Notes
Cox, Kansas City’s fourth-rounder out of Mercer, has a 23:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.2 pro innings. He put up goofy strikeout numbers at Mercer, too, but struggles with fastball command. He’s a high-slot lefty who creates tough angle on a low-90s fastball, and his curveball has powerful, vertical shape. It’s likely Cox will be limited to relief work due to fastball command, but he could be very good there, especially if the fastball ticks up in shorter outings.

Notes from the Field
Just some pitcher notes from the weekend here. I saw Rangers RHP Kyle Cody rehabbing in Scottsdale. He was 94-96 for two innings and flashed a plus curveball. Joe Palumbo rehabbed again in the AZL and looked the same as he did last week.

Cleveland has another arm of note in the AZL, 6-foot-1, 18-year-old Dominican righty Ignacio Feliz. He’s one of the best on-mound athletes I’ve seen in the AZL and his arm works well. He sits only 88-92 but that should tick up as he matures physically. His fastball has natural cut, and at times, he throws what looks like a true cutter in the 84-87 range. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball that flashes plus.

Feliz could develop in a number of different ways. Cleveland could make a concerted effort to alter his release so Feliz is more behind the ball, which would probably play better with his curveballs. Alternatively, they might nurture his natural proclivity for cut and see what happens. Either way, this is an exciting athlete with workable stuff who doesn’t turn 19 until the end of October.

Between 15 and 18 scouts were on hand for Saturday night’s Dodgers and Diamondbacks AZL game. That’s much more than is typical for an AZL game, even at this time of year, and is hard to explain away by saying these scouts were on usual coverage. D-backs OF Kristian Robinson (whom we have ranked No. 2 in the system) was a late, precautionary scratch after being hit with a ball the day before, so he probably wasn’t their collective target. Instead, I suspect it was Dodgers 19-year-old Mexican righty Gerardo Carrillo, who was 91-96 with a plus curveball. I saw Carrillo pitch in relief of Yadier Alvarez on the AZL’s opening night, during which he was 94-97. He’s small, and my knee-jerk reaction was to bucket him as a reliever, but there’s enough athleticism to try things out in a rotation and see if it sticks.


Sunday Notes: Ian Kinsler Has Deserved More Gold Gloves

Ian Kinsler was awarded his only Gold Glove in 2016. He’s been deserving of several more. Presenting at SABR’s national convention last weekend, Chris Dial shared that Kinsler has topped SABR’s Defensive Index at second base in five separate seasons, and on three other occasions he ranked as the runner up. Another metric is equally bullish on his glove work. Since breaking into the big leagues in 2006, Kinsler has 115 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of anyone at his position.

I asked the 36-year-old Angel if he was aware of how well he stacks up by the numbers.

“I secretly knew that,” smiled Kinsler, who then proceeded to balance appreciation with a touch of old-school skepticism for defensive metrics.

“It’s always nice to be valued in one way or another,” acknowledged Kinsler, who spent eight seasons in Texas, and four more in Detroit, before coming to Anaheim. “I don’t know if analytics are always correct. They don’t take into account everything this game offers, and I don’t know if they ever will, but to be thought of in that regard is flattering.”

Kinsler credits hard work, as well as the tutelage of coaches and teammates, for his having developed into a plus defender. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 6/26

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Taylor Hearn, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 23   Org Rank:FV: 45
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 R

Notes
Hearn’s peripherals (27.5% K, 9.3% BB) are exactly the same as they were last year when he was in High-A. He’s a little old for Double-A, but that matters less for pitchers and Hearn’s early-career injuries set back his development pretty significantly. He’ll flash a 55 slider and average changeup, and he throws enough strikes to start, though he’s not overly efficient. He was up to 97 last night and projects as a fourth starter or late-inning reliever. Here are his swinging strikes from yesterday…

Read the rest of this entry »


Colin Moran on How He Turned a Corner

Colin Moran was at a crossroads. The 2016 season was over, and the left-handed-hitting third baseman had just slashed .259/.329/.378, with 10 home runs and 124 strikeouts, in Triple-A. His pair of big-league cameos had been every bit as abysmal — in 25 plate appearances for the Houston Astros, he logged three base hits and one free pass. Truth be told, the sixth-overall pick in the 2013 draft had essentially gone from prospect to suspect due to his lack of production.

Moran recognized that fact. Moreso, he did something about it. As Tony Kemp, his former teammate, related to me last fall, Moran came to the conclusion that his “swing doesn’t play in the big leagues,” and told his hitting coordinator, “I need to switch something.”

