Pirates Prospects » First Pitch http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 09:03:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 First Pitch: As Expected, Trades For Starting Pitchers Will Probably Cost a Ton http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-as-expected-trades-for-starting-pitchers-will-probably-cost-a-ton.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-as-expected-trades-for-starting-pitchers-will-probably-cost-a-ton.html#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 09:03:25 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84498 Here’s something that probably won’t be a surprise: starting pitching looks like it’s going to cost a lot on the trade market this year.

We saw this already when Jeff Samardzija was traded to the Oakland Athletics, with the Chicago Cubs getting multiple top prospects in return, highlighted by one of the best prospects in the game, Addison Russell. Based on the current rumored asking prices, it doesn’t look like the remaining pitchers on the market will come cheap.

**The Rays have been one of the hottest teams in baseball, and while they’re still under .500, they’re technically just a few games out of .500. This means David Price is almost certainly off the table, thus driving up the value for everyone else who might be available. If Price does become available, then the asking price will probably be insane.

**The Rockies wanted Kevin Gausman from the Orioles for Jorge de la Rosa, according to Jon Heyman. That’s the 33-year-old Jorge de la Rosa who has only pitched more than 130 innings twice in his career, and who currently has a 4.19 ERA in 116 innings for the Rockies, with a 4.11 xFIP that suggests things won’t be getting better. You can be the proud owner of this back of the rotation starter making the remainder of his $11 M salary, and heading to free agency in the off-season, all for the low price of one of the most promising young starting pitching prospects in the game.

**The Padres want Ian Clarkin and Eric Jagielo for Ian Kennedy, but the Yankees don’t want to pay that price, also according to Heyman. If that’s the price for Kennedy, then it might not be too bad from a rankings perspective. Clarkin and Jagielo can’t be found on any of the big pre-season top 100 lists, or mid-season top 50s. Baseball America had them ranked 7th and 5th in the Yankees system, coming into the year. However, there’s a lot of potential upside here, as both were first rounders last year. Both players received 55 potential and high risk ratings from BA. The Pirates had two players with that rating: Josh Bell and Harold Ramirez. JaCoby Jones was given a 55, but also an extreme rating. Bell may have moved beyond those rankings, but it’s also possible that one of the Yankees prospects (Clarkin, most likely) has also improved his stock. While this potential price for Kennedy seems reasonable, it also might not be complete. Heyman says the Padres need to be overwhelmed to move Kennedy.

**Jayson Stark says that Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels aren’t likely to be dealt. In regards to Hamels, he says that this is due to a price “that no one would possibly give up.” We heard earlier about how the Pirates don’t like the 2015 player option for A.J. Burnett. Stark says that the Orioles have lukewarm interest in Burnett, while the Yankees said “no thanks.”

**The Cubs want to trade Edwin Jackson. He does have a 3.95 xFIP, which suggests he’ll be better than his 5.61 ERA. However, his ERA is constantly worse than his xFIP, and he’s making $11 M a year through the 2016 season. Even if he does start putting up results closer to the advanced metrics going forward, I don’t think $11 M a year plus trading prospects to get him is worth it for his production.

Just to recap, if you want a top pitcher, be prepared to give up the farm. If you want a back of the rotation starter, be prepared to pay a price that you’d think would be reserved only for a top of the rotation guy. Kennedy seems like he could be the best value on the market, but with the Padres looking to be overwhelmed, it’s very possible that he could end up being over-priced.

For the Pirates, the most important thing in the final two months might be a healthy Gerrit Cole and having Francisco Liriano pitch the way he has been pitching in his last two starts. It seems that if they want outside help, the cost will either be a lot for something they already have, or way too much for an upgrade that might not be worth the massive price.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Nick Kingham’s Dominating Start Goes Downhill Quick

**Injury Updates: Harold Ramirez, Connor Joe, Barrett Barnes, Austin Coley

**Pirates Don’t Seem to Like A.J. Burnett’s 2015 Salary

**Andrew Lambo off to a hot start after return from thumb injury

**Prospect Highlights: Back-to-Back-to-Back Homers in Altoona

**Minor Moves: Orlando Castro Placed on the Altoona DL

**Minor League Schedule: Chad Kuhl Has Everything Working For Him This Year

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First Pitch: More of This From Liriano and Fixing the Competitive Balance Lottery http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-more-of-this-from-liriano-and-fixing-the-competitive-balance-lottery.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-more-of-this-from-liriano-and-fixing-the-competitive-balance-lottery.html#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 04:54:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84436 The Pirates need the 2013 version of Francisco Liriano in the second half. Last time out he struggled in the first, but recovered and threw five innings with no earned runs, striking out eight in the process. Tonight against the Dodgers the results were much like the 2013 Liriano, with one run on four hits and two walks in seven innings, along with four strikeouts.

Liriano got off to a horrible start this year, and missed about a month with an injury. He has quietly been pitching better over his last six starts. In his last five outings prior to tonight, he had a 2.78 ERA. His 3.80 xFIP suggests he won’t continue with those numbers if he keeps up what he was doing, and that was issuing a lot of walks, but limiting the hits and striking out a lot of guys. The version we’ve seen the last two starts can not only put up strong numbers, but would also have the advanced metrics to back up those numbers.

We’re a week away from the trade deadline, and the Pirates will be looking at starting pitching. A big reason for this is because Liriano hasn’t lived up to his role this year. If Liriano can continue pitching like he has since returning from the disabled list, then that would be one of the biggest boosts the Pirates pitching staff could receive in the final two months.


MLB held their Competitive Balance Lottery today, and there was nothing about it that said “Competitive Balance”. The Pirates, Rays, and Royals were all shut out from draft picks, while the Cardinals and Mariners both received picks. The draft lottery has been flawed since day one. Any system that recognizes the need for competitive balance, but doesn’t offer draft picks for all of the teams that need such balance, is pointless.

I offered up a suggestion after the first draft, and the suggestion would still work today. For some background, the teams that make up the lottery are the ten teams with the lowest revenue, and the ten teams in the smallest markets. Any team who received revenue sharing, but doesn’t qualify for those lists, is entered in the lottery for a Comp Round B pick. This year there were 13 teams for the first round, and two more added for the second round. Here is how the system could be fixed.

1. Take whatever teams that fall in to both low revenue and small market categories, and have them compete for a first round compensation pick. Make as many picks as there are teams. We know that there would have been seven of those teams this year, which means there would be one extra pick in Round A.

2. Take all of the teams who only fell in to one category and give them compensation picks in section B after the second round. After those six picks, give picks to any teams who received revenue sharing, but don’t qualify as small market or low revenue (in this case, the Mariners and Twins).

Under this simple system, the teams that need help the most (small market AND small revenue) are not only guaranteed picks, but get the best picks. Teams that only fall into one of those categories would get a pick, but a lower valued pick. And a team that receives revenue sharing, but isn’t a small market or low revenue team would get the least valuable picks.

This would add three picks to the draft — one after the first round, and two after the second round. It wouldn’t blow up the draft, and it would achieve the goal of working toward Competitive Balance, even if these draft picks are just a very, very small piece of assistance towards that balance.

Links and Notes

**This Chart Shows the Steady Decline in Tyler Glasnow’s Walks This Year

**Prospect Watch: Jason Creasy Goes Over 43 Innings Without Issuing a Walk

**Starling Marte Placed on Disabled List, Brent Morel Recalled

**Pirates Miss Out on a 2015 Draft Pick in the Competitive Balance Lottery

**Pirates Connected to Phillies Reliever Antonio Bastardo

**Pirates Scouting Diamondbacks Relievers

**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham Has Improved Command Since Arriving in Indianapolis

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First Pitch: MLB is NOT As Good As It Has Ever Been http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-mlb-is-not-as-good-as-it-has-ever-been.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-mlb-is-not-as-good-as-it-has-ever-been.html#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 06:26:54 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84286 Bud Selig was in Pittsburgh today, and as you could have guessed, he attributed the Pirates’ success to MLB having a fair landscape. This isn’t unexpected, as it happens every time a small market team surprises everyone by contending.

