Welcome to Bradenton: 2015 Spring Training Storylines

pitchers & catchers

“It’s the fans that need spring training. You gotta get ’em interested. Wake ’em up and let ’em know that their season is coming… the good times are gonna roll.” — Harry Caray

Today is the official report date for Pirates’ pitchers & catchers, and the rest of the squad will roll into Bradenton by Monday. Spring Training 2015 is here; baseball is slowly but surely on its way back.

Neal Huntington and his staff had a tidy offseason — nothing flashy, but checking off every item on the team’s list of needs. As it stands, this team doesn’t have many question marks heading into the season, barring any injuries in the coming weeks. If you’re looking for positional battles, Pirates’ camp isn’t the place to be.

That being said, there are still some things to keep an eye on in Bradenton. Here, in no particular order, are our spring storylines for the Bucs…

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Pirates’ Winter Meetings News & Rumors: Day 4

A small bit of Pirate stuff from the fourth and final day of this year’s Winter Meetings…

– The annual Rule 5 draft basically marks the end of the meetings, and that took place this morning. As expected, the Pirates passed on everyone in the major league portion. No sense in trying to keep a marginal player on the roster the whole year.

They did lose LHP Andy Oliver to the Phillies, however. The Bucs got Oliver, 27, from the Tigers at the Winter Meetings two years ago, but he never got a chance in the bigs due to some awful command. He posted a 4.05 ERA out of Indianapolis’ bullpen in 2013 while walking 8.1 batters per nine innings; he had better results this year (2.53 ERA) but still struggled with the strike zone (6.6 BB/9). Oliver does strike a lot of guys out, but obviously the Pirates never gave him a chance and didn’t feel the need to protect him from the Rule 5. Maybe he’ll figure things out with the Phillies.

They didn’t take anyone in the minor league portion of the draft either, but lost two players: Luis Urena (a converted pitcher) to the Tampa Bay Rays and Tyler Waldron (also a RHP) to the St. Louis Cardinals.

– Things are quieting down on the rumor mill, but Pedro Alvarez might be on the Marlins’ list of first base targets. John Perrotto wrote a few days ago that Alvarez would be available in trades, add that an Alvarez for Nathan Eovaldi trade was shot down by Miami. Tom Singer tweeted today that the teams could “renew Alvarez-Eovaldi talks,” but that seemed too good to be true. Bill Brink basically said there’s no chance it happens.

Eovaldi is a 24-year-old flamethrower who tossed 199.2 innings for the Marlins in 2014. His fastball averaged 95.7 mph, fourth-best in the bigs, just ahead of Gerrit Cole‘s 95.5. Eovaldi has three years of control remaining vs. Pedro’s two.

Once again, Alvarez’s trade value is low right now after the year he just had. He’s a streaky hitter at best, strikes out a ton, can’t touch a left-handed pitcher, forgot how to throw and now has to play an unfamiliar position — who knows which Pedro will show up in 2015. Sorry, I don’t think he’s going to fetch a young, controllable pitcher like Eovaldi.

Brandon McCarthy signed with the Dodgers last night for four years, $48 million. He was a good target for the Pirates, and they were one of the teams that pursued him. I doubt they would’ve gone four years on him… all in all, they definitely did a good job of bringing back Francisco Liriano for similar money on three years.

– A couple moves out of Cincinnati: the Reds traded both Alfredo Simon (Tigers) and Mat Latos (Marlins) for prospects today, taking two arms out of their starting rotation.

– As we said yesterday, the Pirates will be unveiling a new alternate jersey on Saturday. There was an all-gold jersey floating around Twitter this morning, which was a fake. However, the guys over at SportsLogos.net have already seen the new threads — they won’t leak anything, but are saying the actual alternate is worse than the fake one on Twitter. Yikes.

The Pirates have some camo items on their promotional schedule, and SportsLogos.net sort of alluded to it… so they might be camo. Meh. For what it’s worth, the black alternate jersey and Sunday throwbacks are apparently staying in the mix. Guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

PirateFest on Saturday and Sunday.

