Rejoice: Rod is gone!

In a news blurb that came as a surprise to nobody, the Pirates have released 37-year old catcher Rod Barajas. Barajas, who hit for a measly .283 on-base average this past season, was set to make $3.5 million in the 2013 campaign. He will receive no buyout.  Reliever Hisanori Takahashi has also been released by the club. He was claimed off waivers in August from the Los Angeles Angels and had an 8.64 ERA in just nine appearances in a Pirates uniform. Takahashi was already headed for free agency, so this move was slightly unnecessary.

Pedro Alvarez’s option was exercised, so he will make $700,000 this upcoming season. His .784 OPS was good enough for the third-highest OPS on the Pirates in 2012, behind only Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. He also smoked a whopping 30 home runs, good for tenth in the National League,  including this mammoth shot, and was third in OBA.

 

The MLB Postseason: A Pirates fan’s guide

After the end of the 2012 regular season, some Pirates fans popped in their copy of The Show or MLB 2k to continue the season in the virtual world. A number of those fans may have noticed this mystical
“Postseason” mode listed in the menus of those two games and wondered, “what the hell is the Postseason?” Hopefully this post will clear up any confusion.

According to Wikipedia, the MLB Postseason is “an elimination tournament held after the conclusion of the MLB regular season.” The Postseason consists of one wild-card game in each league, two best-of-five Division Series and a best-of-seven League Championship Series, both in each league. After this, two teams advance to the best-of-seven World Series which will decide the victor of the tournament. According to the Pirates website, the MLB Postseason is “what in the world is that?”

A total of ten teams will make the playoffs. The fans of eight teams will end up saying, “Aw, shucks, we’ll get them next year.” The fans of the losing team in the World Series will feel heartbreak, whereas the fans of the World Series champions will end up celebrating rowdily and with lots of alcohol. Similarly, Pirates fans celebrate the end of the season by crying with their bottle of Jack in hand.

This is a real thing.

Some playoff teams will host promotions during the regular season to commemorate great moments in their Postseason history. A good example of this would be the Braves giving out a bobblehead of Sid Bream sliding into home plate to win the NL Championship Series (vomit). The Pirates have handed out some great bobbleheads over the years – it’s one of the few reasons why fans come to the games anymore! One of the bobbleheads captured a moment that will stay in the hearts of fans
forever: Jack Wilson turning a double play with Jose Castillo. Honorable mentions include Brian Giles standing there, Ryan Doumit standing there, and Andrew McCutchen leaning on his bat.

The Oakland Athletics were able to get into the playoffs despite a slew of injuries, such as Coco Crisp, who hit for an .861 OPS in September, missing eight games due to pink eye, and Brett Anderson missing a few starts with an oblique injury. This, however, didn’t work for the Pirates in 2011, when manager Clint Hurdle started inviting people into his office, only to break one or more of their bones. Because of this, they will remove Andrew McCutchen’s kidney in mid-July of the 2013 baseball season.

Finally, many teams win the World Series due to a single or a series of plays. Most famously, Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run to win the Series for the Buccos against the Yankees in 1960, but a Joe Carter three-run, walk-off home run won the 1993 World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays. Bill Bucker made his now-epitomizing blunder in 1986, which (albeit indirectly) led to a Red Sox loss and, eventually, his release the following season. In a very similar way, the Pirates have been continuing their North American-longest losing season streak in the most bizarre fashions. This season, they clinched their 81st loss by way of a Homer Bailey no-hitter and their 82nd with Joel Hanrahan’s fourth blown save of the season. The “Freak Show” in 1997 clinched the fifth consecutive losing season after being shut out by the 83-77 Houston Astros in their antepenultimate game.

