McKenry’s arm hurting his value

Michael McKenry has gained many fans in Pittsburgh over the past few seasons. Despite being highly unknown prior to joining the Pirates, “The Fort” works hard on and off the field and has surprisingly become one of the more recognizable players.

However, some under-the-radar rumblings out of Bradenton during spring training this year suggested that the 28-year-old backstop was falling out of favor. Most of that was led by pirates.com writer Tom Singer, who had this to say on his blog:

[quote_simple]

Carlos Paulino: Wasn’t even in Kissimmee. But the Bucs love his arm. Just how deep that love is was hinted by the reassignment to Minor League camp of Tony Sanchez. Paulino will get some more looks to determine whether he might rank as the top midseason callup candidate.”

“Carlos Paulino: Had no chance to throw out the runner on a pitch that had gotten away from him — and still almost did. McKenry has to hold down The Fort, or Paulino could sneak ahead of him on the depth chart.”

[/quote_simple]

We didn’t buy this from the start (read here) and still don’t see any chance of light-hitting Carlos Paulino (currently Class AA) cracking the big league roster this year. But maybe Singer was just revealing the club’s high praise of Paulino’s arm. Spring training would have been an appropriate time to do so, and if there’s been one flaw in McKenry’s game this year, it’s his own throwing from behind the plate.

As everyone recalls, the McKenry-Rod Barajas duo was absolutely awful at throwing runners out in 2012. Thankfully, Russell Martin has improved the club in that area. However, The Fort is still letting the team down in the stolen base department.

Entering Tuesday, McKenry is just 1 for 11 in gunning down base stealers – opponents have swiped bags at a 91.7% rate, one of the highest marks against any catcher in baseball.

Keep in mind that he’s started just six games, which is tied with John McDonald for the fewest of any Pirate who’s been on the roster since Opening Day. It’s getting out of hand for McKenry; he’s allowing too many runners to advance into scoring position via the stolen base, and he’s losing a lot of value because of it.

One emerging metric for catchers is Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB). Here’s the explanation from FanGraphs:

[quote_simple]”Calculated by The Fielding Bible, Stolen Base Runs Saved measures how many “runs” a catcher contributes to their team by throwing out runners and preventing runners from attempting steals in the first place.”[/quote_simple]

And here’s FanGraphs’ grading scale:

Rating rSB
Excellent +5
Great +3
Above Average +1
Average 0
Below Average -1
Poor -3
Awful -5

Russell Martin has already produced an rSB of +2, which is very good – he’s essentially prevented two runs from scoring by throwing runners out.

Michael McKenry, on the other hand, already has an rSB of -2, meaning that he’s pretty much cost the Pirates two runs with his inability to throw runners out. His -2 mark is tied with Chris Iannetta, Jesus Montero, and J.P. Arencibia for worst in baseball, although they’ve all played a significantly greater amount of innings than The Fort.

At this point, McKenry is hurting himself and the team with his poor arm behind the dish. His value is diminishing because of it; no matter what kind of offensive stats he puts up, it’s difficult putting someone out there who will only thrown out one of every ten runners. He’s not nearly as valuable as a backup catcher if he can’t throw anybody out, which is why the Tony Sanchez and Carlos Paulino type players will receive praise for their arms. Even if Sanchez or Paulino can’t hit, their defensive capabilities make them commodities off the bench. The Pirates are a team that needs to piece together wins any way they can, and they can’t afford to have opponents running wild on the base paths. Russell Martin has cracked down in that regard, and it’s time for Michael McKenry to do the same.

Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and MLB.com | Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons

Pirates Playback 2/4/13

Tonight will be the fifth installment of Pirates Playback. The weekly series highlighting classic Bucco games of yesteryear is flying by, and it’ll be halfway over after tonight’s episode.

The game featured will be from May 8th, when Rod Barajas hit a dramatic walk-off homer to beat the Nationals, 5-4. It was easily one of the best games of the year; here’s what we said in our recap:

[quote_center]A great start by Burnett was capped off by an unlikely (but much appreciated) walk-off blast from Barajas… Maybe this will be the push that Barajas needs to pick up his offense and the Bucs need to start stringing some wins together.[/quote_center]

The “Zoltan” shenanigans really took off after this ballgame, as the team awaited Rod at home plate with a sea of Z’s.

56 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs

Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Top Ten Most Memorable Pirates Moments of 2012

Although the Bucs ultimately collapsed to their 20th consecutive losing season in 2012, there were certainly plenty of memorable moments throughout the 162-game slate. As the calendar year comes to a close, it’s time to look back on the past season; here are our top ten most memorable Pirates moments of 2012.

