Most Anticipated Pirates Series of 2014

PNC Park

It’s been a cold winter and slow offseason here in Pittsburgh. Fortunately, baseball is right around the corner: pitchers & catchers report in less than three weeks. Besides the obvious excitement for the Opening Series vs. Chicago, here are some more Pirates series to look forward to in 2014…

April 21st – 24th vs. Reds

Part of an April that consists almost entirely of NL Central opponents, the Pirates will host the Reds for four dates late in the month. A bit of a rivalry has formed between these two teams, thanks in part to the beanball that’s gone back and forth. The Bucs got even with the Redlegs on October 1st, and we’re looking forward to seeing Johnny Cueto take the mound at PNC again.

May 2nd – 4th vs. Blue Jays

Toronto is a team that doesn’t come around too often. They haven’t been to PNC in six years, but they’ll return this May. Former Pirate Jose Bautista returns to Pittsburgh as well.

May 16th – 18th @ Yankees

The Bucs head up to the Bronx in mid-May to meet the Yankees. Perhaps we’ll see Masahiro Tanaka take the mound? The Evil Empire has spent loads of money this offseason on Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and others. It’d be cool to see A.J. Burnett face his former team, but…

June 23rd – 25th @ Rays

The Rays have been consistently winning and are a model organization for small market teams – competing on a budget, building a young core through the farm system, replenishing it through trades. They have a bunch of good players to watch, like Evan Longoria and Wil Myers. The Pirates haven’t played at Tropicana Field since 2003. Another fun interleague series with a team we don’t get to see enough.

July 4th – 6th vs. Phillies

The Pirates will welcome the team from the other side of the state for the Fourth of July again this year. Hopefully there aren’t as many Philly fans like we’ve seen in years past. Marlon Byrd returns to the ‘Burgh.

September 16th – 18th vs. Red Sox

The reigning World Series champions will visit in September. In the stretch run of the season, this series could be pivotal for both teams.

It’s not too early to get your tickets.

Go Bucs

Pittsburgh Pirates Single Season Team: PNC Park Era

Pittsburgh Pirates single season team

Last week, there were some interesting posts on Bucs Dugout and Eye on Baseball which featured the Pirates’ “All-Time Single Season Team.” They both ranked the best single seasons in team history, position-by-position.

Since the lists mainly consisted of players before our time (with the exception of Cutch), I figured I’d recognize some of the best individual seasons in recent memory by doing a similar list for the PNC Park era.

We did something along the same lines last winter, ranking the top ten Pirates since PNC opened. This is a little different in that it’ll go by position and depend solely on single season success.

To do it as simply as possible, I used FanGraphs’ WAR to be the judge. Whether or not you’re a fan of WAR, it’s still an all-encompassing stat that will give us an idea of who was the best at each spot.

So, here they are, the best Pittsburgh Pirates of the last 13 years, 2001 – 2013…

Catcher: Jason Kendall, 2004 = 4.7 WAR

No surprise here. An all-around solid backstop, Kendall had a nice year in 2004, his last season as a Pirate. He was a tough out, hitting .317 with a .399 OBP and a low 6.2 K%. From behind the dish, Kendall threw out runners at a 36% rate.

Honorable mention: The 2003 version of Kendall was pretty good, too (4.3 WAR). And how about Russell Martin? His 2013 was worth 4.3 wins above replacement.

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First BaseGarrett Jones, 2009 = 2.7 WAR

The fact that Jones was much more valuable over 82 games than any other first baseman in the last 13 years shows how much the Pirates have struggled at the position. And it’s still a weakness.

G.I. Jones broke into the bigs in July of ’09, hitting .293 with 23 homers and a .938 OPS. Besides a nice showing in 2012, Jones never reached those heights again, but he was at least productive enough to make a career out of it. He picked up a two-year, $7.75 million deal from Miami this winter.

Honorable mention: Adam LaRoche (2007) and Matt Stairs (2003) tied for second in WAR at 1.9. Really not much there; serious lack of talent overall.

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Second BaseFreddy Sanchez, 2005/2007 = 2.8 WAR

“Steady Freddy” was just a solid hitter for Bucs through the mid-2000’s. His best year was in 2006 when he won the NL batting title, but that was when he was over at 3B (more on that in a second).

Honorable mention: Neil Walker‘s last three seasons, in order, are right behind Sanchez. If he can stay healthy for a full year, maybe get a little luckier with the BABIP, maybe hit a little bit more from the right-side, I could see him being a 3-win player.

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Third BaseAramis Ramirez, 2001 = 4.7 WAR

A-Ram opened PNC with a bang, hitting .300/.350/.536 with 34 HR and 112 RBI in the stadium’s inaugural season.

