Tag: Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates Coaching Staff Receives Contract Extensions Through 2017 Season

The 13-9 Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten off to a solid start in 2016 and are fresh off a 98-win campaign. The coaching staff was rewarded for its efforts on Friday. 

The team announced on its Twitter page that the entire staff received contract extensions through the 2017 season:

Manager Clint Hurdle took over the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 2011 season when they hadn’t reached the playoffs since they lost the 1992 National League Championship Series. What’s more, they were in the midst of a prolonged slump that saw them finish with a losing record every year from 1993 through 2010 (when they were an abysmal 57-105).

While Hurdle’s hiring didn’t immediately lead to a winning record, the Pirates showed steady improvement under his direction and have reached the last three postseasons:

Hurdle deserves plenty of credit for the turnaround in Pittsburgh, but it hasn’t all been his doing. The Pirates promoted Jeff Branson to hitting coach after the 2013 season when Jay Bell left the organization to join the Cincinnati Reds. As a result, the Pirates were fourth in the National League in runs scored in both 2014 and 2015 under Branson after they finished a middling ninth in 2013.

While the hitting improvement has been critical, so has the shutdown pitching Pittsburgh has displayed during its recent surge. Adam Berry of MLB.com specifically singled out pitching coach Ray Searage when reporting on the coaching staff extension news on Friday.

That comes after Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated wrote a preseason article titled “The Pitch Doctor: The secret to the Pirates’ success is Ray Searage,” which underscores how important he has been for Pittsburgh.

Chen noted only the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals have been as successful as Pittsburgh in the last three years after the Pirates won 98 games in 2015, 88 in 2014 and 94 in 2013. He pointed to the pitching staff’s ability to exceed expectations on a team that “will once again rank among the bottom third of the league in payroll this season.”

According to Chen, the Pirates pitching staff has posted a 3.32 ERA since the beginning of the 2013 campaign, which is second-best in baseball behind only St. Louis’ 3.29. Chen praised Searage’s work because “Beyond 25-year-old ace Gerrit Cole, so many pitchers have found unexpected success in the Steel City that it has achieved a reputation as baseball’s Lourdes.”

Chen cited A.J. Burnett, J.A. Happ, Vance Worley, Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton as players who have found renewed success under Searage’s tutelage.

Payroll disparity may be a concern for many teams, but the Pirates have thrived because names beyond stars such as Cole and Andrew McCutchen have anchored their efforts. That is a credit to the coaching’s ability to maximize the players’ talents. 

Pittsburgh figures to once again be part of a daunting NL Central race this season after the division sent three teams to the playoffs last year. While competing with the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals will not be an easy task in 2016 and beyond, Pittsburgh at least knows there will be continuity in place with a coaching staff that has been quite successful the past three years.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

McCutchen Hits 3 Homers in a Game for 2nd Time in Career

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen broke out of his slump in a big way Tuesday night, recording the second three-homer game of his career in a 9-4 win over the Colorado Rockies, per MLB Stat of the Day.

Taking advantage of the altitude at Coors Field, the 29-year-old superstar hit no-doubt solo home runs to left-center field in the first and second innings, getting the best of Rockies starting pitcher Christian Bergman both times.

Following a fourth-inning groundout, McCutchen made the most of his fourth at-bat against Bergman, sneaking a line-drive, three-run home run just barely over the right field fence to give the Pirates a commanding 7-3 lead.

McCutchen later had a chance to make it four homers, but he was retired by Rockies reliever Scott Oberg on a harmless groundout for the second out of the eighth inning.

Though it appeared Pittsburgh’s rally in the top of the ninth might give him another chance, McCutchen was still two batters away when pinch hitter Sean Rodriguez made the team’s final out.

It had been quite some time since McCutchen‘s other three-homer effort, which came back on Aug. 1, 2009, against the Washington Nationals during his rookie season.

He’s the fourth player to record multiple three-homer games as a member of the Pirates, and the other three—Willie Stargell, Ralph Kiner and Roberto Clemente—are all enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, per Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Info).

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Andrew McCutchen’s 3-HR Explosion Emphatically Ends Early-Year Slump

Andrew McCutchen went into the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ latest contest as the worst hitter in their everyday lineup. Clearly, what he needed was a slump-buster.

Or three.

Yes, it’s true. Anyone who missed the Pirates take on the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Tuesday missed McCutchen going deep in the first, second and sixth innings of a 9-4 win. Before talking about what this means, we must first honor these dingers by applying our eyes and ears:

McCutchen awoke Tuesday morning with only two home runs in 2016, putting him behind 45 other National League hitters. His three-homer game (the second of his career) has shrunk that list to seven players, a tidbit I’m contractually obligated to follow with: “So, he had a good day at the office.”