10. Pedro Alvarez Game-Tying Home Run After Rain Delay vs. Colorado

Down by three in a game at Coors Field, Pedro Alvarez came up as the tying run.  The rain had been coming down hard for the past inning or so, and the game was finally delayed when Pedro came up.  After a 52 minute rain delay, El Toro stroked the first pitch he saw (from a lefty) to left field for a game-tying home run.  Absolutely unreal moment for the few that stayed up to see it.  The Pirates went on to lose the game, but it was still a great moment nonetheless.

9. Brad Lincoln vs. Jim Thome Staredown

The Bucs were up by a score of 8-7 in the bottom of the seventh in Philadelphia.  Jim Thome, one of the nicest major leaguers and a guaranteed hall-of-famer, was up with two men on.  Brad Lincoln blew an 0-2 fastball right by Thome, and the two stared each other down as they walked off the field.  There was something about the whole situation that made it just perfect; the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia rivalry, a guy with 600 home runs against a young reliever for the Pirates… everything just seemed to fit.  Awesome moment.

8. A.J. Burnett One-Hitter vs. Chicago

A.J. Burnett’s first year in Pittsburgh was a great one, and his best start came on August 1st at Wrigley Field.  He held the Cubs hitless through 7.2 innings, and ended up throwing a one-hitter.  He and Neil Walker, who drove in all five runs (including a grand slam,) single-handedly defeated the Cubs to rack up another win.

7. Andrew McCutchen Walk-Off Hit vs. Philadelphia

The 2012 opening series against the Phillies was a good one.  Philly took Opening Day by a score of 1-0, the Bucs won the second game on a walk-off infield single, and it looked like Philly would win the rubber match.  Down 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the Pirates scored two to get within a run.  The stadium was split pretty equally between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia fans, so the Phillies fans were very vocal when they had the lead.  Matt Hague tied the game in the eighth with his first career knock, setting up a dramatic ninth.  With two outs and a runner on third, Cutch hammered a ball to center field.  It didn’t get out, but it was far enough over the head of Shane Victorino to win the game and the series.  Just the first of many great moments of Cutch’s season.

6. Back-to-Back Doubles Beat Chapman

Up until Michael McKenry got to him on June 7th, Aroldis Chapman hadn’t given up an earned run all season.  If you look at the roster from 2012, Clint Barmes and The Fort were two of the least likely to double off of Chapman, but they both did it in succession to give the Bucs the lead in extra innings.  The win got the Pirates within two games of the Reds and gave fans some bragging rights over those annoying Reds fans.

5. Pedro Alvarez Go-Ahead Home Run in 19th vs. St. Louis

The Pirates are very familiar with 19 inning games, and it was nice to be on the winning end of one in 2012.  On August 19th, the team was still very much in the playoff hunt and any game against the Cardinals was important.  It looked like the Bucs were going to finally end the game in the 17th, but St. Louis scored in the bottom half to keep it going.  Finally in the 19th, Pedro absolutely destroyed a ball that put the Pirates back on top.  It took more than six hours, but Pedro’s game-winner was definitely worth the wait.

4. Rod Barajas Walk-Off Home Run vs. Washington

Rod Barajas was really struggling through the first month of the season and the fans were letting him know how they felt.  In a game against the Nationals, Rod was boo’d every time he came to the plate, but his walk-off home run made the crowd go nuts.  It was a great win for the Bucs – beating the best team in the NL – and also became the unofficial birth of “Zoltan.”

3. Starling Marte Home Run on First Pitch in MLB vs. Houston

In the middle of a pennant race in late July, the Bucs finally called up Starling Marte to add some pop into the lineup.  Marte didn’t take long at all to show what he could do.  He led off his first game in Houston and crushed the first pitch he saw – a fastball at the letters – deep off the train tracks at Minute Maid Park.  No matter how Marte’s career with the Pirates turns out, his first home run will certainly be something that fans remember for a while.

2. Travis Snider Robs Mike Baxter of a Home Run

By late September when the Pirates travelled to Queens, it was pretty clear that they weren’t going to make the postseason and even the chances of reaching .500 looked bad.  Most of baseball had forgotten about them as they cooled off into September, but an amazing catch by Travis Snider brought some attention back to the team.  On a ball that looked like a no-doubt home run, Snider climbed the wall, hung there for a second, and made the catch to rob Baxter.  If this wasn’t the catch of the year, it was definitely one of the top three.

1. Drew Sutton Walk-Off Home Run vs. Houston

Considering the context, this has to be the top moment of the year.  A.J Burnett had a chance to win his ninth straight game, but he got hit hard by the Astros.  The Bucs battled back and took a one-run lead into the ninth, but Joel Hanrahan blew the save.  Drew Sutton was the right fielder in the game and although he wasn’t charged with any errors, he misplayed a few balls hit into the corner that cost Burnett a few runs.  He came up in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to redeem himself, and drove a walk-off home run deep to center field as the Bucs moved to eight games over the .500 mark.  Pretty unreal moment for a guy who had bounced between teams his whole career and had a few special weeks with the Pirates.

