Sneak Peek at Pirates Promotions

We had the opportunity to head down to the season ticket holder batting practice at PNC Park tonight. After taking a few cuts in the cages, we headed to the Hall of Fame Club for a light dinner. In the Club, they were playing a video on loop of the 2013 promotions.

There were four in particular that really stood out:

– A.J. Burnett Free Shirt Friday
Friday, April 12th vs. Cincinnati

2013 Promotions - A.J. Shirt

– Andrew McCutchen Bobblehead
Saturday, April 20th vs. Atlanta

2013 Promotions - Cutch bobblehead

– A.J. Burnett Bobblehead
Saturday, May 18th vs. Houston

2013 Promotions - A.J. bobblehead

– Replica Sunday Alternate Hat
Sunday, June 16th vs. Los Angeles

2013 Promotions - Sunday alternate hat

The introduction of the new Sunday alternate jersey has been highly anticipated. There is a replica alternate jersey giveaway on August 4th, but they unfortunately did not have a picture of it on the slide show. That hat obviously looks nothing like this possible mock-up we found a few weeks back.

The yellow crown with black bill would certainly be an interesting look. Based on the picture, we assume it’s similar to the hat worn in the early ’70s:

The Pirates wore a comparable uniform back in 2011 when they celebrated the 1971 World Series:

However, this leaves us unsure of how the jerseys will turn out. They could be similar to the ones above, but who knows if they will to go back to that style.

Anyway, more of the promotions should be on display at PirateFest this weekend. Hopefully they reveal the Sunday alternate jersey as well.

Go Bucs

Three months later

Shortly after Drew Sutton lifted the Bucs to an exhilarating victory over the Astros, Dejan Kovacevic wrote how “these aren’t Jerry Meals’ Pirates.” The date was July 3rd, and the Buccos were flying high. The 8-7 win pushed them to eight games over .500 for the first time in 20 years. Kovacevic wrote, “This team is touching peaks not seen in two decades, touching hearts that long ago gave up on baseball in these parts. It doesn’t deserve the digging up of negatives. It’s been too good, too resilient.”

Three months have come and gone since that special July night, as we sit here on October 3rd. The Pirates season is over; another disappointing summer in the books. A 20th consecutive losing season became official on Sunday afternoon as the Bucs squandered a late lead; a recurring theme in the second half. Much has changed over the last three months. They’ve been too bad; it’s time to dig up some negatives.

DK started right off the bat by saying, “This team is about James McDonald‘s cool, not another Jerry Meals collapse.” That’s the same James McDonald who showed zero cool in the second half, and saw his ERA climb from 2.37 to 4.21. J-Mac was so awful that he deserved a demotion to the bullpen. He made just one appearance out of the ‘pen, in which he allowed three runs without recording an out. He was a vital piece to yet another Jerry Meals collapse, as the Pirates dropped 37 of their final 54 games.

Next, “It’s about Drew Sutton, a minor-league journeyman twice disposed this year alone, crushing a hanging slider to walk off a hero. His eyes would well up later when he described “one of those baseball moments” that makes all the 14-hour bus rides worth it.” Sutton was disposed yet again, just weeks after his dramatic home run. Side note (totally unrelated to baseball talent) – Sutton was notorious for searching his own name on Twitter and oddly responding to fans:

He also enjoyed deleting such tweets, and eventually deleted his Twitter as a whole. Anyway, Sutton was canned after showing just a flash of success (much like his other two MLB stints of 2012). He went back to his 14-hour bus rides, before an injury ended his season.

Also, Dejan mentions, “It’s about the pitching, the sharpest and deepest we’ve seen since Doug Drabek,  John Smiley, Zane Smith, Randy Tomlin and Bob Walk in 1991. All to Neal  Huntington’s credit.” The pitching declined at the end of the year, just as it did in 2011. The sharp and deep staff – both the rotation and bullpen – took a serious hit in the second half, which caused major problems. The rotation was anchored by A.J. Burnett (more on him in a bit) and James McDonald (see above) during the first half, as well as lights out bullpen work from Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli. The ‘pen, which was one of the best in the league early on, saw some struggles during the latter portion of the year; even Grilli and Hanrahan had frustrating times on the hill. In addition, Neal Huntington – who was credited for piecing together a fine staff – is now unpopular among many fans. However, his job is seen as safe.

