Morning Report: Changes Help Frank Duncan Find Success

Saturday was a great night of pitching in the Pirates’ system, as you’ve probably noticed already in the Prospect Watch. There were seven starters that went at least five innings while allowing just one run. One player got lost a little, because he’s on a team filled with prospects and he’s considered now to be a tweener player. One it’s too early to write-off, but the scouting reports don’t yet warrant a spot in the prospect rankings.

Frank Duncan looks like a strong innings eater, who sometimes gets hit around, but he can also give you seven innings on a given night. He does something else well too, throw strikes. He’s a ground ball pitcher, so a better defense should help him in the future. Bradenton’s usual defense consists of Wyatt Mathisen at third base, JaCoby Jones at shortstop, Erich Weiss at second base and Edwin Espinal at first base. If you follow the system closely, you know that Mathisen was a catcher, Jones a second baseman/center fielder, Weiss was a third baseman in college and Espinal also played third base. That’s four players at different positions than they started at, in the same infield most nights.

Getting back to his ability to throw strikes. Duncan has pitched a total of 95.1 innings this season, which is tied for the seventh most innings in the Pirates’ system. That’s more impressive when you factor in that he was moved to the bullpen for a short time and Bradenton seems to be on a six-man rotation right now. Going into the weekend, he had the lowest walk rate among all the starters in the system. Then he went seven more innings without issuing a free pass on Saturday. He had a very good rate last year, with 11 walks in 65.1 innings after being drafted, but he’s at 12 walks in 95.1 innings this year, so he has improved this year.

Duncan also likes throwing inside, which of course is something the Pirates surely appreciate from their pitchers. He has hit five batters this year and had four HBP last year. The low walk totals combined with those numbers strongly suggest that he has been pitching inside a lot and Duncan confirmed that on Saturday night.

“It’s important to the type of pitcher I am, one without plus velocity, to keep hitters off the plate and uncomfortable. Ultimately my success isn’t on blowing people away but generating weak contact and ground balls, which is aided by pitching inside.”

He also mentioned something that we have heard with other pitchers, and that is the Pirates have him throw pitches in situations he normally wouldn’t throw them. When Adrian Sampson was putting up poor numbers at Bradenton in 2013, there was more behind it than just him struggling, he was forced to throw his change-up more often than normal and sometimes in spots you normally don’t throw a change-up. They did that with Jameson Taillon while he was in Bradenton and also with Tyler Glasnow. Duncan has been throwing his change-up more to righties now instead of just to lefties and that will help him be comfortable with the pitch in the future.

There is also another change recently, and that coincides with him going seven innings in three of his last four outings.

“My last four starts I have made the transition to throwing my sinker as my primary pitch, eliminating my curve and slider and blending it so it’s one better breaking ball.”

The short-term results are obviously very positive. Not only do you have a pitcher that throws strikes, owns the inside of the plate and has made a successful switch to pitches that are getting strong results, he’s also getting a ton of ground balls and he’s putting in a lot of innings.

Duncan knows what kind of pitcher he is and he knows what will get him to the next level, saying “I’ve always prided myself on being an inning eater and someone who every time out you know what you will get. I compete, throw strikes and get a lot of ground balls. With that I’m able to keep the team in games and get deep into the game.”

Not a lot of pitchers can embrace a method that gives you long-term success through short-term failure. They would rather go with what got them to a certain point, even if that means they are hurting their future in the process. Duncan had a 7.30 ERA in May, followed by 5.82 in June and now he’s at 2.33 in July. He also has a 1.00 WHIP and a very impressive 2.53 GO/AO ratio this month. He’s made four starts this month, which is exactly when he switched to a sinker ball pitcher and took everything he learned up to this point this season and started to make it work.


Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by 4.5 games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a 4.5 game lead for the top wild card spot.

Indianapolis is 5-5 in their last ten games. They have a three game lead in their division.

Altoona is 6-4 in their last ten games and they are a 1/2 game behind first place with Bowie.

Bradenton and West Virginia did not win their first half title. Their second half records are included below in the schedule.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 8-5 to the Brewers on Saturday night. Jeff Locke will be on the mound today, trying to prevent the sweep. He will make his third start against Milwaukee this season. He faced them in each of his first two starts and allowed three runs over 14 innings. His mound opponent will be Taylor Jungmann, who has a 2.15 ERA in seven starts. He faced the Pirates in his season debut and allowed one run over seven innings.