Honorable mention: As previously mentioned, Sanchez had a great 2006 over at third base, but Ramirez just beat out his 4.5 WAR.

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ShortstopJack Wilson, 2004 = 4.4 WAR

Wilson was an All-Star and Silver Slugger in ’04, hitting .308/.335/.459 with a league-leading 12 triples. Jack Flash entertained with the glove on a nightly basis, as he saved 11 runs and posted an 8.0 UZR.

Honorable mention: Wilson in ’07, ’05, and ’09… then Jordy Mercer last year at 1.4 WAR. Shortstop has been a huge area of weakness for the Pirates since Jack left.

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Left FieldBrian Giles, 2002 = 6.8 WAR

Take a moment to take in these incredible numbers: .298/.450/.622, 38 HR, 103 RBI. That insane .450 on-base percentage ranked second in the league, only behind … Barry Bonds at .582.

Honorable mention: The man who replaced him/was acquired for him, Jason Bay, had a few great years. Starling Marte was pretty good last year at 4.5 WAR.

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Center Field: Andrew McCutchen, 2013 = 8.2 WAR

Not even close here. MVP.

Honorable mention: Pretty much every season of Cutch, plus Nate McLouth (2008), etc.

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Right Field: Reggie Sanders, 2003 = 2.9 WAR

Another position that hasn’t been too kind to the Bucs. Sanders hit the ball well in 2003, though: .285 average, .913 OPS, 31 homers. It was his only season in Pittsburgh.

Honorable mention: Xavier Nady? Craig Wilson? Again, not much there.

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Starting Pitchers (Leaderboard)

Oliver Perez, 2004 = 4.4 WAR

A.J. Burnett, 2013 = 4.0 WAR

Ian Snell, 2007 = 3.1 WAR

Francisco Liriano, 2013 = 3.1 WAR

Todd Ritchie, 2001 = 3.0 WAR

Honorable mention: Paul Maholm, Zach Duke.

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Relief Pitchers (Leaderboard)

Mark Melancon, 2013 = 2.5 WAR

Joel Hanrahan, 2011 = 1.7 WAR

Matt Capps, 2007 = 1.7 WAR

Mike Gonzalez, 2004 = 1.6 WAR

Josias Manzanillo, 2001 = 1.6 WAR

Jason Grilli, 2013 = 1.5 WAR

Salomon Torres, 2004 = 1.2 WAR

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Thoughts? Let us know.

Go Bucs

The History of ‘Sunday Night Baseball’

A few days ago, it was announced that the Pirates would be appearing on ESPN’s Sunday Baseball on May 11th when they take on the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park.

Via Sunday Night Baseball’s IMDB page, I found that the Bucs have appeared eight times since ESPN started the series in 1990.

September 1, 1991 at San Diego Padres BOX
May 3, 1992 at Houston Astros BOX
July 19, 2002 vs. Chicago Cubs BOX
April 18, 1993 at. Los Angeles Dodgers BOX
June 20, 1993 vs. New York Mets BOX
May 21, 1995 at San Diego Padres BOX
July 28, 1996 vs. Philadelphia Phillies BOX
May 19, 2002 at Houston Astros BOX

This year will be the team’s first appearance since 2002; SNB will be in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1996; it will also be PNC Park’s Sunday night debut.

I compiled a list of how often each MLB team has played on Sunday Night Baseball. Besides a few teams that haven’t been around for the full 24-year span (Rays, Nationals, Expos), the Bucs have played the fewest number of games on Sunday nights.

Here’s the rundown:

1. Yankees 81
2. Cardinals 76
3. Red Sox 73
4. Dodgers 71
5. Braves 68
6. Mets 68
7. Cubs 56
8. Rangers 54
9. Giants 52
10. Angels 52
11. White Sox 43
12. Phillies 42
13. Indians 34
14. Athletics 33
15. Astros 28
16. Orioles 27
17. Tigers 25
18. Twins 25
19. Reds 24
20. Padres 22
21. Mariners 22
22. Blue Jays 18
23. Brewers 18
24. D-backs 15
25. Rockies 14
26. Marlins 9
27. Royals 9
28. Pirates 8
29. Rays 7
30. Nationals 7
31. Expos 7

(Note: tallying over 1,000 games was quite tedious, hopefully the info is as accurate as possible. Might’ve missed a game or two. Sorry.)

And a bar graph to show the distribution more visually:

ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Appearances 1990 2013
(click to enlarge)

Not too surprising. Of course, the New York Yankees lead the way with 81 appearances. You can see all the other big market/good teams as well, like St. Louis, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, etc. And then there are small market squads like the Pirates and Royals who also dealt with long losing streaks, resulting in barely any primetime action.

