Time for the Pirates to Bat Francisco Cervelli Leadoff

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Matt Freed - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
p/c: Matt Freed – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Entering last season, the Pirates planned on using John Jaso as their leadoff batter. While Jaso wasn’t the most conventional leadoff man, he had the reputation of getting on base. The one problem that occurred was Jaso being in a first base platoon with David Freese, so Jaso sat versus left-handed starters. Jordy Mercer at one point was used in the leadoff spot against lefties, while Josh Harrison was plugged in during the second half of the season. The Pirates lacked a consistent leadoff man in 2016, and the question becomes who will fill that role this season? – Personally, I think it’s time for the Bucs to use Francisco Cervelli in that spot.

After the Pirates were unable to re-sign Russell Martin following the 2014 season, they decided to go the “Moneyball” direction by acquiring Cervelli from the New York Yankees in exchange for lefty reliever Justin Wilson. Making just $987,500 in 2015, Cervelli gave the Pirates a solid on base presence in the lineup, posting a .370 OBP, which was second best among NL catchers behind only Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants. 2016 was an injury plagued season for Cervelli, but he did manage to put up an OBP of .377, which would have been tops among all MLB backstops had he qualified for enough plate appearances. To further make the case for Cervelli to be placed in the leadoff spot, here are his stats with the bases empty last two seasons in Pittsburgh. 

Bases empty: .380 OBP, 117 wRC+, 11.1 BB%, 20.5 K% 

Cervelli’s OBP has shown to be even better when there’s nobody on base. He’s done a terrific job of creating runs, as his wRC+ is well above league average, while the walk rate is solid. The strikeout rate isn’t terribly high for someone who can work deep counts as much as Cervelli does. Because Cervelli is productive against right-handers and left-handers in the on base department, he becomes the best viable option for the Pirates to have leading off in 2017.

 

 

 

Josh Bell Reportedly Ahead of Schedule in His Rehab

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Hague
p/c: David Hague

According to Pirates Head Athletic Trainer Todd Tomczyk, Josh Bell is “slightly ahead of schedule” in his rehab. 

Bell is recovering from minor knee surgery, which he underwent on February 1st. The switch-hitting first baseman was cleared for baseball activities this week, including hitting and fielding. Bell currently isn’t running at full speed, so he won’t be able to play in any games just yet. The Pirates are evaluating if Bell can be ready by Opening Day. Barring any major setback, I’d be surprised if he isn’t ready by then, especially since the season doesn’t start in more than a month. 

 

 

 

 

Joel Hanrahan Named Assistant Pitching Coach for West Virginia Black Bears

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jared Wickerham - Getty Images
p/c: Jared Wickerham – Getty Images

The Pirates have announced that Joel Hanrahan has been hired to serve as the assistant pitching coach for the West Virginia Black Bears. 

Hanrahan pitched seven seasons in the big leagues, with his best work coming with the Pirates. During his four years in Pittsburgh, he posted an ERA of 2.59 along with a 151 ERA+ and was named an All-Star in 2011 and 2012.

Prior to the 2013 season, the Pirates dealt Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox for a package that included Mark Melancon. Hanrahan underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013. He attempted to make a comeback for the 2015 season, as he signed with the Detroit Tigers. Unfortunately, he had another Tommy John procedure done, and was released by the Tigers in Spring Training that year. Hanrahan announced his retirement in November of last year.

 

 

Francisco Cervelli Sustains Right Foot Injury; Listed as Day-to-Day

By Jason Shetler

Multiple outlets are reporting that Francisco Cervelli has sustained a right foot injury, and the Pirates say he will be “day-to-day”. The injury occurred during a workout Sunday morning at Pirate City. No word yet on how Cervelli injured the foot.

The injury bug played a role with Cervelli last year, fracturing a hamate bone in his left hand, which required surgery in June, as well as an injury to his right foot that happened in August. 

When healthy, Cervelli has been one of the best on base threats in terms of catchers, posting a .370 OBP in 2015 and a .377 OBP in 2016. He’s also one of the better pitch framers behind the plate. Cervelli is scheduled to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Pirates will let him participate, given the potential nature of this injury.

 

 

 

 

Why the David Freese Extension Could Pay Big Dividends

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Joe Sargent - Getty Images
p/c: Joe Sargent – Getty Images

Entering Spring Training last year, the Pirates were looking to find a short term replacement for Jung-Ho Kang, who was expected to miss at least the first month of the season, as he was recovering from a torn meniscus and fractured tibia that he sustained in September of 2015.

Last offseason, Jason Rogers was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, and he appeared to be a possibility to replace Kang. In the second week of Spring however, the Pirates made a surprising move by signing David Freese to a one-year deal for $3 million. While the money was very reasonable, another factor was draft pick compensation not being attached to the former World Series MVP. 

