Top 10 Pirates Moments of 2014

Another year in the books, and another memorable one for the Bucs. While it didn’t quite have the storybook script of 2013, the Pirates surely enjoyed their second consecutive trip to the postseason.

Looking back, you may remember some not-so-fond moments — the 10-18 start, the seven-game losing streak in August, Cutch getting beaned in Arizona, the Easter Sunday brawl (maybe you liked that one).

But there were still plenty of memorable moments in the team’s 128th season. Here’s our Top 10 in chronological order…

1. Neil Walker‘s Opening Day Walk-Off Winner — 3/31/14

What better way to start the season? A Francisco LirianoJeff Samardzija duel kept things even through nine frames, but Neil Walker sent the fans home happy with a walk-off home run and a 1-0 victory on Opening Day.

2. Sweet 16 Innings — 4/2/14

If the first game of the year wasn’t dramatic enough, how about the second?

It looked like it was going to be the Cubs’ turn to take an extra inning W, as Anthony Rizzo‘s solo shot put Chicago ahead in the 12th. But the Bucs battled back in the bottom half, with Starling Marte providing the tying single. It looked like they’d finish ‘em there — Andrew McCutchen stepped in with the bases loaded, but old friend Jose Veras struck him out to end the inning.

The Pirates failed to capitalize on yet another bases loaded threat an inning later. But they finally got it done in the 16th, as Tony Sanchez slipped a dribbler through the left side to score Jose Tabata and end the marathon game.

Behold FanGraphs’ win probability chart:


Source: FanGraphs

3. Starling Marte drops the mic — 5/2/14

Coming off a brutal doubleheader sweep @ Baltimore, the Bucs welcomed the Blue Jays for the first home series of May. They had been struggling to that point, winning just 10 of their first 28 games and looking for a spark. They finally got it with one of the more exciting games of 2014.

Like many early season games, they squandered an early lead and failed to fight back. But… the switch was flipped in the ninth inning. Starling Marte will get the credit, but it couldn’t have been done without El Toro. With Neil Walker on first, Pedro Alvarez put one in the center field seats to tie the game at 5 runs a piece. Two batters later, Marte annihilated Sergio Santos‘ 3-1 pitch into the bullpen for an unbelievable comeback win.


Source: FanGraphs

This game kicked off a solid homestand and symbolized a turning point for the Bucs. They shook off their rocky start and went 78-56 the rest of the way — second-best in the NL behind Washington during that span.

4. The First Walk-Off Replay — 5/6/14

Four days after his walk-off bomb, Marte provided more magic — this time in much different fashion. Charlie Morton (0 earned runs, 3 hits in 8 innings) and Tim Hudson (1 earned run, 5 hits in 8.2 innings) absolutely shoved in this one, keeping both lineups at bay.

But with two away in the ninth, Marte drove a deep ball off the Clemente Wall, ultimately bouncing far enough away from Hunter Pence that #6 wanted to go for three. Then when the cutoff was overthrown, Marte wanted to win the game all by himself. The throw beat him to home plate by quite a few feet, but Buster Posey bailed at the last second, allowing Marte to slide his hand in before the tag was applied. Home plate ump Quinn Wolcott called him out on the field, but hey! We have replay now. A challenge was in order, and the call was easily reversed — that’s your first ever walk-off replay.

5. Welcome to The Show, Gregory Polanco — 6/13/14

On June 10th, 31,567 witnessed the highly anticipated debut of Gregory Polanco at PNC Park. Three days later, he enjoyed one of the best games of his young life.

It was Friday the 13th, but El Coffee took care of business. He went 5-for-7 with his first MLB home run, two runs batted in, and three runs scored in the Pirates’ 8-6 defeat of the Marlins in 13 innings.

6. The Rundown — 6/27/14

In many ways, 2014 was the year of Josh Harrison. This was one of those games he took over all by himself.

Standing on second base in the 10th, J-Hay got caught in a pickle when Polanco chopped one back to the mound. Fortunately, Harrison is an absolute beast and evaded one of the most ridiculous rundowns of all time. Unfortunately, he was stranded at third, despite there being no outs at the time. Fortunately, he came up to bat the very next inning and laced a walk-off double. Ho-hum.

If that rundown wasn’t good enough, he did it again a month later.

7. The Comeback vs. D-backs — 7/1/14

Another great pitchers’ duel that wasn’t decided until the ninth. A pair of southpaw starters, Jeff Locke and Wade Miley, both cruised through eight innings.

Trailing 2-0 in the ninth, Neil Walker and Gregory Polanco poked back-to-back singles, chasing Miley from the game. Addison Reed replaced him, and with one out, was welcomed by Starling Marte who crushed a ball off the center field wall. Walker and Polanco both scored to tie the game. Cutch was understandably intentionally walked, but Ike Davis sent us home with a single to score Marte. A quick game, a quick comeback — this put the Bucs at 43-40, which actually tied their high water mark for the season at the time.