Kovacevic states, “It’s about A.J. Burnett, the pitcher and the person. If not for that 12-run  beating he absorbed May 2 to help spare the bullpen, his ERA would be 2.46, even  with this hiccup.” To Huntington’s credit, the A.J. Burnett trade was a steal of a deal. Still, Burnett couldn’t be perfect all year. He won just three games in 12 starts since the beginning of August. Although wins aren’t the best measure of a pitcher’s performance, A.J. wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in the first half.

Furthermore, “It’s about Clint Hurdle’s gem of a quote before the game about why Burnett has  taken to Pittsburgh: “He’s loved now. Norm used to like it when he walked into  Cheers, too.” Later, Dejan pens, “It’s about their boss. It’s Hurdle casually saying stuff like, “Our goal is to  re-bond this team with this city.” And meaning it.” Hurdle, who appeared to be the answer for the franchise, isn’t loved quite as much anymore. A man who was focused on re-bonding a city with their baseball team has failed at doing so (thus far). He wanted nothing more than his team to “finish” this season, but they’ve been far from it. From bunts to misusing his bullpen to all-around mis-managing, Hurdle infuriated the fan base on multiple occasions. What it boils down to is that he’s led the team to two straight collapses. While not all blame can be placed on one person – and it certainly shouldn’t be all on Hurdle – he’s certainly a focal point. He can provide gems of quotes, but is he still the man for the job? To put it in perspective, Hurdle has managed 10 MLB seasons; nine of those have been of the losing variety.

DK writes, “It’s about Andrew McCutchen, the team’s MVP and, as of those three hits  Tuesday, the National League leader with a .360 average… Those chants don’t seem far-fetched.” Cutch’s average peaked at .374, but slipped, slipped, and slipped some more with an abysmal August. He finished the month with a .252/.347/.346 triple-slash and just six extra-base hits. McCutchen’s power came back in September, but his average still in the .260’s for the month.  Don’t take it the wrong way – a .327 avg with 31 HR and 96 RBI is still an unreal season. But the team went as Cutch went; a pretty solid start, a phenomenal stretch, a disappointing finish. Those MVP chants soon died down.

Finally, the article describes,

 “…this 2012 season might end up having pivoted off a single pitch. You know which one. Eight days ago in Philadelphia. Brad Lincoln vs. Jim  Thome. The Pirates’ big lead was down to 8-7 in the seventh, two men on, two  outs, 0-2 count. The Same Old Pirates crumble there, sadly, meekly. But Lincoln reared back  and rifled 95-mph heat through Thome’s huge cut. It’s about that pitch. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” Lincoln said Tuesday. “But I know it was a big  moment. That’s why I got really emotional.”Yeah, there was that, too. Lincoln gestured slightly into a flexing pose  toward Thome, one he still insists “wasn’t aimed at him.” The two had a brief  staredown.”You know, we should really be past that,” Lincoln said. “Look at us. We  pitch, we play defense, we’re hitting now. We’re here, man. We’re not going  away.” Not this time.”

You know the script. Brad Lincoln, the pitcher who pivoted the season with one pitch, was dealt just weeks later. Yinzers believe it’s the worst trade in history because Lincoln’s having a good year and Snider is unproven. Sabermetricians and stat geeks think it’s a potential high-reward situation for the Pirates.

Regardless, it WAS the same old Pirates that prevailed. We pitch? 4.50+ ERA down the stretch. We hit? .229 team batting average in September. We field? Hmm… remember the seven errors in ONE GAME against the Cubs? Yikes. It’s crazy to reflect on the changes that occurred over the past three months. Down the stretch, it seemed like a completely different team than the one that stood waiting at home plate for Drew Sutton on July 3rd.

“‘We’re not going away.’ Not this time.” Well, they went away. They didn’t step up when it mattered most. Another embarrassing display of Pittsburgh baseball. Sad, really. And now they’re going away for real. The season’s over; no more Pirates baseball in 2012. PNC Park will sit still for six months. The stress and agony of being a Bucs fans can be pushed aside for a while. Hopefully next year will be different – less Jerry Meals talk, no 19 inning games – and maybe even a winning season (oh, please, don’t let the streak hit 21). But until then, it’s going to be a looong winter.

HOKA HEY – 179 days until Opening Day.

