Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Big Market Rebuilding: Theo Epstein is not brillant just rich

You can always count on Grantland to have some thought provoking articles.  The recent one about the way the Cubs are rebuilding is no different.  However, Mr. Jazayreli left out the most important point: this type of rebuilding is not possible for teams like the Pirates. 

The point of the article is that the Cubs are starting to find success by rebuilding counter to the MLB norm.  Instead of going for pitching because pitching wins championships. they have gone for hitting.  Those hitters are all panning out because they are a safer bet than pitchers (see Stetson Allie), and less injury prone (see Taillon).  The article does give a nod to the FIP stat and that the Cubs seem to be using to grab a pitcher here and there, but the Pirates seem to be doing a bit of that themselves.  The last paragraph makes the claim that if they sign a big name free agent pitcher they should be a pick to make the playoffs in 2015. 

But there is the rub.  The Cubs have money to sign a big name free agent pitcher in the offseason.  The Pirates do not.  To get the big name pitcher you have to over pay, and the Pirates do not have the budget to do that, the Cubs do.  The article admits at the end that an ace is going to be necessary to get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs.  The Cubs do not have to develop that ace because they can go and sign one or two.  So why not just load up on hitting?  Pitching is a free agent offer sheet away. 

The Pirates do not have that ability.  People do not sign in Pittsburgh unless their career is in ruins.  Burnett was acquired via trade because he failed miserably in New York.  Lirano was injury prone and inconsistent in Minnesota, so he signed with Pittsburgh.  Once AJ Burnett re-established himself as a good pitcher, he faked retirement to avoid the qualifying offer from the Pirates and signed back in a big market: Philly.  Will Lirano re-sign with the Pirates?  Probably not.  So the Pirates have to develop their own ace pitchers.  And that means having to draft several because, as was pointed out, some do not make it (see Zack Von Rosenburg). 

So the Cubs new way of rebuilding is not really genius new way to build a team as much as it is a big market team way of rebuilding.  And that is a point that should be made.   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why it is too early to give up on Luis Heredia

There is no hiding it, Luis Heredia is having a bad year.  He entered tonight with more walks than strikeouts, and averaging giving up a hit an inning.  He did have a good night tonight as he went seven innings giving up no runs, three hits, two walks and getting five strikeouts.  It lowered his ERA to under 4.  Sadly the Power blew the game and Heredia will not get a win for his efforts.  Still it was one of his best outings of the year.

Heredia is only 20.  He is young for his level, and is eating innings despite his control problems this year.  He is averaging a little over 5 innings an outing.  There is something to be said for that.  Heredia is still a work in progress.  Last year he came into camp overweight.  This year he did not.  He started off the year on the DL, but is putting innings on his arm and looking healthy now.  A lot of his problems come from the Pirates trying to get an out pitch.  They switched him this year to a slurve, and it is not working.  They went from a curve to begin with to a slider now to a slurve.  They are playing with his arm slot, and this accounts for a lot of his problems.

Yet, Heredia still has a good fastball.  His change up is okay, and if they can settle in and let him develop a decent out pitch he can be a good pitcher.  His projection to be an ace is probably out the window; however, Heredia still has the potential to be an inning eater who can get your team wins.  A lot of this depends on developing that out pitch, but the Pirates system has some real success with pitchers, so there is real reason to hope.  Outings like tonight can be much more regular.

Heredia does not have to be added to the 40 man this year, but he will in 2015.  So, I do not think that Heredia can repeat A Ball.  Next year he has to start out at High A to see if he can handle the jump in competition.  Will Heredia work hard in the offseason again, and will he come back with that out pitch?  Important questions.  These last months of baseball are important.  Heredia is improving, and if that trend continues there is good reason to be bullish on Heredia.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gage Hinsz and the 2014 draft

The Pirates did it.  They signed 11th round pick Gage Hinsz.  I was a little worried as they did not seem to have a lot left and an Oregon State commitment is not easily broken, but I am glad that they got him. 