The Pirates have become contenders again, but they haven’t done it because MLB is fair. They did it by finding talent avenues that were under-valued. They did it through the draft, international market, trading established players for prospects, and focusing on advanced metrics, rather than the traditional stats that land big free agent deals. It’s not a new concept. It’s the way any successful small market team has managed to win in this unbalanced league. The fact that the feel good success stories are only small market teams, and never big market teams, should be a big indicator that MLB isn’t fair.

You could say that MLB is fair in the sense that every team has a chance to compete. You’d just have to add the disclaimer that it’s much easier for some teams to compete than it is for others, and that’s not a system that is fair at all.

We’re right in the middle of trade deadline season, which is probably the biggest time period that illustrates the difference between MLB teams. A team like the Pirates has to contemplate making moves, balancing their current chances to succeed with their future chances of success. They can’t make prospect-for-rental trades because those prospects are their only shot at landing impact talent in the future. Meanwhile, the Angels can trade away a top 100 prospect, and further deplete their farm system, all to get a relief pitcher. The Angels can do this, because they can just go spend money to fill any future needs. The Pirates make a trade like this, and they’re stuck with a hole to fill in the future.

Obviously this doesn’t restrict small market teams from making these types of trades, as we’ve seen with the Oakland Athletics. They traded Addison Russell to the Cubs for 1.5 years of Jeff Samardzija. But the last time Oakland made a deal like this, it didn’t really work out well for them. They traded Carlos Gonzalez to the Rockies for Matt Holliday, then finished under .500 the year they had Holliday, trading him by the deadline. They were .500 or worse the next two years, before getting back to the playoffs in 2012. Their corner outfielders in those two years included Gabe Gross, Ryan Sweeney, and David DeJesus. You’d have to think CarGo and his 5 WAR per year would have given them a much bigger boost. And that’s the difference between small and big market teams. The A’s traded Gonzalez to get Holliday, and only kept him for half a season. Their outfield the next two years had guys who weren’t better than bench players. Do you think that would happen with a big market team that trades away a top prospect?

The Pirates have found ways to win, all while setting themselves up to be contenders for the next several years. Unfortunately, MLB has been taking away a lot of their advantages with rule changes that hurt small market teams more than big market teams.

The biggest change came in the draft. The Pirates went over-slot on a lot of players from 2008-2011. A lot of those over-slot guys are getting close to reaching the majors, and will be a big part of the Pirates contending in the future. Nick Kingham was a fourth round pick that signed for $480,000 in 2010. Tyler Glasnow was a fifth round pick who signed for $600,000 in 2011. Josh Bell broke the draft with his $5 M bonus as a second rounder in 2011, and he’s starting to hit his way to becoming a key member of a future Pirates lineup.

The new system would have probably allowed the Pirates to draft and sign Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole. It’s hard to say whether they would have also landed Jordy Mercer, Justin Wilson, Brandon Cumpton, and other middle round guys who have helped in the majors. None of those guys were over-slot guys, but they were also drafted at a time where the bonuses in the top ten rounds weren’t linked together, which has definitely complicated matters, especially if you’re taking over-slot players and trying to find bonus pool money from other rounds.

The new CBA also restricted international spending, which doesn’t hurt the Pirates as much, since they’ve been successful without spending big on international players. However, the fact that they now have less to spend as contenders will hurt them, since part of their approach is finding a large quantity of talented prospects, and hoping a few of them work out. If you’ve got less money to spend, it means you’ll get fewer prospects, which lowers your chances of having a Starling Marte or a Gregory Polanco.

There was also the change to draft compensation picks. The Rays were famous for loading up on Type A and Type B players before they would reach free agency, all for the purposes of landing extra draft picks. The Rays did a horrible job of drafting with those picks, but that doesn’t ignore that it was an advantage to have so many first and second round picks. MLB changed the compensation rule to a system where you have to make a qualifying offer ($14.1 M for the 2014 season) to get any compensation if a player signs elsewhere. As we saw with A.J. Burnett, that’s a big percentage of team salary for a small market team to give to one player. The old system wouldn’t have helped the Burnett situation much, since the Pirates would have had to offer him arbitration over his $16.5 M salary in 2012. But looking at the league as a whole, the old system at least allowed small market teams a great chance to get draft picks. The new system makes it easy for big market teams to get compensation picks, while leaving a tougher decision for small market teams, and possibly no compensation.

The changes to the new CBA hurt small market teams more than it hurt big market teams. Those changes could impact the Pirates going forward. Their success to get to this point has been through the draft, but also due to focusing on advanced and under-valued metrics. They’ve gotten a lot of under-valued pitchers by focusing on FIP rather than ERA, and thanks to adjustments made by their pitching coaches. They landed Russell Martin thanks to the values placed on catcher defense and pitch framing, the latter of which has become a much bigger focus around the league since the Martin signing.

The fear with that, going forward, is that big market teams will catch on. They’ll start paying guys like Martin for their defense. They’ll pay for FIP, and not ERA, thus removing the potential value of guys like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and even Edinson Volquez. As a result, the Pirates will have to find new ways of finding under-valued talent. That’s the way it always goes. Small market team finds an under-valued stat. That stat becomes big, and large market teams start paying for it. Small market teams are forced to find the next inefficiency.

This is not a system that is fair. This is not a representation that MLB is better than ever. Teams like the Pirates are winning, and it’s not because of the current setup. They’ve basically found a loophole, if you will. MLB is set up so that large markets win year-after-year, and the loophole is that small market teams can exploit inefficiencies in order to compete for a small number of years. Most of the changes MLB makes are changes that make it harder for small market teams to win. And the biggest change that MLB should make is the change that would allow every team an equal shot at every player, with the same financial risks for each team.

To do this, MLB needs a salary cap, a salary floor, and total revenue sharing. That would make MLB fair. That would make the league better than ever. It would allow teams to win based on how smart they have been, and not based on market size and local media contracts.

Unfortunately, that will probably never happen. So we’re left with the current system, where the Pirates beating the odds and finding a way to succeed (for just one year following a 20 year losing streak) is held up as evidence that the league is fair. Meanwhile, teams like the Dodgers can sign Clayton Kershaw to a $215 M deal, while Pirates fans have to envision a day when Andrew McCutchen will leave for free agency, all while wondering if that will lead to another long rebuild. That makes it hard to justify that the game is as good as it has ever been.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Prospects Job Openings

**Prospect Watch: Tyler Glasnow Continues Unreal Stretch With 11 Strikeouts

**Pirates Approach to the Trade Deadline Probably Won’t Change From Previous Years

**A.J. Burnett Prefers the Pirates, But His Salary is Not Preferred

**Prospect Highlights: Starter Doing Well in GCL Relief Role

**Minor League Schedule: What Will Adrian Sampson Do For an Encore?

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First Pitch: Bringing Back Russell Martin Needs to Be a Top Priority http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-bringing-back-russell-martin-needs-to-be-a-top-priority.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-bringing-back-russell-martin-needs-to-be-a-top-priority.html#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 06:33:00 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84256 Last off-season was filled with a lot of drama surrounding A.J. Burnett, qualifying offers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates approach with free agency and the percentage that individual players take up on the team payroll.

Prepare for act two this coming off-season.

The Pirates will go through the same situation again with Russell Martin. To be accurate, it won’t be the exact situation. There won’t be a chance of Martin saying that he’s either going to play for the Pirates or retire, then debate his future for months, then decide he will play for a team other than the Pirates. This will be a pretty straight forward situation — the Pirates have a good player leaving for free agency, and he’ll be looking for his final big payday.