Freese played well overall in his first season in Pittsburgh last year. He not only received playing time at third base, but also at first base, as he platooned with John Jaso. Freese was phenomenal versus lefty pitching, posting a .963 OPS against them. His bat speed remained solid with an average Exit Velocity of 91.5 mph, which was above the MLB average in 2016 (89.6 mph). Defensively, Freese was above average at third base with a 5.2 UZR/150 along with five Defensive Runs Saved. 

In August, Freese and the Pirates agreed to terms on a two-year extension worth $11 million, which includes a $6 million club option for 2019. Freese will be put in a first base platoon again this season, only this time with Josh Bell. He also might find himself getting significant playing time at third base, depending on what kind of punishment Kang receives for his role in a DUI accident back in December. Even as he enters his age 34 season, Freese continues to be a very good all-around third baseman, so he would be more than capable of filling in for Kang. Based on his solid work versus southpaws, as well as his defensive play, the extension could pay great dividends for the Pirates.

 

 

 

Can Tyler Webb Make the Pirates Opening Day Roster?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Goldman - AP
p/c: David Goldman – AP

The Pirates had themselves a quiet offseason for the most part. The only significant moves was bringing back Ivan Nova for the rotation and signing Daniel Hudson to essentially replace Neftali Feliz in the bullpen. 

One move that came as a real surprise was the Rule 5 selection of Tyler Webb, a left-handed pitcher who was left unprotected by the New York Yankees. This marked the first time since 2011 that the Pirates selected a Rule 5 player in the Major League portion of the draft, which is surprising, given that the team is more of a contender than a rebuilder.

Webb spent all of 2016 pitching at the AAA level for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In 72.2 innings of work with the RailRiders, he put up a 3.59 ERA with an even better 2.76 Fielding Independent Pitching. His K/9 was very impressive at 10.1, while he posted a 2.9 BB/9, which isn’t bad for someone who has the ability to miss bats. Although Webb’s fastball sits in the low-90’s, it’s considered deceptive with the movement he has on it. Because he’s 6’6, he’s able to throw it on a downward plane. Webb has a changeup, which is his best secondary pitch, and he’s not afraid to throw it in any count. He also has a slider that keeps improving. 

Prior to Webb being taken by the Pirates in the Rule 5 Draft, the last two pitchers who were selected by GM Neal Huntington was Evan Meek and Donnie Veal. Even though Meek made the club in 2008 and Veal in 2009, the situations were much different, as the Pirates were in the early stages of Huntington’s rebuilding process. What also makes the selection of Webb interesting is the fact that the Pirates already had a good amount of left-handed arms in the pen. During the offseason, Antonio Bastardo was reportedly on the trade block, and could still be an option to move, if Webb is able to really impress for much of the Spring. Another scenario is designating Wade LeBlanc for assignment to make room on the roster for Webb. The Pirates don’t have much invested in LeBlanc, as he’s due to make only $800,000 for this year. I certainly think Tyler Webb has a legitimate shot to make the club out of Spring Training, but if not, he would just be sent back to the Yankees without any issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucco Nation Mailbag

By Jason Shetler

On Friday, I asked you guys on Facebook and Twitter to send me Pirates questions for the first “Bucco Nation Mailbag” of 2017. Thanks to all who sent in their questions, and with that, let’s get the ball rolling. 

What are your thoughts on Tyler Glasnow making the rotation out of ST? And if not, when should we see expect to see him? And how long should Austin Meadows be at Indy before he is ready for The Show? – Scott from Pittsburgh, PA

Glasnow will certainly have a chance to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. While he does have the most upside compared to the other options (Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams), command is the biggest issue for him right now. It wouldn’t be the worst thing for Glasnow to start the year in AAA to try and improve his mechanics. He would likely be the first to be called up in the event of an injury. In regards to Meadows, it’ll most likely hinge on whether or not they contend this season. He would replace Andrew McCutchen, if the Pirates sell and move Cutch around or at the trade deadline.

Is Drew Hutchison going to be the 5th starter just to save face on the Francisco Liriano trade? – Joey from North Hills, PA

There was a good amount of criticism when the Pirates dealt away Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez in the Liriano deal last year, and it didn’t help matters that Hutchison pitched poorly when he arrived to Pittsburgh. That being said however, if Hutchison performs well in ST, then you can’t say he was just given the spot because of the trade. Also, the Pirates have depth with their starting pitching where they wouldn’t hesitate to replace Hutchison.