Sutton, Meek elect free agency

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Pirates outfielder Drew Sutton and pitcher Evan Meek have elected free agency.
Sutton was claimed off waivers by the Pirates in June from the Rays after hitting .271 with no home runs in 18 games. He was placed in the starting lineup immediately, and hit for a .278 on-base average with one home run – a walk-off blast against the Houston Astros – in 24 games with the Bucs before being demoted to AAA Indianapolis. After being designated for assignment, he went off on a tangent on his Twitter account, which ultimately led to him deleting the account.
Evan Meek has been on a steady decline after showing the Bucs what he could do back in 2010, when he had a 2.14 ERA in 70 appearances. In 2012, he was only given a shot at 12 relief appearances, in which he had a 6.75 ERA. While he pitched much better in the farm system, with a 2.74 ERA in 46 innings, he wanted to try out in the free agent market and hopefully make a big-league team.
Former Pirates Brian Bixler (Astros), Ryota Igarashi (Yankees), Kip Wells (Padres), and Garrett Olson (Mets) will also file for free agency immediately after the World Series ends.

Favorite 2012 Pirates moment?

Pirates Acquire Travis Snider

Travis Snider was pulled out of a game he was in at around midnight today, and Blue Jays fans were speculating that he was part of a trade to the Chicago Cubs for Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster. The reality is that he was traded to the Pirates for Brad Lincoln. 

Snider is a player I’ve had my eyes on while he was in Toronto since he was named the sixth-best prospect in the MLB prior to the 2009 season and he straight-up dominated AAA, hitting for a .333/.412/.565 triple-slash line, as well as crushing 33 bombs in 183 games. Sadly, his performance in the minors hasn’t translated to the Bigs, where he’s hit for an OBP of just .305 and a slugging average of .429 in 241 games. He seems to be bouncing up and down between an above- and below-league average OPS, having an OPS+ above 100 in 2008 (his rookie season) and 2010 (and so far in 2012, but he’s played nine games) and below 100 in 2009 and 2011. 

Brad Lincoln is headed back to Toronto in the trade. In 28 games this year, Lincoln has a 2.73 ERA and a 3.44 xFIP. Maybe the reason Toronto traded for him is because they think he will be a starter for them, but that ship sailed a long time ago. He started five games this season and was sent to the pen because of his lackluster performance, including a 6.08 ERA and a .340 opponents’ on-base average. His 0.50 ERA out of the bullpen is incredible, but I don’t really see why a team would trade a left-handed power bat for a reliever who may not even be able to keep up the results. 

As for the outfield configuration, Travis Snider’s UZR/150 in left field (5.6) in about 1500 innings is higher than anywhere else in the outfield, but that is also balanced by the spacious left field in PNC Park. He doesn’t have the arm to play right field, so it would be tough to figure out where to put him. 

With the acquisition of Snider, you would have to imagine that Jose Tabata’s days as a Pirate are numbered.

Starling Marte Freed

Kristy Robinson of Pirates Prospects reported on Twitter that the Pirates have called up outfielder Starling Marte from the team’s AAA affiliate in Indianapolis (Dejan Kovacevic confirmed).

Marte is the top position player prospect in the Pirates’ farm and excited fans last season when he hit a .332 average and a .870 OPS with the AA Altoona Curve, which earned him a promotion to the Indians. While he hasn’t had the exact same statistics, he has hit .286/.348/.500, which puts his OPS just .022 points below his 2011 total.

The Pirates have had a problem with their corner outfielders all season, especially with Jose Tabata who earned himself a demotion to triple-A after hitting just .230 with a .290 on base average. Drew Sutton was hot for a while after being acquired, but he has cooled off considerably since. Josh Harrison and Garrett Jones have shown their ineptitude at playing the corner outfield positions, and Alex Presley cannot hit.

To make room for Marte on the roster, the Pirates sent down pitcher Evan Meek, who was recalled from Indianapolis on Saturday.

Pirates Acquire Wandy Rodriguez

According to Jon Heyman on Twitter, the Pirates have traded for Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. Tom Singer broke that the Bucs were closing on on Rodriguez in his blog, Change for a Nickel.

