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

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