Throwback Thursday: Top Pirates Plays of 2006

chris-duffy pirates

Last week, we looked back on some of the Pirates’ top plays of 2005 as a “Throwback Thursday.” We’ll keep it going this week with 2006, a team which once again brought 95 losses to the Steel City…

10. Let’s start with some Jose Castillo… -11 defensive runs saved at 2B in 2006, but he picked it here:

jose castillo pirates

9. Over to third base with the ’06 All-Star, Freddy Sanchez

freddy sanchez 2006

8. Freddy out of nowhere to convert a double play:

freddy sanchez double play

7. Jack Wilson. What an arm.

jack wilson throw

6. More Jack… Over the shoulder… Ho hum:

jack wilson over the shoulder catch

5. Head to the outfield. J-Bay:

jason bay pirates

4. A young Nate McLouth:

nate mclouth pirates

3. Jose Bautista before he got good:

jose bautista pirates

2. Chris Duffy doing his thing in center field:

chris duffy pirates

1. And lastly, Duffy again with one of the better catches at PNC:

chris duffy catch

We’re officially under a week till pitchers & catchers report…

Go Bucs

*Note: Testing out a new layout on the site. If you encounter any problems, let us know. 

Landing Spots for Former Pirates

Marlon Byrd Pirates

Baseball is almost upon us, with pitchers & catchers reporting to spring training this week. Here’s a quick look at where some former Pirates have landed for 2014…

Those from the 2013 team:

Player New Team Contract
Marlon Byrd Phillies 2 years, $16 M
Justin Morneau Rockies 2 years, $12.5 M
Garrett Jones Marlins 2 years, $7.75 M
John Buck Mariners 1 year, $1 M
Michael McKenry Rockies Minor League
Kyle Farnsworth Mets Minor League
James McDonald Cubs Minor League
Mike Zagurski Indians Minor League
Jose Contreras Rangers Minor League
Jonathan Sanchez Cubs Minor League
Felix Pie Hanwah (Korea)  
A.J. Burnett  Phillies 1 year, $16 M


And some players from years past:

Player New Team Contract
Nate McLouth Nationals 2 years, $10.75 M
Jose Veras Cubs 1 year, $4 M
Casey McGehee Marlins 1 year, $1.1 M
Chris Resop Red Sox Minor League
Gorkys Hernandez Royals Minor League
Paul Maholm Dodgers 1 year, $1.5 M
Ronny Cedeno Phillies Minor League
Evan Meek Orioles Minor League
Xavier Paul Orioles Minor League
Lyle Overbay Brewers Minor League
Nyjer Morgan Indians Minor League
Zach Duke Brewers Minor League
Brian Bixler Phillies Minor League
Cesar Izturis Astros Minor League
Rajai Davis Tigers 2 years, $10 M
Ty Wigginton Marlins Minor League

There were a few players involved in trades as well: Brad Lincoln to the Phillies for another former Pirate, Erik Kratz; Ryan Doumit to the Braves.

Good luck to these former Buccos in the next stage of their careers.

Go Bucs

Bucs Bits: Pirates News & Notes 12/8/13

All has been quiet in Bucco land, but expect that to change this week: the annual MLB Winter Meetings start up on Monday and last through Thursday. Some news and notes to get started…

Jonathan Mayo, Rob Biertempfel, and others have written primers to get you ready for the Meetings. As we wrote the other day, a first baseman, starting pitcher, and depth player(s) should be on the team’s wish list this week. Right field could be upgraded as well, but with a bunch of guys already competing for a job (Jose Tabata, Travis Snider, Jaff Decker, Andrew Lambo) and top prospect Gregory Polanco on the way, the Bucs may stay in-house at that position. I think Neal Huntington should/will most actively pursue a first baseman this week; a few names to look out for on that front: James Loney, Mark Trumbo, Mitch Moreland, Adam Lind, Logan Morrison.

– A few of those in-house right field options are getting some winter ball work in right now. Polanco is still tearing it up in the Dominican (.320/.424/.500 through 33 games), though he’s currently dealing with the stomach flu. Lambo is hitting just .175 in Venezuela, but it’s interesting to see him playing first base in addition to right field.

Clint Hurdle told 93.7 The Fan on Friday “there’s still a chance” that A.J. Burnett will re-sign with Pittsburgh.

– A few former Bucs signed with new teams the last couple days. Garrett Jones is going to Miami; Nate McLouth got a nice two-year contract with the Nationals; Chad Qualls picked up a lot of cash from Houston; Jose Contreras signed a minor league deal with Texas. I’ll compile a full list of former Pirates’ new homes later in the winter.

– Grantland’s Jonah Keri broke down the best trade values in baseball. Two Buccos cracked the list: Gerrit Cole at #26 and Andrew McCutchen at #2.

