Shark Tank Enters Meltdown Mode

Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee basically sums up the 2014 Pirates season to date. Everyone thought they had it… but turns out it was just another remarkably frustrating loss. That’s the third blown save against Milwaukee in the past month — a HUGE swing in the NL Central. If Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon lock down those three W’s, the Pirates would be 20-20 right now, sitting just 2.5 games out of first place … Instead, they’re 17-23, 8.5 games back. Hindsight 20/20 of course, but handing the Brewers those three wins is a six-game difference in the division.

In 2013, the bullpen shut everything down. Give ‘em a lead? It’s over. This year, it feels like it’s been heart attack city every time the bullpen gates swing open. How about this stat:

Here’s another:

This leaking Shark Tank is melting down like never before.

FanGraphs conveniently tracks “shutdowns” and “meltdowns” for all relief pitchers. The basic formula is this: using Win Probability Added, a reliever who increased his team’s odds of winning by 6% or more is credited with a shutdown; a reliever who decreases his team’s odds of winning by 6% or more is credited with a meltdown. Example: Mark Melancon’s ninth inning dropped the Bucs’ chances of winning by a whopping 80.6% on Thursday, so he’s obviously getting a meltdown.

Through 40 games, the Pirates hold one of the highest meltdown totals in MLB…

1.
Cubs
25
2.
Mets
24
3.
Pirates
23
4.
White Sox
23
5.
Dodgers
21

To put it in perspective: the Bucco Shark Tank had just 53 last year, second fewest in baseball. The most in 2013? LA Angels at 88. This year’s Bucco team: on pace for 93.

Among all qualified relief pitchers in Major League Baseball, the average number of meltdowns this season is approximately 2.33 … All the Pirates’ big guns have topped that, unfortunately:

Jeanmar  Gomez
4
Bryan  Morris
4
Mark  Melancon
3
Jason  Grilli
3
Justin  Wilson
3
Tony  Watson
3

One thing to consider: Pirate relievers have entered games in higher leverage situations than any other team in baseball.

You probably don’t need advanced metrics like Win Probability Added and whatever else is out there to tell you that the pitching has sucked this year. However, numbers like this are proving that the eye test hasn’t failed you and that the struggle is real out there on the mound. The meltdowns are happening and costing this team wins. While regression was expected from the Bucco bullpen, they can’t afford to keep blowing these close ballgames. It’s getting to the point where each win is big, and the difference between a series win and series loss in Milwaukee could be pivotal…

Please figure things out, fellas.

Go Bucs

FanGraphs’ 2014 Projected Standings & Playoff Probabilites

Clint Hurdle Pirates

FanGraphs recently released some new projected standings and playoff probabilities for 2014. Here’s the methodology:

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“To generate the playoff odds we simulate each season 10,000 times.

FanGraphs Projections Mode

This mode uses a combination of Steamer and ZiPS projections and the FanGraphs Depth Charts to calculate the winning percentage of each remaining game in the major league season.”

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And here is how the computer systems see the NL Central shaking out:

Expected W Expected L Playoff Odds
Cardinals 88.9 73.1 78.2%
Pirates 83.9 78.1 48.8%
Brewers 78.1 83.9 17.2%
Reds 76.6 85.4 12.0%
Cubs 72.5 89.5 3.5%

You can check out the rest of the divisions here.

As it stands, the Pirates project to go about 84-78. The totals across the league are pretty conservative (no team projects to win more than 90 or less than 71), so there’s plenty of room for them to outperform (or underperform, I guess) their projection. You could also find a more reasonable prediction by accounting for playing time at each position, which the systems don’t do. Tim Williams calculated this a few weeks back by using ZiPS and found about 88 wins for the Bucs. 

A second place finish would put them in position to compete for a spot in the NL Wild Card game again. With the Braves, Cardinals, and Dodgers predicted to take their respective divisions, here are FanGraphs’ Wild Card odds for the rest of the National League:

WC Odds
Giants 25.6%
Pirates 23.4%
D-Backs 17.4%
Padres 16.3%
Nationals 15.7%
Rockies 15.4%
Brewers 10.3%
Reds 7.5%
Mets 6.1%
Phillies 4.5%
Cubs 2.3%
Marlins 1.5%

Not a bad starting point. Maybe it hasn’t been the best offseason so far… an extra piece or two could push them over the top. But we’ll see what happens. Still work that needs to be done. 

Go Bucs

AJ Burnett’s impressive age-36 season

AJ Burnett Pirates

The latest updates on A.J. Burnett:

Bill Brink had a good piece in the Post-Gazette today looking at how Burnett’s return would impact the rotation, payroll, and roster. But it seems that retirement is on the horizon, which – from a fan’s perspective – is a shame considering he’s coming off two of the best years of his career. Even as a 15-year veteran, Burnett can still bring it.

To see just how good he was in 2013, I compared it (his age-36 season) to other starting pitchers’ age-36 seasons in the last 50 years. Check ‘em out:

Best FIP in Age-36 Season
Season Pitcher FIP
1981 Steve Carlton 2.33
1981 Don Sutton 2.35
2000 Randy Johnson 2.53
1972 Bob Gibson 2.54
1985 Rick Reuschel 2.58
2003 Curt Schilling 2.66
2013 AJ Burnett 2.80
1975 Gaylord Perry 2.98
1965 Whitey Ford 2.99
1967 Larry Jackson 3.01
among qualified starting pitchers

 

Best K/9 in Age-36 Season
Season Pitcher K/9
2000 Randy Johnson 12.56
2003 Curt Schilling 10.39
2013 AJ Burnett 9.85
2006 Orlando Hernandez 9.09
1981 Steve Carlton 8.48
1999 Chuck Finley 8.44
1983 Nolan Ryan 8.39
2013 Ryan Dempster 8.32
1999 David Cone 8.24
1999 Roger Clemens 7.82
among qualified starting pitchers

 

Best GB% in Age-36 Season
Season Pitcher GB%
2013 AJ Burnett 56.5
2002 Greg Maddux 56.4
2009 Derek Lowe 56.3
2012 Tim Hudson 55.5
2008 Andy Pettitte 51.5
2011 R.A. Dickey 51.1
2011 Chris Carpenter 46.6
2002 Steve Sparks 45.5
2005 Mike Mussina 44.5
2013 Bronson Arroyo 44.4
among qualified starting pitchers
since Baseball Info Solutions started tracking in 2002

Burnett ranks in the top 10 for all three categories, including first overall in ground ball rate and third in strikeouts per nine innings. 

His age-36 season compares to those of some of the all-time greats. Of the players listed above, seven are Hall of Famers (Carlton, Sutton, Gibson, Perry, Ford, Ryan, Maddux), a few more are on the way, and most of the others were All-Stars at some point. 

The lists include some strong, durable arms capable of continuing success into veteran years. A.J. Burnett’s right up there with them. Even though he’s getting older and might be hard to deal with at times, the Pirates could definitely use him in their rotation. 

Do you think A.J.’s done for good? Any chance at coming back? Let us know.

Go Bucs

2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Projections: ZiPS, Steamer & Oliver

A few weeks ago, I posted the Pirates’ Steamer projections. Now that Oliver and ZiPS projections are out as well, I figured I’d put up all the team’s hitting forecasts at once. Check ‘em out:

