Is Francisco Liriano Starting to Decline?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Justin K. Aller - Getty Images

p/c: Justin K. Aller – Getty Images

Pirates GM Neal Huntington made arguably the best bargain signing of his tenure when he inked Francisco Liriano to a one-year deal for only $1 million prior to the 2013 season. The contract also included a 2014 club option worth $8 million. Liriano played a huge part in getting the Pirates to the postseason in 2013, their first appearance since 1992. His good work was more than enough to have his club option exercised. 

Following the 2014 season, Liriano was one of the better starting pitchers on the free agent market. The Pirates gave him a $15.3 million qualifying offer, but he rejected it. There didn’t appear to be much interest for Liriano, not just because of draft pick compensation being attached to him, but also given his injury history. The Pirates and Liriano agreed to terms on a three-year deal worth $39 million. His 2015 season was again a success just like the two years prior. Since 2013, Liriano has the third most strikeouts among NL left-handed starters. Only Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner have more. Liriano has been off to rough start in the early going of 2016, which makes you wonder if he’s beginning to decline. 

The number of walks allowed by Liriano has been a concern, posting a 5.2 BB/9. It’s not a surprise that his control issues has led to a lower chase rate of 26.0%, which was at 32.4% last season. Velocity however hasn’t been a factor, as his 92.2 mph two-seam fastball, 85.0 mph slider and 84.9 mph changeup are all about the same as 2015. It’s interesting to note that Liriano is throwing his two-seamer much more than his slider and changeup this season. This may be an indication that his slider and changeup aren’t showing as much movement, and he’s having to throw his fastball more to get ahead in counts. In year’s past, he would rely heavily on the secondary offerings and get a ton of strikeouts. I don’t think Liriano is on a decline, since as I mentioned, there hasn’t been a decrease in any of his pitches in terms of velocity. The walks are definitely a concern, but that seems to be more mechanical than anything, so hopefully Ray Searage is able to find the flaw in his delivery and get him back on track.

 

 

 

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What is Jeff Locke’s Future with the Pirates?

By Jared Lankes

p/c: Dennis Wierzbicki - USA Today Sports

p/c: Dennis Wierzbicki – USA Today Sports

Jeff Locke is coming off twirling an absolute gem in Miami. He pitched a complete game allowing 3 hits but faced just one over the minimum. It’s the best he’s ever looked in any start on the major league mound. While he gets a lot of criticism, there are still many, including myself, that maintain that he is a quality 5th starter in the MLB. Put him up against many other 5 starters in the MLB, and he stacks up very well. It’s unfortunate that people want him to do things a 2-3 rotation pitcher does. But I’m not here to defend Locke today. Instead, I want to talk about his unclear and foggy future with the Pirates organization.

It has been reported that the Pirates intend to use Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Chad Kuhl in the rotation when they get called up. If they all get called up this year, which may not happen, there is a definite rotation crunch. Pirates would have to remove rotation guys they currently have. Juan Nicasio is the obvious one to go first as he was never intended for a long stint in the rotation. The second guy out would be a decision the Pirates need to make, and Locke would certainly be discussed. He would be easier to move out than Francisco Liriano or Jon Niese.

Locke probably wouldn’t go to the bullpen though. It seems more likely the Pirates would trade him despite history showing they don’t like to trade away quality rotation depth. However, chatter around the league has it that Locke has a decent amount of trade value. Pirates might use this rotation depth in a trade this time around because of the value Locke has. He is a cheap, controllable, backend rotation pitcher that many teams covet.

However, all this can only work if the young guys perform either this year or next year when they get called up. If they aren’t effective out of the gate, then Locke gives the Pirates nice insurance. Pirates will have a good amount of flexibility in this rotation soon, and that is a very good thing. So, be grateful the Pirates have a better 5th starter than many teams have to give them that flexibility once the young guys get to Pittsburgh.

I don’t know whether Locke will be dealt or not, obviously. All I know is that the rotation will be deep and filled with quality guys that can give the Pirates a chance to win nearly every time they take the hill. If an 8 or 9-man rotation was a possibility, the Pirates could certainly do that if they wanted to. That’s how deep they are. It’s quite a good problem for a major league team to have, especially when pitching gets you way further than hitting ever will.

 

 

 

 

Pirates Minor League Report 5/30

By Jason Shetler

AAA: Rochester defeated Indianapolis 7-0.

Frank Duncan pitched 4.1 innings, as he gave up three runs, walked two and had eight strikeouts. (71 pitches; 52 strikes) (2.36 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9.0 K/9)

Jason Rogers was 3-for-4. (.270 avg, .738 OPS)

Josh Bell went 2-for-4. (.308 avg, .880 OPS)

Adam Frazier goes 1-for-4. (.307 avg, .756 OPS)

 

AA: Altoona defeated Bowie 9-4.

