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”

In 49 Days…

49 Locke

Our Opening Day player countdown returns for a fourth year. Each post can be found under the Features tag.

Jeff Locke (49) days until Opening Day…

Career Stats:

Year Tm ERA IP ERA+ FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
2011 PIT 6.48 16.2 59 6.74 1.860 5.4 2.7
2012 PIT 5.50 34.1 69 4.43 1.369 2.9 8.9
2013 ★ PIT 3.52 166.1 101 4.03 1.383 4.5 6.8
2014 PIT 3.91 131.1 91 4.37 1.272 2.7 6.1
4 Yrs 4.00 348.2 90 4.32 1.362 3.7 6.5

Continue reading “In 49 Days…”

2014 Pirates in Review: Starting Pitchers

Reviewing the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, we’ll take a look at the starting pitchers. 

Final stats:

Name W L IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP WAR
G. Cole 11 5 138.0 9.0 2.6 49% 3.65 3.23 2.1
F. Liriano 7 10 162.1 9.7 4.5 54% 3.38 3.59 1.6
V. Worley 8 4 108.2 6.5 1.8 50% 2.73 3.34 1.5
C. Morton 6 12 157.1 7.2 3.3 56% 3.72 3.72 1.3
B. Cumpton 3 3 56.0 5.5 2.4 44% 4.98 3.22 0.8
E. Volquez 13 7 190.2 6.5 3.4 50% 3.04 4.18 0.6
J. Locke 7 6 131.1 6.1 2.7 51% 3.91 4.37 0.1
W. Rodriguez 0 2 26.2 6.8 2.7 42% 6.75 7.41 -0.8

via FanGraphs

Looking to build off an impressive rookie campaign (3.22 ERA, 2.91 FIP, and two solid postseason starts), Gerrit Cole was good, but not exactly great, in 2014. We’d probably be looking at it differently had he stayed healthy, but shoulder problems caused him to miss 24 days in June and another 46 in July/August. His low inning count aside, Cole once again showed promise — an excellent 9.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 49% ground ball rate, 3.23 FIP, 3.25 xFIP — and I like his chances of really coming into his own in 2015. The best part? He just turned 24 two months ago and he’s under team control through 2019.


In his second year of a two-year contract, Francisco Liriano was deservedly given the Opening Day nod. The only thing standing between him and another fantastic season: injuries, as usual. Liriano hurt his groin during a spring training game I was at on March 20th; he looked great that night under the McKechnie lights until he was forced to exit early. Frankie made the Opening Day start anyway, but was shaky to start the season. With his ERA hovering in the mid-4.00’s, Liriano made it to June before landing on the disabled list with an oblique strain.

Although he missed a month of action, he came back better than ever. After the All-Star break, Liriano boasted a 2.20 ERA and opponents couldn’t touch him (.193 batting average, .551 OPS). If that isn’t impressive enough, consider he only surrendered more than two runs in two of 14 second half outings — once on August 19th, a 7 ER blowup vs. Atlanta and again in his final start (4 ER at Cincinnati). Take out the 7-run performance and it’s a 1.54 earned run average after the break.

All in all: a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts, backed up by a 3.59 FIP and 3.40 xFIP; more dominant strikeout stuff (9.7 per 9) and worm killers (54% ground ball rate). Similar to Russell Martin, Liriano re-established himself by coming to the Burgh on a two-year deal. He may be considered part of the free agent class’ second-tier, but he could be a bargain if he keeps throwing like he did in ’13 and ’14 and stays moderately healthy.


Vance Worley was, without a doubt, one of the unsung heroes of this year’s team. He really wasn’t given much thought back in March, when the Pirates purchased him from the Twins near the end of spring training. But he went to work with team pitching guru Jim Benedict in Bradenton and eventually turned in some quality starts at Indianapolis (4.30 ERA looks deceiving; was good for a 2.57 FIP, 8.4 K/9 and 0.8(!) BB/9). By the middle of June, the Vanimal found himself back on a big league roster.

With Cole and Liriano on the mend, Worley stuck around and turned in some solid outings. He wasn’t overpowering (90 mph fastball and average of 6 K per 9), but consistently got the job done thanks to his impeccable command and some help from his defense. A few of the more memorable pitching performances were on Worley’s right arm: his complete game shutout vs. Madison Bumgarner and the Giants on July 28th, and his eight-inning shutout performance vs. Milwaukee on September 21st, the final regular season home game. He was a classic example of the kind of pitching depth good teams need to have. No team will keep their rotation healthy and intact all season long; you need these type of guys to come in, and not only stop the bleeding, but also perform. Vance Worley did just that.