But more importantly, there’s what McCutchen‘s big outburst means for the Pirates.

The Pirates haven’t been lacking for offense in the early goings this season, as they went into Tuesday’s contest ranked fifth in the National League in runs and third in OPS. But they were doing all of that without McCutchen‘s typical MVP-level production. His .684 OPS was the lowest among Pittsburgh’s eight regulars.

Now, the 29-year-old’s OPS is up to .826. That puts him on his way to getting back to the level of his 2015 season (.889 OPS), and the next step could be getting back to his 2012-2014 levels (.939 OPS).

There aren’t many reasons to doubt McCutchen will build on his three-homer explosion. Beyond him being who he is, there’s the reality that it’s usually about this time of year he begins to heat up.

You’d have to ask the man himself if he has some sort of personal grudge against April, but McCutchen‘s numbers certainly suggest he’s not a fan. The .754 career OPS he has in the season’s first month is fine by normal standards, but not by his. That mark is over 100 points worse than his OPS in any other month.

Despite all of this, the only time McCutchen has had an early-season slump actually worth worrying about was last season. The .636 OPS he finished with last April was bad even for him, and it looked ominous in light of how he had been slowed by a left knee injury in spring training.

In a piece for Just a Bit Outside, Jeff Sullivan highlighted how McCutchen‘s left knee woes were barring him from his usual explosive weight transfer when he swung, thus sapping his power. And though he eventually started hitting again, it’s fair to wonder if he ever felt 100-percent healthy.

But as McCutchen recently told John Perrotto of USA Today, that’s all water under the bridge now.

“I couldnt prepare how I wanted to prepare. I had to compensate for certain things. That’s all that was,” he said. “But my body is in good shape, so I’m in good shape. Don’t have to worry about it now. As long as you feel good, you go out there and play good.”

For this to sound like more than McCutchen just saying what everyone wants to hear, he needed to do one thing: hit the ball hard.

It’s a simple request, but a look at his career isolated power (slugging percentage minus singles) and soft- and hard-hit rates shows it’s something he generally struggles with early in the season:

McCutchen had been doing even worse than usual in these departments out of the gate this season. He entered Tuesday with just a .133 ISO, a 25.9 Soft% and a 29.6 Hard%.

Well, hitting three home runs is a good way to make everything better. McCutchen‘s ISO has soared all the way to .237, and the exit velocities (per MLB.com) of his three dingers are sure to help his batted ball rates:

  • First HR: 111 mph
  • Second HR: 103 mph
  • Third HR: 104 mph

The Coors Field effect has to be taken into account, granted, but even that doesn’t diminish McCutchen‘s outburst too much. Maybe his third home run is only a double in other parks, but ESPN Stats and Information can show the other two were absolute bombs that probably would have been gone anywhere:

Now that McCutchen is apparently back to crushing the ball again, there’s really only one thing left on his to-do list.

With a rate of walk percentage of 12.7, McCutchen has been drawing about his usual amount of free passes. His strikeout rate of 22.3 percent, however, is several steps above his usual rate, which is no bueno. Until he mixes in some contact with his power and patience, he’s not quite himself yet.

Still, one thing at a time isn’t a bad way to play it. And if the Pirates had their druthers, they’d probably rather have McCutchen hitting the ball hard first and foremost anyway.

That was really the only missing link in their offense, after all. It began play on Tuesday ranked 28th in MLB in strikeout rate, second in walk rate and tied for seventh in stolen bases. If something happened that could boost their 24th-ranked ISO, their offense would be complete.

Right on cue, Andrew McCutchen happened. And since he’s probably not going away, pitchers had better study extra hard before facing the Pirates.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Pirates Fan Holding Baby Barehands Home Run Ball Like NBD

Bare-handing a home run ball is hard enough, let alone pulling it off with an infant in one arm.

One Pittsburgh Pirates fan performed this incredible feat during the Pirates’ 8-7 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night, snagging a Welington Castillo homer over the hands of clamoring home fans.

He didn’t even flinch. Clearly, it takes more to rattle this guy than a baseball headed toward his kid’s head.

[MLB, h/t Deadspin]

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Jung Ho Kang Injury: Updates on Pirates Star’s Leg and Return

The Pittsburgh Pirates announced on April 17 that infielder Jung Ho Kang will begin his rehab assignment with the team’s Triple-A affiliate, though it is uncertain when he will be able to return to MLB action.  

Continue for updates.

Kang to Make Minor League Debut on Monday

Sunday, April 17

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Bill Brink, a single rehab assignment lasts 20 days at the most, but the Pirates could pause Kang’s stint in the minors or begin a new one altogether in order to ensure he’s 100 percent by the time he’s with the big league team again.

