Up in the Zone

Evan Meek, who was an All-Star in 2010, missed much of last season due to injury. He was expected to return this season as the regular set-up man for closer Joel Hanrahan. However, we knew something wasn’t right when it was announced that Jason Grilli and Juan Cruz would be the main set-up men in the Pirates bullpen.

Meek didn’t look great in spring training (4.63 ERA in 11.2 innings) and has been shaky to start the season (6.23 ERA in 8.2 innings). Here’s his game log so far:

He’s looked good in some outings (PHI, SF, ARI, STL) but bad in others (LAD, ARI, STL, ATL).

While watching Friday night’s game vs. Atlanta, it seemed Meek was leaving his pitches up in the zone, and the consequences were evident.

He entered the game with his work cut out for him. Tony Watson left the bases loaded with one out and Dan Uggla coming to the plate. His first pitch was a fastball clocked at 94 mph, but was high for ball #1. His next offering, a 91 mph fastball, was right in Uggla’s wheelhouse. Here’s the Strikezone Plot, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

As you can see, Meek left his second pitch up in the zone, which Uggla roped for a double, knocking in two runs.

Chipper Jones came up next with runners on second and third. Meek left a 93 mph fastball over the middle of the plate, but Jones didn’t offer on the pitch. He then attacked him with an 80 mph slider, down and in, which Chipper fouled off. Then, on the 0-2 count, Meek left one up in the zone, which Chipper stroked for a two-run single. Here’s Brooks Baseball’s Stikezone Plot for the at-bat:

As you can see, Meek was once again up in the zone with the fastball, and Jones promptly drove in the runs. In this situation, he needs to be more careful locating the fastball, as you can’t afford to allow the batter to get a good pitch with runners in scoring position.

The third and final hit that Meek surrendered was to opposing relief pitcher Kris Medlen. He got away with two straight fastballs up in the zone (91 and 92 mph, respectively), and then left a slider over the outer-half of the plate. Here’s the Strikezone Plot: 

Once again, you can see that Meek got careless with his fastball by leaving it up in the zone.

However, when Meek better located the fastball and boosted his velocity, he was able to get some outs. He retired Jason Heyward on just one pitch, seen here on the Strikezone Plot:

Although Meek kept it more vertically in the heart of the zone, the pitch was clocked at 95 mph and thus jammed up Heyward since it was on the inner-half.

The same pattern can be seen on the Strikezone Plot when Meek got Tyler Pastornicky to ground out. He better located his fastball and got him to ground out on a 94 mph fastball, down and in:

Meek saw the consequences of leaving the ball up in the zone, as well as the success he had while commanding his pitches. The Strikezone Plots provide solid evidence of Meek leaving some of his pitches too high.  

Simply put, Meek needs to better locate his fastball, whether he is getting careless or if it’s a serious control issue. He cannot afford to leave those pitches up in the zone, especially when his fastball velocity sinks down to the low 90’s. If Meek wants to keep his job and regain his 2010 All-Star form, he must find his control and be more consistent with his velocity. The Pirates pitching has been there strong suit, and the bullpen is certainly not a good place to crumble.

Go Bucs


Starting Slow

The Pirates signed catcher Rod Barajas to a one-year deal in November after declining the option of Ryan Doumit. Fans knew what to expect from Barajas: decent power, low OBP, and good defense. However, much of the Pirates fanbase is growing impatient with Barajas, and even calling for backup Michael McKenry to take over as starting catcher.