Edinson Volquez… unreal. Proof that sometimes we just need to shut up and believe in what the front office is doing.

volquez

His success has been talked about at length, and while it may have been smoke and mirrors, there’s no denying what he did in 2014. Kudos to Searage, Benedict & Co. for fixing him up. Volquez was visibly a different pitcher than he had been in the past, showing a more consistent delivery and release point, while refining his repertoire and game plan. He threw some important innings for the Bucs, and his last 12 regular season starts were quite dominant (1.78 ERA). We all know what happened in the Wild Card game, but … yeah.

gerrit cole on edinson volquez


Fresh off a three-year contract extension signed last December, Charlie Morton was counted on to be an anchor in the Bucco rotation. For someone with an injury history as lengthy as Charlie’s, that isn’t too wise of a strategy. He lasted until August, when we learned he had been pitching through a sports hernia and needed to be shutdown. He re-appeared for one start in mid-September, but couldn’t last. Morton underwent hip surgery on Sept. 26th, which will leave him out of game action for 6-8 months.

Overall, it’s hard to hate what he does & did this year when he can stay on the field — his respectable 3.72 ERA was matched by a 3.72 FIP; he posted the best strikeout rate of his career (7.2 per 9) along with his always stellar ground ball rate (56%). The reality is that he just can’t keep healthy. If he could log even 180-200 innings, he’d be a great asset at the back of a rotation.


Another weird season for 2013 “All-Star” Jeff Locke. He started 2014 in Indianapolis and didn’t stick with the big league club until June. But he filled in when necessary and spent the final four months of the season in the rotation. Once again, glimpses of dominance followed by ultimate disappointment:

First Half (56 innings) — 2.89 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 0.96 BB/9, .232/.259/.343 opponent slash line

Second Half (75.1 innings) — 4.66 ERA, 5.42 FIP, 4.06 BB/9, .266/.353/.451 opponent slash line

Locke’s proved to be effective when he knows where the ball’s going. When he loses his command and starts walking people, it’s game over.


Brandon Cumpton again filled in as a spot starter when necessary. With the exception of a 10-run abomination vs. Los Angeles, Cumpton did a pretty nice job — he bounced back from that terrible start with five good outings in June, posting a 2.97 ERA in over 30 innings.

The problem with Cumpton as a starter is his limited repertoire (fastball-slider), which doesn’t fool many hitters the second/third time he faces them…

1st PA – .247/.333/.286

2nd PA – .357/.378/.440

3rd PA –  .290/.353/.435


Wandy Rodriguez deserves no recognition for his six outings, which looked more like batting practice. He was rightfully cut by mid-May, but got the last laugh as he took $13 million from the Pirates and Astros.

wandyrod0001


Looking ahead…

Name 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
C. Morton $8M $8M Option FA
A.J. Burnett $8.5M FA
V. Worley Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 Arb-4 FA
J. Locke Pre-Arb Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
G. Cole Pre-Arb Pre-Arb Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3
B. Cumpton Pre-Arb Pre-Arb Pre-Arb Arb-1 Arb-2
F. Liriano FA
E. Volquez FA

via Baseball-Reference

Welcome back, A.J. Yes, he had a bad year in Philly, but his 2012-2013 performance and inning-eating was sorely missed in the Pirate rotation. He’ll join Cole, Worley, and Locke as the healthy Pirate starters. Charlie Morton’s status is uncertain for now. Hopefully this is the summer Jameson Taillon can jump to the majors, although he may need more time as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Also keep an eye on Nick Kingham at Indianapolis. It’s looking like the Pirates should sign or trade for another starter, whether that’s Liriano or someone else. They could use a top/mid-rotation guy to fit between Cole and Burnett, and the depth is always necessary.

Next up: we’ll review the bullpen.

Go Bucs

Saturday Stat Sheet 8/23/14

– The Josh Harrison show continues… 3-for-5 with a double, homer, and five RBI on Friday night puts him 4th in the NL batting race (.308), 8th in slugging (.496), 12th in OPS (.840). He’s hitting .328/.364/.582 in the second half. Unreal.

Starling Marte has been absolutely on fire lately, batting .353 with a 1.075 OPS since returning from a concussion. He’s had a rough year between injuries and personal matters (left the team twice for deaths in his family back home in the DR) but has looked great recently. A slow start hurt his numbers, but it’s starting to look a lot like last year for Marte:

2013 — .280/.343/.441, 121 wRC+
2014 — .274/.347/.428, 123 wRC+

– Although he carried an 0fer on Friday night, Travis Snider has been worth one win above replacement in the second half — fourth best on the team, behind Harrison (1.8), Marte (1.3), and Russell Martin (1.1). Snider will start in right field over Gregory Polanco again on Saturday.

– Weird outing for Jeff Locke last night: 0 runs, 2 hits, 0 strikeouts, 6 walks.