Depth Chart & Winter Meetings Primer
Winter Meetings Day 1
Winter Meetings Day 2
Winter Meetings Day 3

Go Bucs

The Longest Bucco Blasts of 2014 (and other interesting HR data)

Things have been slow in terms of Bucco talk since the Francisco Cervelli trade and A.J. Burnett signing two weeks ago. The only rumblings to be heard: a few additions to the 40-man roster in order to protect certain prospects from the Rule 5 draft, and the potential addition of a right-hander named Radhames Liz, although the club still hasn’t officially confirmed that signing. The lack of rumors is almost frustrating, but hopefully things will pick up when the Winter Meetings roll around next week (Dec. 8-11).

Until then, let’s keep looking back at the 2014 Bucs. One of my favorite baseball resources is ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. A lot of batted ball data isn’t available to the public (the kind of stuff TrackMan does), but the HR Tracker gives us some info on every long ball hit since 2006.

Here were the Pirates’ five longest home runs of the 2014 season, according to the tracker’s “True Distance”…

5. Neil Walker vs. Homer Bailey (4/14/14) — 437 feet @ Great American Ballpark

longest pirates home runs 5

4. Ike Davis vs. Seth Maness (8/26/14) — 442 feet @ PNC Park

longest pirates home runs 4

3. Pedro Alvarez vs. James Russell (4/10/14) — 446 feet @ Wrigley Field

longest pirates home runs 3

2. Ike Davis vs. Adam Wainwright (8/27/14) — 447 feet @ PNC Park

longest pirates home runs 2

1. Ike Davis vs. Josh Beckett (5/30/14) — 450 feet @ Dodger Stadium

longest pirates home runs 1

Well… that’s a lot of Ike Davis, the guy the Pirates just DFA’d and ultimately traded to the Oakland A’s. I wasn’t expecting to see Davis take three of the top five, including two that happened within 24 hours of each other in a big August series against the Cardinals. The Pirates are going with Alvarez at first — he obviously has tremendous power, too — but I think a case could have been made for Ike overall. He only hit 10 HR in 397 PA with the Bucs (.378 SLG, .143 ISO), but the 27-year-old Davis could provide a solid bat if he puts some of this power together with his on-base ability.

Anyway, here is some more interesting data from the Home Run Tracker…

– Average homer distance for each Pirate:

Pedro Alvarez 412
Ike Davis 407
Russell Martin 405
Starling Marte 403
Andrew McCutchen 402
Travis Snider 395
Neil Walker 395
Jordy Mercer 391
Gaby Sanchez 389
Gregory Polanco 387
Josh Harrison 380

(in feet)

– Max. distance:

Ike Davis 450
Pedro Alvarez 446
Neil Walker 437
Andrew McCutchen 435
Travis Snider 433
Gaby Sanchez 428
Starling Marte 427
Russell Martin 424
Josh Harrison 419
Gregory Polanco 413
Jordy Mercer 409

(in feet)

– Average exit speed off the bat:

Russell Martin 107.16
Pedro Alvarez 105.62
Andrew McCutchen 103.66
Ike Davis 103.12
Starling Marte 103.07
Gregory Polanco 102.99
Neil Walker 102.55
Gaby Sanchez 102.06
Jordy Mercer 101.46
Travis Snider 100.89
Josh Harrison 99.76

(in miles per hour)

– Max. exit speed:

Russell Martin 117.7
Pedro Alvarez 115.5
Andrew McCutchen 110.9
Ike Davis 110.2
Gaby Sanchez 110.1
Travis Snider 109.1
Neil Walker 108.7
Starling Marte 107.4
Gregory Polanco 107.2
Jordy Mercer 106.1
Josh Harrison 102.7

(in miles per hour)

A few observations:

– Not only was Ike hitting his homers far, but he was hitting them hard. His average and max velocities were pretty much in line with the best hitter in the National League, Andrew McCutchen.

– El Toro is a strong man, but we already knew that. Giving Ike a lot of credit here but there’s no denying Pedro’s power.

– Russell Martin can hit a baseball. It was his lowest HR output (11) since 2010, but his bombs averaged 405 feet and no Pirate hit ’em as hard as Russ. Should play well at Rogers Centre, which is one of the homer-friendliest parks in baseball.