Andrew McCutchen
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 670 (PA) 167 24 86 0.288 0.375 0.484 6.4
Steamer 542 163 23 87 0.300 0.389 0.507 6.5
Oliver 519 161 17 87 0.310 0.396 0.489 6.8
Neil Walker
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 603 (PA) 140 16 74 0.261 0.330 0.418 2.9
Steamer 438 119 13 56 0.272 0.345 0.433 3.0
Oliver 524 133 15 68 0.254 0.337 0.401 2.9
Pedro Alvarez
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 597 (PA) 126 32 95 0.234 0.303 0.465 3.1
Steamer 509 124 29 80 0.243 0.317 0.468 3.1
Oliver 541 132 36 100 0.244 0.310 0.495 3.3
Starling Marte
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 583 (PA) 142 13 54 0.265 0.318 0.430 3.3
Steamer 475 132 12 50 0.277 0.328 0.440 2.9
Oliver 542 150 14 60 0.277 0.338 0.439 4.0
Gaby Sanchez
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 458 (PA) 101 12 53 0.252 0.333 0.401 1.1
Steamer 448 114 13 56 0.254 0.343 0.406 1.4
Oliver 520 127 13 64 0.244 0.335 0.377 0.7
Jose Tabata
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 503 (PA) 120 6 38 0.265 0.329 0.381 1.7
Steamer 481 132 7 47 0.275 0.342 0.400 1.5
Oliver 543 144 8 59 0.265 0.326 0.379 1.4
Travis Snider
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 423 (PA) 93 9 44 0.240 0.298 0.375 0.2
Steamer 472 122 15 58 0.258 0.324 0.423 0.7
Oliver 541 130 12 60 0.240 0.307 0.366 -0.4
Russell Martin
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 458 (PA) 94 14 50 0.234 0.326 0.384 3.4
Steamer 421 96 13 49 0.228 0.322 0.369 2.8
Oliver 518 116 18 66 0.224 0.322 0.375 3.4
Jordy Mercer
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 494 (PA) 114 9 48 0.252 0.302 0.385 1.8
Steamer 339 88 7 37 0.260 0.314 0.391 1.3
Oliver 546 149 12 66 0.273 0.326 0.410 4.2
Clint Barmes
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 397 (PA) 85 6 34 0.234 0.281 0.330 1.4
Steamer 304 68 6 30 0.224 0.275 0.335 0.4
Oliver 552 121 8 51 0.219 0.263 0.308 0.7
Josh Harrison
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 432 (PA) 105 6 44 0.264 0.302 0.399 1.4
Steamer 174 47 2 18 0.268 0.309 0.393 0.6
Oliver 551 146 9 58 0.265 0.309 0.394 2.4
Chris Stewart
AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
ZiPS 275 (PA) 58 2 23 0.233 0.281 0.297 0.5
Steamer 85 20 1 8 0.230 0.302 0.328 0.2
Oliver 529 119 6 46 0.225 0.298 0.302 1.7

 

Agree/disagree with the forecasts? Have any of your own predictions? Let us know.

You can find more Pittsburgh Pirates projections over at FanGraphs.

Go Bucs

The Pirates’ record-setting ground ball rates

Charlie Morton Pittsburgh Pirates

In general, ground balls are much more beneficial to a pitcher than a fly ball or line drive. Ground balls can’t go over the fence. More ground balls = less fly balls = less home runs. Furthermore, FanGraphs explains, “Line drives are death to pitchers, while ground balls are the best for a pitcher. In numerical terms, line drives produce 1.26 runs/out, fly balls produce 0.13 R/O, and ground balls produce only 0.05 R/O.”

Well, the 2013 Pirates – who maintained one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball throughout the season – pulled this off better than any other team in the last decade, and it could be a key to their resounding success.

As a whole, the Bucs posted a ground ball rate (GB%) of 52.5% … League average was 44.5% … Not too bad. In fact, it’s rather amazing. FanGraphs records batted ball rates back to 2002, as tracked by Baseball Info Solutions. Here are the best team ground ball rates in that span:

GB%
2013 Pirates 52.5
2005 Cardinals 50.7
2010 Braves 49.9
2009 Cardinals 49.8
2008 Dodgers 49.6
2010 Cardinals 49.5
2007 Blue Jays 48.7
2013 Cardinals 48.5
2012 Cardinals 48.5
2008 Braves 48.3

They easily set the record for best ground ball rate, and became just the second team to post rate over 50% since 2002.

As you look at the numbers a little more, you’ll see that the five members of the 2013 team’s rotation all finished with a top 25 GB% among National League starting pitchers (minimum 100 IP) – all clearly above league average:
1) Charlie Morton – 62.9
5) A.J. Burnett – 56.5
8) Jeff Locke – 53.2
18) Francisco Liriano – 50.5
23) Gerrit Cole – 49.1

The Shark Tank was brilliant as well, with Mark Melancon, Jeanmar Gomez, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, and Vin Mazzaro all finishing in the top 20 among NL relievers (minimum 40 IP).

Considering all this, you can see one reason why they might be willing to take a chance on Edinson Volquez. The 30-year-old righty has put up above-average ground ball rates throughout his career. I checked it out by setting FanGraphs’ filter like this: qualified pitchers with a GB% > 50% since 2010 — finding that Volquez (50.3%) was one of 27 pitchers (along with Morton and Burnett) to accomplish that. 

Between current players and other arms they’ve acquired (not just Volquez), it’s clear that the team has put a strong emphasis on ground balls. The club’s recent trend towards increasing defensive shifts even furthers the effectiveness. If they can continue to pair above-average ground ball rates with strong defense, they’ll keep the opposition’s damage at a minimum again in 2014.

Go Bucs

Data courtesy of FanGraphs.com