Saturday, May 16, 2009

Reverse Engineering

Hey, if what you're doing isn't getting the job done, it only makes sense to do the opposite, right? So the Bucs did a 180, and rode terrible starting pitching, a great bullpen job, and some productive hitting to a 7-4 victory over the Rockies.

Ian Snell was two innings into a three-run, forty-six pitch outing when the rains fell. By that time, the Bucs had overcome a three run deficit and were ahead 4-3, thanks greatly to a two-out, two-run knock by Delwyn Young just before the tarps were rolled out.

It took an hour and thirty-seven minutes for play to resume, and both starters were mercifully done for the night, or we might still be playing.

But that left seven innings to be covered by a bullpen that couldn't shut anyone down for two. Lo and behold, they came through.

Oh, the fact that the front end did their job was no surprise - Sean Burnett (who went three innings for the win), Evan Meek, and Jesse Chavez have been fairly dependable all season.

But could John Grabow and Matt Capps hold a 7-4 lead? Hey, they did, and with a minimum of drama. Grabow gave up a two-out walk, and Capps yielded a lead-off base on balls, quickly erased via the twin killing, on the way to his seventh save.

Now, let's see if Pittsburgh can put the whole thing together for a change. Hitting on all three cylinders sure beats sputtering along on one or two.

-- Young led off and played right for the Pirates, and probably will tomorrow, too. Nyjer Morgan felt a tweak in his hammy, and JR is sitting him down for a couple of games.

The Bucs lose some D and a lot of speed, but as far as getting on base, Young is Morgan's equal and more - his OBP is .400; Morgan's is .384. And that's the key stat for a leadoff guy.

-- No matter who catches, the beat continues. Jason Jaramillo took over for Robinzon Diaz, and went 1-for-3 with a walk and run scored. He's hitting .280 (.390 OBP, .420 slugging), and Diaz is batting .361 (.378 OBP, .528 slugging) as they've done a nice job of making life without Ryan Doumit (.244/.271/.467) bearable.

Ronny Paulino, BTW, is hitting .239/.352/.391 for Florida.

-- Hey, GW remembers posting about Brandon Moss and his slump of Biblical proportions not so long ago. Since then, he's raised his average nearly 50 points by going 9-for-16 at the plate. Let's hope his hitting streak reaches Biblical proportions, too.

With Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata lurking and Adam LaRoche probably on the move, this is his shot at showing what he's got and where he fits into future Pirate plans.

-- We don't know what pixie dust Perry Hill sprinkled on Andy LaRoche, but he's playing the hot corner like he belongs now after looking lost after camp.

His fielding range matrix is 3.18; the league's is 2.27, which means LaRoche makes nearly a play more per game than the average NL third sacker. (Fielding range equals put outs + assists/game).

He's hitting .255 with a homer and 13 RBI; Jose Bautista is batting .310 with a homer and 6 RBI at Toronto with about 35 fewer at-bats, and had a defensive range rating of 2.65 last year at third and 2.42 in 2009 (he's primarily an OF'er for the Jays now).

-- Joe Kerrigan and Capps reported to PNC early today and went to the movies. They compared Capp's 2007 delivery to his current one, and found that his arm was trailing his body. They spent the day in the bullpen trying to get him in sync. It worked tonight, and hopefully will carry through.

Give Capps props for being mentally tough enough to jump right back on the horse. It was even more impressive after the leadoff walk, which led the remnants of the rain-thinned crowd to noisily show their displeasure. Two batters later, the boos turned to cheers; such is life in the show.

-- The career of the Chief, RHP Romulo Sanchez, is done in Pittsburgh. The Pirates traded him for RHP Eric Hacker from the New York Yankees in a minor league deal.

Hacker, 26, was DFA'ed, and the Yankees opted to deal him rather than give him away. He's a four-pitch guy with good A and AA stats, but not so hot at AAA. That's not such great news considering his age, though in his defense he lost two full seasons to the knife. He'll join the rotation at Indy.

LHP Phil Dumatrait, still rehabbing in Pirate City, was moved to the 60-day DL to make room for Hacker - with a name like that, you'd think he was a batter, not a pitcher - on the 40-man roster for now.

-- RHP Craig Hansen may be a week or two away from being cleared for action after suffering a neck injury. He's expected to report to Bradenton Monday to work in extended spring training.

-- Freddy Sanchez and a boatload of local baseball celebs opened the Miracle League Field in Cranberry for special needs kids. It's a great concept; makes you wonder when Pittsburgh's gonna get aboard and put together a partnership to build one in the city, where one would assume it would be accessible to a lot more youngsters.


WilliamJPellas said...

Great job, as always, Ron. I enjoyed this article and of course you hit all the right notes---for example, you went right into a comparison between Andy LaRoche and the man he replaced, Jose Bautista. Looks like LaRoche definitely has the better of that argument when it comes to his glovework---which is remarkable when you remember how terrible he looked at the start of the season. Anyway, Toronto evidently doesn't believe Bautista is a full time starting third baseman, just like Pittsburgh didn't. I think Jose is a good guy to bring in off your bench as a part time starter, but we already knew he wasn't going to get better and so we might as well go with LaRoche to see what he can do.

That said, it might turn out that even Jose's decent-but-no-more-than-that bat is better than Andy's. Look, I don't know if it's because of his bat or his thumb or he just isn't that good, but whatever the cause(s), LaRoche definitey has to hit more than he has to this point if he's going to be the starter in 2010 and beyond.

So, a tip of the cap to Andy for sticking with it and getting it done defensively. But the jury is still out on his stick.

Paulino is doing about what can be expected of him in Florida, given his number two catcher status. I still think he's got a better than average bat for a catcher. Maybe he'll show that bat again, someday.

Moss might just be one of those Adam LaRoche-type streak hitters. Or, maybe it's just that his knee is feeling better. Either way I'm curious enough to want to see what he does with 400 at bats. Let's hope he gets that sort of opportunity this season.

As for Capps, I've come to the conclusion that he is a superb setup guy, a decent but not great closer, and also a guy whose nonexistent conditioning is starting to catch up with him. I don't think we want to be the team that's hanging onto him when he turns into David Wells Part Deux, only even fatter. Seems to me it might be an opportune time to trade him to a contender, particularly now that he's arbitration eligible. I like Matt and particularly like the fact that he came up through our own organization, and when he's healthy, even as a closer he's better than average (though again I believe he is ultimately best suited to be a top flight setup guy and occasional closer). But the injuries have mounted as his LBS have mounted, and we don't want to be left holding the bag with him, that's for sure.

WilliamJPellas said...

By the way, the LaRoche comment was supposed to read, "I don't know if it's his BACK or his thumb...", etc.

Ron Ieraci said...

Will - that's a great analogy; he does remind me very much of LaRoche at bat, except his swing isn't nearly as loopy. But pitchers last year worked them the same way by September, so apparently they had the same holes.

I think his knee is OK now; in the past ten days or so, he's started getting down the line pretty good and lately he's been much quicker to OF balls. So I think there was a residual effect; looks like it's getting back to normal.

Young LaRoche has to get some pop in his bat; then the average is OK, tho he has been driving in runs lately.

I tend to agree with ya about Capps. He does have too much bulk, and it has to limit his range of motion. Very interesting decision coming up regarding Capps with two years of arb left after the season. He has four months to make his case to the suits.