He did just that, and the results speak for themselves. Moran returned to Triple-A in 2017 and slashed an eye-opening .301/.369/542, with 18 home runs in only 350 at-bats. (A facial fracture, courtesy of a foul ball, knocked him out of action for six weeks.) His turnaround season included seven games with the eventual World Series champs, for whom he went 4-for-11 and hit first MLB long ball.

The 25-year-old University of North Carolina product is now a Pittsburgh Pirate, having been traded from Houston to the Steel City this past January in the five-player Gerrit Cole deal. In 248 plate appearances for his new club, Moran is hitting .265/.347/.419 with seven home runs. He shared the story of his career-altering adjustments prior to a recent game at PNC Park.

———

Colin Moran: “In a perfect world, I would have made the changes earlier. That’s something I think about a lot. It often takes a bad year to get to, ‘Alright, let’s change some stuff, let’s figure out what works,’ and unfortunately that’s what happened with me. It’s preferable to think forward rather than wait for that bad year.

“My swing was off when I got called up in 2016. Things didn’t feel all that great with it — I didn’t know why — and I got exposed, especially at the top of the zone. I remember my first at-bat. You kind of know in the batter’s box when guys are attacking a weakness, and the first few pitches were up and in. It was like, ‘Man.’ Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 6/24 and 6/25

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Joe Palumbo, LHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Rehabbing   Age: 23   Org Rank: 18  FV: 40
Line: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 R

Notes
Sunday was Palumbo’s first start back from Tommy John surgery. He was into the mid-90s with a plus curveball before the injury, which caused him to miss all of 2017. Yerry Rodriguez (more detail here) had a second strong outing in relief of Palumbo, striking out seven in six innings of four-hit, one-run ball. Video of Rodriguez appears below.

Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 14

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the fourteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Yoshihisa Hirano, Joe Musgrove, and James Paxton — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———

Yoshihisa Hirano (Diamondbacks) on His Splitter

“I started throwing it when I turned pro in Japan. The truth is, when I was in college, I was able to get hitters out without having a splitty. A fastball and a slider was enough. When I got to the pros, there was a lot of talk of needing a pitch that comes down and about how there’s more success with that pitch. I started toying with it a little bit my last year of college, and when I got to the pros I started using it.

Kazuhiro Sasaki was a big splitty-forkball thrower. There are some books about him, and I studied those. No one really taught me anything. I just went out and started playing with it, checking the books on how he grips it. I found a grip that was comfortable for me. There are some guys who throw it the same way, but there are other pitchers in Japan who grip it differently, too. They have a different placement within the seams.

Hirano’s splitter-forkball.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Snapshots from SABR 48 in Pittsburgh

A pair of PNC Park official scorers spoke at SABR’s 48th-annual national convention on Thursday, and both shared good stories. One came from Evan Pattak, who explained why beat writers are no longer hired into the position. The precipitating incident occurred on June 3, 1979.

Bruce Kison took a no-hitter in the late innings against San Diego,” recounted Pattak. “A Padre (Barry Evans) hit a ball down the third base line that the third baseman (Phil Garner) couldn’t handle. The official scorer was Dan Donovan of the Pittsburgh Press, and he ruled it a hit, ending the no-hitter. Everybody at the park agreed with the call except Kison.

“This created a very awkward situation for Dan, who had to go into the locker room after game. He asked Kison, ‘What did you think of the call?’ Bruce let him know, in no uncertain terms. At that point, the newspapers realized they were placing their beat writers in untenable situations. At the end of the 1979 season, they banned beat writers from scoring, a ban that exists to this day.”

Bob Webb told of a game between the Brewers and Pirates on August 31, 2008. In this case, he played the role of Donovan, albeit with a notably different dynamic. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 6/20

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen running slightly later than usual due to travel for the FanGraphs meetup in Denver this weekend. Read previous installments here.

Clay Holmes, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 25   Org Rank: 27  FV: 40
Line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 8 K, 1 R

Notes
Holmes has had mediocre command throughout his career and has generally projected to a bullpen role where he’d theoretically be a mid-90s sinker/slider guy. In the past month, he has thrown 66% of his pitches for strikes and has been locating his slider to the back foot of left-handed hitters effectively. He looks more like a backend starter than a reliever right now, but it’s a four-start run juxtaposed against more than a half decade of fringe control.

Alexander Montero, RHP, Boston Red Sox (Profile)
Level: Short-Season   Age: 20   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35+
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 R

Notes
Montero’s presence and early success is a welcome sight for one of the worst systems in baseball. He’s a relatively projectable 20-year-old with a three-pitch mix led by a fastball that’s up to 95 mph and a diving split changeup. Montero signed late for an amateur IFA last summer, inking a deal just weeks before he turned 20. He pitched in the DSL last year and was skipped directly to the New York-Penn League this summer after finishing extended.