Burnett wasn’t signed last year, and I was fine with that. The Pirates had some good pitching depth, and they’ve shown a good ability to find value when it comes to pitchers. As it turns out, not signing Burnett hasn’t hurt them at all. He would currently be the sixth best starter on the team, based on xFIP. The Pirates have seen their depth step up, but Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole haven’t pitched like aces. If Burnett was on the team, he’d be joining those two as a guy who has disappointed by pitching below his previous levels.

It won’t be the same situation with Martin. The Pirates don’t have a track record of landing catchers at a big value. Martin was the first big success story, and that happened because they paid him for his defense, when no one else would pay more than $8.5 M a year because of his declining offense. The offense has picked up this year, but even without the offense, Martin is worth every penny for his defensive skills.

We might be reaching a point where the defense for a guy like Martin starts to get appreciated. There are already some teams who are putting a lot of stock into pitch framing, and the Pirates are one of them. Baseball Prospectus has been following that trend very closely, to the point where they’ve put a number on the value of each catcher’s skills. Based on that study, Martin’s pitch framing and blocking skills are worth at least two extra wins alone each year.

The upcoming off-season will give us a great idea about how the league values defense behind the plate just two years after the Pirates signed Martin. Brian McCann got $17 M per year this past off-season, although he had offensive skills that Martin hasn’t shown on a consistent basis the last few years. If McCann is worth that much, then Martin should be worth at least the qualifying offer amount — if teams are valuing his defense correctly. If not, then he might be a bigger value at a lower price. He wanted $9-10 M for four years before taking two years and $17 M from the Pirates. He’s probably going to get that $9-10 M figure this time around, if not more.

The Pirates need to bring back Martin. That has to be priority number one. You can justify them passing on a guy like Burnett, and not spending big on pitching because of the success Ray Searage and Jim Benedict have had working with reclamation projects. But Martin has so much value to this team. Every time I’m editing an article on this site that features a quote from a Pirates’ pitcher, it includes a comment about Martin that only illustrates his value. These aren’t your standard quotes to give the catcher praise, but offering up specifics on how Martin makes them more comfortable throwing their stuff, and how he makes his game plan specific to the pitcher and not the batter.

If you look at the upcoming list of free agent catchers (via MLBTR), you’ll see a pretty bleak list outside of Martin.

John Buck (34)
Ryan Doumit (34)
Nick Hundley (31) – $5MM club option
Gerald Laird (35)
Russell Martin (32)
Jeff Mathis (32) – $1.5MM club option
Wil Nieves (36)
Miguel Olivo (36)
A.J. Pierzynski (38)
David Ross (38)
Geovany Soto (32)
Kurt Suzuki (31)

There’s not really much available, especially when you look at the pitch framing skills and see that no one can touch Martin’s value.

Then you look at the internal situation. Tony Sanchez isn’t looking like a starting catcher. His defense, and specifically his throwing, has been too inconsistent. This was supposed to be a year where he showed he would be able to take over for Martin. He hasn’t done that, and we’re now seeing the importance of bringing Martin back. It’s possible that Sanchez could be a starter in a year or two. It’s possible that Elias Diaz could be a sleeper starter in a few years. The Pirates need someone before these things possibly happen, and that someone should be Martin.

The benefit here is that so much of Martin’s value comes from his defense, and that’s not a skill that projects to decline in the next few years. The Pirates could bring him back on a three-year deal, and hopefully bridge the gap until Reese McGuire is ready to arrive.

I don’t put much stock in the public comments that were made about the A.J. Burnett situation, whether it was the resistance to make a qualifying offer, or the comments about one player taking up X percentage of the payroll. I think the Pirates just felt they didn’t have to pay that much for Burnett. When it comes to Martin, all of that should be thrown out the window. Martin can take up a large chunk of the payroll, because he plays such a large part on the team. If needed, he should receive a qualifying offer, because the Pirates either need to be aggressive in bringing him back, or need to get some sort of compensation if he leaves. This past year they missed out on James Loney because they didn’t want to give him a three-year contract. If that’s what it takes with Martin, then sign him up for three years.

The Pirates have often looked for value on the open market. But a lot of that comes from the pitching side. When it comes to hitters, they’ve paid prices that were considered above the market rate. That includes Martin, as the Pirates out-bid the Yankees by a few million to get him. This usually happens when they value something about the player much more than other teams, as they did with Martin’s defense last time around. We’ll see how the rest of the league has adjusted this time around. They’ve acted fast with offensive signings, making an aggressive offer early, before other teams can get heavily involved. That needs to be the case again this off-season with Martin, or preferably sooner.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Big Night For West Virginia Hitters; Horrible Night For Bradenton Hitters

**Top 10 Pitchers: Sampson, Cumpton, Glasnow, and a Pitcher You Should Learn About

**Pirates Had a Scout Watching A.J. Burnett’s Last Start

**Prospect Highlights: Amazing Catch By Center Fielder Chase d’Arnaud

**Minor League Schedule: Tyler Glasnow Takes His Show on the Road

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First Pitch: Can the Pirates Fix Ernesto Frieri in Time? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-can-the-pirates-fix-ernesto-frieri-in-time.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-can-the-pirates-fix-ernesto-frieri-in-time.html#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 06:37:58 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84195 I don’t really want to write another article on why I don’t think it’s a smart move for the Pittsburgh Pirates to spend money and/or prospects to get relief pitching help. As I wrote last week, they’ve got a good track record of finding quality relievers without paying for it. They also have a good late inning combo of Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, which means their focus should only be on the middle innings.

Yet the Pirates are looking around at possible upgrades. They looked at Huston Street, and now they’re connected to Joaquin Benoit and Joakim Soria. We don’t know their level of interest. It could just be checking on the price of those guys. It could be deeper than that.

Rather than giving my thoughts on acquiring relievers again, let’s focus on the big bounce back candidate for the Pirates — Ernesto Frieri.

The Pirates didn’t exactly get Frieri for nothing. He came in a swap of struggling relievers, with Jason Grilli going the other way. So the trade didn’t send anyone of value away (although Grilli has rebounded a bit since the deal). Frieri does cost money, but they were paying slightly more to Grilli, so Frieri didn’t really cost more than what the Pirates had already committed.

The first few outings from Frieri were bad. Since giving up a walk off homer on July 8th, Frieri has looked a little better. He hasn’t allowed a hit or a run in four outings. His only bad outing came on July 12th, when he walked two batters to start the tenth inning, before getting bailed out by Justin Wilson. Obviously we’re dealing with an extremely small sample size here, so we can’t put much stock in the last few outings.

With only a week and a half left until the trade deadline, the Pirates are going to be limited to a small sample sized analysis with Frieri. Even if they don’t add a reliever through a trade, they will need to make a decision in their bullpen when Gerrit Cole returns. Cole will push Vance Worley to the bullpen, which will mean the Pirates will have to decide between Frieri, Stolmy Pimentel, or sending someone with good numbers like Justin Wilson or Jared Hughes down. The easy decision, based on the stats, would be to cut one of Frieri or Pimentel. However, both have good upside, and I can’t see the Pirates letting go of either pitcher easily based on the upsides.

If Frieri could bounce back, then he’d be the perfect example of adding a quality reliever for a cheap price. But there’s not much time to see if he can make this happen. And any other inexpensive reliever they get is most likely going to come with question marks, and will also need a quick turnaround, or to demonstrate success in a small sample. So the question is, can the Pirates fix Ernesto Frieri in time?

Links and Notes

**The ‘Stubborn’ Approach That Has the Pirates Leading the NL in OBP

**Pirates Looking at Joaquin Benoit and Joakim Soria

**Minor League Schedule: Cody Dickson Has Been Solid During the Second Half

**Prospect Watch: Alen Hanson Returns to the Bench

**DSL Pirates Report: All-Star Second Baseman Raul Siri

**Prospect Highlights: A Pirates First Baseman With a Rare Talent

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First Pitch: The Type of Prospects That the Pirates Could Afford to Trade http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-the-type-of-prospects-that-the-pirates-could-afford-to-trade.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-the-type-of-prospects-that-the-pirates-could-afford-to-trade.html#comments Sun, 20 Jul 2014 06:51:49 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84091 As I looked around at the reactions toward the Angels’ trade for Huston Street, I noticed a lot of people commenting about how the deal was a good one for Los Angeles. This is a team that didn’t have a farm system, and traded the few prospects they had remaining for a relief pitcher who is making $10 M over the next year and a half. And I’d have to agree that this deal was a good one for the Angels.

The Angels don’t need prospects. They have the luxury of being able to throw a large amount of money at any problem they have, thus allowing them to make a move like this. They signed Albert Pujols to a ten year deal that pays him an average of $24 M a year. Pujols immediately started to see a decline with his offense. The next year they signed Josh Hamilton to a five year deal that pays him an average of $25 M a year. Once again, they saw an instant decline. That didn’t stop them from making future moves, including the recent trade for Street. And they don’t really need the prospects they dealt, as they have the money to sign Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar to extensions, which they’ve already done.

Prospects are meaningless to the Angels, with the exception of the elite like Mike Trout. If they have a need, they can spend money or deal prospects to fill that need. In this case, they needed a reliever, so they traded prospects they won’t miss. It’s like playing fantasy baseball, where you don’t have to worry about the financials and the business side of the game, and the only concern is focusing on winning that year.

That’s how the other half lives. MLB’s other side of the economic coin features small market teams that have to look at the exact same trade in a much different manner. Dealing that much in prospects for a reliever is a horrible move for a small market team. If it was for a player who could bring more value, then it might be worthwhile. But then you’ve got to focus on the prospects you’re dealing, and how that might impact you for the long-term. Basically you have to look at the deal like real baseball, and focus both on short-term and long-term needs.

The Pirates have been building up their farm system for several years now. They’re to the point that they have a top farm system that has graduated top 20 prospects to the majors in each of the last three years, and looks to continue that trend each year over the next few years. Aside from just the top guys, they’ve graduated other prospects who have played key roles, and have plenty of other prospects who could do the same in the upcoming seasons. The lower levels are featuring the next wave of talent, with the possibility of replacing some of the current players on the roster.

We’re to the point where the Pirates could afford to deal some prospects in the right kind of deal. I don’t believe they should be dealing their top prospects, which mostly consists of the guys who project to be impact players. I also don’t think they should be dealing anything of value for bullpen help, bench help, or anything else that can be acquired without dealing something of value. But that still leaves open the possibility of upgrading in other areas, without trading anything you’d miss from the system.

The key is dealing from a position of strength, and dealing players who don’t fit into your long-term plans. The easiest example to give would be the starting rotation.

Gerrit Cole is under control through the 2019 season. Charlie Morton is under control through the 2017 season. Jeff Locke is under control through the 2018 season. The Pirates project to add Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham by mid-season next year. Tyler Glasnow should arrive by mid-season 2016. They’ll have Brandon Cumpton under control for at least six more seasons after this year, and Vance Worley for up to four more years. Not everyone will work out, but the best-case 2016 rotation would include Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, and one of Locke or Morton.

You look at that rotation, then you look at someone like Adrian Sampson, who is having a breakout season in Altoona. Sampson could very well arrive in the majors by the middle of the 2015 season. However, it’s hard to see where he would fit in a future rotation. The same could go for Worley or Cumpton. Maybe those guys would have a place in the rotation for the first half of 2015, but after that, rotation spots would be harder to come by.

Sampson is a prime example of a trade chip the Pirates could deal, without missing anything in the long-term. He’s improving his prospect stock, and he’s got a future as a MLB starter. But the Pirates are loaded with starting pitching prospects who have a higher upside, which means they probably won’t even have a rotation spot for Sampson. They could deal him, watch him go on to be a MLB starter for someone else, and the only concern they would have is whether the guy they got in return was worth dealing a trade chip away.

The outfield is another area where the Pirates have a good situation and the ability to deal prospects away. I wouldn’t deal Austin Meadows or Josh Bell, as Meadows could be a long-term replacement for one of the current outfielders, and Bell could be a candidate for first base. But someone like Harold Ramirez would be in the exact same situation as Sampson. He’s not going to break into the starting lineup with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco around. He ranks behind Meadows and Bell, so he wouldn’t be the top guy to take over if one of those guys sees their career go down, or leaves Pittsburgh. He’s another guy who the Pirates could deal, and only have to worry about whether they got the right person in return. You could also add Mel Rojas and Andrew Lambo to this list, although if Ike Davis continues to struggle, Lambo could be a good replacement option.

The disclaimer here is that the Pirates aren’t getting the big names on the trade market with this type of approach. You’re not getting David Price by dealing these types of prospects. You could still get a decent player that could help your team. The Pirates have already made deals like this. They traded Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, and Colton Cain for Wandy Rodriguez a few years ago. They’re not missing those three prospects, and the only downside to that deal is that Rodriguez might not have been the best way to spend those prospects.

Last year there were two deals that saw a similar approach. Justin Morneau was acquired for Alex Presley and Duke Welker (who was later re-acquired for Kris Johnson). The Pirates aren’t missing Presley or Johnson, although it’s unfortunate that Morneau saved all of his power for Colorado this year. They dealt Dilson Herrera and Vic Black for Marlon Byrd. They won’t miss Black, although Herrera could be a guy they’ll miss. He made the jump to Double-A this year, and currently has a .935 OPS in 103 at-bats at the level at the age of 20. The Pirates have some middle infield options, such as Alen Hanson and JaCoby Jones, but Herrera’s value to the team in the long-term might have been bigger than Byrd’s value in the short-term (and I don’t consider Herrera a future shortstop, even though he’s played there with the Mets).

The Pirates can’t totally be like the Angels and other big market teams. They need to be conservative when it comes to dealing prospects, and can’t just go all in on one season with no regard for the future. They do have a strong enough system, and enough talent at certain positions in the majors that they could trade talented players without having to worry about losing future production from their MLB team. That would put them in a good position to land a middle tier player on the trade market.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Andrew Lambo Homers Twice in Indianapolis Rout

**Three Cases That Show It’s Not Always About Stats in the Minors

**Pirates Among Teams That Scouted Ian Kennedy Last Night

**Prospect Highlights: Clips From Adrian Sampson’s Near No-Hitter

**Minor League Schedule: Casey Sadler Looks to Stay Undefeated on the Road

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First Pitch: Why I Don’t Like the Trade Deadline http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-why-i-dont-like-the-trade-deadline.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-why-i-dont-like-the-trade-deadline.html#comments Sat, 19 Jul 2014 06:56:14 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84035 Earlier today I did a sort of trade deadline preview, although there’s not much to work with this year. The only player that the Pittsburgh Pirates have been connected to was traded tonight when the Angels acquired Huston Street. That’s not something I’d lose sleep over, as the price was very high, as it usually is for closers.

In less than two weeks, the trade deadline will have passed. I think it’s going to be a relatively quiet one, similar to last year, for a lot of reasons I listed in my preview. The short of it is that the second Wild Card spot keeps so many teams in contention that you have too many buyers, not enough sellers, and too many people on both sides who can’t really figure out where they stand. As a result, expect another busy month of August.

Whether the deadline is in July or August, it’s something I don’t like. And I’m not speaking as a web site owner here, who makes a living off page views, and who sees those page views sky-rocket during trade deadline season. I’m talking about as a fan of the game, and as someone who hates to see artificial needs created.

That’s what the trade deadline is. It’s an event which creates the idea that teams have to make an upgrade, and that they have to make a move. It’s an arms race, where teams have to respond to a move by a competitor with their own move to keep the balance. It’s borderline a reflection of American society today, where no one is ever satisfied with what they have, and are always looking for more, because the idea that you’ve got enough of something is just out of the question.

