OK, just one more. (It’s hard to resist when the Pirates are playing better.)
The Pirates had a couple key players do what they’re supposed to do as they won their third straight, 7-4, over Minnesota.
Mitch Keller looked like, of all things, an opening day starter. He fanned seven with no walks over four and two-thirds. The only blip was one longball.
The bullpen had its ups and downs, which is probably a hint at the sorting-out that management is going to have to do for much of the season. Jose Hernandez had a poor-command day, giving up two hits and a walk in his inning, but he escaped with only one run allowed.
Carmen Mlodzinski hit his first roadblock of the season, as the first five hitters he faced reached on three hits and two walks. He got a strikeout with the bases loaded and nobody out, and then departed. Cam Alldred obligingly came on to fan a pair, limiting the damage to two runs.
Wil Crowe loaded the bases in his inning, but escaped unharmed. Colin Holderman finished the proceedings with an easy ninth, with the game ending on a pitch clock violation. The only other appearance was Yohan Ramirez, who struck out the last batter in the fifth. The Pirates fanned 13 altogether.
The offense managed to produce despite 14 Ks of its own. Ke’Bryan Hayes continued an encouraging spring, lasering his third longball to give the Pirates the lead, following a double by Bryan Reynolds. Hopeful factoid from Alex Stumpf:
In his regular season career, Ke’Bryan Hayes had two home runs that had an exit velo of 106 mph or higher.
He has hit three home runs over 106 mph this spring (106.9, 107.1, 108.2).
The competition continued to heat up, especially in the outfield. Canaan Smith-Njigba had a double in three trips. Travis Swaggerty came in as a sub and blasted his third homer, a bomb that was the longest by the Pirates this spring in games covered by Statcast. Mark Mathias played the outfield and had a double, and Miguel Andujar started at first and contributed a walk and a sacrifice fly. Chavez Young rejoined the team and went 0-for-2. Cal Mitchell was retired his only time up.
In the second base race, Rodolfo Castro fanned his first two times up but then got an RBI single. Tucupita Marcano entered late and drew a walk.
So, on the whole, the position player battle is mostly moving forward while the bullpen battle is shuffling sideways.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.
Swags showed his man power with that blast. With his great defense, speed and now power perhaps he should come north with the team when SP finishes.
Every day it becomes more and more apparent the everyday OF should be Reynolds, Swaggerty, and CSN. Sorry Jack, and lovers of Jack, but that’s the fact, Jack!
Spring Training? I think Swaggs has earned a spot on the active roster. I also think the Pirates have bloated the lineup with OF’s. ‘Cutch is definitely a keeper. I hope another team comes looking for Connor Joe. Mathias needs to be in AAA.
Suwinski had the second highest percentage of Barrels per PA at 7.0%, right behind Cruz at 8.9%. Cruz was #17 in the league for qualified players, and Suwinski was #66 . Next highest was Bryan Reynolds at #128 at 5.2%. Over the off-season the Pirates added # 81 Choi at 6.7%, #97 Santana at 6.3%, and #106 ‘Cutch at 5.9%. Those 3 also combined for +5 Outs Above Average (OAA). Ke’Bryan Hayes was way down the list at #226 at 2.7%, but posted a +18 OAA. ‘Cutch is our LF when he is not the DH, and Suwinski is the RF on the other side of Reynolds.
I like the performance of CSN, but he is coming off a season where he was able to play just 52 games at AAA. He got the opportunities in ST, and made the best of them. However, he needs at least 2 or 3 months at AAA, and could yo-yo between AAA and MLB if he continues to hit.
One of the great things about stats in baseball is if you dive deep enough you can discover one that makes any player appear competent.
Jack doesn’t meet the eye test as a competent MLB OF in my opinion. He was plain awful away from PNC, and struck out far too much. Now add in a change to his approach and it is quite clear he, and not CSN, would benefit more from time in Indy to start the season.
Hopefully it’s a good sign, but it’s also worth tempering that with the fact that randomness clusters.
“Randomness clusters” is a fact of human perception. We underestimate the likelihood of true randomness producing streaks. Such as ten coin flips coming up heads. We take it as a sign.
However baseball players aren’t truly random number machines or coins. Underlying skills play a part. To extend this Hayes eval we could look at exit velocity for ground balls, line drives and fly balls and see if the distribution is actually different from last season. The home run outcome is what makes the sample size small. Maybe I will get in Savant and try.
I tend to be an exit velo guy just because hard-hit balls always perform better even as -8 degree angles.
There’s a thesis for an improved Hayes, for sure. Maybe his injured wrist got the better of him these last couple of years, after all.
There’s also the opposite thesis that Hayes might be performing well in a different environment and that he had a weird lucky streak of contact and bad pitching. Admittedly, that’s not entirely an indictment of Hayes. After all, an MLB hitter should always punish bad pitching.
Still, I’ve watched the Pirates enough that my enthusiasm will be tempered for years to come. I need to see Hayes after the test of a 162-gm season.
Randomness cluster, a great topic to bring up. A random hot streak can be a collision of a hitter in the zone meeting a “cluster” of bad pitches. However it can also display what an athlete is capable of. That’s why I can’t help but cling to Castro hitting homers for his first 5 MLB hits. It’s in there and one can hope this is the season he has his Jose Bautista revelation.
“Randomness of clusters”…I like that. Very descriptive.
Then again it’s never a bad sign to see Hayes hitting ball in the air to LF with authority.
It’s interesting. Given his defensive play, even if Hayes never improves at the plate, his contract is excellent value. If he does improve offensively, then it outperforms even Cutch’s deal during his prime.
Historically he hits the ball hard. Also historically, he has a very low launch angle. I haven’t seen a swing comparison for him, or CSN for that matter, to know if he’s changed his swing to get more loft. But here’s hoping that is the case. He could be a 20/30 guy if he could get the ball off the ground more often.
Yesterday’s blast to LF followed his pattern with a launch angle of only 19 degrees. It was a beautiful thing to watch, but the barreling has to be pretty much exact to get HR’s at that angle. Just a few more degrees upward would give some room for error and could make a sizable difference in results over a season.
Barring a miracle adjustment, Hayes is never going to be a true HR guy. With his athleticism, though, he doesn’t have to be. Churning out doubles and triples with a threat of 15 HRs is more than enough.
Aloha, Wilbur! Get a lei while you’re out there!