Edinson Volquez takes the hill on Saturday … 2.45 ERA over his last five outings.


Batting:

Pos Name G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
C Russell Martin 82 347 36 80 13 0 6 48 3 .285 .408 .395 .803 129
1B Ike Davis* 103 322 33 65 14 0 7 34 0 .240 .351 .369 .720 104
2B Neil Walker# 104 431 54 107 17 2 17 53 2 .277 .347 .464 .810 127
SS Jordy Mercer 118 433 47 103 21 2 7 42 2 .261 .308 .377 .685 93
3B Pedro Alvarez* 117 429 42 88 13 1 15 51 6 .229 .310 .385 .695 96
LF Starling Marte 103 418 57 103 22 6 8 42 24 .274 .347 .428 .775 118
CF Andrew McCutchen 112 502 66 130 32 5 18 68 17 .306 .404 .532 .936 163
RF Gregory Polanco* 62 276 41 60 9 0 6 30 12 .244 .311 .354 .665 88
Pos Name G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
UT Josh Harrison 112 409 59 118 27 6 11 43 17 .308 .344 .496 .840 135
OF Travis Snider* 110 266 28 65 9 1 10 32 0 .271 .340 .442 .781 119
1B Gaby Sanchez 97 238 26 50 15 1 6 27 2 .234 .303 .397 .700 96
C Chris Stewart 38 128 8 31 3 0 0 7 0 .282 .365 .309 .674 94
IF Jayson Nix 15 39 1 4 0 0 0 1 1 .111 .158 .111 .269 -22
Pos Name G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Team Totals 128 4945 540 1124 208 26 114 520 88 .257 .330 .395 .725 104
Rank in 15 NL teams 3 3 10 7 4 3 3 1 3 2
Non-Pitcher Totals 128 4679 532 1101 207 26 114 516 88 .265 .340 .410 .750 111
Pitcher Totals 128 266 8 23 1 0 0 4 0 .102 .137 .107 .243 -30
Pos Name G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/23/2014.

Pitching

Pos Name W L ERA G SV IP H ER BB SO FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
SP Charlie Morton (15-day dl) 5 12 3.84 25 0 152.1 139 65 55 120 3.78 1.274 3.2 7.1
SP Edinson Volquez 10 7 3.58 25 0 146.0 132 58 53 100 4.35 1.267 3.3 6.2
SP Francisco Liriano* 3 10 4.18 22 0 118.1 103 55 57 127 3.85 1.352 4.3 9.7
SP Jeff Locke* 5 3 3.69 15 0 97.2 95 40 25 63 4.26 1.229 2.3 5.8
SP Gerrit Cole 7 4 3.69 15 0 92.2 88 38 33 84 3.70 1.306 3.2 8.2
SP Vance Worley 5 3 2.92 12 0 74.0 75 24 13 51 3.76 1.189 1.6 6.2
Pos Name W L ERA G SV IP H ER BB SO FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
CL Mark Melancon 2 3 2.24 55 22 52.1 40 13 8 50 2.29 0.917 1.4 8.6
RP Tony Watson* 8 1 1.81 60 0 59.2 48 12 13 61 3.03 1.022 2.0 9.2
RP Jeanmar Gomez 2 2 3.49 38 1 56.2 66 22 20 35 4.43 1.518 3.2 5.6
RP Jared Hughes 6 3 1.70 50 0 53.0 42 10 16 29 3.90 1.094 2.7 4.9
RP Justin Wilson* 3 3 4.56 57 0 49.1 42 25 28 49 3.49 1.419 5.1 8.9
Brandon Cumpton 3 4 5.01 13 0 64.2 76 36 17 41 3.28 1.438 2.4 5.7
John Axford 0 0 2.45 4 0 3.2 3 1 1 5 1.22 1.091 2.5 12.3
Travis Snider* 0 0 18.00 1 0 1.0 1 2 2 1 7.13 3.000 18.0 9.0
Team Totals 66 62 3.78 128 34 1154.0 1100 482 402 931 4.00 1.302 3.1 7.3
Rank in 15 NL teams 7 9 11 6 10 11 10 11 14
Pos Name W L ERA G SV IP H ER BB SO FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/23/2014.

Go Bucs

Saturday Stat Sheet 8/16/14

– Another rough outing for Charlie Morton last night, surrendering five runs in three innings (his shortest outing of the year) … He’s now allowed 4+ runs in five of his last seven starts, posting a 6.00 ERA and .300 opponent batting average in that span.

– In his return to the starting lineup as a third baseman, Pedro Alvarez went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI … his first multi-hit game since June 29th.

Starling Marte crushed his sixth homer of the year on Friday; he’s looked good since returning from the DL, hitting .333 with a .986 OPS in 11 games. He’ll hit cleanup for the first time in his career on Saturday.

