Five for Friday: Bench Monsters & Bad Baserunning

Five thoughts that could have formed separate posts but are better served as a group. Happy Friday. 

1. A Better Bench

For the past few years, the Pirates’ bench production was brutally bad. In 2012, they hit .176 as pinch-hitters, second-worst in the National League; last year, they hit .206, third-worst in the league.

Though most of the same players are back in 2014, the pinch-hitting production has been a pleasant surprise. Here’s how the team’s pinch hitters stack up against the National League:

AVG .271 2nd
BABIP .367 2nd
OPS .784 2nd
wRC+ 121 1st
WAR 0.8 1st

The team that they rank second to in most rate stats is the Colorado Rockies.

They’ve helped create more runs and been more valuable (by WAR) than the rest of the NL. Individual honors go out to Gaby Sanchez (.375/.423/.708 off the bench), Travis Snider (.333/.438/.481), and Jose Tabata (.320/.357/.400). Greg Brown may or may not have started calling them the “Bench Monsters” last night…

2. Atrocious Base Running

There’s nothing more frustrating than having to watch a team with poor fundamentals. The Pirates have struggled in quite a few areas this year; their base running has been particularly atrocious recently.

If you’re on Twitter, you’re probably familiar with the term “TOOTBLAN” (thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop). The Pirates have been thrown out in such a manner more than any team in baseball. Such things are actually tracked, if you can believe that.

If you’ve watched a Pirate game this year, you can probably identify Starling Marte as the primary culprit. In fact, his 14 TOOTBLANs are by far the most in the league. A more accurate acronym for the future might be “TOOTBLAM” (thrown out on the bases like a Marte).

FanGraphs does have a base running component on their leaderboards (BsR), made up of UBR and wSB. The Pirates’ -1.5 BsR ranks 23rd in MLB, third-worst in the NL.

3. Tony Watson Appreciation 

Tony Watson doesn’t get enough credit. His recent surge is gaining some attention though, and each appearance provides another reason to send him to the All-Star Game this summer.

The 29-year-old southpaw made Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Luis Valbuena look foolish on Thursday night, striking out the side with his filthy sinker-slider-changup mix.

Dating back to August 6th of last season, Watson has allowed just three earned runs in 52 appearances (0.53 ERA). He’s now recorded 21 consecutive scoreless outings, and this is just absurd:

4. The Value of Russell Martin

Hovering around .500 and stricken with injuries, the Pirates are at a bit of a crossroads right now. Should they be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

If they are looking to sell, teams would be wise to make a call on Russell Martin. A free agent in the offseason, Martin would be an excellent addition to any contender in need of an experienced catcher for the stretch run.

Thanks to a career high BABIP and walk rate, Martin is hitting .279 with a .413 on-base percentage in 2014. While you can expect those to fall back a bit, he’s been consistently giving the Pirates good at-bats — only Andrew McCutchen has averaged more pitches per plate appearance this season. And not to mention his immense value behind the dish, whether it be his ability to pull in extra strikes, those dazzling plays he makes on dribblers in front of the plate, or overall handling of the staff.

Coincidence or not, the Bucs are 11-4 in the 15 games that Martin has started since coming off the disabled list.

Overall this season: 18-13 in Martin starts … 14-21 in non-Martin starts.

The Pirates have a few things to figure out here. Can they re-sign him? Team president Frank Coonelly says their interest level is very high. If so, can they get it done now? Better for the team to extend him now than wait until the offseason. If they wait, do you hand him a qualifying offer? Don’t screw it up like the A.J. Burnett saga. If none of the above, he could be shopped at the end of July. I think it’s pretty obvious how meaningful Martin is to the Pirates’ lineup, but they also must proceed with caution with a backstop on the wrong side of 30.

5. Andrew McCutchen’s ability to hit a baseball isn’t fair

Just when you thought he couldn’t get any better…

Cutch’s 177 wRC+ (meaning he’s created 77% more runs than league average) ranks 3rd in MLB, behind only Troy Tulowitzki and Yasiel Puig. He’s one of six qualified hitters who has drawn more walks than strikeouts in 2014.

He’s been off the charts in June, hitting .429 with a 1.571 OPS. Nine doubles and six homers in the last 11 games. Five consecutive multi-hit games. Just on a different level right now.

I thought this was an interesting graph. Here’s how his cumulative career WAR so far compares to the top two wins above replacement leaders in Pirates’ history, Roberto Clemente and Honus Wagner:

andrew mccutchen wins above replacement war

McCutchen has accumulated more WAR than those two by age 27, and keep in mind we’re not even halfway through this season.

Pirates start a three-game series in Miami tonight.

Go Bucs

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