Tyler Eppler allowed four runs in five innings, walking two and striking out four. (90 pitches; 53 strikes) (4.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.0 K/9) 

Austin Meadows collected three hits including his first home run of the season. (.277 avg, .796 OPS)

Jonathan Schwind hit his second homer of the year. (.316 avg, .909 OPS)

Jin-De Jhang goes 2-for-5 with a two-run double. (.282 avg, .691 OPS) 

Harold Ramirez also went 2-for-5. (.298 avg, .772 OPS) 

 

High A: Bradenton had a scheduled day off.

 

Low A: Lakewood defeated West Virginia 6-1. 

Dario Agrazal threw five innings, allowing six runs, walked one and struckout three. (88 pitches; 58 strikes) (3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 5.6 K/9) 

Mitchell Tolman had a solo home run, his third of the season. (.254 avg, .708 OPS) 

Carlos Munoz was 2-for-4. (.248 avg, .676 OPS)

Tito Polo went 1-for-4 with a double. (.298 avg, .853 OPS)

 

 

Pirates at Marlins Series Preview

By Jared Lankes

The Pirates lost 2 of 3 in Arlington over the weekend. After erupting for 9 runs on Friday, they scored a total of 4 runs over the next 2 games. Losing 2 of 3 is a small setback, but Texas is a good team, so it’s not a huge deal. The Pirates are hoping for a better performance in Miami, as they play 4 in South Beach. They originally had planned for 2 of these games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but those games got moved to Miami due to Zika concerns.

Monday: Justin Nicolino (2-2 4.37 ERA) vs Jeff Locke (3-3 5.08 ERA) 7:10 PM ET

The Pirates are getting really used to these lefty vs lefty matchups apparently. Well, it happens again on Monday. Pirates faced Nicolino a season ago and were able to hit him well. Nicolino has been average at best this season as well. However, Jeff Locke has been worse. His numbers haven’t looked great overall despite most of his starts actually being decent for a 5 starter. He’s another pitcher that’s better than his stats indicate. This pitching matchup is a toss up.

Tuesday: Jose Fernandez (7-2 2.82 ERA) vs Gerrit Cole (5-3 2.53 ERA) 7:10 ET

This pitching matchup is destined to be one of the best of the year on paper. Two of the best young arms in the NL meet one another in a mega matchup. Cole and Fernandez have lived up to their reputation this season as well. This should be a fun matchup to watch unfold. I don’t expect too many runs in this one.

Wednesday: Adam Conley (3-3 4.15 ERA) vs Jon Niese (5-2 4.42 ERA) 7:10 ET

Look, another all-LHP matchup. What do you know? This series will be another good test for Gregory Polanco against the lefties of the Marlins. We shall see if Polanco can continue his good work vs lefties. There is also hopes that these lefties can help Cutch, Marte, Mercer, and Harrison (if he returns) have a good series and start to get and stay hot, as they all mash lefties.

Thursday: Wei-Yin Chen (3-2 4.37 ERA) vs Juan Nicasio (4-4 4.79 ERA) 7:10 ET

The Pirates bring Juan Nicasio to the hill in their last day in Miami. The key for Nicasio is and always will be consistency. He has been up and down all season long as his time in the Pirates’ rotation winds down (Taillon will replace him by mid-June). While this Marlins lineup isn’t a destroyer of worlds, they can still hit. There is one guy in the lineup to really watch out for, and that guy is Giancarlo Stanton. Though he has struggled a lot to start this season, he is a guy that is as capable as anyone else at absolutely wrecking a pitcher’s day on any given day or night. But he’s not the only threat in that lineup, so Nicasio will need to be on his game.

Pirates Minor League Report 5/29

By Jason Shetler

AAA: Indianapolis defeated Pawtucket 8-2.

Jameson Taillon allowed just one in six innings, didn’t walk a batter and struckout three. (83 pitches; 54 strikes) (1.79 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 8.8 K/9)

Josh Bell went 3-for-4 and was a triple shy of the cycle. (.304 avg, .877 OPS)

Dan Gamache was 2-for-3 with a two-run homer, his second of the year. (.215 avg, .590 OPS) 

Pedro Florimon goes 2-for-5 with an RBI triple and two runs scored. (.270 avg, .691 OPS) 

Adam Frazier drove in three runs. (.309 avg, .762 OPS) 

Danny Ortiz hit his sixth home run of the season. (.253 avg, .717 OPS) 

 

AA: Bowie defeated Altoona 8-3 in a rain shortened game. 

Brandon Waddell lasted only three innings, as he surrendered seven runs, walked four and had no strikeouts. (74 pitches; 38 strikes) (2.80 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 7.0 K/9)

Edwin Espinal had two hits including his second long ball of the year. (.280 avg, .687 OPS) 

Austin Meadows goes 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and scored a run. (.255 avg, .728 OPS) 

 

High A: Bradenton defeated St. Lucie 5-2.