The trade deadline leads to some of the absolute laziest analysis I’ve ever seen in baseball. Every year the teams that made moves and added names are the winners. The teams that didn’t make any moves are the losers. There’s no digging in to see how a player might upgrade a team, and whether the cost of that upgrade in the long-term really justified the short-term gain.

Some of this is because there are two economic systems in baseball. Historically, the buyers at the deadline are usually big market teams. The sellers are small market teams. Big market teams don’t need to worry about prospects, because free agency is a viable option for them. So they deal those prospects to small market teams, who need to get something from their soon-to-be-departing stars. This is an approach only big market teams can take, without repercussions.

Over the last few years, it seems like more small market teams have been “buyers” at the deadline, with some of them showing a resistance to giving up top prospects. The Rays hardly ever do this. The Pirates haven’t given up any impact guys, but have parted with some good prospects. I think the reason that teams are hesitant to deal top prospects is the same reason why we’re seeing more small market teams contending. These teams have been on the other side of this equation. They know just how much a trade can build up the system. They know that small market teams become competitors by building with young talent that is cost-controlled for many years. Once you start trading that young talent away for older players under control for a small amount of time, you reach the top of your ascent in the MLB standings, and gradually start making your way back down to the next rebuild.

Then there’s the question of how much is enough? The Pirates have the makings of the best outfield in baseball. Over the next two years they will be adding a lot of talented pitchers, and could have one of the best young pitching staffs in the game. They’re contenders now, and they’re only going to get stronger moving forward. In the next year we could see Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and/or Adrian Sampson making the jump to the majors. On an optimistic timeline, Josh Bell could also make that jump. If Bell doesn’t make it by then, he could arrive in 2016, and he’d probably be joined by Tyler Glasnow. Alen Hanson could be in the mix somewhere, depending on whether he can add consistency to the defensive side of the game. This isn’t considering any outside help, or any prospects who could emerge as surprises between now and then.

The Pirates are a good team now, and they’re only projected to get stronger moving forward. I think they’ve got some needs now. There are positions that could be upgraded, but I think most of those positions are better left to the guys currently in the system, with the hope that certain players play better in the second half. The moves they need to make this year are minor. And as the team improves, there will be less of a need for in-season moves. Yet the pressure to make a deadline deal will always be there, and the only way for the Pirates to appear competent is to deal their future for a rental, ignoring the fact that such a trade could look like a disaster a year or two later. And if the deal did look bad at that point, the people calling for the deal in the first place would just be calling for a similar deal later, and ignoring how the last one turned out in the long run.

Then there’s my other big issue with the trade deadline — trades are the only upgrade that count. The Pirates may have already upgraded their team this year. They added Jeff Locke to the rotation in early June. They added Gregory Polanco to the outfield around the same time. Vance Worley stepped up as a depth starter, and will be their number five starter until Gerrit Cole returns. They added Ernesto Frieri, who seems like a reclamation project where you hope the fix comes quick. They also added Rafael Perez, who is two years removed from being a solid reliever, and has a little more time to rebound than Frieri. Going forward they could add players from their farm system, including Nick Kingham if they need rotation help.

But those moves don’t seem to count. The Pirates had some of those guys in the system already, or they signed someone, or acquired someone who was having a down year. They should count though. They should factor in to the trade deadline analysis. The Pirates have already upgraded their rotation this year. There were calls for someone like David Price before that upgrade, and thus the need for Price should go down now that the Pirates have strengthened their rotation. I’m not saying that there is zero need for Price. What I am saying is that the need for Price is much lower now than it was at the end of May, and it might be to the point where the short-term need isn’t worth the long-term cost. This is all because the Pirates have already upgraded their rotation in-season, despite the fact that the upgrade didn’t come via trade.

I know how the Pirates got here. They got to this point by building from within, making trades as “sellers”, and building with young talent. They were sellers in 2009, dealing Nate McLouth. That got them two of their five starting pitchers this year. They dealt a successful Sean Burnett for a struggling Joel Hanrahan, who was later dealt for their current closer and one other bullpen arm. They got Vance Worley in a deal for cash, Edinson Volquez was signed as a reclamation project, and most of the rest of the roster was home-grown.

You don’t win a prize by spending the least to build a contender, or by having the most shrewd moves. That said, when you’re a small market team with a limited budget, you kind of need this approach to contend for the long-term. Once you start making big market moves — dealing a lot of young talent for one older rental — then you start moving away from what got you to contender status in the first place. You start making moves that will hurt you more in the future than they help you in the present. You do this because that’s the only way you can be a “winner” at the trade deadline.

Winning the trade deadline doesn’t matter at all. Winning games is the only thing that matters. Rather than being a trade deadline winner for a few years, I’d rather be an annual trade deadline loser, while keeping a strong organization, sticking to the approach that led to contending in the first place, and providing the opportunity to be a trade deadline “loser” for a lot more years to come.

Links and Notes

**Looking at the Pirates Trade Needs on a Quiet Market; Should the Deadline Be Moved?

**Prospect Watch: Looking at Adrian Sampson’s Path to the Majors

**Huston Street Traded to the Angels; Shows Overpriced Market For Closers

**Adrian Sampson Just Misses a Complete Game No Hitter

**Minor Moves: Pirates Release Two Minor League Pitchers

**Prospect Highlights: Throw From Garcia, Homer From Broxton, Cumpton Finishes Off Gem

**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham Gets His First Start Since the All-Star Break

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First Pitch: Five Big Questions That Will Determine if the Pirates Will Remain Contenders http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-five-big-questions-that-will-determine-if-the-pirates-will-remain-contenders.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-five-big-questions-that-will-determine-if-the-pirates-will-remain-contenders.html#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 07:28:36 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=83969 The Pittsburgh Pirates will kick off the second half of the season today. They enter the second half with a 49-46 record, sitting 3.5 games out of first place in the NL Central, and 3 games back in the Wild Card race. They’ve got the lowest chances of any of the playoff contenders, but they’re still considered contenders.

You can go through any team — contender or not — and you’ll find questions surrounding that team. The Pirates are no exception. They’ve got question marks at mid-season, and the answers to those questions could determine if they’re contenders this year, or a team that will mostly hover around .500, losing to teams in their own division, while destroying weaker competition. Here is a look at five of the key questions in the second half, all of which could determine whether the Pirates will remain contenders.

1. What Will the Pirates Get From Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole?

Most people had questions surrounding the back of the rotation heading into the season. So far, that has been the only thing that has worked for the Pirates. Edinson Volquez hasn’t been an ace, but he looks like the most recent success story when it comes to Ray Searage reclamation projects. Jeff Locke looks the best he has ever looked, and is statistically the best starter on the team. Charlie Morton is just continuing what he was doing last year, looking like a strong number three starter. Brandon Cumpton and Vance Worley have been great depth, and should continue in that role in the second half.

The problem is that Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole haven’t lived up to their expectations. Liriano has struggled this year, posting a 4.72 ERA, but a 3.76 xFIP. The advanced metrics suggest he will bounce back and pitch better, although not to the level of a top of the rotation guy. However, there are no guarantees as to when, or if, he will start to bounce back. Cole has pitched well this year, with a 3.78 ERA. That’s not as good as his 2013 numbers, especially at the end of the year. He’s now injured, and won’t be ready to return immediately after the All-Star break.

The Pirates have had great starting pitching since the start of June, and that has largely been without Liriano and Cole. If one, or both of these guys returns to pitch like an ace, then that would be a big boost for the Pirates in the second half.

2. Which Version of the First Base Platoon Will Show Up?

Ike Davis came to the Pirates and looked great right away. He had an .862 OPS in the month of May, but started to fade after that. His OPS in June was .597, and in July it is .488. Gaby Sanchez has been crushing lefties for the last year, and continued that in May, with an .898 OPS. He also faded in June, with a .539 OPS. In July he has a .304 OPS. His OPS against lefties this year is now .825, which is still good, but mostly fueled by an amazing first two months.

