Clinched: How the 2015 Pirates made it back to Buctober

It’s official: with a victory over the Rockies on Wednesday night, the Pirates have sealed their third consecutive playoff berth. Yes, it’s the third year in a row that the Bucs have clinched on September 23rd. Turning into the best day of the year.

Further, it’s now the third time that the Pirates have appeared in the postseason three years in a row:

Pirates Consecutive Playoff Appearances
(The playoff format expanded to two rounds in 1969… Three rounds in 1994… And expanded Wild Card in 2012.)

In 2013, the feeling was pure joy; finally, the playoffs were back in Pittsburgh. Last year, it was almost relief; the Pirates hovered around .500 for more of the season than we would have liked (they were only three games over on September 3rd), but a late run proved that the previous season wasn’t exactly a fluke. This team had what it took to be among the league’s best.

This season, though, the feeling is a little different. They expected to be here. They’re not celebrating as much yet, at least not publicly all-out. Chasing the Cardinals all year has, once again, been unsatisfying, and the thought of another do-or-die Wild Card game is not exactly flattering. This team, despite having the second best record in all of Major League Baseball, has spent exactly zero days in first place. That’s just too bad: they could finish with or near triple-digit wins to be the best Bucco club since at least the early 1990s.

Still, many teams would love to be in the Bucs’ position right now. It’s an awesome accomplishment. Regardless of what happens next month, this has been another great year for the team. Let’s take a look at how they got here.

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Andrew McCutchen’s Loss of the Line Drive

andrew mccutchen 2015

Andrew McCutchen is not himself right now — there’s no other way to put it. He says he’s fine. The team says he’s fine. He’s not fine: he’s batting .188/.279/.292 and has been a below replacement level player through the first month of the season.

The offense as a whole has struggled early on, but it’s still obvious how much of the team’s production runs through #22. They’ve scored two or fewer runs in 14 of their 27 contests, wasting plenty of good pitching performances and quickly falling to eight games out of first place.

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Off-Day Graphics: Cole, Cutch, Discipline, Velo

gerrit cole pirates

Some random stats/graphics on the Pirates’ off-day…

– Tweeted one this last night…


Gerrit Cole‘s career line through 46 starts: 3.27 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9

And he’s been just dominant in his first five starts of 2015: 1.76 ERA, 2.19 FIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9

– Only Joe Kelly is throwing harder than Cole among starters, and only Aroldis Chapman is throwing harder than Arquimedes Caminero among relievers…

average fastball velocity 2015

Another clean inning for Caminero last night, including punchouts of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant with absolute gas.

A couple former Bucs there: Edinson Volquez is doing very well in Kansas City (1.91 ERA/2.64 FIP in first 4 starts), as is Bryan Morris in Miami (1.69 ERA/3.45 FIP in 10.2 innings).

– On the flip side, Mark Melancon‘s velocity is still down, and at this point it doesn’t look like it’s coming back any time soon…


– On the offensive side of things, the Pirates have been refusing to draw walks — something they were very good at last season, when boasting the fourth-best walk rate in baseball. Three of last year’s most disciplined hitters are now gone — Ike Davis, Russell Martin, Travis Snider — and the Pirates currently have the worst walk-rate in MLB at 5.2%. Andrew McCutchen is the only regular with an above-average BB% thus far:

pirates plate discpline

* That’s the National League average for non-pitchers. 

They fared a little better on Wednesday night, drawing six free passes (five unintentional, one intentional), which was as many as they had in their previous five games combined. That included a rare two-walk performance from Starling Marte, who started the night with a 2.6% BB rate. Josh Harrison is the concerning one — he’s never been one to draw a walk, which isn’t ideal out of the leadoff spot. Walks are important — not only for getting guys on base, but for making the pitcher work, seeing as many of that pitcher’s offerings as possible, and elevating his pitch count in the process.

– Andrew McCutchen is the exception up there, still walking a lot and keeping his strikeouts down, amidst a huge slump. He’s batting .194/.302/.333 through 21 games, and his .176 batting average since Opening Day is his worst 20-game skid since September of 2011…

andrew mccutchen slump

He picked up a pair of knocks on Wednesday, including a booming triple to center field and his 1,000th career hit. He and his knee may not be 100%, but hopefully it’s getting better and we’ll be able to enjoy classic Cutch by the summer.

Go Bucs

Pirates Grapefruit Report: Week 3

mckechnie field

We’re reaching the very dull phase of spring training, where players and fans alike are wishing for real games that count. Alas, here’s what happened in the Grapefruit League over the past week, in case you were busy watching college basketball…

Tuesday, 3/17 – Astros 13, Pirates 7

Jeff Locke obliterated for six runs in three innings. The offense got going for seven runs — their best since the Grapefruit opener — but it obviously wasn’t enough. Neil Walker went deep to the right-center boardwalk.


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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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