In the last week I’ve written twice about how the Pittsburgh Pirates plan on utilizing outfield defensive shifts more often in 2014. Clint Hurdle initially talked about it last week, and I spoke with Neal Huntington about the topic, with Huntington noting that this would be different than their approach from a few years ago with outfield shifts.
It appears that one big difference will come via new technology. Yesterday Hurdle said that the Pirates have a system in place, similar to the upcoming Field F/X system. If you’re unfamiliar with Field F/X, it’s a program that is designed to track the exact movements and routes of fielders, just like the Pitch F/X program tracks the exact movement of pitches. The Pirates have a program similar to Field F/X at PNC Park, and use that to track their outfielders, and project what the players are doing on the road.
“We have a program in place where we were able to count every step guys take at home, and the actual distance that’s covered throughout the season at home,” Hurdle said. “Which is an inaccurate number, but you kind of double that up for the road and you figure out how many miles they run for the season in the outfield. Then you break down metrically during games. You don’t know, it’s based on the volume of balls that are hit in a certain area, but you will get a better read with guys that are more athletic.”
This approach can impact when the Pirates give a guy a day off, which reveals some of the mystery of why guys like Andrew McCutchen or Starling Marte get a day off when they do. It’s most likely due to the fact that they had too much of a workload in the outfield and on the bases in the previous games. The Pirates also plan to use this technology with their defensive shifts, which explains why they feel this will be much different than the experiments that they had a few years ago.
“You can position different strategically,” Hurdle said. “As I said towards the end of last week, we’re actually trying to push our defensive metric set-up some more in the outfield this year than ever before, based on the talent we have out there.”
Any kind of shifting is all about data. Getting data from a program similar to Field F/X would be the best data to have, since that looks to be the most accurate way of determining a player’s defensive skills. Field F/X isn’t currently available to the public, so we’re stuck using things like UZR, which determines outcomes, rather than looking at routes, speed, and how many steps a player takes to get from Point A to Point B. In a few years, Field F/X will be available for everyone. For now, it’s an approach that only certain teams use, and the Pirates are one of those teams.
**Wandy Rodriguez threw his second bullpen of the Spring, after taking two days off from his first bullpen. After completing the session, Rodriguez was met by a round of applause from the 30-40 fans who were in attendance.
“It was a good day,” Hurdle said. “He was able to throw all of his pitches. Get right through it. I thought he looked good.”
**Earlier today I wrote about Gregory Polanco and some of the work he did in the outfield last year. Hurdle talked about Polanco and the times that he’s seen him in the past:
“I’ve watched him in the instructional league program for two years, a week at a time. I’ve gotten to see him play. I’ve gotten down here on the minor league days that I’ve come over to see him play. We went down and watched him play in winter league this year. It’s not a long, extensive look. That’s where the trust comes in from the people that you work with. Your player development staff that have watched him develop for the past three seasons, and the growth that he’s shown. I feel very comfortable with getting him in play with the rest of the guys as he comes in and competes.”
**Polanco is just one of the top prospects expected to make his debut mid-season. Jameson Taillon is the other. Hurdle talked about what the focus will be for Taillon in his second Spring Training in big league camp.
“He’s a very astute young man. He listens well. He practices. Sharp. The opportunity to pitch will be heightened this Spring, so that in and of itself will be the thing he’s probably looking forward to most, and we’re looking forward to see as well. Just more opportunity on the mound, to see what he can do with that. The fastball command, the secondary pitches, how they play. How his overall posture, his rhythm works when runners get on base. How does he handle and control the running game. All of those types of things.”
**If you’re wondering whether Andrew Lambo will spend time at any other position other than first, Hurdle pretty much shot that down, at least initially.
“Early focus is on first base. We know he can go in the outfield and play in the outfield. He’s done that throughout his career. He’s been in the infield before, but we want to get him as many reps as possible here throughout the Spring Training to see what we have, what he can bring at that position and see if it matches up…He just needs more experience and more playing time at first initially.”
No surprise here, as Lambo is expected to have the inside track for the first base platoon role against right-handers.
**Jason Grilli hasn’t thrown a bullpen since Thursday. Most players took a day off between bullpen sessions. Wandy Rodriguez took two days off. Both Hurdle and Grilli insisted that he’s healthy.