It’s not like the Pirates can’t contend without production from first base. They didn’t get any right-handed production last year from Garrett Jones or Justin Morneau. They’ve got a stronger offense this year than they had last year, which makes it more likely that they could overcome the first base struggles. However, what we’ve seen lately is bad, and the trend continues to go in the wrong direction.

In May, it looked like the Pirates finally found a first base platoon after a month and a half. Now it looks like the Pirates might want to look at other options for each spot in the platoon after a different month and a half stretch. That just shows that anything can happen. So which first base platoon will show up going forward?

3. How Much Power Will the Pirates Get From Pedro Alvarez?

Pedro Alvarez isn’t having a bad season, but he isn’t having a good season either. His average is still at the usual low point, although he’s taking more walks this year. His power is way down, but still good, with a .175 ISO. He’s on pace for 26 homers this year, which would be ten fewer than his 2013 total, and four less than his 2012 total.

Alvarez had a good month of June, with an .879 OPS. He’s faded in July, with a .711 OPS so far. He did the same thing last year, with a monster month of June, posting a 1.060 OPS. He had a .700 OPS in the second half. That hasn’t always been the trend. In 2012 he had a .926 OPS in June, and did well in July and August, before struggling in September.

Offense isn’t the only focus here, as Alvarez has had some serious problems with his throwing. That’s usually a strong point to his game, and now you cringe every time he makes a throw, even if it’s a routine throw. The offense is the key for Alvarez, as the entire Pirates offense goes to a new level when he’s hitting well. If his defensive struggles continue, he’s going to need to hit like the June version, just to make up for the defensive mistakes.

4. How Will the Bullpen Look in the Second Half?

15 blown saves. That’s the number thrown around all the time, and it’s bad no matter how you look at it. If a few of those games go the Pirates’ way, then we could be talking about a first place team right now.

The blown saves represent a problem. But is that problem confined to the first half, or is it something the Pirates have to be concerned about in the second half?

Seven of those blown saves came from guys who are no longer on the team. Jason Grilli (4) and Bryan Morris (3) led to almost half of the blown saves for the Pirates this year. The frustrating thing is that both pitchers are performing well since being traded away.

Then you’ve got the middle inning blown saves. Tony Watson has been an amazing reliever this year, but has four blown saves because he gave up four leads in the seventh or eighth innings. I don’t think anyone should be worried about Watson, and his four blown saves have no impact on the closer’s role.

Justin Wilson has one blown save. He’s also partially responsible for one of Watson’s blown saves, since he put the runners on, and Watson couldn’t get out of the jam. Once again, these blown saves don’t show the need for a closer. In Wilson’s case, he has struggled this year, and this could represent a need for an upgrade in the middle relief area. He did finish the first half strong, and has shown good abilities in his time in the majors. If that’s the Wilson that continues to show up, then the Pirates will be fine.

The final three blown saves came off Mark Melancon. He’s entered a game with a lead 35 times this year, and he’s only blown the lead three times. He’s 16-for-19 in save opportunities. As I wrote last night, he has been an elite reliever this year. I’m not worried about Melancon going forward, even in the closer’s role.

I don’t think the blown saves represent a problem for this bullpen going forward. Half of them came from relievers who are no longer around. Five of the rest came during the middle innings, which might be a problem the Pirates should address, but not in a way where they’re giving up a lot of money or prospects. Seven of the blown saves (including four from the middle innings group) came from two of the best relievers in baseball.

The thing about blown saves is that they’re treated so much differently than any other stat. If a position player has three bad games, no one even notices. If a good starting pitcher has three bad innings, it’s probably going to get lost in the mix. But if a reliever has one bad inning, or one bad game, it sticks with them. And it shouldn’t. It’s a problem that the Pirates had 15 blown saves in the first half, and it’s a problem that seven of those came from two of the best relievers in the league this year. But I think these problems are limited to the first half. The Pirates will still see some blown saves and bad games from their bullpen — that’s unavoidable for any team. They won’t see it at the frequency they saw it in the first half.

5. What Kind of Internal/External Help Will the Pirates Add?

This has been a slow month of July for rumors. Last year at this time there were 36 posts to our news and rumors section. This year? One. I’m sure we’ll hear about all of the discussions that went on behind the scenes when the Astros have their next data leak. Until then, the lack of rumors seems to indicate that the Pirates won’t be doing anything before the deadline.

Then again, a lot of the moves the Pirates have made are moves that came out of nowhere. There was some talk last year on Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau before they were acquired. But deals like Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, and others came out of nowhere. And as we saw with the Astros situation, sometimes when we hear a rumor, it’s well after the talks have broken off.

I’ll be doing a trade deadline preview tomorrow, focusing on the needs of the team. I don’t think they have any major needs. That’s not saying they can’t find upgrades, but I just don’t look at this team and see a team that needs to go out and make a big splash. I think they’ve got a lot of guys who can perform better in the second half. They’ve got a lot of depth in the minors, and that’s an area where they’ve already seen in-season upgrades. Pat Lackey made a good point today about the big questions surrounding this team at the start of the year.

A bunch of the questions that everyone assumed would drive the success of this team in March: “Can Jordy Mercer be an every day shortstop?” and “Will Pedro Alvarez ever make the leap?” and “Is Gerrit Cole the next Justin Verlander?” and “Can anything stop the Gregory Polanco Train?” and “So is Starling Marte kinda good or pretty good or really good?” have all been more or less deferred to the second half and the Pirates are still in contention.

The Pirates are contenders, despite no answer to those big question marks. As I said earlier, every team has question marks. The Pirates have a lot of potential upside on their roster, and they’ve been contending without a lot of those upside players performing to their expectations. They’ve got a team capable of contending and possibly winning the division. They just need the big guys to step up. The performances of Cole, Alvarez, Polanco, Marte, and Liriano are going to be far greater than any external addition. If most of those players do well, then they won’t need a big splash. And if most of those guys struggle, then a big splash isn’t going to be enough to make the Pirates a contender.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Josh Bell Makes Altoona Debut, Cumpton and Glasnow With Strong Outings

**Joely Rodriguez Moving to the Bullpen in Altoona

**Minor Moves: Andrew Lambo Returns to Indianapolis

**Starling Marte Reinstated From the Bereavement List

**Pirates Still Playoff Contenders, But Need to Beat Their Own Division

**Pirates Have Four in Keith Law’s Mid-Season Top 50

**Prospect Highlights: First Look at a GCL Pirates Pitcher With a Tale of Perseverance

**Minor League Schedule: Adrian Sampson Tries to Build on His Outstanding First Half

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First Pitch: It’s Time to Recognize Mark Melancon as an Elite Reliever http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-its-time-to-recognize-mark-melancon-as-an-elite-reliever.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-its-time-to-recognize-mark-melancon-as-an-elite-reliever.html#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 04:57:04 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=83901 Mark Melancon is one of the best relievers in baseball.

That’s not just my opinion. It’s a statistical fact. Just take a look at the numbers over the last two years. Melancon ranks 7th of 139 relievers in xFIP. If you prefer ERA, he drops down to 8th. He’s been an amazing reliever for the Pirates, but he doesn’t get the credit he deserves in Pittsburgh.

I’m always baffled by the reactions towards Melancon. It seems that part of the fan base takes him for granted, assuming that he’s just doing what any good reliever does. He’s set the bar so high that when he actually pitches like a good reliever, instead of an elite reliever, the doom and gloom predictions come out. That’s usually from the other part of the fan base that is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, then predicting his downward spiral after a bad outing.

Even with numbers that show Melancon as one of the top relievers in baseball over the last two years, a lot of people don’t fully appreciate what the Pirates have with him. It’s to the point where there are calls for a closer of the future, or to trade prospects and spend about $10 M on Huston Street for the next year and a half. Since the overall numbers don’t get the appreciation they deserve, I decided to dig deep into Melancon’s stats, and show why all of the arguments against him are incorrect.