Barajas is off to a slow start, so we decided to see how his numbers compared to his April statistics from past years. Is he typically a slow starter? Or is he just having a terrible season? Have a look:

Rod Barajas April Statistics AB Hits HR  RBI AVG OBP
2001 23 6 3 3 0.261 0.32
2002 20 4 0 2 0.19 0.217
8 0 7 0.444 0.444
6 2 4 0.231 0.259
17 2 7 0.227 0.275
13 1 5 0.194 0.239
6 1 3 0.214 0.371
7 1 3 0.189 0.25
20 2 10 0.299 0.333
15 5 11 0.227 0.254
16 5 11 0.2 0.25
2012 44 5 0 0 0.114 0.152
Averages 45.91666667 10.25 1.833333 5.5 0.2325 0.280333

As you can see, Barajas has received his average amount of at-bats. However, he has collected just half the number of hits he usually does (on average), and thus his averaged has dropped way down. He usually hits about 2 HR in April, but the power has yet to show. The RBI usually come with the homers, but Barajas has left a considerable amount of people on base, especially in scoring position. On Friday night in Atlanta, he left 4 on base, including grounding into an inning ending double play with the bases loaded. His OBP has always been a concern, but it has never been as low in April as it is this season.

The biggest concern is comparing Barajas’ April stats of the past three seasons. He played well in those years, and hit for some power (combined 52 HR in 2009, 2010, 2011). However, Barajas has received less April at-bats than in those seasons and all of his totals are way down. This, plus the fact that he isn’t getting any younger, could be reasoning for his recent plate struggles.

The Bucs need Barajas to snap out of it because it is getting to the point where it seems like an automatic out whenever he comes to the plate. Although he is batting at the bottom of the order, he is still faced with many RBI opportunities. With the Pirates lacking offensive production, they need guys like Barajas to come through in the clutch. The way the pitchers have been working, the Bucs could have a totally different record if the offensive was in full force. Hopefully everything clicks at once for the Pirates.

Go Bucs

Game Recap: Pirates @ Braves 4/27/12

The Pirates started off a four game series with the Braves tonight in Atlanta. A.J. Burnett, fresh off his stellar Pirates debut, got the nod for the Bucs while tough right-hander Tommy Hanson started for the Braves.

Alex Presley started off the game with a solid battle against Hanson, forcing him to throw 11 pitches before striking out the speedy leadoff man. The Bucs went silently in the first, bringing the Braves to the plate. Michael Bourn led off with a single, but Burnett quickly rebounded and struck out the next three batters (Martin Prado, Freddie Freeman, and Brian McCann) to end the inning.

Casey McGehee led off the top of the 3rd with a bloop single. Burnett came up two batters later and (dangerously) laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving McGehee to second. Presley lined one sharply to second but Uggla misplayed it. It was ruled a base hit, extending Presley’s hit streak to 11 games. With runners on the corners, Barmes popped up into foul territory.

Burnett surrendered a leadoff walk to Tyler Pastornicky, which came back to hurt him. Hanson laid down a sac bunt and then Bourn grounded out to the right side, getting Pastornicky to third. With two outs, Prado hit an RBI single, making it 1-0.

The Pirates responded in the top of the 4th when Andrew McCutchen singled to center, stole second, and came into score on an RBI single by Garrett Jones. With Neil Walker batting, Hanson threw a ball in dirt and Jones took off for second. It looked like he was out but was actually called safe. Walker’s ground out to second moved Jones to third. Pedro Alvarez and McGehee had back-to-back walks to load the bases. Despite two straight walks, Rod Barajas swung at the first pitch and grounded into and inning ending double play.

Burnett got two quick outs to start the bottom of the 4th and began Jason Heyward‘s at-bat with an 0-2 count. However, he lost Heyward to a walk. Barajas was incapable of throwing out Heyward on the stolen base attempt and he moved into scoring position. Instead of intentionally walking Pastornicky to face Hanson, they decided to pitch to the Braves rookie shortstop. Pastornicky ripped an RBI single, making it 2-1 Atlanta.

Burnett appeared to be in trouble in the top of the 5th when Bourn (single) and Prado (walk) quickly got on board. Freeman lined one to right but Jones made a nice tumbling catch to save a run. McCann hit a slow roller to second, and Walker settled for the out at first. With runners at second and third, Burnett got Uggla to strike out on a full count.