8. The Triple Play — 9/14/14

The Pirates almost needed to win-out after being swept in St. Louis to start September. Kicking off their final homestand of 2014, they desperately needed to avoid a series loss vs. Chicago.

Edinson Volquez found himself in a fourth inning jam, losing 3-0 with two men on base. Well, how about a triple play to fix that? Matt Szczur hit a perfectly placed ground ball to Josh Harrison at third, who flipped it to Neil Walker at second, who relayed it onto Andrew Lambo at first for a beautiful 5-4-3 triple play. It was the team’s first triple play since 2009, and first one in Pittsburgh since 1993.

It proved to be a huge turning point in the game as well. The Pirates scored seven runs in the following two frames, holding on for a 7-3 win and starting a five-game winning streak.

9. Russell Martin Brings the House Down — 9/19/14

Entering the final home series of the year, the Pirates were in a good spot — winners of 11 of their previous 13. Meanwhile, the Brewers were in an absolute tailspin — it was time to finish them.

But, for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Bucs looked lost. It seemed like they were once again going to come up short of the elusive five-game winning streak they had been searching for all season. Yovani Gallardo was nearly unhittable through seven, but fortunately Ron Roenicke thought it was a good idea to put Jonathan Broxton in to start the eighth. LOL.

Marte and Walker both singled, and the rally train left the station. Russell Martin stepped to the plate with one out — this was their chance. Broxton was throwing nothing but fastballs, and insisted one putting another right down the pipe on his 1-1 offering.

Martin knew exactly what to do, sitting on the heater and driving it to the opposite field. He planted a fastball in the center field seats just three days earlier, and brought the same approach to his at-bat vs. Broxton. This time, it felt like the ball was never going to come down.

The best way to judge a fly ball when you’re at a game is to watch the outfielders, not the ball. When Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun charged the warning track, the PNC crowd held their breath. But when they both started running out of room, it was clear where the ball was going to land. Not in Gomez’s glove. Not in Braun’s glove. In the seats.

Even though it was a high school football Friday night in western PA, PNC was jam-packed with 37,974 on hand to witness an unbelievable game.

Definitely going to miss Russ in 2015 and beyond, if only for the fire he brought every single night.

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10. Clinched — 9/23/14

For the second year in a row, September 23rd was very kind to the Pirates.

With a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves, they officially clinched a spot in the postseason. It wasn’t an easy ride, which made it that much sweeter.

playoffs 100

tony sanchez

A few honorable mentions: Andrew McCutchen’s inside-the-park home run, Travis Snider striking out Joey Votto, Cutch starting the All-Star Game (and leading off with a single), Russell Martin’s 1,000th hit, Sunday Night Baseball at PNC Park…

Let us know what we missed, and what some of your top Bucco moments were.

Thanks to everyone who made it another awesome year.

Go Bucs

Bucco GIFs of the Year: July 2014

Pirate GIFs of the year — July edition.

Ike Davis gets the Gatorade bath after a great walk-off win:

ike davis gatorade bath0001

A.J. Burnett tips his cap to the PNC Park crowd in his return to Pittsburgh:

aj burnett0001

Jordy Mercer goes nuts in the dugout after Andrew McCutchen put the team on his back in Cincinnati:

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– Cutch legs out an infield single in the All-Star Game, beating out a great play by Derek Jeter:

andrew mccutchen all star game

– Down goes Cheese Chester. This injury forced him onto the 15-day DL.

cheese chester injury0001

Josh Harrison‘s (second) epic rundown:

josh harrison rundown

– Cutch videobomb city:

andrew mccutchen videobomb

– Jordy Mercer — unfortunate home run placement:

jordy mercer beer cup0001

Previous editions:

April 2014

May 2014

June 2014

Go Bucs

Edinson Volquez & The Benefit of Good Defense

Major League free agency will start within a week (five days after the conclusion of the World Series, to be exact). While most attention will be focused on Russell Martin, Pirate free-agents-to-be Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez will also be in demand.

Over the last calendar year, Volquez has been an interesting case. The Pirates surprised everyone when they signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal in December, then looked like geniuses when he posted a 3.04 ERA in 32 games. Although things didn’t go as they would have liked, they trusted Volquez enough to give him the ball in the NL Wild Card game.

While the seasonal results were good and he made changes for the better, Volquez may have had more luck than skill on his side. He only struck out 17.3% of batters in 2014, the lowest mark in any of his full MLB seasons. That means more balls were being put into play, which generally isn’t a good thing.

However, Volquez was fortunate to have a good defense behind him. Overall, the Pirate defense saved 36 runs this season, six-most in baseball. Whether it was luck, skill, or just being in the right place at the right time, the defense helped Volquez limit opponents to a .263 batting average on balls in play. The only NL starters who had a lower BABIP: Johnny Cueto (.238), Shelby Miller (.254), and Doug Fister (.262).

If the Bucs didn’t make so many plays behind him, you can bet his ERA wouldn’t have looked as nice as 3.04. In fact, his FIP (which “measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing”) was 4.15 — meaning he was essentially the same pitcher he had been in the past, with a lot more luck and maybe a little more skill behind him.