He Can’t Pitch in the Ninth

I’ve never believed that a good pitcher needs some sort of special magic to pitch in the ninth inning and close out games. It’s the Proven Closer© theory, which is only proven to be incorrect time and time again. Usually the idea stems from a lack of forgiveness. A bad inning in the eighth is forgotten easier than a bad inning that loses a game, or blows a lead and sends the game to extra innings.

In Melancon’s case, the stats show that he absolutely can pitch in the ninth inning. His numbers by inning:

4th inning 1 1.0 0 0.00 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 -100
5th inning 4 3.0 2 6.00 17 13 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 3 2 0.67 .308 .471 .385 .855 5 0 1 0 0 0 0 .364 184
6th inning 10 6.2 4 5.40 27 25 9 6 0 2 1 1 0 2 7 3.50 .240 .296 .520 .816 13 1 0 0 0 0 0 .294 165
7th inning 43 28.0 12 3.86 116 106 16 24 6 0 1 2 0 8 23 2.88 .226 .287 .311 .598 33 3 1 1 0 0 3 .280 97
8th inning 115 105.0 35 3.00 423 387 38 83 12 1 6 3 1 25 103 4.12 .214 .271 .297 .568 115 6 6 1 3 1 2 .274 87
9th inning 114 106.0 32 2.72 443 411 38 99 11 0 8 3 2 26 97 3.73 .241 .293 .326 .619 134 8 4 2 0 5 7 .297 104
Ext inning 18 20.0 8 3.60 82 74 9 18 3 0 2 2 1 6 14 2.33 .243 .305 .365 .670 27 2 1 0 1 1 1 .271 120
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2014.

I prefer xFIP for relievers, although I couldn’t find that available for inning splits. Maybe there’s a reason that’s not available for this particular split, and maybe that reason is because there’s no value in looking at splits by inning.

Oh, and what about just looking at save situations?

in Sv Situ 3 4 .429 3.10 123 0 56 0 0 53 116.0 109 46 40 7 23 2 119 6 0 12 479 1.138 9.2 5.17
in non-Sv 11 7 .611 3.10 140 0 63 0 0 0 153.2 125 60 53 11 47 5 127 7 0 4 632 1.119 7.4 2.70
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2014.

Identical results. And not far off from where everyone’s favorite trade deadline upgrade, Huston Street, stands in his career in save situations.

He’s Getting Figured Out

One thing that is said most often is that hitters are starting to figure Melancon out. When I say that this is mentioned “often”, what I mean is “about once a month for the last two years, people start predicting that Melancon will turn into a pumpkin at midnight because he had a rare bad outing”. Unfortunately there is no actual statistical evidence to support this. In fact, the stats say otherwise.

Last year Melancon had a .511 OPS against opponents, which is ridiculous. This year? A .500 OPS. Typically when hitters figure a pitcher out, that pitcher’s ridiculous OPS against those hitters doesn’t go down lower.

It’s actually not hard to figure out Melancon. He has thrown his cutter about half the time over the last two years. He throws his curve about 20 percent of the time. On average, you’ll see the cutter every other pitch, and the curve is his off-speed pitch. You know what is coming. So it should be easy to hit him, right?

Well that’s not the case either. I looked at all of the pitchers this year who had 30+ innings, and used their cutter 30% of the time or more (there were 18 of them). I wanted to see who had the best OPS against in their career, just off that pitch. As it turned out, Melancon ranked second, and ranked third this year.



Kenley Jansen



Mark Melancon



Jarred Cosart



Adam Wainwright



Jamey Wright



Josh Collmenter



Joakim Soria



Travis Wood



David Robertson



Bryan Shaw



Jesse Chavez



Carlos Torres



Dan Haren



Samuel Deduno



Danny Farquhar



Scott Feldman



Andre Rienzo



Mike Bolsinger



Hitters know what is coming, yet they can’t do anything about it. Melancon has one of the best cutters in the game, and that’s even after the fact that he’s established that he’s throwing it every other pitch. It’s the same with the curveball. Here is the same study, only this time looking at everyone who threw their curve 20% of the time or more. I also included the knuckle curve. That’s what Melancon’s curve is classified as, although when I spoke to him during Spring Training, he said it was just a regular spike curveball.



Dellin Betances



Yoervis Medina



Cody Allen



Mark Melancon



Collin McHugh



Jose Fernandez



Craig Kimbrel



A.J. Ramos



Drew Pomeranz



Sonny Gray



Jamey Wright



Gio Gonzalez



Roenis Elias



Charlie Morton



A.J. Burnett



Tom Koehler



David Robertson



Jesse Hahn



Yusmeiro Petit



Alex Wood



Brad Hand



Brett Oberholtzer



Andre Rienzo



Tyler Skaggs



Josh Beckett



Juan Gutierrez



Donn Roach



Jeremy Affeldt



Joba Chamberlain



Sam LeCure



Brandon Workman



Samuel Deduno



Danny Duffy



Zach Duke



Anthony Varvaro



Edinson Volquez



Tommy Hunter



Jose Quintana



Carlos Martinez



Scott Feldman



Ryan Vogelsong



Erik Bedard



Mike Bolsinger



Justin Grimm



Adam Wainwright



Brandon McCarthy



Joel Peralta



Josh Fields



Jarred Cosart



Anthony Swarzak



Fernando Abad



J.J. Hoover



Once again, Melancon ranks high on the list, coming in at fourth in career OPS with the pitch, only this time it was out of 52 pitchers.

I would have done the same with the fastball, but his .465 OPS this year suggests that’s not really a big problem. The point here is that anyone who takes five seconds to check out FanGraphs will see that Melancon mostly works off a cutter/curve combo. Despite the knowledge of what is coming in advance, batters can’t hit those two pitches. If someone has figured out Melancon, they’re not telling MLB teams about it.

What About the Singles Through the Right Side of the Infield?

There was a weird stretch last year where Melancon gave up several well-placed hits through the right side of the infield in the span of a week, blowing a few games in the process. This leads to a theory that batters can just hit the ball through the right side to get to Melancon. That assumes that all batters have the skill to just hit the ball at the exact spot where a fielder isn’t standing, which is why batting averages are at a low point these days.

Let’s just assume that batters do have the ability to do this, and it is a weakness for Melancon. If that’s true, then his OPS on ground balls would go up. His BABIP on grounders would also go up, since batters would be finding the hole on the right side of the infield. Here are those numbers for 2013 and 2014.

Stat: 2013 / 2014

OPS on GB: .387 / .358

BABIP on GB: .185 / .179

Once again, the numbers have gone down this year. That’s not something that happens when opponents have you figured out. I will note that his numbers against right-handers who go opposite field are horrible this year, with a .500 average and an OPS over 1.000. However, two points on that.

1. We’re talking about a sample size of 20 plate appearances.

2. We’re talking about a sample size of 20 plate appearances!

Even if you trust a sample of 20 plate appearances, it ignores the fact that right-handers rarely pull off this accomplishment. And his numbers against right-handers have gone down, from a .638 OPS last year to a .580 OPS this year. So clearly this approach isn’t helping right-handers.

Melancon is one of the best relievers in baseball

Here is a recap of a few things Melancon has going for him:

1. He posts some of the best numbers in the game among relief pitchers.

2. He throws a cutter half the time, and despite the fact that people know it is coming, the pitch rates as one of the best in terms of OPS against.

3. His curve is his big out pitch, and just like the cutter, it ranks as one of the top curves in terms of OPS against.

4. Almost all of his numbers have gotten better in 2014, showing that people are doing the opposite of figuring him out.

5. There has been no difference in his career between save situations and non-save situations, and his numbers in the 9th inning are slightly better than the 8th inning numbers.