Justin Masterson made his 2016 season debut going five innings, allowing two runs, issuing three walks and striking out eight. (81 pitches; 52 strikes) 

Jordan Luplow and Taylor Gushue each hit their fourth homer of the season. (Luplow: .207 avg, .646 OPS) (Gushue: .246 avg, .689 OPS) 

Cole Tucker goes 2-for-3 with a walk in his Marauders debut. (.281 avg, .786 OPS) 

Jeff Roy was 2-for-4 and scored twice. (.325 avg, .785 OPS)

 

Low A: West Virginia defeated Columbia 3-0.

Bret Helton tossed six scoreless innings, walked two and struckout four. (83 pitches; 50 strikes) (4.11 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.7 K/9) 

Tito Polo belted a three-run homer, his sixth of the season. (.299 avg, .856 OPS) 

Mitchell Tolman was 2-for-3 with a walk. (.252 avg, .683 OPS)

 

 

 

Sean Rodriguez: On Base Machine?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports

p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

A couple weeks ago, I did a post regarding the Pirates bench and how it’s become one of the best in baseball. Matt Joyce has been phenomenal as a pinch-hitter, Chris Stewart is a quality backup catcher and David Freese is giving them solid production whether at third base or first base. As good as all three have performed so far in 2016, the most pleasant surprise has got to be Sean Rodriguez.

Prior to the 2015 season, the Pirates obtained Rodriguez from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for minor league pitcher Buddy Borden. During his time with the Rays, he garnered the reputation as being a defensive-oriented super utility player. Rodriguez’s defense was on display, most notably at first base, as a late game replacement for Pedro Alvarez. The offensive side for Rodriguez was a much different story, posting a very poor .281 on base percentage and drawing just five walks all season. He made headlines in the National League Wild Card Game, but for all the wrong reasons, when he decided to go Manny Pacquiao on a defenseless Gatorade cooler in the dugout.

Despite the below average offensive numbers in 2015, Rodriguez was brought back by the Pirates last offseason on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. As expected, the move was widely criticized. That criticism has turned into utter surprise with his offense. Rodriguez currently has a .402 OBP, thanks in part to a stellar walk rate of 14.5%, which is incredible considering he has a career 6.8% walk rate. He’s also done an outstanding job of creating runs with a 167 wRC+. The most encouraging sign for Rodriguez has been his chase rate. Last season, he had a very high 36.8% chase rate. This year, he’s been swinging at pitches outside of the strikezone only 23.0% of the time. Generally, a player will gradually show signs of improving their approach at the plate, but the drastically improved approach for Rodriguez in 2016 is quite amazing. 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Minor League Report 5/28

By Jason Shetler

AAA: Pawtucket defeated Indianapolis 3-1.

Trevor Williams pitched six innings, as he gave up a pair of runs, walked one and had two strikeouts in his first start for the Indians since the shoulder injury in April. (67 pitches; 45 strikes) (2.84 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) 

Max Moroff hit his fifth home run of the season and also walked. (.235 avg, .754 OPS) 

Josh Bell, Adam Frazier and Jason Rogers each went 1-for-4. (Bell: .293 avg, .839 OPS) (Frazier: .310 avg, .769 OPS) (Rogers: .263 avg, .738 OPS)

 

AA: Altoona defeated Bowie 5-3.

Clay Holmes allowed three runs in seven innings, issued one walk and didn’t strikeout a batter. (83 pitches; 50 strikes) (5.05 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 5.1 K/9)

Erich Weiss was 3-for-4 with an RBI triple and a walk. (.300 avg, .873 OPS)

Stetson Allie had two hits including his fifth homer of the year. (.230 avg, .741 OPS)

Anderson Feliz went 2-for-4 with a two-run double. (.264 avg, .718 OPS) 

Austin Meadows goes 2-for-5 with a pair of stolen bases. (.242 avg, .694 OPS)

 

High A: Bradenton defeated St. Lucie 4-2.

Austin Coley pitches seven innings, giving up two runs, no walks and struckout five. (91 pitches; 67 strikes) (3.23 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 5.9 K/9) 

Pablo Reyes went 2-for-3 with a two-run double and a free pass. (.266 avg, .727 OPS)

Michael Suchy was also 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored. (.250 avg, .709 OPS)

Chase Simpson hits his second long ball of the season. (.252 avg, .805 OPS)

 

Low A: West Virginia defeated Columbia 12-2.

Jonathan Brubaker threw five innings, allowing one run (unearned), walking one and striking out nine. (80 pitches; 52 strikes) (3.96 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 10.3 K/9)

Daniel Arribas had a huge night going 5-for-5, which included his sixth home run of the year and five RBI’s. (.287 avg, .913 OPS) 

Tito Polo went 3-for-5 with an RBI, two stolen bases and scored three times. (.301 avg, .845 OPS) 

Ke’Bryan Hayes was 2-for-4 with an RBI, a walk and scored a run. (.286 avg, .771 OPS)