[quote_simple]”McCutchen leapfrogs Harper this year, because when you’re a 27-year-old player with no weaknesses who’s coming off your first MVP award and you’re under team control for the next half-decade for basicallythe Darren Dreifort contract, you’ve earned that promotion. And more improvement could be on the way.”[/quote_simple]

Cutch ranks behind only Mike Trout on the list. Pretty nice watching the second most valuable player in baseball, huh? And considering his contract versus what some of these players are getting on the open market, we should be really, really thankful.

– Dejan Kovacevic has a nice Sunday column about Mark Melancon‘s work promoting Major League Baseball in South Africa. Here’s the Bucs’ setup man and his wife with a cheetah down there:

mark melancon wife cheetah

– Reminder that PirateFest is coming up next weekend, Saturday & Sunday at the Convention Center. Be sure to get your tickets.

113 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs

Heyman: Liriano is the best free agent pickup of 2013

Nice article here by Jon Heyman on CBS Sports, ranking the 33 best free agent acquisitions of last offseason.

mlb best free agents

A few familiar names are included in Heyman’s work, with the Bucs’ southpaw Francisco Liriano taking the top spot. Here are the Buccos that made the list:

1. Liriano

[quote_simple]Heyman: “With the exception of a couple rare bad outings, Liriano has been as good as almost any starter in the NL, going 16-7 with a 2.92 and showing the great promise showed early in his Twins career. One of many smart moves by Pirates GM Neal Huntington.”[/quote_simple]

Obviously, with a little bit of Bucco bias, I absolutley agree with this. Liriano has tremendously exceeded many expectations and is a huge reason why the Pirates are in contention right now. Who knows where they’d be if Frank the Tank posted an ERA around 5.00 like in years past. Furthermore, Neal Huntington and the front office deserves a ton of credit here. Not just with Liriano, but also a couple other guys they locked up…

13. Russell Martin

[quote_simple]Heyman: “It’s still a mystery why the Yankees didn’t take him back, but the Pirates were happy to capitalize. Never mind the offense, which isn’t bad for a catcher, he leads the N.L. in fielding percentage (two errors), leads also with 28 caught stealing and is third in catcher ERA (3.15).”[/quote_simple]

Martin is one of those guys, and the Bucs got him on a nice two-year deal. Some fans have labeled him as the MVP of the team – a pretty bizarre comment considering there’s a league MVP candidate sitting across the clubhouse. However, the improvement the team made from having a terrible catcher to a great catcher has indeed been very, very valuable.

14. Jason Grilli

[quote_simple]Heyman: “Grilli was brilliant in the first half, saving 30 of 31 chances before an arm injury sidelined him. He’s back to help the Pirates’ stunningly good pen. A testament to why it’s better to have a professional agent, as Grilli’s two-year, $6.75-million deal, negotiated by former teammate Gary Sheffield, might be in line for a set-up man but did not account at all for the excellent closer he was to start the year.”[/quote_simple]

Grilli’s remarkable story is one of the best in baseball, and besides sitting out for over a month due to an arm injury, he’s been a key leader in the Shark Tank. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, it would’ve been cool to see how many saves Grilli could’ve racked up.

As I previously mentioned, Huntington & Co. deserve a ton of credit here. Management has been bashed for years, but they took some great gambles this winter. A lot of Pirates fans including myself were skeptical of all three of these moves. Liriano, coming off a bad year and nearly not signing due to the injury saga, seemed like a hit-or-miss pickup. After spending the beginning of his career in Los Angeles and then in New York, the fact that Martin quickly chose Pittsburgh seemed too good to be true. Finally, Grilli was becoming a fan-favorite here in the setup role, but the thought of trading Joel Hanrahan and letting 36-year-old and first-time closer Grilled Cheese anchor the bullpen seemed questionable. But NH followed through and shipped Hanny to Boston, bringing in another huge addition to this team’s bullpen, Mark Melancon. Excellent work by a management team that seemed to be on the hot seat after last year’s collapse.

Anyway, here are a few other players of interest on Heyman’s list:

10. Marlon Byrd, Mets

[quote_simple]Heyman: “His career appeared over until he went to the Mexican League and starred, giving him one final chance. Made the most of it with a breakout year out of nowhere at age 35. His .515 slugging percentage is a career best, by far.”[/quote_simple]

Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson deserves credit for this one, bringing Byrd to New York over the winter. Of course the right fielder is a Pirate now after being flipped two solid prospects: Dilson Herrera and Vic Black. The Mets did pretty well for themselves.

19. Lyle Overbay, Yankees

[quote_simple]Heyman: “He was an afterthought for the Yankees who only made the team when they decided after a three-day tryout that he’d be safer at first base than outfielder Juan Rivera. An amazingly pleasant surprise with the bat, though.”[/quote_simple]

Overbay, who hit .227 with a .649 OPS in 103 games for the Bucs in 2011, has been decent for injury-ridden Yankees team this year.

20. Nate McLouth, Orioles

[quote_simple]Heyman: “He’s become a vital part of the Orioles after struggling in Atlanta and then again in his second go-round with Pittsburgh. Well worth that price.”[/quote_simple]

Nate came back to Pittsburgh to start the 2012 season, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out. Good to see him find some success in Baltimore.

