First Pitch: Pitching Has Been the Problem

I wanted to take a step back tonight and look at how the individual players on this team are performing since the start of August. The team as a whole has been horrible, and watching the day to day action has gotten extremely frustrating. One day the pitching will be decent, but the offense won’t show up. One day the offense will score seven runs, but the pitching will be horrible. It’s hard to get a feel for what exactly is going wrong with the team going by the day to day swings.

I took a look at all of the players getting the bulk of the playing time, focusing on some basic numbers. I didn’t go too in depth with this. It just scratches the surface of each player, but it should be enough to get a feel for how the team is trending. Notes are below the three sections.

Hitters

I only included hitters with 75+ at-bats since the start of August. Hitters are sorted by OPS, and OPS is shown as the fourth slash for convenience.

Garrett Jones: .301/.365/.526/.891, 156 at-bats

Pedro Alvarez: .263/.350/.474/.824, 156 at-bats

Andrew McCutchen: .272/.374/.432/.806, 169 at-bats

Gaby Sanchez: .275/.353/.429/.782, 91 at-bats

Starling Marte: .234/.284/.430/.714, 107 at-bats

Clint Barmes: .268/.333/.374/.707, 123 at-bats

Michael McKenry: .222/.307/.378/.685, 90 at-bats

Travis Snider: .252/.331/.346/.677, 107 at-bats

Neil Walker: .221/.266/.360/.626, 86 at-bats

Rod Barajas: .185/.272/.272/.544, 81 at-bats

 

Starting Pitchers

I don’t usually go with ERA as an individual stat. It’s horrible for trying to predict future performances. I prefer other ratios, such as K/9, BB/9, HR/9, xFIP, Strand rates, HR/FB, and so on. But we’re not trying to predict the future here. We’re just looking back at what actually happened, which makes ERA the best stat to use.

Kevin Correia: 3.09 ERA, 43.2 IP

Wandy Rodriguez: 3.23 ERA, 53.0 IP

Jeff Karstens: 3.82 ERA, 35.1 IP

A.J. Burnett: 4.45 ERA, 56.2 IP

Erik Bedard: 5.91 ERA, 21.1 IP

James McDonald: 6.25 ERA, 40.1 IP

 

Relief Pitchers

I included ERA here for the reasons listed in the Starting Pitchers section. More importantly, I included inherited runners (IR) and the percentage of inherited runners who scored (IS). ERA might tell what a relief pitcher did, but it doesn’t reflect inherited runners, which is the most important job for relievers.

Tony Watson: 2.35 ERA, 15.1 IP, 19 IR, 16% IS

Chris Resop: 3.05 ERA, 20.2 IP, 7 IR, 43% IS (28%)

Joel Hanrahan: 3.77 ERA, 14.1 IP, 2 IR, 0% IS

Jason Grilli: 5.63 ERA, 16 IP, 4 IR, 0% IS

Chad Qualls: 5.73 ERA, 11 IP, 3 IR, 33% IS

Jared Hughes: 5.48 ERA, 21.1 IP, 17 IR, 41% IS (5%)

 

Analysis

The hitting hasn’t been that bad in the last two months. Garrett Jones has really stepped up to lead the team, which has been huge with Andrew McCutchen slumping. McCutchen struggled in August, but has been on fire in September. Pedro Alvarez is hitting well, while getting on base at a good rate. Gaby Sanchez is putting up numbers similar to his 2010/2011 seasons, which is a positive sign.

Travis Snider and Neil Walker are both slumping, although both have dealt with injuries. Michael McKenry actually has more at-bats than Rod Barajas, but it’s pretty much a 50/50 split. McKenry is hitting much better than Barajas, even with his numbers being down from the first four months of the year. He should be getting much more playing time. Clint Barmes has been hitting well in the final two months, and he’s been on fire in September. His recent hitting, combined with his defense, has pushed him close to a 2.0 WAR player on the season. Starling Marte is hitting for power, but struggling hitting for average and getting on base.

The problem has been the pitching. The rotation was led in the first half by A.J. Burnett and James McDonald. They’ve been two of the worst pitchers in the last two months. Burnett hasn’t been horrible, but there have been several times where the Pirates needed a stopper, and he wasn’t that guy. McDonald is now out of the rotation, moving to the bullpen.