That wraps up this years draft, and I like it.  I liked it earlier, but I think now Pirates fans need to readjust their thinking to see drafts like this as good.  This is an average draft, and we should like average.  It is called average for a reason, it happens regularly.  It is going to be harder and harder to get great drafts if the Pirates are going to insist on finishing above .500.  It is evident now that the Pirates were not trying to save money on Tucker, but that other teams also had him ranked in the middle of the first round.  And while you might could quibble about Connor Joe, or Jorge from Puerto Rico, every draft is going to have a few of those picks. 

The Pirates are consistently showing an ability to get a decent pick just outside the 10th round the way they draft.  They have shown a willingness to pay a tax, but not lose a draft pick.  They have clearly strengthened an already stocked farm system.  There may not be an Andrew McCutchen in this group, but there are a whole lot of Josh Harrisons. 

It is not a blow your mind great draft, but those should be rare.  It is not an awful draft either.  This is the average.  And it is an average the Pirates can live with.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Who to trade?

It is starting to look more and more like the Pirates are going to be buyers at the trading deadline rather than sellers.  I still think the playoffs is a long shot, and it would be better to be sellers, but it would not sit well with most of the fan base.

So the question becomes what prospects do we have to watch go away for this long shot hope?

I would start off by saying that Glasnow, Kingham, Meadows, McGuire, and Bell should all be off the table.  Kingham is ready for primetime, and could be a nice addition to the 2015 rotation, and the other guys are the foundation of the Pirates dynasty.  Taillon should be off the table too, but with his injury it is unlikely anyone would want to trade for him.

This means I would be willing to part with anyone else given the right return.  I would actually be ecstatic if we got a good player in return for Alen Hanson, but I have always been low him, much lower than most.  I would have done anything to keep Dilson Herrera last year and trade Hanson, but it is too late now.  Herrera hit over .300 in High A this year and has recently received his promotion to AA where he is hitting a cool .340.  Herrera may not have been able to stay at short, but neither can Hanson.  The fact that Herrera went in a trade makes me think that some of the other teams do not value Hanson as highly either.

Luis Heredia is someone who I would like to keep, but if he brings the right return, then he goes.   I still really like his potential remembering that he is not yet 20, but you can't just trade away people you don't think are going to be any good.  And so perhaps now is also the time to offer up Adrian Sampson.  He is having a break out season, and might bring back some interest.  A lot of our other young interesting pitchers are hurt (like Clay Holmes and Duke Welker), so not many other names pop out as good trade bait.  That is unless you count Casey Sadler and Brandon Crumpton.  Crumpton specifically has shown he can do this at the major league level, and it would stink to lose him, but he should not be off limits.  Maybe he brings back a piece.

I am not sure who would be a good trade piece as a hitter.  Elias Diaz, AA catcher, could be a possibility.  Maybe Mel Rojas too.  Both guys would probably need to be added to the 40 man this year, and trading them now might free up the crunch.  Gift Ngope has some potential with the bat, maybe he gets put in a deal.  Barrett Barnes is just coming back off injury, but he could be a young prospect worth shopping around.  The Pirates are fairly loaded in the outfield anyway.  Keon Broxton probably won't bring much, but maybe he could be packaged to bring back something.

If you could package Broxton, Sadler, and Hanson it might bring back a piece worth having.  But overall, I hope the Pirates do not go crazy.  The odds are long at this point, and the Pirates have not had great success in the trade deadline deal.  It is usually a bad deal for the buyers.  I would prefer staying the course and letting next year take its course.  I just think the Pirates are low in too many places (SS, 1B, starting pitching) for deadline deals to make a difference.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Problem with the Pirates

The Pirates are above .500 and that is a good thing.  But I still think they are in big trouble.  Let me point to one thing that I think is a real problem.  The Pirates cannot sweep anyone.  They fail over and over to put their foot on the throat of lesser teams and finish them off.  And this is not just about getting dominated by David Price and being unable to sweep one of the worst teams in baseball.  It happens over and over and over again.

In fact, by my count, the Pirates have only one sweep all year and that is against the Nationals.  They failed to do it against the Rays, the Blue Jays, the Reds, the Cubs, and many many more.  They just cannot sweep.  Why can be a bit of harder thing to figure out.  Is our pitching just not strong enough?  Is our bullpen too weak?  Do we lack timely hitting?  Who knows!