Winning obviously helps, and teams like Philadelphia and Detroit have received a lot more attention lately after making deep playoff runs. It also helps to have good competition – it’s not shocking that ESPN chose the Pirates and Cardinals on May 11th, a rematch of the 2013 NLDS and top two teams in the NL Central.

Last year’s great story will give the Pirates more attention around the country in 2014, but there’s still a long way to go. They’ll certainly get even more coverage if they keep winning.

Go Bucs

Bucs Bits: Pirates News and Notes 1/3/14

Michael The Fort McKenry Pittsburgh Pirates

Some Bucco links to start the weekend…

– Jeff Sullivan has a great article at FanGraphs about the effect PNC Park has on hitting.

According to Chris Cotillo, catcher Michael McKenry is drawing interest on the free agent market. The Pirates designated the 28-year-old catcher for assignment a little over a month ago. McKenry, 28, hit just .223/.291/.376 in 187 career games with Pittsburgh, while also struggling with his defense. The Fort was a nice guy; hopefully he latches on somewhere.

Kyle Farnsworth, who pitched nine games for the Pirates this September and actually looked pretty good, is drawing interest from 6-8 clubs.

– FOX Sports Midwest’s Stan McNeal writes about how the Pirates “have mostly been sitting on their hands” this winter…

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“During all those years of losing, perhaps the Pirates forgot the saying that staying on top is more difficult than getting to the top.

Considering how little they’ve done so far this off-season, it looks like that, anyway.”

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– Tim Williams has a good list of 14 “boom or bust” Bucs who could make an impact this season.

– Buster Olney gave the Pirates some high praise on his ESPN Insider rankings this week: #10 team, #10 defense, #5 rotation, #4 bullpen.

Starling Marte needs to be less like a pinata, apparently.

– RHP Jeff Suppan, who posted a 3.57 ERA over 21 outings with the Bucs in 2003, has officially retired from baseball.

– Don’t forget to vote on our new poll.

Jordy Mercer was on MLB Network’s Hot Stove this morning:

– Happy 37th birthday to A.J. Burnett

Just about 40 days until pitchers & catchers report to Bradenton.

Go Bucs

PNC Park’s Hidden Advantage

After Francisco Liriano dominated the NL Wild Card game, Harold Reynolds brought up a big time theory on MLB Network that I had never thought of before. Watch as he explains a possible reason as to why hitting left-handed pitching can be so difficult to hit at PNC Park:

(Here is the direct link to the video)

Basically, the ivy in center field could mess with hitters when a southpaw is on the mound. From the video, you can see Jay Bruce‘s line of sight vs. Francisco Liriano:

PNC Park Batters Eye 1

With the bushes being a different shade of green than the solid batter’s eye, it could help blend the ball more. Keep in mind, the game-used baseballs aren’t pure white – they are rubbed with a special mud, which could camouflage it even more.

Here’s another one I found with Liriano on the hill during a day game in September:

PNC Park Batters Eye 4

Even if it’s not a direct view into the off-colored shrubs, it could still play with a hitter’s peripheral vision.

On the flip side, batters have a much clearer view of the baseball when a right-hander is pitching. Here’s Neil Walker vs. Johnny Cueto, displaying the solid green batter’s eye:

PNC Park Batters Eye 2

And one I found with Gerrit Cole on the bump:

PNC Park Batters Eye 3

As Harold says in the video, you might get a little curious when you see how well the Bucco left-handers fared at home. Let’s look at a few splits…

Francisco Liriano, 2013
Home: 1.47 ERA, .174 opp. batting average, 8.8 K/9
Road: 4.33 ERA, .261 opp. batting average, 9.4 K/9

Justin Wilson, 2013
Home: 1.80 ERA, .219 opp. batting average, 6.3 K/9
Road: 2.41 ERA, .158 opp. batting average, 8.3 K/9

Tony Watson, Career
Home: 2.36 ERA, .198 opp. batting average, 7.3 K/9
Road: 3.84 ERA, .213 opp. batting average, 8.3 K/9

Clearly the earned run averages have an advantage at PNC, though the fact that it’s a pitcher’s park could explain that. Interestingly, all three have posted better strikeout rates on the road. Regardless, they have put up dominant numbers in the home ballpark.

One thing to note about Liriano, Wilson, and Watson is that they all feature similar arm slots & release points that would seemingly play right into the sight line of the bushes.

It’d be hard enough to face Frankie’s filthy slider or Wilson’s high 90’s fastball – add in a difficulty to pick up the pitch and the Pirates might have themselves an advantage.

Maybe we’re reading too much into it, but Reynolds might be on to something with this. It’s something to think about, at least.

Go Bucs