Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April Thoughts - The Batting Order & BA, Polanco, Pitching & Depth, NL Central Race

April thoughts...
  • That off-the-wall Pirate order from yesterday was all about trying to get Starling Marte back on his game. He and Jose Tabata have similar OBP (.318 for JT, .308 for Starling), with the biggest difference being that Tabata is not very disruptive on the basepaths.  The only huge surprise was moving Ike Davis into the two hole, a problematic spot all season. Our guess is  that he's there instead of the more natural choice of Neil Walker because Ike needs the Cutch's protection in the lineup more and spaces the LH hitters more evenly thru the lineup.
  • Ike, btw, has a slash of .185/.290/.333; Pedro's is .173/.280/.387. Clint can shake-and-bake the order all he wants, but until the middle is productive, well, lots of luck. The 2014 Bucs are hitting .221 and producing 3.7 runs  per game; last year's squad hit .245 and scored 3.9 RPG.
  • Whether you like it or not, blame the economics of baseball, not the Bucs, for Gregory Polanco's temporary exile. The stuff he's working on in the minors could just as easily be worked on in Pittsburgh, but that extra year of arb makes it much more cost efficient to continue that learning process at Indy, and that's the procedure that all small revenue teams try to follow of necessity. Of course, the fact that the Pirates are in bumpy waters right now could well work in Polanco's favor of a May call up, for both competitive and PR reasons.
  • The Pirate pitching depth, much touted, has hit some bumps. Injury has taken its toll, and Nick Kingham, 22, who the Bucs hoped to get to Indy this year, is 1-2/3.46 at Altoona. He has 20 K/12 BB in 26 IP, with a 1.46 WHIP. He's a power pitcher with a curve and change up who needs work on his command. So far, it looks like the cavalry consists of Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke and Casey Sadler. 
  • Pittsburgh pitching has not regressed that terribly from last season. This year's Bucs have a 3.65 ERA/3.83 xFIP w/7 K, 3 BB per nine innings and a 76.5% strand rate. In 2013, the staff compiled a 3.27 ERA/3.58 xFIP with 8 K/3 BB per nine and a 75% strand rate. The ground ball rate has dropped a couple of points, from 52% to 49%. But the oft' predicted regression may bite the rotation - Pittsburgh's starters have a 4.68 ERA in the last 14 games, and whether that's just a small sample bump or a full year's thing will be the season determinant.
  • The Pirates need the Brewers to fall back to earth. They are 9-1/2 games behind them a month into the season. The Bucs aren't in too bad of a hole with the rest of the division, being just three games behind second place St. Louis. Fangraphs projects the Pirates to finish at 79-83.

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