Brandon Wagner, 1B, New York Yankees (Profile)
Level: A+  Age: 22   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, HR

Notes
Wagner has had an odd developmental path. He was a chubby high school first baseman from New Jersey who spent two years at a Texas JUCO and became a 6th rounder as he improved his conditioning. He has displayed a career-long ability to discern balls from strikes and is a .365 OBP hitter over four pro seasons. During that time, Wagner has moved his batted-ball profile like a glacier from 50% ground balls down to 40% and has now begun to hit for significant in-game power. Six-foot first basemen with average, pull-only power are still long shots, but if Wagner keeps performing if/when he’s promoted to Double-A, he’ll at least force re-evaluation the way Mike Ford did.

Jackson Kowar, RHP, University of Florida (draft rights controlled by Kansas City)
Level: CWS Age: 21   Org Rank: NR  FV: 45
Line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 13 K, 0 R

Notes
Kowar was dominant in his College World Series start against Texas yesterday, reaching back for 95-97 toward the end of his start and was flashing a 70 changeup. He also threw 121 pitches.

Jacob Amaya, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (Profile)
Level: Short-Season  Age: 19   Org Rank: HM  FV: 35
Line: 1-for-1, 4 BB

Notes
Amaya’s tools have a utility vibe because his frame limits his power projection to something around average or just below it, but he’s an average athlete with defensive hands befitting a middle infielder and advanced bat-to-ball skills. If he grows into a 6 bat, which is unlikely but possible, it won’t matter that he doesn’t hit for a lot of game power.

Notes from the Field

I’m just going to drop a bunch of D-backs notes from yesterday’s AZL action. Alek Thomas went 0-for-3 but ground out tough at-bats and spoiled several good pitches while he did it. He also made two impressive defensive plays, one which might have robbed a homer and another in the left-center gap that robbed extra bases. Jake McCarthy looks fine physically (of note since he was hurt for most of his junior year at UVA) and took a tough left-on-left breaking ball the other way for a single in his first pro at-bat. Twenty-year-old righty Luis Frias was up to 96 mph, rehabbing Brian Ellington was up to 97. Finally, lefty reclamation project Henry Owens (Allen Webster, Owens, and Clay Buchholz have all been D-backs for some amount of time during the last year, which isn’t surprising if you know the roots of this current front office) K’d 5 in 2.1 innings with some help from the umpire. He was 87-90 with an above-average changeup, an average breaking ball, and arm slot closer to what he had as a prospect with Boston after he was side-arming last fall.


How Corey Dickerson Erased a Weakness

PITTSBURGH — Corey Dickerson had a weird offseason.

After being named an All-Star last year and finishing with an 115 wRC+, 27-homer, three-win campaign, Dickerson was designated for assignment by Tampa Bay in February. You don’t see that every day. The always cost-conscious Rays did not want to be on the hook for $5.9 million. The Pirates acquired him for Daniel Hudson, minor-league infielder Tristan Gray, and cash considerations. Perhaps the Rays were also concerned about Dickerson’s issues against the fastball.

Last season, no batter swung and missed at elevated fastballs more often than Dickerson. In an age when spin and “rise” are better understood than ever, perhaps the Rays thought Dickerson would be vulnerable to a general trend, to say nothing of specific scouting reports. Maybe the Rays felt this was an uncorrectable flaw. The club eventually acquired C.J. Cron, who offered roughly similar production at a cheaper price — without the same kind of weaknesses against the fastball.

Read the rest of this entry »


Francisco Cervelli Is Taking Off

Monday afternoon, I wrote about Max Muncy. A few months ago, I didn’t think I’d ever be writing about Max Muncy again, but he’s suddenly emerged as a surprising value for the Dodgers, and at a critical time. Muncy is a 27-year-old with a 142 wRC+. In spring training, he was a non-roster invitee. He has what’s becoming a somewhat familiar profile: fringe big-league hitter who’s apparently reached the next level after making some significant swing changes. You could interpret those as changes made to try to save a career.

Most of the time, that’s how it goes. Muncy was a bubble player. J.D. Martinez was a bubble player. Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Justin Turner, Yonder Alonso, and so forth — many of them, bubble players. It tends not to be the proven guys who make major changes. They’re just not confronted with the same incentives, and besides, in order to become an established major-league veteran, a player is most likely to be close to his optimum approach. It’s a risk to change someone who’s already been good. Quite simply, there can just be more to lose.