Kevin Correia and Wandy Rodriguez have stepped up. It may be hard to imagine, but this team might have been worse in the final two months without the Rodriguez trade. Jeff Karstens is also pitching well, although he’s currently in the bullpen as he comes back from a hip flexor injury.

The bullpen has struggled, blowing a lot of leads. Chris Resop and Jared Hughes were two of the most reliable guys in the first four months when it came to stranding runners. Hughes stranded 95% of his runners in the first four months, while Resop stranded 72%. Prior to tonight’s game they were both under a 60% strand rate since the beginning of August.

Jason Grilli has pretty much been limited to eighth inning only duties all year, and that’s been the case for the last two months. He’s struggled in the role lately, which has led to a few losses. Twice in the last week he came in with the game tied and left the game with the Pirates down. Most of his damage has come in September.

Tony Watson has been a bright spot all year, doing a great job of stranding runners. We saw that tonight. What we also saw tonight was the inexplicable use of Chad Qualls. Qualls hasn’t done well since joining the Pirates. He’s had a few good outings, but the overall results have been poor. When you consider that he was cast off from two teams prior to joining the Pirates, all while posting bad numbers with those teams, it makes no sense to use him in any important situation. There’s no reason he should have been pitching in the eighth inning in tonight’s game. The reason given was that he had more experience in that role. Experience doesn’t necessarily equal talent, and right now Qualls isn’t showing the talent to handle pitching with a lead.

The offense isn’t outstanding, but it’s been good enough that it’s not the problem. The problem has been the pitching. The top two starters have been struggling the last two months. The eighth inning guy has faced some problems lately. Two of the more reliable arms early in the season are having issues stranding runners. And the usage of some of the relievers is questionable, such as using Chad Qualls in any important situation.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost to the Brewers 9-7.

**Pirates Notebook: Heart-breaker Drops Bucs Below .500.

**Hurdle Taking Day-by-Day Approach With Walker.

**Bradenton Marauders 2012 Season Recap: Top Prospects.

**Bradenton Marauders 2012 Season Recap: Hitters.

**Bradenton Marauders 2012 Season Recap: Pitchers.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • RandyLinville

    Yep.

  • salempirate

    Nice analysis Tim.
    Impossible for all the Correia haters to believe, but he’s been the leading starter?
    Another facet of the game is defense and the Pirates haven’t been on top in that respect lately.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Pearce/100001552434410 William Pearce

      I don’t think they hate him…he is not flashy but does a pretty good job out there.

  • ChicaOnDeck

    Maybe if AJ had run support, he would be the stopper (as you say). He gives up 2 runs & gets zero run support. If he had wandy’s run support from his last 2 games, AJ could be at 17. When you give up 2 runs in 2 different games & leave the game with a total of 1 run, then there’s a problem.

    Add that to the 7 errors given to him on a game that he had a good chance of winning beforehand. Give those errors to Correia or wandy and tell me that they will win & be the “stopper”… I think not. That was a game they should have won, but the defense destroyed any shot. Aj actually pitched well that game, when you really look deep, He had his groundball game going & was on pace for a very efficient game & may have stayed in for a long time, but when your guys can’t make the plays & you’re throwing extra pitches, how can you win? When you count the errors & mess behind him, he made 21 outs in 5 innings on 92 pitches….

    But yeah, AJ’s been “decent” but not a stopper like the great Correia. 2 runs against a very good reds & brewers team is “decent”. He’s given up 2 ER is 3 out of his last 4 starts and is 0/2 in those game. AJ won quite a few games early on giving up 2 runs, but now that the offense goes absolutely cold every time he pitches, his 2 runs went from very good/stopper to decent/not a stopper.

    He’s had one bad game (LAD) and a couple of mediocre games and good games, but let’s take a look at the data in a way that makes him so bad that he should be DFAd along with Bedard. AJ did not have his stuff yet battled to have a good start at 2 runs… wandy didn’t have his stuff & what did he do? I guess it doesn’t matter because the team scores for wandy & he didn’t get a loss like AJ did?

    Maybe they should have traded AJ away during the deadline & just put Kevin “innings eater ace turned rested arm from bp banishment” correia into his spot into the rotation. If Aj can’t get another win what good is he, right, because it’s 100% AJ’s fault, right?