Rodriguez has played his entire eight-year career for Houston, and has a 3.61 ERA through 83 starts in the past three seasons. This season, he has started in 21 games, going 7-9 with a 3.79 ERA. He has lowered his strikeout rate to 6.1 per nine innings, his lowest since his rookie 2005 season, but also has a career-low walk rate, at 2.2 BB/9. His 3.90 xFIP and .287 BABIP (career average is .299) show that he isn’t due for much regression, if any.

He is owed $13 million in 2013 and the same in 2014, but that season is a team option with a $2.5 million buyout player option due to his trade to Pittsburgh. Rodriguez’s next scheduled start would have been against the Pirates, so it will be interesting to see if the Bucs start him against his former team in his Pirates debut.

There is no word on who or what the Pirates sent back in return.

UPDATE

The Pirates have reportedly sent back outfielder Robbie Grossman in the trade. Grossman is playing for the AA Altoona Curve, hitting .262/.374/.403 in 94 games.

UPDATE #2

The Pirates have also traded middle infielder Alen Hanson to the Astros. Hanson catapulted up the Pirates’ prospect list after an incredible start to the season, hitting .319 with a .935 OPS in 96 games for the West Virginia Power. If Hanson is included in this trade, the Pirates have to be getting something else in return.

UPDATE #3

Alen Hanson is not included in the trade, instead the Pirates send Rudy Owens and Colton Cain to Houston. Cain was an eighth round pick in 2009, and has pitched decently in high-A ball for the Bradenton Marauders. Rudy Owens can be a future #3 starter, but he’s been stuck in AAA Indy for the past two seasons. I still think that if the Astros are getting three mid-level prospects, they must be sending cash in return.

UPDATE #4

According to Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette, the Astros have, in fact, included cash. They are sending $12 million over the next three seasons – $2 million this year, $4.5 million next year, and $5.5 million in 2014.

MLB to Implement Use of Robotic Fans for Post-Season

In an attempt to integrate more technology into the game, MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced on Tuesday the use of robotic fans starting in the 2012 postseason.

“We can no longer deny that technology in the world around us has changed and we can use it to enhance the game, even in a traditional sport like baseball,” said Selig, who had just woken up from his mid-morning nap, “It is clear that there is no use in resisting the use of robots any longer.”

Selig, who has received criticism in his tenure over failures to address the Steroid Era, the Black Sox Scandal, and letting that All-Star Game end in a tie, said the use of robotic fans would usher in a new era that would put MLB at the forefront of technology in sports.

“Some people thought using computers to track the strike zone would be enough, but after consulting with the On-field Play Committee we came to the conclusion that it would be a better option to eliminate the problem at its root: with the fan,” said Selig.

Details are still sketchy on how the plan will be implemented, but no teams are permitted to sell any playoff tickets to entities possessing souls. The line of robots for each team is being rush-manufactured in Japan, with the first shipments expecting to arrive in America just before the post-season in early October.

In addition to the robots, it is expected that higher-end appliances will favor the Yankees and the Red Sox while lower-end brand products—such as those made by Wal-Mart’s Great Value—will take the place of Royals and Mariners fans.

More Bang for the Bucs

As a general manager, especially for small-market teams, the best way to succeed is to find underrated players and sign them for less than they are worth. That is the concept Billy Beane has used with the Oakland Athletics, having some of the most cost-effective teams in the MLB since he became general manager. In fact, they may have been the most cost-effective teams, such as the 2006 Athletics who had the fifth best record in baseball despite ranking 24th in payroll.

The Pirates opened the season with the league’s lowest payroll, at $51.93 million, but have the fifth best record in Major League Baseball.