The thing is, Volquez’s shiny 3.04 ERA will probably get him paid this winter. But is he that much better of a pitcher than he was a year ago? His walk rate improved, but his strikeout rate declined. If his opponent BABIP regresses back to a normal .300, his earned run average will go back up as well.

Anyway, here are nearly 30 terrific plays that kept Volquez’s ERA down in 2014 and could get him paid in 2015…

[NOTE: Lots of GIFs. Give them time to load. If they don’t load quickly or at all, you can click on each individual one.]

1. April 17th — Travis Snider keeps a hit away from Yovani Gallardo:

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2 & 3. April 17th — Russell Martin doing what Russell Martin does — throwing out runners, first with one on and one out in the sixth, then same scenario in the seventh. Not a ball in play, but still very meaningful defense. Late in a tie game, the difference between man on second/one out and none on/two outs is huge.

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4. April 22nd — Pedro Alvarez flashes the leather:

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5. April 22nd — Jordy Mercer makes a nice play up the middle:

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6. May 10th — More Jordy:

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7. May 22nd — Josh Harrison with one of the Pirates’ best defensive plays of 2014:

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Eddie loves it:

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8. May 27th — Another of the Pirates’ best plays; this one courtesy of Andrew McCutchen:

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9. June 12th — Ridiculous play from Starling Marte:

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10. June 18th — Pedro, slick pick (and even makes a good throw!)

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11. June 23rd — So many good plays in this game. J-Hay:

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12. June 23rd — More J-Hay. Insane:

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Volquez owes Harrison a steak.

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13. June 23rd — How about some Pedro? With a pick from Ike.

volquezdefense0011.5

(Volquez also induced three double plays in this June 23rd game.)

14. June 29th — Starling Marte, good center fielder:

volquezdefense0012

15. June 29th — Chris Stewart gets in on the action:

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16. July 21st — Marte, so smooth:

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17. August 1st — Hello Brent Morel!

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18. August 7th — Gregory Polanco has a CANNON. Spectacular inning-ending double play:

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19. August 17th — Neil Walker showing some range:

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20 & 21. August 29th — On the night he was given the Heart & Hustle Award, Josh Harrison made a pair of great plays behind Volquez:

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22. September 14th — How about a TRIPLE PLAY?

pirates triple play

Right before the pitch, Tim Neverett said, “The Pirates have activated the bullpen. Jared Hughes is throwing.” Volquez hadn’t been pitching well to that point; next thing you know, a perfectly placed ground ball and well-executed triple play. Volquez stayed in the game and cruised the rest of the way.

23. September 20th — It’s Mercer time:

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24. September 20th — More Jordy:

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25. September 25th — More Mercer? Sure:

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26. September 26th — Last one, I promise:

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Keep in mind, this is just a sample of great defensive plays (i.e. the ones in MLB.com’s top play archive). There were surely more key plays behind him.

Some plays may be lucky, but that’s what a low BABIP is all about. You can see the benefits of a good defense, even if these plays are difficult to replicate. It’ll be interesting to see what happens should Volquez sign with a team with a worse defense. A.J. Burnett saw a huge dropoff from 2013 to 2014, and the Phillies atrocious defense might have had something to do with that… 2013 Pirates: 68 defensive runs saved, 2nd best in National League / 2014 Phillies: -39 defensive runs saved, worst in National League.

Volquez’s ERA and BABIP will likely regress regardless, but a lesser defense could really hurt him in 2015. It’ll be also be intriguing to see how much interest the Pirates have in bringing Volquez back — will they bet on a better strikeout rate and steady defense? We’ll see what happens. Interesting offseason ahead.

Go Bucs

Top photo: Jason Miller/Getty

Bucco GIFs of the Year: June 2014

GIFs of the year — June edition.

– Welcome to the show, Gregory Polanco:

polanco first hit0001

– El Coffee swings on his first big league homer:

gregory polanco first mlb home run

– Hey Brandon Phillips — you can’t do that:

marte phillips

Travis Snider strikes out Joey Votto!

travis snider strikes out joey votto

Jason Grilli waves goodbye to his bullpen mates after being traded to the Angels:

grilligoodbye0001

Josh Harrison‘s (first) epic rundown:

josh harrison rundown

– MVP:

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Previous editions:

April 2014

May 2014

Go Bucs

Bucco GIFs of the Year: May 2014

GIFs of the year — May edition. Highlighted by the emergence of Josh Harrison, Marte walk-offs, and MVP Cutch.

Starling Marte walks it off with an unreal bat drop:

starling marte walk off bat flip

– A few nights later — Marte with the first ever walk-off replay:

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– J-Hay. All day.

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– …and again:

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– More defense? Sure. Andrew McCutchen:

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– …and again. Unreal amount of ground covered — 83 feet to be exact; 99.7% route efficiency:

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– 50 Cent throws arguably the worst first pitch of all-time before a Pirates-Mets game:

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Previous editions:

April 2014

Go Bucs