    AJ gives his team a chance to win each & every night and eats up innings, but who cares. he doesn’t win anymore, he’s not a stopper… trade him during the off season as quickly as possible. Would love to see Correia in his spot next year, averaging his 5 innings (ocassional 6 innings and a shocking 7 inning game 1 day when his arm is well rested to make everyone praise his greatness)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Pearce/100001552434410 William Pearce

      right on target

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Managing has also sucked. As in bringing in Qualls when the had the lead, who promptly gives up 3 hits in a third of an inning. But it counts as a Hold (stupid stat), while Resop took the loss. Grilli actually pitched in the 7th for once, and then once behind, in comes Leroux to give up one more run. Under .500 at last. Another epic collapse, swept by the Brewers into a 20th losing season.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Pearce/100001552434410 William Pearce

      I was surprised Qualls was in …my whole family said they really do not want to win.. He was great at one time…buttttttt

  • http://twitter.com/sstauffer5 Scott Stauffer

    I see it as pretty much a complete break down in all aspects of the game including personnel and game management. I don’t think two monumental collapses are coincidental, I think it’s systemic. About a week ago Tim likened it to the “dismal tide.” That sounds about right.

    I really don’t see how this mgmt team survives this one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Pearce/100001552434410 William Pearce

    Really??? We score 1 run in 2 games.. Superman throwing a shutout get a tie????

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Pearce/100001552434410 William Pearce

    Drafting high for 20 years gets us 4th place… Other teams find good players somewhere..maybe on Mars??? I think long long ago in a Galaxy far away I heard… “BUILD US THIS NEW STADIUM AND WE WILL PUT A WINNER ON THE FIELD”??? Does anyone even think about how this has hurt the City??? I heard last year every playoff or world series game brought in $500.000 to the host city in taxes. The Mayor of St Louis reported this on TV last year…

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

      It sure was sold that way, it was the only way the Pirates would be competitive. Hey, at least they were competitive for parts of 2 seasons in a row. 10 years later…

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryant.farley.9 Bryant Farley

    You misspelled “f***ing” in this sentence: ” using Chad Qualls in any important situation.”

  • leadoff

    IMO, the problems are many, most of which are brought about by fatigue
    and immaturity, but without a manager and management that understands
    this problem. The maturation problem will eventually be fixed, but the
    fatigue problem falls on management. Management thinks that changing the
    training staff would fix the problem, it didn’t, They think players
    need to be better prepared, they were, it didn’t work. Management has to
    understand that these pitchers that are throwing 30 pitches in the
    first inning are burning out the starters and the relievers.

    No matter how you slice this one, it falls on lower and upper
    management, not the players, they are tools, how you use them has
    everything to do with how they will perform.

    Nutting has a big decision problems this year, probably his biggest yet.

  • duckwoes

    I love PNC Park and I am certain it is one of the best ballparks in the land but part of me wishes it had never been built and the team would have re-located after the 1995 season. This would have been a most painful event and hindsight is 20/20 but I feel it would have saved me a great deal of anguish and emotional capital. I sometimes feel like I am rooting for the Washington Generals vs the Harlem Globetrotters. An exercise in futility!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Pearce/100001552434410 William Pearce

      You are 100% correct.. And our people keep going…lol The 40% of visiting gate also helps.. Pirates are a very good road draw..everyone wants to see the hometown team win so wait until Pirate visits. Now MLB should step in on this circus but they won’t because of $$$$ SOOO I NEVER GO ANYMORE.. it is a JOKE:-)

  • leanroastbeef

    Tim – great post as always. I look forward every day to readng this and reading the daily history from John. I noticed the ‘tab’ up on top for the blog section is gone. Is there some other way to access that information on the site? Has it moved to the main page and I’m somehow missing it?

