Bucs make many moves on Memorial Day

The Pirates have recalled a few players, demoted a few players, and added to the disabled list…

1. The contract of Mike Zagurski was selected from Triple-A Indianapolis. He’s posted a 2.14 ERA and 15.9 K/9 for Indy this year. Pirates Prospects points out that Zagurski had a June 1st out-clause in his contract, which would explain his addition to the big league bullpen.

2. Bryan Morris was demoted to make room for Zagurski. Morris is 1-2 with a 3.45 ERA in 15.2 innings with the Bucs this year.

3. Jose Tabata was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to an oblique strain. After going on a tear at the beginning of May, Tabata has cooled off as of late, hitting just .154 in his last eight games.

4. Josh Harrison was recalled to take Tabata’s place on the bench. J-Hay hit .279 with a .750 OPS at Triple-A. This move indicates that Travis Snider should be getting more playing time in right field.

5. Finally, Jeff Karstens has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list. Karstens was shut down indefinitely earlier this weekend.

Updated Pirates Depth Chart

Jeff Karstens Shut Down Indefinitely

Some bad news here:

Karstens, who was on the comeback trail in his rehab stint, won’t be pitching for a while. He’s been dealing with this discomfort all spring and will be examined next week (via Sawchik).

When Karstens re-signed with the Bucs this winter, it looked like a good deal. They had non-tendered him a couple months prior to agreeing to a new contract; if they did tender him, the club likely would have had to pay him much more. He tested the free agent market and ultimately came back to Pittsburgh for $2.5 million. This seemed like a friendly deal, especially since Karstens himself claimed that he was healthy:

 

However, that hasn’t been the case at all in 2013. He simply cannot stay healthy. Will he pitch at all this season? Who knows. More information should be available after he gets evaluated next week, but it sounds like Karstens could be sidelined for quite some time.

Can Jeff Locke keep it up?

Jeff Locke and Jonathan Sanchez, two left-handed hurlers, were handed the final two starting rotation spots after injuries to Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens, and Charlie Morton. Locke had been less-than-impressive in a batch of big league starts, while Sanchez bounced around between San Francisco, Colorado, and Kansas City due to inconsistency. These two had to be sharp to keep their spots; through seven weeks of the season, it’s pretty evident who got the job done. Sanchez absolutely flopped, while Locke has pretty much done the opposite.

Locke, 25, was terrific again on Sunday afternoon, tossing seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball. He improved to 4-1 on the year, and lowered his ERA to 2.73. It was one of his most impressive starts of his young career. In fact, he posted a Game Score (stat developed by Bill James) of 73, matching his career-high set on April 28th.

Check out his last six outings:

Rk Date Opp Rslt Inngs Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
4 Apr 23 PHI W,2-0 GS-6 W(2-1) 6.0 2 0 0 2 6 0 3.74
5 Apr 28 STL W,9-0 GS-7 W(3-1) 7.0 3 0 0 2 4 0 2.83
6 May 4 WSN L,4-5 GS-6 5.0 3 4 3 3 3 0 3.21
7 May 9 NYM L,2-3 GS-6 6.0 3 1 1 3 3 0 2.95
8 May 14 MIL W,4-3 GS-6 6.0 7 3 3 1 6 1 3.15
9 May 19 HOU W,1-0 GS-7 W(4-1) 7.0 3 0 0 2 4 0 2.73
52.2 39 17 16 22 32 5 2.73
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/20/2013.

He’s looked good on the mound so far, albeit a small sample size. That being said, can he keep it up?

Locke has been getting pretty lucky on balls in play. Opponents have posted just a .213 BABIP against him, which is the third-lowest mark among National League pitchers.

Keep in mind that he mostly pitches to contact, only boasting a 5.47 K/9 (9th lowest in NL, among qualifiers) and a small percentage of whiffs. Eventually, these batted may find some holes and drop in for hits.