Divisional Comparison

To start the season, the NL Central is one of the worst divisions in baseball. Although it’s not even a month into the season, every team is faced with its own struggles. It is the only division that has all but one team under the .500 mark. Only the Cardinals have a winning record thus far:

(as of April 26th)

Not surprisingly, the Pirates are producing the worst offense in the division. They have the lowest totals in the following categories: HR (tied with Houston), Runs, RBI, AVG, OBP, SLG, etc. To summarize it, the Bucs are last in every category. One surprising category is stolen bases. The Pirates need to utilize their speed to get runs, but have stolen just 11 bases so far, which is second lowest in the division. They have decided to heavily rely on sacrifice bunts to get runners over, which is not always the best option. The Pirates also have the worst walk rate in the division at 5.30%. According to FanGraphs, a BB% below is consider poor. The Bucs have the highest O-Contact% in the entire MLB, which is the percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with outside the strike zone when swinging the bat. They are making contact with 73.8% pitches out of the zone that they swing at, which could translate to their low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .267.

Analysis: Since the Pirates lack power throughout the lineup, they must take advantage of their speed (particularly at the top of the order). While Clint Hurdle and his staff like to rely on the bunt, it can only be executed in the proper situations. Sacrifice bunts are becoming extremely predictable. One idea that the Pirates could toy with is a hit and run. Alex Presley boasts a .320 OBP and often gets on base as the leadoff man. Instead of Jose Tabata consistently bunting, a hit and run is not out of the question. Tabata hits a high number of ground balls (31 ground balls vs. 6 fly balls this season) and often hits the ball to the right side. With Presley running and the second baseman covering, a hole should open up on the right side for Tabata. Instead of giving the other team one of your 27 outs, you could end up with runners on first and third and nobody out for your best hitter, Andrew McCutchen. If Jose cannot execute, you still have a good shot at a stolen base with Presley’s plus speed. Also, the Pirates need to show more discipline and patience at the plate, especially at the bottom of the order. Guys like Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, who have never held down a high OBP, need to take advantage of their opportunities and try to create offense.

After a solid 2011 campaign, the Pirates pitching staff is once again keeping them near the .500 mark. Although they hold the lowest strikeouts per nine innings (6.54 K/9) in the division, they still hold their opponents from scoring a lot of runs. The staff has a division-leading ERA of 2.58, as well as a home run to fly ball rate of 7.90%, which is considered between “great” and “above average” by FanGraphs. They also possess a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.41, which is second in the division (behind the Cardinals) and also considered between “great” and “above average” by FanGraphs. The Bucs staff has a Left On Base Percentage (LOB%) of 78.90%, which once again places them behind the Cardinals and is considered “great”.

Analysis: The pitching staff has simply kept the Pirates in games. Although the offense hasn’t produced many runs, the pitchers have held the games close enough to give them a chance. The LOB% is a good example of this because the runners that do get on-base are often being stranded. Only the Cardinals have a higher rate at 79.30%. Since they have a more threats in their lineup, it gives them a better chance to win, and it’s reflected in the standings. Despite the low K/9 rate, the Pirates pitchers are doing a good job with command, walking just 2.87 per nine innings. The defense has held up behind the pitchers as well, as the staff has a BABIP of .256, the lowest in the division. Although BABIP could code for luck for pitchers (i.e. balls hit right at the defense, luck, etc.) it still shows that hitters do not have a high AVG vs. Pirates pitching. If the Bucs want to remain close to .500 for deep into the season, the pitching staff needs to keep its consistency.

If the Pirates pitching staff can continue their success and the offense can get past their struggles, there is a lot of potential to win some ballgames. Although the Pirates seem to be a few strong players away from being consistent, there are still many pieces in place. McCutchen has played well so far, but has yet to show much power. Neil Walker needs to find his stroke but has played well defensively. Pedro Alvarez has struggled but looked good the past few days with some homers. The additions of A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard look good for the rotation, but the offense needs to provide some run support. The bullpen has looked solid so far, with Joel Hanrahan closing out games and Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, etc. being the set-up men. Hopefully everyone can put it together at once and we’re in for another enjoyable midsummer run.

Go Bucs

Spring Training Update: Week 2

Sunday, February 26 – Saturday, March 3

Sunday 2-26
– Charlie Morton threw a bullpen session. He appears to be on schedule with his rehab.

(Video by Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette)

– The Pirates took part in their photo day for pictures/videos to be used on the PNC Park scoreboard this season:

Monday 2-27
– Notable pitchers that threw live BP: Erik Bedard, Joel Hanrahan, Tony Watson, James McDonald, etc.

Jeff Karstens working on bunting

 – The Pirates are willing to work out a multiyear deal for Andrew McCutchen.

Tuesday 2-28
– Notable pitchers to throw live BP: A.J. Burnett, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Gerrit Cole, etc.

Erik Bedard works on baserunning. Euclides Rojas looks on.