If Jung-Ho Kang is forced to miss a significant portion of the season due to his legal troubles, what are you more in favor of: David Freese starting at third or Adam Frazier at second and moving Harrison to third? – Rich from Coraopolis, PA

Personally, I would go with Freese at third base, because at the very least, he’s a league average third baseman. Not to mention how well he performed in Kang’s absence last season. Also, Frazier appears to be better suited in a utility role, and would be a downgrade at second base defensively, if they moved Harrison to third. With Harrison, he provides above average defense up the middle of the infield alongside Jordy Mercer.

Do you still see any late signings or trades? And do you see Angel Pagan or Coco Crisp coming in cheap even though at bats will be minimal? – Brian from Dunbar, PA

Not sure if they’ll sign anyone else at this point. Pagan or Crisp are possibilities, but I think Neal Huntington would prefer Frazier as an internal option, as someone who can play the outfield as a fourth option, among his other positions. A trade could happen during the Spring, as it relates to amount of arms in the bullpen. The Pirates had Antonio Bastardo on the trade block earlier this offseason, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they still try to move him, especially with the number of lefty relievers they already have.

If they are in contention in July, do you want John Jaso & David Freese ending the season with the Pirates or should they be a part of trade deadline deals to bolster the team for a run at the playoffs as two veterans that can be cheap additions to a bench elsewhere? – Craig from Coraopolis, PA

Should they contend this season, Jaso and Freese are likely to stay in Pittsburgh all year. Since both are bench players now, there wouldn’t be a huge return to help out on the big club. The only way I see one or both getting dealt is if the Pirates find themselves in seller mode and acquire prospects back in return.

What do you think of Cutch’s message to the fans? Is the threat of a trade still there? And what’s your opinion on his move to right field? – Jess from Canonsburg, PA

The message undoubtedly showed his affection for the Pirates fan base, as well as the city of Pittsburgh. Very class move on his part. I think trade talks have simmered off right now, but they’ll probably return, especially if the Pirates aren’t in a position to contend this year. The decision to have Cutch playing right field is the proper move in my opinion. His defense in center field has shown decline the past couple seasons, and Starling Marte has more than enough range to cover ground in center.

Do you think the Pirates have done enough to compete with the good teams in our division? – Kevin from Pittsburgh, PA

If we’re talking about the Pirates challenging the Cubs for the NL Central in 2017, then the answer is a clear no. However, it was good to see them bring back Ivan Nova for the rotation and sign Daniel Hudson to help bolster the bullpen. The Pirates still have a good enough core in place to at least compete for the Wild Card again.

Do the Pirates have a chance to be a playoff team this year? And what is the main key to being successful this year? – Steve from Lakeland, FL

Barring any significant injuries, the Pirates certainly have a chance to be a playoff team in 2017. The main key is no doubt with the rotation. If Gerrit Cole can show shades of his 2015 form, along with Jameson Taillon taking a big step forward, and Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl being reliable innings eaters, then the Pirates should be in a good place. The bullpen should be an improvement as a whole, and the offense is still good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROOT Sports to Broadcast a Dozen Pirates Spring Training Games

By Jason Shetler

ROOT Sports announced their broadcast schedule for Pirates Spring Training games. As was the case last year, ROOT again will televise a dozen Pirates games this Spring. All 12 games will be played in Bradenton.

Monday, March 6th vs Yankees @ 1:00 ET

Tuesday, March 7th vs Braves @ 1:00 ET

Friday, March 10th vs Rays @ 1:00 ET

Sunday, March 12th vs Twins @ 1:00 ET

Wednesday, March 15th vs Orioles @ 1:00 ET

Friday, March 17th vs Orioles @ 1:00 ET

Tuesday, March 21st vs Rays @ 1:00 ET

Friday, March 24th vs Rays @ 1:00 ET

Saturday, March 25th vs Tigers @ 1:00 ET

Monday, March 27th vs Twins @ 6:00 ET

Tuesday, March 28th vs Red Sox @ 6:00 ET

Wednesday, March 29th vs Phillies @ 1:00 ET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave Cameron Ranks Pirates Signing of Ivan Nova as the Fifth Best Offseason Move

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Charles LeClare - USA Today Sports
p/c: Charles LeClare – USA Today Sports

On Thursday, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs put out an article, ranking the ten best offseason transactions. One of the moves mentioned was the Pirates signing of Ivan Nova, which was ranked fifth best according to Cameron.

The Pirates acquired Nova during last year’s trade deadline from the New York Yankees. The 30-year-old right-hander was exceptional after coming to Pittsburgh, as he posted a 3.06 ERA along with an ERA+ of 137 in 11 starts.

Cameron said he was bewildered by how much the Pirates were able to bring back Nova for. He signed for three years at $26 million, which was $10 million less than J.A. Happ received from the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason, and Happ was in the same situation as Nova. With a market that was thin on starting pitching this offseason, Cameron believes that the Pirates got a solid pitcher at a price you would expect to give more to a much worse player.