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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Baseball’s Best Starting Pitching Trios

liriano cole burnett

*Apologies for the lack of content as of late — I have recently started an internship at Baseball Info Solutions. Coverage here may be slow this summer, but we’ll try to update the site and our Twitter as much as possible.

If you paid any kind of attention to the Pirates-Mets series this weekend, you’ll know the team from Pittsburgh is in very good hands with the powerful arms at the top of their rotation. Yes, New York’s offense has struggled and featured a depleted lineup by Sunday, but the tone was set by Gerrit Cole on Friday, A.J. Burnett on Saturday, and Francisco Liriano on Sunday:

Cole has exhibited his ace potential all season to this point. Burnett has been better in his return to the Steel City than anyone could have possibly expected. Liriano shook off a couple of difficult starts, while still showing off some of the impressive peripheral numbers that made him successful in 2013 and 2014.

All told, this has been one of the best starting pitching trios in Major League Baseball through the first seven weeks of the season.

Let’s take a look…

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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

How Every Pirates Starter Gets a Ground Ball

aj burnett francisco liriano

By now, everyone knows the Pirates have placed an emphasis on getting ground balls from their pitchers. They’ve led the league in ground ball rate two consecutive seasons, featuring a staff full of above-average worm killers.

But how exactly do they induce these ground balls? Which pitches and in which locations give them an edge? Here’s a look at what the (projected) starting five did in 2014 — whether it be a groundout, ground into double play, or ground ball single; split by batter handedness (LHH on the left; RHH on the right)…

Francisco Liriano

francisco liriano ground ball pitcher

Two Seam 37%
Change 30%
Slider 25%
Four Seam 8%

When Liriano’s not making batters whiff, he’s making them put the ball on the turf. He loves his changeup (red dots) and slider (purple) for whiffs and grounders alike, while his two seam fastball/sinker (blue) is also particularly effective. There’s a ton of action low and away to right-handed batters; all of his stuff works down there, like this sinker that runs away from Peter Bourjos:

francisco liriano two seam

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