Should the Pirates Non-Tender Jordy Mercer?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Gene J. Puskar – AP

Jordy Mercer replaced Clint Barmes as the Pirates shortstop in the second half of the 2013 season. After question marks surrounded his defensive play entering 2014, he made significant improvements, to the point that most sabermetricians considered him one of the better defenders at shortstop that year. 

If you follow me on Twitter, or just read the blog, I’ve mentioned how over the past couple of years that Mercer has been one of the more underrated shortstops in baseball. Not just for his defensive work, but also his ability to hit left-handed pitching consistently. 

Mercer did well in the first half of this year, as he put up a .769 OPS. He struggled in the second half however, posting an OPS of .680. Overall, he posted a .733 OPS, which is still decent for a shortstop, while his 14 home runs were the most by a Pirates shortstop since Jay Bell in 1991. There has been speculation though about Mercer being a possible non-tender candidate. Is there a chance that Mercer and the Pirates part ways?

This offseason will be Mercer’s final year of arbitration eligibility. His projected arbitration figure, according to MLB Trade Rumors, is set at $6.5 million. The Pirates will need a shortstop for the beginning of 2018, since Kevin Newman will likely be with AAA Indianapolis until midseason. Mercer had a 1.4 WAR this season, so while the projected $6.5 figure may seem a little high, he is better than any internal option the Pirates have currently. If nothing else, Mercer is above replacement level and a league average shortstop to have around until Newman arrives to Pittsburgh at some point next year.








Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

What Led to Chad Kuhl’s Second Half Turnaround?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jayne Kamin-Oncea – USA Today Sports

During the 2016 season, the Pirates called up several of their pitching prospects, including Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl. While Taillon was the Pirates best rookie pitcher in 2016, Kuhl had a decent rookie campaign in his own right, posting a 4.20 ERA and a 3.95 FIP. 

Entering the final week of Spring Training, Kuhl was penciled in as the fourth starter in the rotation. The first half of the season did not go well for him, as he posted a 4.96 ERA and a .281 batting average against. With those struggles came debate as to whether or not Kuhl would be better suited in the bullpen. He was able to perform much better in the second half as a starter, putting up an ERA of 3.63, while holding the opposition to a .254 average. So, why was Chad Kuhl more effective in the second half of the season?

Kuhl displayed great velocity on his sinker at 96.0 mph on average. He appeared to rely too heavily on it in the first half, which made him hittable. In addition, his terrific slider was a weapon against right-handed hitters, but not so much versus left-handed bats. In the second half, Kuhl began incorporating the curveball more. Here is the monthly percentage of curveballs used by Kuhl.

April: 0.0%

May: 3.4%

June: 6.1%

July: 6.9%

August: 9.6%

September: 10.8% 

While the slider is still Kuhl’s best secondary offering, the curveball was an above average pitch for him, once he began throwing it more. Kuhl put up a 9.0 K/9 in the second half compared to a 7.3 K/9 in the first half. The average velocity on his curve was 83.0 mph, which was a 13 mph separation from his sinker. This combination helped keep hitters off balance, leading to more strikeouts and just overall better success in the second half of the season as a result. 









How Should the Pirates Use Taylor Hearn Moving Forward?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

Despite the initial criticism of the Mark Melancon deal around the 2016 trade deadline, the Pirates end of the deal is shaping up to be an absolute steal. Felipe Rivero is coming off a stellar 2017 campaign, and has now emerged as one of the more dominating relievers in the game. While Rivero is considered the centerpiece of the Melancon trade, Taylor Hearn was the other player involved. 

Hearn spent the 2017 season with the Bradenton Marauders. Before the year, MLB Pipeline had him as the 13th best prospect in the Pirates system. He is now #11 in the updated rankings. In 18 games (17 starts) for the Marauders, Hearn posted a 4.12 ERA, but his other figures stood out more, with a 3.41 FIP and a 2.84 xFIP. His K/9 was at a 10.9 clip, while he put up a 49% groundball rate. 

In mid-July, Hearn sustained an oblique injury, which landed him on the disabled list. He was able to make a rehab outing with the GCL Pirates before the season ended. Hearn is one of a handful of Pirates prospects playing in the Arizona Fall League for the Glendale Desert Dogs. He is essentially pitching long relief with them. So how should the Pirates use Hearn moving forward?

Hearn has outstanding velocity on the fastball for a starter at 97-98 mph, which was rated the best fastball in the Florida State League this year by Baseball America. He relies heavily on the fastball, and needs to incorporate his secondary pitches more often. His slider is considered above average, but again, he hasn’t thrown it enough. Aside from needing to command his pitches consistently, Hearn’s changeup is likely going to dictate whether he remains a starter. It’s currently a below average pitch, which will have to improve, especially against right-handed batters at the upper levels. The general consensus is that Hearn will pitch in the big leagues as a reliever. The Pirates however should continue to use him as a starter in the minors, to see if he can develop his changeup, and if he’s able to make it a “respectable” offering before he arrives to Pittsburgh, then he should stick as a rotation arm.












Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

Mitch Keller to Work on Changeup During the AFL

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Martin Griff

According to a recent article from Pirates Prospects, Mitch Keller will be working on his changeup during the Arizona Fall League. His first start will be on Wednesday for the Glendale Desert Dogs. 

Heading into the 2017 season, Keller was rated the top pitching prospect in the Pirates system. In late May, he was placed on the DL with lower back stiffness and began rehabbing with the West Virginia Black Bears, before rejoining Bradenton in late June. Despite the injury, he put up a 3.14 ERA and a .207 batting average against in 15 starts for the Marauders. During the first week of August, Keller was promoted to Altoona, where he posted an ERA of 3.12 and held opponents to a .197 average in six starts. He also tossed a complete game shutout in the Eastern League playoffs.

Keller is arguably the best pitcher entering this year’s AFL. While his changeup is improving, it’s not close to the level of his curveball, which is a definite swing and miss pitch for him. The development of Keller’s changeup will obviously be vital when facing left-handed batters at the upper levels in AAA, and eventually, the big leagues. 









Top 10 Pirates Games of 2017

By Jason Shetler

On Wednesday, I ranked the Top 10 Pirates players of 2017. Now it’s time to rank the ten best Pirates games from this season.

10. June 12th: Jameson Taillon entered 2017 looking to build off his impressive rookie season. In early May, he was placed on the disabled list. The original diagnosis was a groin injury, but it was later revealed that testicular cancer had formed. Not only did Taillon recover, but he made his return with the Pirates on June 12th, pitching five scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies. It certainly made for a terrific feel good story. 

9. April 29th: The Pirates took on the Miami Marlins in South Beach on April 29th. Ivan Nova got the start and turned in the best outing by a Pirates starter this year. Nova tossed a complete game shutout, limiting the Fish to just three hits. He threw only 95 pitches and did not allow a walk. The Pirates were victorious 4-0.

8. July 14th: In the first game coming out of the All-Star break, the Pirates hosted the St. Louis Cardinals. With the gamed tied 2-2 in the ninth, Josh Bell delivered an opposite field, three-run homer off Seung-hwan Oh to give the Bucs a 5-2 win. It was Bell’s first career walkoff home run. 

7. May 24th: On May 24th, the Pirates visited the Atlanta Braves at brand new SunTrust Park. In the tenth inning of a 5-5 game, the Pirates put up seven runs. These runs were highlighted by homers from David Freese, Jose Osuna and Jordy Mercer, all of which were allowed by Josh Collmenter. It marked just the third time in Major League history that a team hit back-to-back-to-back homers in extra innings. 

6. September 4th: While September 4th may have been Labor Day, the Pirates offense did not labor that day. They defeated the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park by a final of 12-0. Seven of those runs came in the eighth inning. Josh Bell and Max Moroff each drove in four runs. 

5. July 30th: In 2009 and 2016, Andrew McCutchen had games in which homered three times. He would accomplish that feat for the third time in his career on July 30th versus the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. McCutchen’s first home run was against Clayton Richard. He then homered off Jose Torres in the eighth, before hitting another off Torres in the ninth. The Pirates were 7-1 winners.

4. September 26th: Just when you think Andrew McCutchen has done something amazing, he just pulls another rabbit out of the hat. On September 26th against the Baltimore Orioles in Pittsburgh, McCutchen hit his first career grand slam. In addition, he had eight RBI, becoming the first Pirate to drive in eight runs in a game since Jason Bay in 2004.

3. July 9th: On the last game before the All-Star break, the Pirates faced the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Bucs exploded for ten runs in the first, with the biggest blow coming on a Francisco Cervelli grandslam. It was the first time in Jon Lester’s career that he failed to get out of the first inning. The game ended up being a 14-3 final. 

2. August 6th: After two seasons with the Pirates in 2015 and 2016, Sean Rodriguez became a free agent and signed on with the Braves last offseason. Following a terrifying car accident in January, there was doubt if Rodriguez would play at all in 2017. Amazingly, he made his season debut with the Braves in July. Just a few days after the trade deadline, the Pirates acquired Rodriguez. On August 6th against the Padres, he made his return to Pittsburgh. With the game tied 4-4 in the 12th, Rodriguez unloaded on a Buddy Baumann pitch for a walkoff home run to give the Bucs a 5-4 victory. 

1. August 23rd: The best Pirates game of 2017 was against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park on August 23rd. It featured the most exciting pitching duel of the entire season. Trevor Williams had gone eight scoreless, while Rich Hill was aiming for perfection. Hill lost the perfect game in the eighth on an error, but still had the no-hitter intact. With no score in the tenth, and Hill still working on a no-no, Josh Harrison stepped to the plate and delivered a game-winning homer just over the left field wall. For the first time in MLB history, a walkoff home run broke up a no-hitter.