Pirates Give Another Example of How Baseball Can Be Unpredictable

MIAMI — You can’t predict baseball.

That saying is the best way to describe the events of the last two nights in Miami for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Last night the Pirates went up against a left-hander who didn’t have the best numbers, and prepared for that by throwing out their best left-handed mashing lineup. Brad Hand responded with eight strong innings to shut the Pirates offense down.

Tonight the Pirates had a similar situation, going up against a left-hander that they should easily beat with a lineup geared towards hitting left-handers. And tonight, it paid off as the Pirates were able to score seven runs, including six in the second inning, fueled by a three run homer from Andrew McCutchen.

“It was good that we were able to get out and get on the board early,” McCutchen said about the big inning. “We’ve been looking for something like that. We know we’re capable of doing that on a regular basis. It’s good that we’re able to go out and get those runs on the board.”

Last night the Pirates sent Charlie Morton to the mound. Morton came into the start as the best pitcher for the Pirates during the month of August. He ended up having a bad start, which combined with the poor offense led to the Pirates going down 5-1 by the sixth inning.

Tonight the Pirates sent Jeff Locke to the mound. Locke has put up the worst numbers out of any Pirates starting pitcher recently. Even with the 7-1 score after the top of the second, there was reason to think the Pirates might not have enough. Instead, he responded by going seven innings, giving up two runs on a walk and five hits, leading to a 7-2 victory.

On paper, the offense should have been this good both nights. And on paper, Morton should have been the guy with the good outing, and Locke should have struggled. Granted, getting a six run lead definitely makes it easy for any pitcher. But that wasn’t the only thing that led to Locke’s success tonight.

“It gives you a little bit more room for error,” Locke said. “At the same time, I don’t need to be pitching like I have room for error.”

Locke was fantastic, throwing 20 of 26 first pitch strikes and getting 13 batters out in three pitches or less, which are two metrics the Pirates stress in a big way with their pitchers. Clint Hurdle noted that Locke got better throughout the game.

“He made them swing the bat. One walk and three punchouts,” Hurdle said. “And I thought he got sharper as the game went on. His fastball had very good finish and angle tonight. I thought the angle of his fastball was better. And he was able to use some changeups in really good situations. He elevated a couple that got hit. But overall, I thought he held serve there early, and then got better the last three frames. The length was good to see.”

The start came at a good time for Locke. This will be his last outing before rosters expand on September 1st. He’s been struggling this month. His friend, A.J. Burnett, hopes to return next month. Burnett’s replacement, J.A. Happ, has pitched well enough to keep a rotation spot when Burnett returns. And the Pirates have Vance Worley pitching on the same day as Locke in Triple-A, with Worley ready to come up next week.

In so many ways, Locke needed this start to at least buy another outing.

“It’s nothing that I haven’t been through at this level. Frustrating at times, of course,” Locke said. “We have such a good ball club. You don’t really want to have any question marks in your rotation, especially at this point in the season. I feel like the way I’ve pitched, I’ve kind of done that for a little while. To put a good, solid outing under your belt, moving forward I think it just builds some more confidence.”

Prior to the game, Hurdle was asked why Locke might have been struggling in the second half every year. Hurdle said that one reason might have been due to a lack of endurance in previous years, but noted that Locke has put on weight this year. The big thing for Locke is the lack of consistency.

“I think it’s the consistency of the overall game,” Hurdle said. “There’s games where he’s able to do things consistently. All those games look the same. And the games that he doesn’t, the ball/strike ratio is off. First pitch strikes are off. It’s almost like he’s trying to be too fine.”

This wasn’t the case tonight for Locke, and he’s going to need more starts like this to hold his spot in the rotation, at least for the rest of the 2015 season.

**Locke gave credit to Chris Stewart tonight, who catches all of his bullpen sessions.

“Stewart and I were just on the same page,” Locke said. “I know it’s cliché, you hear it all the time. It’s a really thankless position out there. They do a really good job with all of us. Right from pitch one, Stew and I knew what we wanted to do pre-game, and really it was about execution after that.”

**Andrew McCutchen had an RBI double in the first inning to put the Pirates on the board, then broke the game open with his three-run homer in the second. McCutchen said that he feels like he’s getting better pitches to hit this year with more protection in the lineup.

“You can’t pitch around me,” McCutchen said. “If you do, I’ve got Aramis behind me. Sometimes Kang behind me. Those guys are getting the job done. With that protection, it’s making it easier for me to get more pitches to see.”

**Joe Blanton shut down Miami in the final two innings after a four-day break from pitching. Hurdle said that they wanted to see how long they could keep him down before bringing him back in where he could be sharp. He did say that this type of layoff might be the maximum, and they might not go as long in the future.

“He showed his resiliency again, his ability to make pitches, and again give us those two innings and keep everybody else down,” Hurdle said.