Gerrit Cole made another rehab start with the Indy Indians last night — sounds like it was his last — and he dominated again: 0 runs over 7 innings, his second scoreless outing of the week.

Jeff Locke gets the ball tonight … He’s already having a forgettable second half: 6.00 ERA, .328/.388/.541 opponent slash line in five starts.

– The difference between the Bucs’ home & road winning percentage is one of the largest in MLB:


Batting:

Pos Name G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
C Russell Martin 77 325 34 75 12 0 6 47 3 .284 .404 .398 .802 129
1B Ike Davis* 100 313 33 64 14 0 7 33 0 .242 .351 .375 .726 106
2B Neil Walker# 98 411 53 102 16 1 16 50 2 .277 .346 .457 .803 126
SS Jordy Mercer 114 421 45 101 21 2 7 41 2 .263 .312 .383 .695 96
3B Pedro Alvarez* 112 416 42 86 13 1 15 51 6 .232 .315 .394 .708 100
LF Starling Marte 97 393 49 93 20 6 6 39 23 .263 .338 .405 .744 110
CF Andrew McCutchen (15-day dl) 109 489 64 128 32 5 17 67 17 .311 .411 .536 .947 166
RF Gregory Polanco* 58 260 39 59 8 0 6 28 12 .257 .327 .370 .696 97
Pos Name G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
UT Josh Harrison 106 383 57 110 25 6 10 38 17 .308 .346 .496 .842 136
OF Travis Snider* 104 242 26 56 6 1 10 32 0 .259 .336 .435 .771 117
1B Gaby Sanchez 92 222 23 45 15 1 6 24 2 .224 .293 .398 .691 94
C Chris Stewart 37 125 8 31 3 0 0 6 0 .290 .374 .318 .692 99
UT Michael Martinez# 24 42 2 5 1 0 0 2 0 .135 .220 .162 .382 11
IF Jayson Nix 11 32 1 4 0 0 0 1 1 .133 .161 .133 .295 -15
Pos Name G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Team Totals 122 4716 515 1072 197 25 109 498 87 .257 .332 .395 .727 106
Rank in 15 NL teams 3 3 10 7 4 3 3 1 3 2
Non-Pitcher Totals 122 4466 507 1051 197 25 109 495 87 .266 .342 .411 .753 113
Pitcher Totals 122 250 8 21 0 0 0 3 0 .100 .136 .100 .236 -32
Pos Name G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/16/2014.

Pitching:

Pos Name W L ERA G SV IP H R ER BB SO FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
SP Charlie Morton 5 12 3.84 25 0 152.1 139 76 65 55 120 3.78 1.274 3.2 7.1
SP Edinson Volquez 10 7 3.67 24 0 139.2 126 62 57 51 95 4.41 1.267 3.3 6.1
SP Francisco Liriano* 3 9 3.78 21 0 114.1 93 52 48 54 123 3.75 1.286 4.3 9.7
SP Jeff Locke* 4 3 3.98 13 0 86.0 89 43 38 17 57 4.13 1.233 1.8 6.0
SP Gerrit Cole (15-day dl) 7 4 3.78 14 0 85.2 83 37 36 29 78 3.75 1.307 3.0 8.2
SP Vance Worley 5 2 2.51 11 0 68.0 66 24 19 11 43 3.59 1.132 1.5 5.7
Pos Name W L ERA G SV IP H R ER BB SO FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
CL Mark Melancon 1 3 2.15 53 22 50.1 38 12 12 7 47 2.32 0.894 1.3 8.4
RP Tony Watson* 8 1 1.40 58 0 57.2 45 11 9 12 61 2.75 0.988 1.9 9.5
RP Jeanmar Gomez 2 2 3.42 37 1 55.1 62 23 21 20 35 4.47 1.482 3.3 5.7
RP Jared Hughes 6 3 1.80 47 0 50.0 41 13 10 16 29 3.89 1.140 2.9 5.2
RP Justin Wilson* 3 2 4.56 54 0 47.1 39 26 24 25 48 3.36 1.352 4.8 9.1
Brandon Cumpton 3 3 5.12 11 0 58.0 70 36 33 16 35 3.23 1.483 2.5 5.4
Travis Snider* 0 0 18.00 1 0 1.0 1 2 2 2 1 7.13 3.000 18.0 9.0
John Axford 0 0 0.00 1 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 2 -0.87 0.000 0.0 18.0
Team Totals 64 58 3.75 122 34 1099.1 1042 507 456 376 889 3.97 1.290 3.1 7.3
Rank in 15 NL teams 5 10 10 5 8 9 10 10 11 13
Pos Name W L ERA G SV IP H R ER BB SO FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/16/2014.

Go Bucs