Tony Watson came in the bottom of the 7th and loaded the bases. Evan Meek came in and surrendered a single to Uggla, scoring two and making it 4-1. Chipper Jones then broke the game open with a base hit, making it 6-1.

Other highlights:
– The leadoff walk that Burnett surrendered to Pastornicky came back to bite him. Leadoff walks will almost always kill you.
– Alex Presley extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
– Pedro drew his second walk of the year.
– The Pirates are now just 12 for 22 on stolen base attempts.
– The Bucs finally gave up more than 5 runs in a game for the first time this season.
Kris Medlen pitched three innings of relief and picked up the save.
– Brian McCann was replaced by David Ross in the sixth inning. It was announced that he has a right intercostal strain and is listed as day-to-day.

Star of the Game: Dan Uggla. Uggla made a weird, but spectacular play in short center to rob McLouth of a single in the top of the 7th and then provided the knockout punch with an RBI single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning.

Goat of the Game: Rod Barajas. Barajas is once again frustrating Pirates fans as he went hitless and left four more runners on base. Barajas had a chance to put some runs on the board when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Hanson had walked to in row, but Rod jumped at the first pitch, hitting a weak grounder to third which Chipper turned into an easy DP. The Pirates offense lacks production and that’s a moment where you need to score. Unfortunately, Barajas was unable to produce and killed the rally.

Pirates (8-11) – Braves (13-7)

Win: Hanson (3-2)
Loss: Burnett (1-1)
Save: Medlen (1)


Go Bucs

Series Preview: Pirates vs. Braves

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves

April 27th, 2012 7:35 pm
April 28th, 2012 7:10 pm
April 29th, 2012 1:35 pm
April 30th, 2012 7:10 pm

Turner Field

Probable Pitchers
A.J. Burnett (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Tommy Hanson (2-2, 3.38 ERA)
Erik Bedard (0-4, 2.63 ERA) vs. Randall Delgado (2-1, 5.74 ERA)
Kevin Correia (1-0, 2.00 ERA) vs. Tim Hudson (0-0, -.– ERA)
James McDonald (0-1, 2.78 ERA) vs. Mike Minor (2-1, 3.42 ERA)

Series Notes
The Braves currently sit in 2nd place in the NL East with a record of 12-7… Tim Hudson, who is recovering from an offseason back surgery, is prepared to return to action and make the start on Sunday vs. Kevin CorreiaJair Jurrjens was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett early this week, and Randall Delgado will remain in the rotation to make the start on Saturday vs. Erik BedardJurrjens pitched tremendously before the All-Star Game last season but struggled after, and has failed to regain his velocity… The Braves played in 26 extra-inning games last season, including this oneFreddie Freeman led/finished second in nine offensive categories last season (1st- HR, RBI, hits, doubles, total bases. 2nd- multi-hit games, runs, walks, extra-base hits)… Eric O’Flaherty had an ERA of 0.98 ERA last season, which was the lowest in a single season by a reliever since 1900, with a minimum of 75 games pitched… After this series, the Pirates and Braves do not meet again until October for the final three games of the season.

Go Bucs

#134PiratesTrivia Answer 4/26/12

Tonight we asked…

…and the answer to tonight’s #134PiratesTrivia is…

Rob Mackowiak

“Mack Wack Tally Wack”, as they called him, had a pretty big day on May 28, 2004.  Not only did he hit a walk-off grand slam in the first game of the double header against the Cubs, he hit the game tying homer in the second game which helped the Bucs sweep the twin bill.  In addition to his big day at the plate, his son Garrett was born just hours before the first game.  Although he didn’t last long with the team, Mackowiak’s grand slam is one of the most iconic plays we’ve seen in the history of PNC Park.

Congratulations to tonight’s winners: @DruBrownESPN, @johnlucas18, @gustaggart, @holykadelka53, @Cutch_22, @mark_quis, @Aaronkranderson, and @sobr73.

Thanks to all who participated, and tune in next time for another edition of #134PiratesTrivia.

Go Bucs