– A.J. Burnett has started a college fund for Daniel McCutchen’s daughter in exchange for the number 34.

Wednesday 2-29
– Charlie Morton threw live batting practice for the first time this spring.

– The pitchers continued their bunting competition:

– During the bunting competition, A.J. Burnett bunted a ball into his right eye socket, forcing him to return to Pittsburgh for further examination. 

Thursday 3-1
– Brad Lincoln won the bunting championship:

– A.J. Burnett will undergo surgery on Friday to repair his right-eye orbital fracture, which was suffered on Wednesday.

– Thursday was the last day at Pirate City for the big league team. They will move over to McKechnie Field for the remainder of spring training.

– After a short day, the team participated in a charity golf outing at the Bradenton Country Club:

Friday 3-2
– Lineups from Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage:

Team Black Team Yellow
Presley, LF Tabata, RF
Barmes, SS Harrison, 2B
McLouth, CF McCutchen, CF
Walker, 2B Jones, 1B
Evans, 3B McGehee, DH
Boggs, RF Alvarez, 3B
Hague, 1B Navarro, SS
Clement, DH Hernandez, LF
McKenry, C Fryer, C
Karstens, SP Correia, SP

The game ended in a 4-4 tie. Highlights: Andrew McCutchen went 2-for-2 with a double and 2 SB. Chase d’Arnaud and Starling Marte both hit triples in the game. Tony Sanchez hit a 3-run homer.

Gerrit Cole pitched a scoreless inning for the Gold Team

– After surgery, it has been decided that A.J. Burnett will be sidelined for 8-12 weeks. Cursed?

Saturday 3-3
– The Pirates agreed to terms with 25 players, all one-year deals, including Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.

– The Pirates dropped their Grapefruit League opener to the Blue-Jays, 7-1. The Bucs collected just three hits on the day: Michael McKenry RBI single, Gorkys Hernandez single, and Starling Marte double. On the mound, McDonald gave up 2 runs, Watson 3, Leroux 1, and D. McCutchen 1.

Despite the poor performance in the spring debut, it’s great to have Pirates baseball back in action. 33 days until Opening Day in Pittsburgh.

Go Bucs

Spring Training Update: Week 1

Sunday, February 19 – Saturday, February 25

Sunday 2-19
– Pitchers and catchers reported on Sunday and participated in their first workouts of the spring.

Manager Clint Hurdle talking with the pitchers and catchers before their workout

 – A.J. Burnett passed his physical and MLB approved of the deal, finally making it official.

Monday 2-20
– The Pirates placed Rule 5 pick Gustavo Nunez on the 60-day disabled list, clearing him off the 40-man roster. The move made room for RHP A.J. Burnett.

– Burnett threw his first bullpen session as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates:

– First overall draft pick Gerrit Cole also made his spring debut:

(Video by PG beat writer Michael Sanserino)

Tuesday 2-21
– A few notable pitchers that threw bullpen sessions on Tuesday: Joel Hanrahan, Erik Bedard, Evan Meek, James McDonald, etc.

– In addition to bullpens, pitchers also began working on bunting and fielding.

New Bucco SS

 Wednesday 2-22
– Notable pitchers that took part in bullpen sessions: A.J. Burnett, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, etc.

Andrew McCutchen arrived at Pirate City and got some work in:

Thursday 2-23
– No bullpens scheduled, just drills and batting practice for pitchers/players.

– Team president Frank Coonelly arrived in Bradenton, but it’s been reported that he was charged with DUI after an arrest in December.

– More bad news came on Thursday for the Bucs: Ryan Braun won his appeal and will not be suspended. Even though we don’t play the Brewers in our first 50 games, it still makes a huge difference in the division.  

Friday 2-24
– First official full squad workout for all players.

– Pitchers threw live BP to hitters. Top match-up was the group featuring Joel Hanrahan and James McDonald throwing to Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley.

– Andrew McCutchen taking BP:

(Video by Kristy Robinson of Pirates Prospects)

Saturday 2-25
– More live BP, highlighted by Jeff Karstens, A.J. Burnett, Kevin Correia, Gerrit Cole, etc.

Bob Nutting addresses the team

– The Pirates added two games to their spring schedule. They’ll face the Twins in a ‘B’  game on March 10, as well as the Netherlands international team on March 12.

The Bucs kick off their exhibition schedule next Saturday at 1:00 vs. the Blue Jays in Dunedin. 40 days until Opening Day in Pittsburgh.

Go Bucs