**On whether Hurdle made the right calls with tonight’s lineup:

“I never go there. Everybody else will tell me if I did or didn’t,” Hurdle said while laughing. “We put a lineup out there that obviously did a nice job in the second. And then defensively we put away outs. It was a good win for us.”

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Locke have 20 1st pitch strikes out of 26 batters in the prior game when he sucked? That almost seems like a counting metric as it doesn’t take into account the quality of those pitches.

    Any commentary on the game Stewie called for Locke vs the game Cervelli called for Morton?

    • I wanted to chime in on that last point you made but I know I’ve been beating that drum a lot lately, which can get tiresome for other commenters to read. Let’s just say I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

      • Yes, that was a siren call specifically for you 🙂

      • Could be, but its too small a sample size to make a point either way.Considering last year, Locke with Stewart as his catcher had a 4.85 ERA in 13 innings (with a really low .213 BABIP) but this year in like 17 innings its suddenly a 3.63 ERA with a higher BABIP.

        Cervelli may be lacking, but i dont think thats clear yet really. Cole has seen struggles with both catchers, and its a weird change with Locke and Stewart year to year.

  • Throughout his career Locke has generally been a tale of 2 halves. For the most part he has been pretty good in the 1st half of the year. The problem is his peripherals tend to sharply decline in 2nd half. This year he has a 4.93 fip in 2nd half vs a very solid 3.79 in 1st half. In 2014 he had an abysmal 5.42 fip in 2nd half vs a stellar 2.95 fip in the 1st half.

    In his career he has a rock solid 3.62 fip in the 1st half but a very bad 5.03 in the 2nd half.

    While his start last night was better than the previous one vs the Giants it did very little to convince me that his 2nd half struggles won’t continue.

    • John: I like the numbers also because they will provide tendencies about players/pitchers. But, they still pay on W’s. During this next off-season his agent will be taking his case to Arbitration with somebody and he will be presenting those same numbers I quoted above, and stating that those numbers are numbers that look like a 3/4 guy in a Rotation. The Arbitrator has to consider the whole body of work, not just the first or second half of a season or just the 2015 season. Averaging 25 Starts a year will be worth $2.5 mil alone in today’s dollars, and the winning record and sub 4 ERA over that period will add accordingly.

      I am not a Locke apologist – in fact if you scroll back to March, I think I recommended trading Worley and Locke while they were at their max value. I think I was looking for a LH hitting or switchhitting 3B with power – I liked the McMahon kid from the Rockies because he hits and is blocked by Arenado.

      • Oh I agree completely he will get paid. And I’m not a locke hater. I think for the first half of the year he is a damn good 5th pitcher, even solid number 4. But my personal bias is that he is a very poor 2nd half pitcher, I don’t view his historical struggles in 2nd fall as a fluke or bad luck. I’m not sure if he just doesn’t have the endurance for full season or something else. But unless aj comes back strong the problem is I don’t really see any great options to replace him. Worley has had his own issues this year and pirates don’t seem to want to use liz(perhaps for good reason even when you look at his good numbers as starter at Indy this year).

        • Locke went from a middling prospect at AAA to a SP due to injuries, started 30 games and pitched 166 innings in 2013. If it wasn’t for him and Liriano, making the playoffs in 2013 would not have been possible.

          All he does is keep going out there and putting up value numbers – $19.2 mil in WAR for 2013, 2014 and so far in 2015. During that time we have paid him about $1.5 mil. If this franchise belonged to the Rooneys, they’d be lighting candles for him in the local Catholic Church every morning.

  • Locke was not “fantastic” as evidenced by 4.55 fip from his game log. His results were very good but he wasn’t fantastic. Hurdle had it right, to Locke’s credit he got better as game went on. He was not sharp early (going 3-1 on pitcher) and got lucky in the 4th and 5th as the Marlins made hard contact on some “at em” balls. He did look much better in the last 2 innings of work. He looked the most confident in the 7th inning.

  • “You can’t pitch around me,” McCutchen said. “If you do, I’ve got Aramis behind me. Sometimes Kang behind me. Those guys are getting the job done. With that protection, it’s making it easier for me to get more pitches to see.”

    Yes, Andrew, pitchers are actively choosing to give you good pitches to hit in fear of the corpse of Aramis Ramirez hitting behind you.

    • you know he’s batting .280 for the month of August (0.313 since August 5). Dude has turned it around since coming to the Burgh.

      • Yes, .280 with zero power which works out to being a slightly below average hitter. Cutch has been almost exactly twice as productive over the same stretch.

        Why any pitcher in their right mind would rather pitch to Andrew McCutchen than Aramis Ramirez is dumbfounding.

        Aramis Ramirez, Cleanup Hitter is a worse narrative than *Insert Marginal Reliever*, Proven Closer.

