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.
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
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
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%)
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.