  • heyheywhattyasay

    Tim – I’m wondering how good this team really is. It seems like you might’ve misjudged the overall quality of ths team earler in the year just like I did.
    Back on 8/1 on 1st Pitch (http://blogs.piratesprospects.com/williams/first-pitch-the-pirates-had-the-right-deadline-strategy/) in response to the Pirates making understated moves at the deadlne, you wrote ‘I believe the Pirates are legit contenders. Look at the record, but more importantly, look at the team. They’ve got an MVP favorite in Andrew McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez is on pace for over 30 homers this year. Neil Walker is starting to come around with the bat. They just added top prospect Starling Marte for a spark at the top of the lineup. Garrett Jones currently has an OPS better than Hunter Pence. On the pitching side they have A.J. Burnett and James McDonald looking like top of the rotation starters (with the exception of a few recent starts from McDonald). Their pitching staff has been one of the best groups in the majors.
    This isn’t a fluke team. A fluke team doesn’t include MVP favorites and Cy Young candidates. And because I think this team is legit, I don’t think it’s necessary to make a big splash. Sure, it helps the team, but that help might be unnecessary, in exchange for weakening your team in the future.’
    But after five weeks of bad baseball, on 9/11 your tone was different (http://blogs.piratesprospects.com/williams/first-pitch-is-collapse-the-correct-term/) ‘They’re a .500 team…They don’t look like a contender right now. They don’t look like they’re collapsing. They look like they’re regressing to a .500 club.’
    Clearly this team isn’t a contender. But you and I both felt six weeks ago that the Pirates were going to make the playoffs. So did the Pirates as they announced the sale of playoff tickets.
    Your post (http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/09/first-pitch-the-dismal-tide.html) on 9/17 was perhaps more negative regarding the overall state of the club.
    But what is the problem? Why is this team only a .500 team? You’ve wondered about players who struggle in Pittsburgh suddenly blossoming elsewhere (http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/09/first-pitch-why-do-bad-pirates-hitters-become-all-stars-elsewhere.html) and noted that it was an important issue for the team to talk about. You posted about how Barmes and Barajas really aren’t hurting the club as bad as many would expect (http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/09/first-pitch-looking-deeper-at-the-black-hole-at-the-bottom-of-the-lineup.html). The Pirates inability to cut down on stolen bases was rejected as a core issue in this post (http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/09/first-pitch-stolen-bases-are-a-problem-but-not-the-big-problem.html).
    You’ve lobbied (ineffectively unfortunately!) for more playing time for McKenry. Other than that, what would you have done differently this year? Is there anything Huntintons or Hurdle couldve changed in terms of personnel? You’ve noted a couple of times that Hurdle has mismanaged games. But are there bigger picture issues you would’ve addressed?

    • heyheywhattyasay

      Also, how much damage control do you think the team needs to do because of the Kyle Stark e-mail that now has gone national (http://sports.yahoo.com/news/pirates—hells-angels—–navy-seals–minor-league-training-methods-become-mlb-joke–.html)? By damage control, I mean do you think Stark will be let go?

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        I don’t really have much to say on that right now. I’ve been thinking about it since it came out last night, and I’ll probably write something about it tonight. Just want to think about it, rather than reacting to it.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I think it was easy to get caught up in the moment in July and early August. The team looked great, and there was an easy schedule ahead. We were thinking “90 wins” instead of “Can they break .500?”.

      Hindsight definitely changes those things. Earlier in the summer James McDonald had great numbers, and a few bad starts after the break. Fast forward a bit and he’s been one of the worst starters in the rotation in the second half. At first you think it’s just a few bad starts, and you trust the bigger sample to be true. In McDonald’s case, that would be his first half. But as the struggles continue, it becomes more and more concerning, and you start to realize that it’s probably not just a few bad starts.

      Andrew McCutchen struggled throughout August, which really hurt the team.
      A.J. Burnett also had a stretch of poor starts in August. He’s been better in September, but now he’s not getting run support.

      Those were the three players I highlighted in my “they’re legit contenders” post. For one month they didn’t have a guy playing like an MVP candidate anymore. Burnett didn’t look like a Cy Young candidate in August, and while his numbers are good in September, they don’t compare to his earlier numbers (when he actually pitched deep in to games). James McDonald turned a few bad starts in to every bad start except against the Cardinals.

      It’s hard to put a reason on these problems. Is it conditioning and tiring down the stretch? Is it the pressure of a first real playoff race? Is it the pressure of having to carry a team? Whatever the case, the team looked like contenders after July, but they definitely can’t contend with their top three guys struggling during the final two months of the season, or even just for one month out of the season.

  • F Lang

    I would love to see our avg with risp since aug 1. Has to be well lower than the rest of the season.

  • F Lang

    Another thing that continues to plague us is poor obps from the 1 and 2 slots in the order. I think that is the most important thing to address this offseason. Sub .300 obps at the top of the order are far from acceptable…and with Robbie Gossman traded we lose a good future option for the one or two whole. Maybe if Marte’s continues to improve and Holt is for real we can fix it internally. …but Marte may never be a .50+ obp guy.