Even though they fell short of .500 once again, 2012 was another great year of Bucco baseball. Obviously, these ten moments are interchangeable and the order varies depending on the person. These were our top ten moments; feel free to let us know your most memorable Pirates moments of 2012, either in the comments section or on Twitter.

Go Bucs in 2013

2012 in Review: Catching

“Barge” and “The Fort” held down the catching duties for the Bucs.

A catching tandem that struggled to throw out baserunners hurt the team in the long run.

Games AVG HR RBI OPS
Rod Barajas 104 .206 11 31 .625
Michael McKenry 88 .233 12 39 .762

Pretty rough year behind the plate for the Bucs.  Rod, thought to be an offensive upgrade but defensive downgrade compared to Ryan Doumit, disappointed greatly.  His offense was terrible at best.  His defense was almost impossible to watch as the opposing teams ran wild on the bases.  The one upside to Rod’s season was how much he and A.J. Burnett connected, which probably added to A.J.’s success all season.  McKenry was thought of mostly as a backup, but he played almost as many games as Rod.  “The Fort” captivated Bucco fans with his clutch home runs, but that was about it.  His defense wasn’t much better than Rod, and he couldn’t really be relied on as an every-day catcher.  Serious upgrades need to be made behind the plate this offseason.

Help Wanted: Pirates Catcher

Since they declined Rod Barajas’ $3.5 million option for 2013, the Pirates are now in need of a catcher to go along with Michael McKenry. Rob Biertempfel of the Trib wrote about how the Bucs are in the market for both a catcher and starting pitcher. The five catchers listed as possible targets are Gerald Laird, A.J. Pierzynski, Yorvit Torrealba, Kelly Shoppach, and Humberto Quintero; here are their resumes:

A few of these players are listed on Yahoo’s Ultimate Free-Agent Tracker. It notes that “Pierzynski is not going to hit 27 home runs again, and he’ll go back to what he was: a low-on-base guy whose propensity not to walk borders on historic. In Pierzynski’s 12 seasons with at least 400 plate appearances, not once has he exceeded 30 walks.Shoppachcalls a decent game” and “can hit home runs.” All it says for Laird is “this is where it starts to get bad” which signals a significant drop off in talented catchers.

Pierzynski’s inability to get on base is a red flag, and he certainly isn’t getting any younger. He’ll probably get a pretty decent salary despite his age. MLB Trade Rumors predicted that A.J. will go to the Texas Rangers.

Shoppach is an interesting case. He only hit .233 in 2012 but can put up some decent power. A major problem for the Pirates last season was throwing out runners; Shoppach threw out 33% in 2012 (compared to Barajas’ 6%). Plus he’s never made more than $3 million in his career and could come on the cheap at age 33. Mets blog Rising Apple points out that Shoppach is “the one free-agent that has a good chance at returning to Flushing in 2013.” Mets GM Sandy Alderson will seek outside help at catcher but could re-sign Shoppach if he can’t find an upgrade.

According to Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, Gerald Laird is looking for more playing time and more salary than the Tigers can offer. Laird wasn’t tremendous at throwing out runners, as he caught just 10 of 52 (19%). For comparison, Michael McKenry threw out 13 of 74 (18%). He doesn’t hit for much power and is a career .244 hitter.

Torrealba’s 2012 season seems very similar to Barajas’ 2011 before he came to the Pirates:
Barajas 2011 – age 35, $3.25 million salary, .230 avg, .717 OPS, 25% CS
Torrealba 2012 – age 33, $3.25 million salary, .227 avg, .623 OPS, 22% CS
…so he seems like Rod Barajas 2.0

Quintero is pretty much the same deal at .232 avg and an abysmal .523 OPS, along with 35% CS (17 out of 49), so he’s not a very attractive candidate either.

It seems that Neal Huntington may be open to dealing Joel Hanrahan for a major league-ready catcher. Hammer may not be affordable at this point, and the market for closers is ridiculous. Many believe that closer is an overrated position and that they can be easily replaced. With that logic, it makes sense to deal Hanrahan, as long as the Pirates can get a solid return.

The market for catchers, both free agency and trade, is really slim, but the Bucs are in need of an upgrade. Tony Sanchez doesn’t seem quite ready at Triple-A and the rest of the farm system is lacking. These free agent targets aren’t intriguing, but Neal Huntington & Co. need to make something happen. It will be interesting to see how they approach the catching situation this offseason.