In the minors, Radhames Liz will make his fifth start for Indianapolis. In his last outing, he gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks in five innings. In his first 20.1 innings at AAA, he allowed just one earned run. John Sever will make his first start since May 23rd and his ninth start of the season. He has made 11 straight relief appearances. Seth McGarry will make his second start for Morgantown. The eighth round draft pick threw five shutout innings in his debut. The DSL Pirates are on their All-Star break and the GCL Pirates have off today. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (53-37) @ Brewers (40-52) 2:10 PM
Probable starter: Jeff Locke (4.03 ERA, 36:75 BB/SO, 96.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (55-39) @ Toledo (40-54) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Radhames Liz (1.78 ERA, 9:32 BB/SO, 25.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (50-43) @ Richmond (47-45) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Zack Dodson (3.78 ERA, 18:48 BB/SO, 102.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (47-46, 15-8 second half) @ Palm Beach (48-45) 5:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Jayson Aquino (3.89 ERA, 18:44 BB/SO, 71.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (53-39, 16-7 second half) vs Lexington (41-49) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: John Sever (3.60 ERA, 26:67 BB/SO, 65.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (12-16) @ Auburn (12-15) 5:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: Seth McGarry (0.00 ERA, 1:4 BB/SO, 5.0 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (8-14) @ Danville (12-12) 4:00 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

GCL: Pirates (14-9) vs Braves (6-16) 12:00 PM 7/20 (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (16-26) vs Rangers2 (21-20) 10:30 AM 7/20 (season preview)


Here is a video of Willy Garcia’s first homer for Indianapolis. He had five homers in 53 games with Altoona.

Recent Transactions

7/19: Pirates place Gorkys Hernandez on DL. Wilfredo Boscan recalled.

7/17: Pirates sign Jake Thompson. Assigned to Indianapolis.

7/17: Pirates recall Jaff Decker.

7/17: Oderman Rocha assigned to Bradenton. Junior Lopez assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/16: Hunter Morris placed on Indianapolis disabled list. Jose Tabata placed on temporary inactive list.

7/15:  Pirates sign Ryan Nagle. Assigned to Morgantown.

7/15: Pirates sign Brandon Waddell and James Marvel. Waddell assigned to Morgantown.

7/15: Luis Paula sent to Morgantown.

7/13: Wilfredo Boscan sent to Indianapolis.

7/13: Seth McGarry assigned to Morgantown.

7/13: Omar Basulto assigned to GCL. Mike Wallace transferred from GCL to Bristol.

7/12: Wilfredo Boscan recalled. Steve Lombardozzi optioned to Indianapolis.

7/10: Pirates sign Ike Schlabach and assign him to GCL.

7/10: Pirates sign Tate Scioneaux and assign him to Morgantown.

7/10: Jesus Paredes promoted to Morgantown. Oderman Rocha sent to GCL.

7/9: Pirates sign Sherton Apostel.

7/9: Mike Wallace sent from Bristol to GCL.

7/7: Clay Holmes added to Bradenton roster. Harold Ramirez placed on temporary inactive list.

7/7: Trace Tam Sing added to West Virginia roster. Tito Polo placed on temporary inactive list.

7/6: Josh Harrison placed on disabled list. Travis Ishikawa added to active roster.

7/6: Justin Seller assigned to GCL on rehab.

7/5: Pirates claim Travis Ishikawa on waivers.


This Date in Pirates History

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including two born on the same day 150 years ago. Starting with the most recent players first, we have pitcher Brian Smith(2000), pitcher Vincente Palacios(1987-88, 1990-92), catcher Nick Koback(1953-55), lefty pitcher Earl Hamilton(1918-23), catcher Jeff Sweeney(1919) and first baseman Harry Davis(1896-98). Palacios was a member of three straight NL East champs. Koback signed with the Pirates at the age of 17 and went right to the majors. In three seasons with the Pirates, he played a total of 16 games despite being in the big leagues the entire time from July 1953 until July 1955. Harry Davis was acquired from the New York Giants in exchange for Hall of Fame first baseman Jake Beckley, in a deal that didn’t work out well for Pittsburgh.

Exactly 150 years ago, two players from the 1897 Pirates were born. Along with Harry Davis, three players from that team shared the same birthday, but pitcher Bill Hart and third baseman Jim Donnelly were born on the same date. Hart won over 300 games in pro ball, though 251 of those wins came in the minor leagues. He played pro ball from 1885 until 1910. Donnelly came over from Baltimore in a trade that included the Pirates all-time batting average leader, Jake Stenzel. The deal didn’t work out for the Pirates, as Donnelly hit .193 in 44 games. You can find more info on every player in the link above.