But I do think it has been enough time to say that the inability to sweep is a real problem.  We are not able to dominate lesser teams.  This was not a problem last year.  Playoff teams are able to sweep lesser teams.  Even with their 5th starter on the mound, they polish off the guys that are no good.

Ultimately that means I think the Pirates are about where they should be.  At .500.  I expect them to hover here for the rest of the season.  They are not going to be able to put distance between themselves and that number because they cannot sweep teams, and they are going to lose series to the better teams. This makes them a middle of the pack team.

All this to say that unless they can come up with a trade that addresses and fixes this problem, then I hope they are sellers at at the trade deadline.  I don't want to lose good prospects to continue to tread water.  And the fact that we are in the Wild Card race is more a commentary on how awful the National League is overall than a commentary on the Pirates being any good.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What to do at catcher next year at West Virginia?

One of the interesting things that has developed after this year's draft is what to do at catcher next year in A ball (West Virginia).
They already have a bit of a problem in Jamestown between Taylor Gushue and Kevin Krause.  One can DH while the other plays catcher, so it works, but both are top 10 draft picks who should be viewed as prospects.  Getting playing time behind the plate is especially important to Gushue, who only had one year at the position at Florida.
Add to this the new level of Bristol, a Rookie League club, but a high rookie league, and you can have some problems.  At Bristol sits Daniel Arribas.  Arribas is an international signing, and he has talent.  He played GCL last year, and DSL the year before that.  He is talented enough to play any position, focusing mostly on 1B when not playing catcher, but he is a catcher first.  Arribas has a nice bat, but cannot spend a third year in short season ball without it killing his career.  Plus, he has done everything needed to get promoted to full season ball.  The organization needs to be able to evaluate Arribas and now there is a back log on talent at catcher.  Arribas has more years in the system, which means his clock is starting to tick loudly.
You might be thinking that Arribas could just go to 1B for a while so that all three might could play, but that is not really possible because the Pirates have Kevin Ross currently playing 1B at Jamestown.  He was an 8th round pick in 2012 who did well in the GCL in that year, but the next year was hurt, played little, and lost a whole year of development.  He is too young to toss aside.  He probably needs to be seeing time at West Virginia as well.

So next year there will be three catchers who need to be at West Virginia.  Two of them can play other positions, particularly 1B, but that position is has a person sitting on it too.  One of these catching prospects is going to be missing a lot of at-bats.  It will be interesting to see who the Pirates handle it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The start we wanted

Gregory Polanco has a hit streak going.  Some of those early hits may not have been impressive, but his 5 for 7 night last night including the game winning two run homer was impressive.  Polanco is going to be a great addition to Pittsburgh.

But I was thinking more of the addition of Taylor Gushue.  He has a multiple hit game and a homer as well.  The other hit was a triple.  I was also thinking of Nick Kingham.  He made his AAA debut.  And he was marvelous.  He struck out 8 in 7 innings, with only one walk.  He has a perfect 0.00 ERA.  It is not hard to start day dreaming about next year's starting rotation with Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Nick Kingham, Jameson Taillon, and someone else.  I think I could live with that line up.

The Pirates also apparently have signed Nelson Jorge.  I would imagine he will start in the GCL.  Interestingly the also signed a 21st round high schooler Eric Thomas Jr.  I just assumed he would go to college.  He is a center fielder with upside I guess.  The Pirates don't have to offer him a contract just because they drafted him.  I can't imagine they gave him over slot money as he is not a highly regarded prep player.  They may actually be over their limit anyway.  This is probably the reason we have not yet signed Connor Joe and Luplow.  We need to save some money on those two guys contracts.  Not a lot to be under the amount, but a decent amount if we want to throw any over the slot money on other guys.

Chase Simpson also signed.  I expect him to start at 3B for Jamestown.  And a Junior college pitcher, Palmer Betts, also signed.  He may start out in the new Bristol Appalachian League affiliate.  It used to be the Bristol Tigers, but I assume now it will be the Bristol Pirates.  I watched that league growing up and saw Darrell Strawberry play for the Kingsport Mets.  The Elizabethton Twins almost always win that league.  We will see if the Pirates can keep pace.

Anyway you look at yesterday it was a good start.