        • You seem a bit crispy today. I know RBI is a “luck” stat, but ARam is doing a nice job with that from the 4 spot. 17 RBI in 110 PA would be about an 85 RBI season. So if Cutch is being pitched around when 1st base being open and a guy is on 2nd or 3rd, ARam is getting the job done. Kang might be able to do it better, but IMO, it’s not a big complaint. Yeah, 7 DPs in a month is a lot but he hasn’t been killing a lot of rallies unless your definition of a rally is a guy on 1b, one out. ARam does seem to understand the concept of situational hitting better than most Bucs.

          • Your best hitters should be in the #2 and #4 spots, period. The rest of that logic is worthless cliches your high school coach taught you.

            There’s absolutely no way any of you guys or Hurdle would have Ramirez in the four-spot if the name was taken off the jersey, and I find it absolutely laughable that guys are pulling muscles stretching narratives this far to justify his play.

          • Regardless, the point in debate is the idea of “lineup protection”.

            Inherent to the “pro” argument is the idea that pitchers would rather face Aramis Ramirez than Andrew McCutchen. Any debate on the matter has to revolve around that idea.

            Please, make a convincing argument for pitching to Aramis Ramirez right now rather than Andrew McCutchen.

            • Let’s see… Andrew specifically mentioned ARam and Kang. But not Marte or Walker, although Marte has more ABs at #4 than anyone. So it follows that Andrew wants Marte hitting in front of him so he gets more RBI opportunities. And some combination of ARam/Kang batting 4/5 so Andrew scores more runs. Because he obviously hates Walker in the #4 🙂

              I’m going on the assumption that Andrew knows more about baseball than anyone here. And that Andrew gets what Andrew wants. And that he’s a bit of a narcissist (proclaims he is best dresser, best dancer, etc.). And that Andrew gets what Andrew wants because that can’t be said enough.

              Anyway, if the best hitter is supposed to be at #2 or #4, why aren’t you complaining about Andrew being at #3?

              I never had a HS coach. But I did have a college coach (I was a walk-on) and Coach Mazza never had cliches. He mostly said, “If you don’t get your head in the game, you’re walking home.”

              You ARE crispy today, lol.

              Fun fact: the best #4 hitter with more than 100 ABs during the Hurdle era was Derrick Lee with a 174 wRC+. Second best: Gaby Sanchez (173).

              • Or it was Andrew thinking “A Ram hit there tonight, so referencing all the options for that spot seems dumb”.

                You are assuming Andrew put a ton of thought into that question before answering….and the question wasnt even specific to “who is your pick to hit behind you”. A ton of speculation on thin ground imo. I’d guarantee Cutch wouldnt pick A Ram first if you asked “who would you prefer hitting behind you.” but he’s smart enough to be nice to all the options.

                • Sometimes you guys have to lighten up a bit. Either that or I’m way overestimating the collective ability to pick up on cheekiness.

                  Anyway, NMR… I was just twisting your nipple. In a friendly, non-sexual way, of course.

                  • I’ll post a “cheeky” comment and forget about it only to revisit the comment section a day later with 9 or 10 people ripping me and taking me literal. I love this site but you gotta check your feelings at the door. It’s cut throat here. You have to know your stuff or someone is most likely coming after you. And half the time that person is NMR……..(insert cheeky emoticon)

                  • Now what does a guy haveta do to get the “other” kind of twist? 😉

              • And see, that assumption is exactly what I was mocking from Cutch. I absolutely *do not* trust what a superstar thinks is right and wrong.

                Listen to Pujols talk about his swing and he’ll swear that he hits “down through the ball”. Now actually watch his swing and there’s nothing of the sort.

                These guys are so damn good, naturally, that they don’t have to know how this stuff works.

      • You realize Aramis has -.7 WAR since being acquired? Anyone have a list of all the deadline acquisitions? I would have to think that ranks near the worst if not THE worst. He has not been good. And it it sheer lunacy for him to be batting cleanup.

    • Maybe give Cutch credit for being a team leader by “saying” the right things, as opposed to taking his statement literally when the numbers say otherwise.

  • I agree that Jeff Locke is hard to figure, and I am always uneasy watching games he throws. But, last night I saw something in him that I had not seen before and that was he seemed to be working very quickly – he barely got the ball back and was on the rubber getting the sign for the next pitch. I would say that he and Stewie probably planned that in pre-game discussions, and it worked to his advantage.

    I have read a lot of derogatory descriptions of him lately, and I think this has been his worst year numbers-wise as a SP. But when you look at the overall numbers, he has 75 starts over the past 3 years, averages 5.75 innings per start, and is 23 – 21, 3.95 ERA over that period of time. Very dependable to take his turn every 5th day and very cost efficient making league minimum.

    He came through when we really needed a solid performance and the lineup woke up with enough runs and defense to make it less stressful.

    • well, he WAS pitching against a AAAA lineup, so there’s that? 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • You mean the team we lost to the night before? That’s an obvious “softball”, but I hope that the Pirates and Cole can make them look like AAAA today. So far it seems as if they hit RHP’s much better than they do LHP’s.