– A little surprised to see J-Hay at the bottom of the off-the-bat speed lists. He seemed to hit a lot of balls hard this year, and had one of the highest line drive rates (24%) on the team. I’d like to see what the numbers were on all of his batted balls, not just limited to home runs.

127 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty

Pedro over Ike: Did the Pirates make the right move?

[quote_simple]”If we started the season tomorrow, Pedro Alvarez would be our starting first baseman.” – Neal Huntington, 11/20[/quote_simple]

Thankfully the season doesn’t start tomorrow, but yes, Pedro Alvarez is the guy at first base. If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: Ike Davis was traded to the Oakland A’s on Sunday after being designated for assignment by the Bucs last week. In exchange, the Pirates got a little international signing money.

Alvarez is the first baseman for now, but it makes you wonder if they made the right choice. Since neither has a clue against left-handed pitching, you figure they have to be the strong half of a platoon (sorry, Cutch). That said, here are their career numbers vs. RHP…

Alvarez: .247/.320/.472 (1735 plate appearances)

Davis: .254/.357/.456 (1663 plate appearances)

That’s pretty close…

Using SaberSim, I simulated 162 games three times with each in the six-hole of the Pirate lineup vs. a league-average right-handed pitcher (I picked John Lackey, who had a 100 ERA- in 2014). First, I did it based on their 2014 numbers — here were the results:

Alvarez 21 .216 .320 .357 .677 .306
Davis 8 .231 .387 .338 .725 .339


Second, based on 2015 projections:

Alvarez 17 .209 .321 .330 .651 .298
Davis 14 .237 .385 .362 .747 .344


The Bucs were good for a few more wins with Alvarez in the first sim, but got a leg up with Davis in the second. It’s just a simulation. Take it for what it is.

Put it this way: neither player is exactly “good.” You have to take each for what he is, but either way, are we sure the Pirates were right in dumping Davis?

The one thing going for Pedro is his power potential. He has two 30+ HR seasons under his belt (although Davis had one, too). However, said power potential is hit or miss (what a streaky player), and it dropped off dramatically last season. Davis’ power was frustratingly absent, but if you check out the 2015 simulation, he could post the better slugging percentage.

Alvarez’s line drive rate fell by 5% between 2013 and 2014. I thought this was notable: of Pirates with 200+ plate appearances, Ike Davis had the best line drive rate (just better than Harrison, Marte, and Walker) while Alvarez was dead last. Furthermore, Pedro’s fly ball distance decreased by nearly 14 feet between 2013 and 2014, while Ike’s increased by 14. Alvarez hits a healthy dose of ground balls, which isn’t good for a slow runner hitting into a shift.

Davis’ calling card is his ability to get on base. Why do you think the A’s wanted him?

because he gets on base

On-base percentage is actually almost twice as valuable as slugging percentage from a run creation standpoint. Davis gets on a lot thanks to his exceptional discipline and walk rates. The “bad” thing about him being on first base a lot — he’s so damn slow that he clogs the basepaths.

Ike isn’t a good defender by any stretch; he cost the Pirates six runs in 2014. But at least he is a first baseman, and I have no idea what to expect from Alvarez over there. El Toro is a pretty good fielder — 24 of his 25 errors last year were throwing errors — but we’ll see if that translates over to the other side of the diamond.

From a cost standpoint, the two are pretty similar — both arbitration eligible and under team control through 2016. Alvarez is projected to earn $5.5 million; Davis $4.4 million.

Alvarez and Davis are both flawed players, and you could make an argument for either. Neal Huntington’s first draft pick as general manager (2nd overall in ’08), I don’t think the Pirates were planning on giving up on Alvarez. It’s been a weird journey for the two sides, but he’s still the guy going forward. Davis hasn’t reached his potential either, but he could breakout soon — Baseball Prospectus thinks so. The Pirates don’t give up on those kind of players very often (Snider, etc.), but they had to pick between Alvarez or Davis.

If Pedro is over his yips, that could change a lot. It would add a lot of versatility if you could shift him back to third late in a game, allowing J-Hay to move all around. But we’ll see what happens on that front — a lot of questions still need to be answered.

Go Bucs

Top photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty