Friday, May 16, 2014

That's Why They Play Nine Innings...

OK, the Bucs have been dissected plenty. A couple things are coming into focus: the expected regression of the starting pitching and of the offense.

The hitting is a surprise of sorts; it's improved just a hair over last season's, despite a hot May  - .247 BA v .245, 8.5% walks v 7.6%, 20.4% K v 21.7% - and in the most important category, counting number though it may be, the club is still playing catch up, scoring 3.8 runs per game v 3.9 in 2013.

Positive regression for a maturing attack...well, not yet, although May has been promising. But so far, it's pretty much the same ol'.

The starters have pitched to a 4.39 ERA/4.29 FIP this year, a far cry from last year's 3.50 ERA/3.46 FIP.  Unlike the hitting, it was expected to take a regression face plant this year. But like the hitting, it's picked up a bit in May, so there's hope it has hit bottom and will even out some in the coming months, although the rotation is thin on the front end and will remain so throughout the year.

The bullpen has held its own, working to a 2.84 ERA this year after a 2.89 performance last season. But there is one dark cloud - the FIP has jumped from 3.35 in 2013 to 3.92 this season, which may or may not be predictive of some potential backsliding.

But of all the stats that count, the biggest is from the back end of the pen. They (and by they, we mean primarily Jason Grilli & Mark Melancon) are 9-of-19 (47%) in converting save opportunities this year after being 55-of-70 (79%) in 2013.

The Bucs were bulwarks with a late lead last year. The squad finished 79-3 when leading after eight innings; this year they've already blown more leads, being just 12-4. And with the starters being slow off the mark this year, the games have been more closely contested - the Bucs have already played 21 one-run games, better than half their contests, while last year they played 52 one-run matches, a little less than 1/3 of the schedule.

Given the cliffhanger finishes this year, the team can't falter in the back-end of the pen, as they have. If the guys converted at the same rate, the record would be reversed; the Pirates would be 23-17 with those extra six saves instead of 17-23, and just 2-1/2 games off the Brewer pace.

There's still reason to believe, with lots of room for the offense and starting pitching to improve. But if the closer, whoever that may be, can't hold up their end of the deal, it won't make much difference. That may tell the tale of 2014.

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