Part of the reason for the Pirates being very cost-effective this season is due to the players who are making the league minimum – Neil Walker, Michael McKenry, Alex Presley, Josh Harrison, Jared Hughes, and Drew Sutton, just to name a few. Neal Huntington does not have a good track record with bringing in MLB talent via free agency and trades. Last season was a prime example of that, as Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz were jettisoned out of Pittsburgh as soon as replacements were found, but this season was likely to be different. Huntington brought in Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas, and Erik Bedard as free agents, as well as Casey McGehee and A.J. Burnett from trades with Milwaukee and the Yankees.

To measure the cost-effectiveness of each player on the Pirates roster, I first collected the salaries from Cot’s Contracts and prorated them to 92 games. After that, I compiled the DOLLAR statistic, based on WAR, and then subtracted the difference between the two.

What are these stats?

WAR is an acronym for “wins above replacement.” A player with a 0.0 WAR is a replacement player, or a waiver claim like Mario Mendoza or John Bowker. The league average is around 2.0 for starters and below 1.0 for bench players and relief pitchers. A superstar will have a WAR in the neighborhood of 5-6 and an MVP-caliber player will have a 6+ WAR.

The DOLLAR statistic measures how much money a player is worth based on WAR. The salary a player will make is about $4.5 million a season for one WAR, so someone with 10 WAR will be worth $45 million.

What are the results?

Not surprisingly, the most cost effective-player on the Pirates is Andrew McCutchen. He has made $280,000 this season, but with his .372/.427/.642 slash line along with 22 home runs and 14 stolen bases, he would be worth $24.4 million in the free agent market if the season ended today. The least cost-effective player is Clint Barmes, who has been paid $2.84 million to date. Barmes is hardly hitting above the Mendoza line, at .207, so it does not come at a surprise he is worth “negative” dollars at -$4.04  million, meaning it would be hard for him to find a team to sign with in a fair free agent market, even for the minimum salary.

Neil Walker, who has been in McCutchen’s shadow all season, would be worth $13.8 million in free agency, or $13.57 million more than the $230,000 he has made this season.

The least cost effective group of players on the team has been the players who have already made $2 million or more.

A.J. Burnett has been the best acquisition Neal Huntington has brought in during his tenure as general manager. Surprisingly, despite making $5 million per annum, he has also been the most cost effective player Huntington has acquired. Barmes, as noted earlier, has not been worth his salt this season, being worth -$4 million less than what he is being paid. Erik Bedard is still riding his spectacular beginning of the season to be worth about $2 million more than his $2.25 million salary to date.

There is also a pretty nice group of players who are making more than $1 million but less than $2,000,000.

Kevin Correia is the only player in that range who would fetch less on the free agent market than he is worth. Jeff Karstens has played very well since returning from the disabled list, and a team would sign him as a free agent for $3.45 million more than the $1.76 million he has made to date. The trade for Casey McGehee was a good move considering his offensive and defensive output, leading to his cost effective season. However, one player who is making just above league minimum is worth more than the $1-2 million range combined.

Andrew McCutchen is just an incredible human being and does not need any explanation. James McDonald, who is “top three in Cy Young voting”-worthy this season, could be signed for $9.5 million more on a free agent market than he has been paid so far this year, as is the case with Pedro Alvarez, who has nearly identical numbers. A nice surprise this season has been the performance of catcher Michael McKenry, who was acquired during the revolving door of catchers last season. The difference between his DOLLAR stat and his actual salary is a cool four and a half million dollars. Even Jordy Mercer who has seemingly not played since his call-up has a positive differential.

If the Bucs want to continue their success, they will need to extend those of the core without long-term deals (Walker, McDonald, Alvarez) and hope to find some underrated free agents who will sign for less than they are worth.

Cruz Placed on DL, Meek Recalled

The Pittsburgh Pirates have placed pitcher Juan Cruz on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and pitcher Evan Meek has been recalled from class AAA to take his roster spot.

Cruz has pitched in 37 games for the Bucs this season, throwing a 2.61 ERA through 31 innings. He has a 9.3 K/9 and a 4.9 walk rate. Meek was demoted to the Indians after a lackluster 7.39 ERA over ten relief appearances.

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