A popular metric that accounts for balls in play and how that would affect a pitcher’s ERA is Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP). According to FanGraphs, “xFIP is one of the best metrics at predicting a pitcher’s future performance.” Locke’s xFIP sits at 4.44 (as opposed to his 2.73 ERA), suggesting that he could be allowing more runs than he actually is. His 4.44 xFIP is the highest of any current Pirate starter; Jeanmar Gomez (who could also be facing regression in the near future) sits at 4.40.

Pitching has been a huge key to the Pirates success – among NL teams, they are first in batting average against (.225), first in strikeouts (362), second in ERA (3.33), etc. Good stat from Rumbunter this afternoon:

Guys like Jeff Locke are doing their job out there, nailing down win after win. The pitching staff may falter eventually, but the Bucs just need to keep riding their arms to victory for now.

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Jonathan Sanchez & Brandon Inge

Two non-roster players that the Pirates invited to spring training, LHP Jonathan Sanchez and utility man Brandon Inge, have been told that they’ll make the team.

Sanchez, a wildly inconsistent lefty with a no-hitter under his belt, secured a roster spot as he threw well in spring ball and Jeff Karstens suffered more setbacks. Here are his career stats:

Year Tm W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP BB/9 SO/9
2006 SFG 3 1 4.95 27 40.0 39 26 22 2 23 33 1.550 5.2 7.4
2007 SFG 1 5 5.88 33 52.0 57 34 34 8 28 62 1.635 4.8 10.7
2008 SFG 9 12 5.01 29 158.0 154 90 88 14 75 157 1.449 4.3 8.9
2009 SFG 8 12 4.24 32 163.1 135 82 77 19 88 177 1.365 4.8 9.8
2010 SFG 13 9 3.07 34 193.1 142 74 66 21 96 205 1.231 4.5 9.5
2011 SFG 4 7 4.26 19 101.1 80 54 48 9 66 102 1.441 5.9 9.1
2012 KCR 1 6 7.76 12 53.1 65 47 46 8 44 36 2.044 7.4 6.1
2012 COL 0 3 9.53 3 11.1 17 13 12 3 9 9 2.294 7.1 7.1
7 Yrs 39 55 4.58 189 772.2 689 420 393 84 429 781 1.447 5.0 9.1
162 Game Avg. 8 12 4.58 40 163 146 89 83 18 91 165 1.447 5.0 9.1
SFG (6 yrs) 38 46 4.26 174 708.0 607 360 335 73 376 736 1.388 4.8 9.4
KCR (1 yr) 1 6 7.76 12 53.1 65 47 46 8 44 36 2.044 7.4 6.1
COL (1 yr) 0 3 9.53 3 11.1 17 13 12 3 9 9 2.294 7.1 7.1
NL (7 yrs) 38 49 4.34 177 719.1 624 373 347 76 385 745 1.403 4.8 9.3
AL (1 yr) 1 6 7.76 12 53.1 65 47 46 8 44 36 2.044 7.4 6.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/26/2013.

It’s a shame that the Pirates don’t have a better option, although Sanchez has a chance to turn it around in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. A positive to take out of this is that reinforcements are on the way (Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton) in case this experiment doesn’t work.  As we discussed yesterday, the logical move to make room for Sanchez on the 40-man roster would be to move Morton to the 60-day DL. However, it sounds like the club doesn’t want to mess with that:

 

Inge is also in need of a spot, but he may not be available to start the season:

 

It’s not a serious injury though, so he’d only go on the 15-day DL and be required to stay on the 40-man roster. There are plenty of complications, and more dominoes will need to fall. Only time will tell.

Anyway, the old, light-hitting Inge is a little bit of a surprise to make the club. But he was the “sentimental favorite” entering camp, and a weak Grapefruit League campaign (6 for 37, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 11 strikeouts) didn’t stop them from keeping him.