Francisco Cervelli and the Pirates aren’t afraid, I guess. Cervelli has been a perfectly fine hitter, especially for a catcher. Coming into this season, nobody questioned that Cervelli would be the starter. It would’ve been easy for him to remain as he was. Still, he’s turned into a project. And the early results are both very dramatic and greatly encouraging.

Read the rest of this entry »


Anthony Rizzo, Joe Maddon, and the Dangerous Play

Over the last decade, Major League Baseball has taken steps to make the game safer for players on the field, not only instituting a seven-day disabled list for concussions but also crafting a pair of somewhat nuanced rules in order to avoid unnecessary collisions both on the pivot at second base and also at home plate.

On Monday, Anthony Rizzo seemed possibly to violate those rules, barreling to the plate in order to prevent Pirates catcher Elias Diaz from throwing to first to complete a double play. Rizzo ultimately succeeded: his collision with Diaz caused an errant throw, allowing two runners to score and turning a likely Cubs victory into a sure thing as the team went up 5-0 in eighth inning.

Did Rizzo actually do anything wrong, though? To answer that question, we actually have to consider two separate rules. To begin, let’s go with MLB’s slide rule first. The rule addresses the allowable — or, as they call it, bona fide — slide, which requires that a runner:

  1. Begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
  2. is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
  3. is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
  4. slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.

Here is Rizzo’s slide.

Read the rest of this entry »


Colin Moran Just Did Something Absurd

Because of what’s happened after the fact, I don’t know how good the Pirates currently feel about the Gerrit Cole trade. Cole, of course, has seen his strikeouts skyrocket with the Astros, even after moving to the more difficult league. But it’s not like the Pirates got nothing, and the key to the trade all along, for me, has been Colin Moran. Moran once looked like a bust of a prospect, but in 2017, in the minors, he unlocked his power. He was a swing-changer, and the changes seemingly paid off. Moran took to the air with his batted balls, and, fast-forward — through 143 plate appearances with Pittsburgh, Moran has a 130 wRC+. He’s been making a strong early impression.

Because Moran was a swing-changer, I found myself making an assumption. The way this usually goes is that a guy works to elevates pitches down in the zone. That, in turn, can make him exploitable up. We’ve been talking about the high fastball for years. Yet Moran did something in early April that caught my eye. His first home run with the Pirates was a grand slam, and here’s where the pitch was located:

Up above the belt. I didn’t think that was a pitch he could get to. My assumption was wrong. I also hadn’t seen anything yet.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Pirates Have Won the Lottery

Among all the transaction/acquisition vehicles available to teams — trades, waiver claims, free agency, etc. — the most unlikely to benefit a major-league roster in a forthcoming season is the minor-league free-agent signing.

Esteemed FanGraphs managing editor Carson Cistulli found that only 1% of minor-league free agents go on to produce at least 0.5 WAR or greater in the following season. They are scratch-off lottery tickets that are almost always misses. So when one hits, it’s worth examining.

Now, it seems one has!

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The Pirates Are Gerrit Cole-ing Corey Dickerson

One of the bigger stories of the early part of the season has been the ace-level emergence of Gerrit Cole. Freed from the Pirates, Cole has moved on to the Astros and seemingly threatened to throw a no-hitter every start. Cole’s strikeout rate has taken off, and one has been left to wonder why this pitcher didn’t show up consistently in Pittsburgh. On the Pirates’ side, Colin Moran and Michael Feliz have been fine. The club has also overachieved, winning more games than it’s lost. But if anything, the Pirates’ early success makes the loss of Cole more painful. No one likes to see a player improve somewhere else.

Something about going to Houston has allowed Cole to tap into his inner potential. There’s been much conversation about why the Pirates couldn’t pull this talent out. As some consolation, however, the Pirates have sort of done a similar thing to the Rays. Near the end of February, the Pirates picked up Corey Dickerson for a song. The Rays, I’m sure, are content with the early performance by C.J. Cron. But the Dickerson of the present doesn’t look like the Dickerson of yesterday. Cole left Pittsburgh and found a new level. Dickerson arrived in Pittsburgh and found a new level. It doesn’t make up for trading an ace, yet there are reasons why the Pirates are firmly in contention.

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The Player Who Hasn’t Struck Out

On today’s edition of Effectively Wild, Ben Lindbergh and I had the opportunity to talk with Steven Brault. Brault is interesting, first of all, because he’s a major-league pitcher. In the grand scheme of things, there are not that many major-league pitchers, and surviving at the level requires one to be an expert at his craft. Aside from pitching, Brault is also a musician, and he co-hosts a podcast with teammate Trevor Williams. As an individual, Brault has a lot going on, but the reason we sought him out in the first place is because of his hitting. Brault has batted a total of 32 times in the bigs. He’s recorded seven hits, sure. But he also has yet to strike out.