Here are some things Melancon doesn’t have going for him:

1. He doesn’t have crazy facial hair, or a weird hair cut.

2. He always looks very serious.

3. He doesn’t have a signature celebration when he gets his final out.

4. He doesn’t throw upper 90s with his fastball.

5. He hasn’t had a full season of success as a closer, which makes it impossible for him to ever have success as a closer. Don’t ask me how all of those other closers got to their role.

Despite these short-comings, I think that Melancon should be recognized as one of the best relievers in the game. The Pirates don’t need a late inning guy or a closer, because they have him. I could do another post talking about how great Tony Watson has been, but I’ll save that and just say that the late innings look fine with those two in charge. And by those two, I mean those two clean-cut, serious guys who go about their job like it’s routine, and just continue to put up some of the best numbers in baseball.

Links and Notes

**Why the Pirates Will Be Fine if They Don’t Make a Big Addition to the Bullpen

**Prospect Watch: JaCoby Jones Hits 15th Homer of the Year

**The New Draft Rules Are Backfiring

**Prospect Highlights: Some Productive Plate Appearances From Tito Polo

**Minor League Schedule: Glasnow and Creasy Go For Bradenton Tonight

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First Pitch: Reviewing the 2014 Success of the Pirates Depth and Farm System http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-reviewing-the-2014-success-of-the-pirates-depth-and-farm-system.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/first-pitch-reviewing-the-2014-success-of-the-pirates-depth-and-farm-system.html#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 05:38:47 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=83844 This is the sixth season that I’ve been writing about the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. For the first five seasons, I always did a season preview article, looking at X amount of things to focus on while the Pirates tried to end their losing streak (and X was always the year the losing streak was about to enter). This year there was no more losing streak, and thus the article format didn’t work.

I still did an article focusing on 21 reasons why the Pirates would have a good season this year. Some of those have worked out, and some haven’t come close. The bigger article was when I focused on the two important things that the Pirates would need to compete in the short-term and long-term. Those two things are a strong farm system and depth. It wasn’t earth shattering analysis at the time. A team with a strong farm system and strong depth over the years should be expected to contend. That’s how the Pirates had a winning season in 2013, and it’s how they’ll continue.

We’re at the “mid-season”, which is actually a few weeks later from the true mid-season, and a month after the minor league mid-season. Still, the All-Star break provides a convenient time to step back and take a look at how the pre-season projections panned out. Let’s take a look at those two aspects from the pre-season, and see how they’ve worked out this year.

The Farm System

The Pirates’ system received some major blows in the first half from injuries. Jameson Taillon and Clay Holmes went down for the year with Tommy John surgeries. Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, Reese McGuire, Harold Ramirez, Barrett Barnes, and several other guys who were top 20 prospects coming into the year also missed time.

Despite this, the Pirates have gotten some great results from the system this year. Gregory Polanco did about as good as anyone could have hoped in his time in Triple-A. Tyler Glasnow is finding a way to repeat his monster numbers from last year, only now at a higher level. Nick Kingham continues on a pace to be in the majors in the next year, and maybe in the next few months. Alen Hanson is still showing good offense from the shortstop position, and doing it in Double-A, although his defense needs consistency. Josh Bell is putting up monster numbers at the plate, possibly starting to tap into his offensive upside.

Then you’ve got the breakout players. Adrian Sampson looked like he could be a sleeper middle of the rotation guy when he was drafted. After improving his changeup last year, Sampson has had a breakout season in Altoona, using the improved changeup to post a 2.79 ERA in 113 innings. He’s looking like a guy who not only could be a Major League starter, but could be in the majors in the next year. JaCoby Jones has been the breakout hitter this year, and possibly the biggest breakout in the system. He was moved to shortstop in the pre-season, and it’s not out of the question that he could stick there. If he does, his bat would provide a lot of value at that spot.

Finally there’s the minor breakouts, like Mel Rojas stepping up to possibly be a fourth outfield option down the stretch. Bradenton has seen a ton of quality pitching, including starters Jason Creasy and Chad Kuhl. Elias Diaz has always had great defense behind the plate, but his offense in Altoona this year is making it seem possible that he could propel himself into the majors one day as a strong backup, with a slight chance to be more.

Not everything has been perfect. For example, Luis Heredia continues to struggle, and while he’s young, the struggles don’t justify his spot as a top 10 prospect that would be ahead of the usual prep pitchers who are all projectability and little-to-no results.

The farm system has been good this year. There have been some short-term setbacks. Long-term, nothing has really changed. The guys who were projected to join the majors in a few years are still on pace. New guys have stepped up to possibly serve as starters or impact guys. They’ve seen additional bench and bullpen options emerge. A good farm system will keep churning out Major League talent, and the Pirates’ system still looks like it could do that better than almost any other farm system over the next few years.

The Depth

Last year the Pirates got some great results from their pitching depth, and at the beginning of this year I felt that the depth would be good enough to help keep the Pirates as contenders. It turned out that the pitching depth is the main reason the Pirates have been contenders this year, at least from a pitching standpoint. The Pirates haven’t needed as much help from the pitching staff this year, because the offense has been much better. But the guys they were counting on have not gotten the job done, while the guys who started the year in the minors have really stepped up.

Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez have done well from the Opening Day rotation. Wandy Rodriguez was a disaster, and was only around for a month. Francisco Liriano hasn’t been close to the pitcher he was last year. Gerrit Cole has been good, but not great. He’s missed time with injuries, and is another guy who hasn’t been as good as he was last year.

To make up for these struggles, Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, and Vance Worley have stepped up. Locke has the best numbers in the rotation, both in terms of ERA and xFIP. Ryan Palencer wrote about him today, noting that his improved control makes him look like the real deal this year. Locke has not only filled in nicely for the rotation, but he’s probably secured a job for the rest of the season, and possibly for good. He could still lose that job, but as of right now it looks like the job is his to lose.

Worley started the year in extended Spring Training, working with Jim Benedict on his mechanics. He looks like he’s close to where he was prior to the 2013 season, and that kind of pitcher is someone you want in the rotation. As it turns out, Worley might be the number six starter the rest of the year, once Gerrit Cole returns. For now, he has a 3.38 ERA and a 3.78 xFIP in a small sample size of 34.2 innings.

Finally, Cumpton’s numbers don’t look great, but they’re inflated by one horrible start. He’s got a 4.13 xFIP, which seems right for his talent level. He’s been great filling in for the rotation, and should remain in that role, starting out of Triple-A and serving as the seventh starter behind Worley.

For about a month, the Pirates didn’t have Liriano or Cole, and it was the three guys above, along with Morton and Volquez, who were carrying the rotation. That was mostly during the month of June, which is when Pirates’ starters ranked as one of the best rotations in baseball, both by standard and advanced metrics. The Pirates entered the All-Star break just 3.5 games out of first place, in large part due to what their pitching depth did when their top two starters went down.

There are other aspects to the Pirates’ depth, other than the pitchers. You could consider Josh Harrison to be depth, since he was just seen as a bench player who had the inside track in Spring Training, with low expectations for his performance. Jared Hughes stepped up in the bullpen. The Pirates haven’t really needed a lot of depth in Triple-A, aside from Tony Sanchez at the start of the year and a few guys off the bench. But the biggest depth impact has taken place in the rotation. The Locke and Worley moves specifically could be huge if both players continue what they’ve been doing. This is the time of year where Pirates fans start wanting the Pirates to make trades. If Locke and Worley are legit, then you’ve already got two in-season additions who could help push the Pirates to the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Austin Meadows Picks Up Three Hits For West Virginia

**All-Stars Responsible for Pirates’ Early-Season Recovery

**Jeff Locke’s Success is Real, Thanks to His Drastically Improved Control

**Prospect Highlights: Taking a Look at Some of the Pirates Catching Depth

**Minor League Schedule: Have You Noticed How Good Jason Creasy Has Been This Year?

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