The 35 year old veteran is versatile (3B, C, OF, 2B) and has shown decent pop in his career:

Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2001 DET 79 189 13 34 11 0 0 15 9 41 .180 .215 .238 .453
2002 DET 95 321 27 65 15 3 7 24 24 101 .202 .266 .333 .599
2003 DET 104 330 32 67 15 3 8 30 24 79 .203 .265 .339 .605
2004 DET 131 408 43 117 15 7 13 64 32 72 .287 .340 .453 .793
2005 DET 160 616 75 161 31 9 16 72 63 140 .261 .330 .419 .749
2006 DET 159 542 83 137 29 2 27 83 43 128 .253 .313 .463 .776
2007 DET 151 508 64 120 25 2 14 71 47 150 .236 .312 .376 .688
2008 DET 113 347 41 71 16 4 11 51 43 94 .205 .303 .369 .672
2009 DET 161 562 71 129 16 1 27 84 54 170 .230 .314 .406 .720
2010 DET 144 514 47 127 28 5 13 70 54 134 .247 .321 .397 .718
2011 DET 102 269 29 53 10 2 3 23 24 74 .197 .265 .283 .548
2012 TOT 83 303 33 66 14 0 12 54 24 91 .218 .275 .383 .658
2012 DET 9 20 2 2 1 0 1 2 0 6 .100 .100 .300 .400
2012 OAK 74 283 31 64 13 0 11 52 24 85 .226 .286 .389 .675
12 Yrs 1482 4909 558 1147 225 38 151 641 441 1274 .234 .303 .387 .690
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/26/2013.

He’s pretty injury-prone at age 35; here he is dislocating his shoulder and popping it back into place last year:

It’s hard to say what this will mean for the makeup of the bench because, like we said, Inge may be starting the year on the disabled list and additional moves are on the way. Six days until the opener.

Pitching decisions looming as Opening Day nears

Throughout winter and into spring, the main questions pertaining to the Pittsburgh Pirates revolve around the state of the roster. Fans critique every move, wondering who’s in and who’s out. Roster projections can be made, and 25 ideal players can be lined up. However, one factor always seems to stand in the way: injuries.

The Pirates’ pitching staff is dealing with the injury bug; the rotation would be much better off without the aches and pains. Francisco Liriano? He’s out for at least another month. Jeff Karstens? He’ll have to start the year on the DL after more setbacks. Two aging veterans (A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez) and a wild card (James McDonald) will have to anchor the rotation, but their counterparts are still unclear.

It seems that there are four options to choose from…

Kyle McPherson

McPherson hasn’t been too sharp this spring (8.31 ERA, .315 opponent batting average). Here’s what Clint Hurdle said after his last outing, a nine-run implosion vs. Atlanta:

[quote_center]”It’s late and we’re trying to make decisions. He kept battling (but) you’ve got to find ways to get outs and execute.”[/quote_center]

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Jeff Locke

In limited time at the MLB level during the last two seasons, Locke wasn’t too impressive, but is piecing together a decent spring. Pitching coach Ray Searage said:

[quote_center]”He’s grown up a little bit (but) there’s still more that he has to learn.”[/quote_center]

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Jonathan Sanchez

Sanchez has thrown well in his last few outings, perhaps showing enough to earn a job:

 

Sanchez is not on the 40-man roster, so the Pirates would have to clear a spot for him. If that’s the case, who goes? EDIT: As Burgh_Fan pointed out in the comments, the easy choice to make room for Sanchez (or another non-roster player) would be to move Charlie Morton to the 60-day DL. Doing so allows a spot to open up; similarly, John McDonald was able to join the roster when Chase d’Arnaud went on the 60-day with his torn thumb ligament.

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Jeanmar Gomez

Unlike Jonathan Sanchez, Gomez is on the 40-man, which could help him. If he doesn’t get a spot in the rotation, he could possibly make the bullpen as the long man. At this point, the final few ‘pen jobs are up for grabs as well.

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One thing to remember is that the starting rotation will not be set in stone. While everyone scrambles to know the Opening Day roster, Neal Huntington surely understands that everything could change in a matter of weeks. Liriano could be back soon, and Karstens might make an appearance. Don’t forget about Gerrit Cole, who’s waiting for the call to the show. Charlie Morton will also be returning from Tommy John surgery at some point.

Nevertheless, it’s concerning that Jonathan Sanchez (one of MLB’s worst pitchers in 2012) or another question mark could be taking the mound against the National League’s best. The Pirates have arguably the toughest April schedule of any NL team.