Presumably, you know enough to know that’s atypical. You already understood that strikeouts are on the rise, and that, on balance, pitcher-hitters are terrible. Brault is finding himself on the same list as names like Dizzy Dean, Heinie Meine, and Sloppy Thurston. It’s not that Brault is a hitter in the way that Madison Bumgarner is a hitter. Bumgarner stands out because of his power. Brault stands out because of his contact. Among active players with zero strikeouts, Brault is first in plate appearances, with 32. Carlos Rivero is standing in a distant second, with eight.

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Everything About the Jung Ho Kang Situation Is Difficult

The Pittsburgh Pirates enter play today at 17-13, just a half-game behind the division-leading Brewers and Cubs, and a similar distance from a Wild Card spot. Surprisingly, their Pythagorean record basically supports their record to date, as does BaseRuns. By whichever measure one uses, the Pirates have been good — which is no small surprise in light of preseason expectations that characterized this as a rebuilding club.

Still, the Pirates’ start, whilst evidently supportable by the play on the field, has nonetheless been the product of some good fortune. There was the Rays’ decision to offload Corey Dickerson, who has authored a 136 wRC+ and is second on the team in WAR. There’s been the sudden breakout of Francisco Cervelli, who has gone from a poor man’s Russell Martin to something more like prime Jonathan Lucroy. The pitching staff has also helped, with Ivan Nova refusing to walk anyone and Nick Kingham emerging for an excellent debut. With the Dodgers and Nationals off to slow starts and a dogfight emerging in the NL East, there’s at least a plausible path to the postseason in Pittsburgh: they have a 12% chance at a playoff spot after being in the single digits in the preseason.

And that’s why Jung Ho Kang is suddenly relevant again.

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The Pirates Have Some Hope

At 10-1, the Mets own the National League’s best record, but the bigger surprise relative to preseason expectations may be the Pirates, who after Thursday’s 6-1 victory over the Cubs are 9-3, are tied with the Diamondbacks for the league’s second-best record. After a 75-win 2017 campaign and then an offseason during which they dealt away Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen and pared their payroll to the majors’ fourth-smallest, the Bucs appeared destined to spend 2018 languishing with the other rebuilding teams. They may do so yet, but for the moment, their hot start is worth a closer look.

The 2017 Pirates were not much fun. They had just one month with a record above .500 (a 14-11 July), never got further than a game above .500, and finished 13th in the NL in scoring, with a lineup featuring just four players to produce a 100 wRC+ or better (McCutchen, Josh Bell, David Freese, and Josh Harrison) — and just two with a WAR of at least 2.0 (McCutchen and Harrison). Starling Marte drew an 80-game PED suspension, Jung Ho Kang missed the entire season after failing to secure a work visa in the wake of his third DUI conviction in South Korea, Francisco Cervelli was limited to 81 games by a variety of injuries, and Gregory Polanco regressed significantly (more on him momentarily).

On the other side of the ball, they were seventh in run prevention, but Cole looked more plow horse than thoroughbred, and while Jameson Taillon made an inspiring in-season return from testicular cancer, top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow was pummeled for a 7.69 ERA and 6.30 FIP. Travis Sawchik has the gory details of the big picture.

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The Pirates Have a New Ace

The Pittsburgh Pirates traded two of their best players over the winter, signaling a potential rebuild and teardown of the team that made the playoff three consecutive seasons from 2013 to 2015. Andrew McCutchen, the organization’s most recognizable figure since Barry Bonds left town, was the more notable of the departing pair in terms of significance to the franchise. In terms of value in the the near future, however, Gerrit Cole was almost certainly more important.

Not only is Cole likely to produce more wins than McCutchen in a vacuum this season, but the disparity in talent between him and his replacements is also larger. While McCutchen is worth roughly a half-win more than Corey Dickerson and Corey Dickerson’s platoon partners, Cole is expected to outpace the fifth spot in the Pittsburgh rotation by at least two wins. This is the trouble with trading away a No. 1 starter: he’s replaced not by the pitcher right behind him on the depth chart but rather by whichever name formerly occupied the sixth spot in the rotation. For the Pirates, that’s probably some combination of Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, and maybe Trevor Williams.

So, in terms of overall wins, the Cole trade is almost certainly a net-minus for the Pittsburgh rotation. That said, it’s very likely that there will be no deficit for the club at the very front of the starting five. Despite Cole’s departure, an ace still remains in Pittsburgh. In light both of his track record and his first two starts of the current season, Jameson Taillon seems very capable of taking over for the departed Cole.

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