First Pitch: The Pirates Have an Easy Fix For One of Their Development Issues

Today I’m going to highlight Bill Brink’s article in the Post-Gazette about the Pirates’ pitching plan and what they need to do going forward. It’s a great read, and while it leaves many questions unanswered (not Bill’s fault, as the Pirates would have a strong pitching staff if those questions were answered), it does provide some good insight to the system.

Some of the things mentioned in the article have been reported before, but fit well as an overall summary. There was one thing that stood out to me that I wanted to highlight today. To start, let’s look at two quotes. The first is from Shane Baz, with the bold being my emphasis.

Time must pass before a judgment can be rendered on Baz. But at the age of 20, Baz said his fastball averaged 2,600 RPM, which if accurate would outstrip even Cole’s. Sometimes it runs, sometimes it cuts. The Rays told him to throw right over the plate and let the movement take care of itself. They augmented their instructions with information about that elite spin rate.

“We didn’t have anything in Bristol [the Pirates’ rookie-level affiliate]” Baz told Minor League Baseball’s website in July. “I hadn’t even been introduced to this stuff.”

The second part isn’t a quote, but something Bill wrote a few times. He noted that the Astros sat Gerrit Cole down and showed him charts on a level that he hadn’t seen before. The same thing obviously has happened with Baz.

Let’s go back to that quote from Baz where Bristol didn’t have the technology to clock his RPM.

They did.

When that quote first came up, it raised a red flag to me. It still does, because I know that the Pirates have a trackman system at every level, including the rookie levels. Bristol has had this in place for at least the last two years, which includes the time Baz was there. And Baz spent plenty of time at Pirate City, where there is also a trackman system.

I don’t think Baz is lying here. The Pirates do have the technology, but they don’t take the same approach as the Astros and Rays, where they make the data a necessary part of development. Bill mentions this exactly in his article.

“Generally, data exposure increases as the players climb through the system, and while it’s there if they want it, it’s not forced upon them.”

This is true from what I’ve learned. Take the hitting changes and the new technology the Pirates are using: I’ve talked with several players in the system who have said they didn’t really get much exposure to the new technology. It was used more widely early in Spring Training, but has been more optional from there.

This quote I got in a conversation with Mason Martin is similar to what I’ve heard from other players:

“I don’t think we’ve had a chance to really sit down and dig into it,” Martin said of the data and new technology. “I think I have a small grasp of what the numbers mean, but I’d like to take that to another level and see what I can improve in my swing.”

I don’t know if that’s the answer to all of the Pirates’ development problems, but it’s definitely something that needs to be improved. The Pirates put such a big focus on having this data in every park. They have an analytics person at every level to help explain the numbers. There’s no reason this information should be optional for 18-22 year old kids, only available in some cases if they ask for it.

You wouldn’t do that with any other form of development. You wouldn’t hire a pitching coach, and then say that mechanical adjustments are available only if the player comes to the coach seeking information.

This is such an easy change that it doesn’t make sense why the Pirates weren’t doing this in the first place. And it’s easy to imagine better results across the board if they make the data a mandatory part of every player’s development, from the ground up.


Ethan Hullihen has an article today. We’ll also have any news, and the live discussion for the game.


By John Dreker

Right-handed pitcher Ryan Valdes retired yesterday. The 26-year-old was a 33rd round draft pick in 2017, who got a late start in pro ball due to Tommy John surgery in college. He spent the 2019 season with Bradenton, getting a brief stint in with Altoona mid-season when their bullpen was short-handed. Valdes posted a 4.74 ERA in 95 innings over 58 appearances as a pro, spending time at every level from the GCL to Altoona. He was the only pitcher in the system who threw a palmball, so that alone made him intriguing to follow.


Adding a new section to this article, giving a song of the day. This one is actually a mash-up of two live concerts for one of my favorite songs. On one side you’ve got David Bowie with Pink Floyd (this side also includes an amazing David Gilmour guitar solo). On the other side you’ve got Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who was live with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.


How fast can you name all of the MLB teams? You’ve got 60 seconds.


By John Dreker

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including two who were traded for the same player at different times. Starting with Andy LaRoche, who played for the team from 2008 until 2010. The Pirates acquired him in the Jason Bay deal, and while he had a decent 2009 season (2.3 WAR), he couldn’t follow that up in 2010 and was cut after the season. He played 41 Major League games after leaving the Pirates and spent 2016 playing independent ball. He was teammates with his brother Adam during the 2008-09 seasons in Pittsburgh and his dad played 14 years in the majors.

Armando Rios and Denny Neagle were both born on this date and they were both traded for Jason Schmidt. Neagle was sent to the Braves in the deal that brought Schmidt to the Pirates and Rios came from the Giants in the deal that sent Schmidt away. Rios tore his ACL just two games into his time in Pittsburgh and ended up playing 76 games with the team before being released. Neagle spent five years with the Pirates, posting 43 wins and a 4.02 ERA in 697 innings. He was an All-Star and won 13 games during the strike-shortened 1995 season.

Tom Parsons was a 6’7″ right-handed pitcher who the Pirates signed as an amateur free agent in 1957. He pitched one game for Pittsburgh, making a start on September 5, 1963. Parsons allowed six runs over 4.1 innings, with the big hit being a three-run homer by Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews. The Pirates would trade Parsons to Houston in June of 1964, only to see the deal nullified when both teams returned the players in the deal. A short time later, he was sold to the New York Mets, where he pitched two seasons. Parsons turns 80 today.

On this date in 1986, the Pittsburgh Pirates faced Greg Maddux at Wrigley Field in his second big league start and won 5-2 over the Chicago Cubs. The big hit of the game was an RBI double by Jim Morrison, who put the Pirates ahead for good in the fifth inning. It was one of three hits on the day for Morrison. Exactly 18 years later, Maddux was back with the Cubs and he threw seven shutout innings in a win against the Pirates. Maddux had won his 300th career game one month earlier against the San Francisco Giants. Here’s the boxscore from the 1986 game.