32. Jose Veras, Astros

[quote_simple]Heyman: “He provided solid closing work for the last-place Astros before doing the same in the middle for the Tigers.”[/quote_simple]

The final former Buc on the list is reliever Jose Veras. We remember him as a bullpen arm with lots of ups and downs (hence the Good Veras/Bad Veras jokes on Twitter). He’s done well for both Houston and Detroit in 2013.

Don’t dig too deep into Spring Training stats

It’s not just training time for the players; writers, bloggers, and baseball fans everywhere are preparing for the highly anticipated months of spring, summer, and early fall. While the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues provide an outlet of information, you shouldn’t always read into the February/March statistics of players.

Before we begin, it should be noted that success/failure in spring is definitely used to assess the Opening Day roster; we aren’t advocating that you should ignore player stats all together. Our goal is to simply warn you not to get too high or low on particular players. We’ll use the Pirates’ 2012 spring training stats, and divide player performance into four categories. Here’s a look…

The Spring Underachievers

There’s always a group of players that disappoint in spring ball, leading fans to believe that these guys don’t have what it takes to succeed in the regular season.

A prime example from last year is Pedro Alvarez. El Toro was coming off a terrible 2011 in which he hit just .191 in 74 games, so his weak performance in Grapefruit League play had Bucco fans labeling him as a bust. He hit .170 with two home runs and a .465 OPS in 19 spring games, but bounced back with a solid regular season, hitting .244 and crushing 30 bombs.

Another Pirates regular that you could classify as a 2012 spring underachiever was second baseman Neil Walker. Walker’s 20 Grapefruit League games resulted in a .262/.262/.311 line with zero long balls. He struck out 13 times and didn’t draw a single walk. However, The Pittsburgh Kid produced a .280 batting average, .768 OPS, and a career-high 14 HR during the year.

Simply because a player fails to succeed in spring training does not mean he can’t put up solid numbers when it counts.

The Spring Overachievers

Another classic group consists of those that rip the cover off the ball in March, but can’t find their form when April rolls around.

Nate McLouth certainly falls into this category from 2012. Both Nate and Bucco fans were pumped that he was coming back to the ‘Burgh after an abrupt trade in June of 2009. He impressed in spring training, hitting .362/.464/.574 over 23 games. He struggled when the team came north, however, as he went just 8 for 57 (.140); the Pirates let him go at the end of May. Nate went on to lead the Baltimore Orioles into the postseason, and he re-signed with them in December.

Another former Pirate and current Oriole, Yamaico Navarro, followed a similar trend. He posted a .310 average and drove in nine runs during Grapefruit League play, earning himself a spot on the Opening Day roster. However, he went 8 for 45 (.178) through May, and was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

A third Bucco to perform in the spring was Matt Hague. “The Hit Collector” collected 22 hits in March, posting a .400/.400/.800 line. Hague broke camp with the club, but never excelled in 30 MLB games.

A recurring theme you may notice with these players, and a large number of other spring overachievers, is that they don’t receive much playing time once the season starts. It may be easy for them to get in a groove while playing nearly every day in spring training, but it’s just as easy to get cold when they ride the bench in April. A strong spring doesn’t always guarantee a great regular season, especially for bench players who see a big change in playing time.

The Consistent Performers

There are, of course, a few players that can keep pace through spring and into the summer.

Andrew McCutchen was definitely a consistent performer, hitting .310 with 4 HR, 12 RBI, and a .988 OPS in 21 March games. Cutch carried his strong play into the season, when he was an MVP candidate.

Garrett Jones could be classified as consistent as well. He didn’t hit for much average at .230, but he foreshadowed his power potential. Three doubles, four homers, and 17 RBI in spring led to 28 two-baggers, 27 bombs, and 86 runs batted in during the season.

While not many can replicate their numbers between exhibition play and the regular season, there are still some players that can continue their success.

The Hyped Minor Leaguer

There could potentially be a couple of minor leaguers that tear up the Grapefruit League, leaving fans saying “Put them on the team!”

Last season, Starling Marte fit that description. He played in 12 spring games, hitting .520 (13 for 25) with 3 HR, 4 RBI, and a 1.440 OPS. Coming off a great 2011 in which he won the Eastern League batting title with the Altoona Curve, fans were ready for the club to pull the trigger on Marte. However, he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump and played in Class AAA until late July.

Therefore, if Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon get a few appearances and dominate, don’t expect them to stay in big league camp. Watch for Cole especially, as he is closer to making his MLB debut than Taillon. As of now, the only way Cole makes the club is if something goes wrong and they absolutely need him in the rotation.

The bottom line: you can’t always use spring training games as a baseline for regular season performance. Some players will start hot, some players will be cold, some players could even stay consistent; however, there’s no reason to make assumptions based on meaningless exhibition games. It’s called spring “training” for a reason, and these guys are getting back in game shape for the six-month grind. We’ll worry about performance once April rolls around.

Go Bucs