Visualizing the Range of the Pirates’ Outfield

mccutchen marte polanco

“Their ability to go get a ball, to read balls off the bat … if there is some air underneath a ball, we have three men more than capable of running it down and getting it in leather… When they’re on the field, it lifts up our entire defensive game” – Clint Hurdle

The Pirates are shaping up to have one of the best outfields in Major League Baseball, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it will be the best around if everything goes right. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte have already proven to be one of the best outfield duos, and now we get to see the potential beast that is Gregory Polanco for an entire season.

Their offensive production is most noticeable, but their speed and defense really sets them apart. No one’s questioning their wheels. Then you have two natural center fielders in Marte and Polanco playing at the corners for what should be an exceptional outfield defense. The Bucco outfield is where fly balls go to die.

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How Francisco Liriano gets his whiffs

francisco liriano

You’ve probably seen this stat before (considering the number of times we’ve posted it), but it’s worth repeating…

Highest Percentage of Swinging Strikes 2013-2014 (min. 200 innings):

Francisco Liriano 13.4%
Clayton Kershaw 12.6%
Tyson Ross 12.5%
Cole Hamels 12.0%
Yu Darvish 11.9%
Chris Sale 11.8%
Max Scherzer 11.7%
Corey Kluber 11.3%
Felix Hernandez 11.3%
Anibal Sanchez 11.1%
Madison Bumgarner 11.1%
Jose Fernandez 11.0%
Zack Greinke 11.0%
Stephen Strasburg 10.9%

Liriano heads an impressive list of baseball’s best pitchers, this in terms of missing bats. It’s no secret he has filthy stuff. But it’s interesting — no pitcher the last two seasons has thrown a lower percentage of pitches in the strike zone (Jeff Locke was a close third). How does he get so many batters to chase?

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Connor Joe, Jordan Luplow & An Analytical View of the Pirates’ 2014 Draft

connor joe pittsburgh pirates

College baseball season is back, which got me thinking about the Pirates’ draft strategy the past two years. In both 2013 and 2014, 76% of their selections were college-level players. I stumbled upon hitting stats from 2014, with some interesting findings about a pair of Pirates’ draft picks.

On draft day, the selection of Connor Joe at 39th overall seemed to be a head-scratcher. Similar to first rounder Cole Tucker, Joe had not been as highly touted by various outlets as his actual draft position suggested — Baseball America, for example, had him as the 102nd best draft prospect. The Pirates were particularly high on him; they obviously had their own draft board and were sticking to it.

One reason for that might have been his positional uncertainly — he’s played catcher, first base, and outfield in the past; it’s still unclear where the Pirates will put him. But the bat could play. The University of San Diego product had an All-American junior season:

connor joe

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ESPN: Pirates one of nine “all-in” analytical teams

neal huntington clint hurdle

ESPN The Magazine’s annual analytics issue hit newsstands this week, and their breakdown of each MLB team’s analytical usage is now online.

The worldwide leader ranked the Pirates as one of nine “all-in” teams who believe in advanced stats and analytics, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. It’s been a priority since Neal Huntington came over from Cleveland in ’07.

“Huntington vowed to bring sabermetric evaluation to the Pirates, and more specifically to integrate “objective and subjective analysis.” He brought in software architect and former Baseball Prospectus writer Dan Fox to oversee the team’s analytics department. Fox leads a team of three baseball operations staffers with strong backgrounds in computer science and statistics, and he gets additional support from two dedicated IT people and two interns.

The staff includes Mike Fitzgerald, a former Celtics intern and MIT football player with a rare combination of skills: He can write code and be comfortably embedded in the clubhouse, as a Grantland feature detailed. Having a member of the analytics group with the team has improved communication, and other organizations have followed suit.

“The way that we are integrated is a strength,” Fox told ESPN.com. As Fox and his staff continue development of the Pirates’ baseball information system, he says he believes the team has the resources to adapt to the next set of challenges that player tracking data will bring.

Most important, analytics have a voice in Huntington’s decision making. ‘One of the best things about Neal is his inclusiveness,’ Fox adds, ‘he is always willing to share his thought process and listen to ideas.'” – ESPN

They grouped each team into one of five categories: All-In, Believers, One Foot In, Skeptics, and Non-Believers. Are the believers better off? Here’s a look at each team’s ranking, compared to their winning percentage each of the last two seasons:

espn analytics issue pirates

(The cluster under the Indians includes the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays)

Average Winning Percentage 2013-2014:

  • All-In: .513
  • Believers: .523
  • One Foot In: .487
  • Skeptics: .486
  • Non-Believers: .440

Some teams will be different in 2015 (ex. Cubs on the way up; Braves on the way down), and some front offices are changing (Dodgers). But for the most part, advanced analysis and smarter front offices have helped the way teams think and perform, especially the Pirates.

Go Bucs

Painting the Black: On Pirates’ Pitchers, Framing Catchers & An Expanding Strike Zone

russell martin pitch framing

When writing today’s Opening Day countdown preview for Vance Worley, I was reminded of his effectiveness in 2014: sharp control, low walk rate, and a propensity for backwards K’s.

Painting the black and collecting called strikes seemed to be a big part of Worley’s game. Upon further review, the entire Pirates’ rotation was above-average in that area:

pirates called strikes 2014

My next thought was that this success could be attributed to 1) the expanding strike zone in Major League Baseball, and/or 2) the acclaimed pitch-framing skills of then-Pirate Russell Martin and Chris Stewart.

“But my goal is not to steal strikes, it’s to keep strikes strikes. I don’t want to lose strikes. The key is trying to fight against what the ball is naturally wanting you to do.” – Russell Martin

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