Visualizing the Range of the Pirates’ Outfield in 2015

One of my favorite posts last year was my first attempt at visualizing the range of the Pirates’ outfield. Thus, I wanted to take another crack at it for 2015.

Using the data that is fed into MLB Gameday (and easily made available through Jeff Zimmerman’s, we can easily grab some (x,y) batted ball coordinates. These locations are by no means perfect, and not as precise as what is produced by Baseball Info Solutions or made available to teams in the form of HITf/x or Statcast, but they’re good enough for our simple use.

It’s also a bit difficult to find exact play types or events, but with the at-bat descriptions, we can extract data points for phrases like “[batter] flies out to left fielder Starling Marte” or “lines out to center fielder Andrew McCutchen” or “out on a sacrifice fly to right fielder Gregory Polanco.” It’s even tougher to pinpoint every ball they didn’t snag within reach, so for now, we’ll only focus on balls that were converted into outs.

First up: Starling Marte, winner of the Fielding Bible, Gold Glove, and Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards in left field.

Starling Marte Range

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MLB Win Curve in the Expanded Wild Card Era

Major League Baseball has now used a 10-team, two-Wild-Card postseason format for four years. Expanding the playoff field by two teams — one from each league — has obviously made it, in theory, “easier” to reach the postseason (even if you’re only there for one game).

With 120 team-seasons completed in the expanded Wild Card era (30 teams over four seasons), we can estimate a team’s playoff chances based on the number of games they won. This does not make predictions about the future, but rather just models what was observed in the past (with logistic regression, where the dependent variable is categorical — made playoffs = 1; did not make playoffs = 0).

This is known as the “win curve.”  While it can be taken further and broken down to find the marginal value of each additional win for a specific club, for right now I’m only concerned about this simple question: about how many wins does a team need to make the playoffs?

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Under the Knife: The Pirates & Tommy John Surgery

Sadler is the latest Tommy John victim.

On Thursday, it was announced that Casey Sadler underwent Tommy John surgery in October to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. The 25-year-old righty threw his last pitch of 2015 in late June for Indianapolis, but failed to recover from the discomfort through the summer. Recovery from the October surgery will keep him off the mound for the entire 2016 season.

Some combination of velocity, mechanics, and general overuse of the arm has contributed to what has become an epidemic across baseball. The number of Tommy John surgeries has surged in recent years, and the Pirates are unfortunately well-aware of that.

Jon Roegele maintains a database of all documented Tommy John surgeries, dating back to when Dr. Frank Jobe first operated on Tommy John himself in September of 1974. (You can view the data here.)

Here are the organizations who have had the most players go under the knife in the past five seasons, 2011-2015:

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Ranking the 2016 Free Agent Starting Pitchers


Major League Baseball free agency kicks off this weekend, as free agents can begin negotiating with teams at 12:01 am on Saturday. This winter, the Pirates are in the market for at least one starting pitcher: Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano will return to the rotation for sure; Charlie Morton (one more guaranteed season on his contract) and Jeff Locke (arbitration eligible) will presumably be given another shot … Tyler Glasnow will likely be held down in AAA until the middle of the summer … meanwhile, A.J. Burnett is retiring and J.A. Happ is a free agent. The Bucs have dipped into the free agent starter pool often in the past, and there should be options there this winter if they choose to go that route.

Our preliminary rankings for this year’s starting pitching class are below. I’ve broken them down into tiers, using the past three years of performance as a guide. As well as age, I specifically looked at innings pitched, K/9, BB/9, ERA,  and WAR (FanGraphs), weighting the more recent seasons more heavily (5/4/3 – a la the Marcel projections). I then calculated each pitcher’s percentile within each category and totaled them, finding some decent results.

This system has its pros and its cons. It was difficult for pitchers who, in particular seasons, pitched very little. It was more difficult for those who didn’t pitch at all. For that reason, I excluded Cliff Lee, Bronson Arroyo (still has a club option out-standing at the time of writing this), Brandon Beachy (also club option), Shaun Marcum, and Chad Billingsley. Lee (whose $27.5 million club option was declined by Philadelphia on Tuesday) hasn’t thrown a pitch since July of 2014, and at age 37, I have no idea where to put him (he’s probably retiring anyway). On the other hand, Marcum, Beachy, and Billingsley didn’t pitch at all in 2014 and sparingly in 2015, and I don’t think they’re worth worrying about right now. I also scratched Brandon Morrow, Sean O’Sullivan, and Rich Hill, who threw 120.2, 108.2, and 73 innings, respectively, in the last three years combined.

Precision was not my utmost intent (hence the tier-based method), and I made adjustments where I saw fit. Below the rankings, there’s an embedded Excel app where you can choose specific players and see their percentile ranks.

Final notes:
Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia have had their club options exercised.
Zack Greinke has officially opted out of his current contract with the Dodgers and is a free agent.
– The Royals did not exercise their end of Jeremy Guthrie‘s mutual option, so he is a free agent. 
– All the numbers I used can be found via FanGraphs, h/t MLB Trade Rumors.

Without further ado…

Tier 1

David Price (age 30)
Zack Greinke (32)
Jordan Zimmermann (30)
Johnny Cueto (30)

These four are undoubtedly the best pitchers available. They also won’t be coming to Pittsburgh.

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Pirates’ Pace-of-Play Patterns in 2015

Major League Baseball’s pace-of-play initiatives were a major storyline heading into the 2015 season. In an effort to cut down on the league’s exceedingly long game times, batters were to keep at least one foot in the box (with a few exceptions) and new clocks were installed at all ballparks to limit the downtime between innings to 2 minutes and 25 seconds (or 2:45 for national TV games).

So, did it work? Per the Associated Press, the average game time for nine-inning games dropped by six minutes in 2015. The Pirates saw a similar improvement, shaving about five minutes off their average time from 2014:

Season Time/9 Innings
2011 2:55
2012 2:58
2013 3:00
2014 3:03
2015 2:58

(I’ve used time per nine innings here to adjust extra-inning games. So we’re essentially looking at minutes-per-inning, and multiplying it by 9.)

While it may not seem like much, those five minutes are considerable — over a 162-game season, we’re talking about saving roughly 810 minutes (or 13.5 hours of our lives!). Still, on a game-by-game basis, the typical ballgame is still right around three hours:


When you break down the Pirates’ average time by month, something interesting happens:

Month Time/9 Innings
April 2:52
May 2:50
June 2:53
July 3:03
August 3:03
Sept/Oct 3:03

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