Kang far exceeded expectations in his first season in MLB, eventually finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. In 126 games, he had a .287/.355/.461 slash line with 15 home runs and 58 runs batted in.

According to FanGraphs, Kang’s 3.9 WAR was second-highest among the Pirates’ position players. His four-year, $11 million deal looks like a massive steal, even if his production drops slightly in his sophomore season.

Kang’s knee injury and fractured leg were the only blemishes on an otherwise impressive rookie year. His season ended on Sept. 17 in a 9-6 defeat to the Chicago Cubs after he got taken out at second base by Chris Coghlan:

In December, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington eyed an April return for Kang, but the player himself couldn’t say definitively in February whether he’d be healthy enough to play on Opening Day.

In addition to his offensive value, Kang gives the Pirates some defensive versatility. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he spent 77 games at third base and 60 games at shortstop in 2015. 

Given the Chicago Cubs’ hot start, Pittsburgh needs Kang back in the lineup in order to climb up the National League Central standings.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Justin Masterson to Pirates: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Veteran pitcher Justin Masterson agreed to a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported. Adam Berry of MLB.com later confirmed the news.  

Masterson spent last season with the Boston Red Sox, posting a 4-2 record with a 5.61 ERA as both a starter and reliever.

In his previous seven years, Masterson was a full-time starter who struggled to be a productive arm in the lower parts of rotations.

His ERA was at least 4.50 or higher in seven of his eight years in the league, including a 2014 that saw him post a 5.88 mark.

Masterson did have a flash-in-the-pan All-Star season in 2013 with the Cleveland Indians in which he went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and three shutouts, which led the league. 

If he has a set spot in a rotation, Masterson is capable of eating some innings as a best-case scenario, which is valuable in fourth or fifth starters. The Pirates could be looking for some help there too, especially after the Detroit Tigers hammered starter Juan Nicasio on Tuesday. 

Nicasio threw 94 pitches to get through three innings, allowing four runs and five walks. Of the 19 batters he faced, 11 reached base. 

It’s just one start, though, so there’s always room for improvement. 

Given Masterson’s past in which he’s had problems keeping his ERA down, don’t expect Pittsburgh to rely too heavily on him if it does call him up to the big leagues, as the Pirates are in a National League Central that features dangerous offensive teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Francisco Liriano Injury: Updates on Pirates Star’s Hamstring and Return

With the Pittsburgh Pirates facing stiff competition in the loaded National League Central, an injury to star pitcher Francisco Liriano‘s hamstring will be a cause for concern. 

Continue for updates. 

Liriano to Miss Next Start

Tuesday, April 12

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Liriano has been scratched from his upcoming start and is considered day-to-day. Ryan Vogelsong will start Wednesday in his place. 

Liriano’s career has been defined as much by injuries as by his performance, though the narrative has changed during his time in Pittsburgh. The 32-year-old tied a career high with 31 starts and set a new career benchmark with 205 strikeouts last season. 

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have Gerrit Cole anchoring the rotation, but depth is no longer a strength for the group. A.J. Burnett retired, and Charlie Morton was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies

The Pirates do have reinforcements waiting in the minors, led by top prospect Tyler Glasnow, but Liriano’s dominance will not be easily replaced. 

The Pirates are one of the National League’s best teams, but the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs are formidable in the division. Liriano’s health will be a huge factor in determining how far this team goes in 2016. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Gregory Polanco, Pirates Agree on New Contract: Latest Details, Reaction

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco will be with the team for years to come.

First reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports on April 3, the two sides have “agreed on a five-year contract extension with two club options that locks in the prime years of the young outfielder.” Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports noted that Polanco’s deal with the Pirates is for $35 million and the total value could exceed $60 million if both options are exercised.

The Pirates confirmed the deal on Tuesday, noting there will be a 2:30 p.m. ET press conference.

According to Passan, Polanco rejected a seven-year, $25 million offer from Pittsburgh with three club options prior to his major league debut in June 2014. The new contract, which starts in the 2017 season, is “similar to the six-year, $31 million deal [Sterling] Marte signed coming off a strong 2013,” Passan noted.

Passan compared this decision from the Pirates to those they made with contracts for Marte and Andrew McCutchen, writing, “They’re placing a strong financial bet that Polanco can produce similarly well.”

If the second half of Polanco’s 2015 campaign is any indication, this is a worthwhile wager for the Pirates. Polanco struggled before the All-Star Game but was a major reason the Bucs reached the postseason with a 98-64 record in the daunting National League Central.

Here is a look at his first- and second-half splits in 2015, via ESPN.com:

Derek Wetmore of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities shared insight into Pittsburgh’s mindset with this deal:

Passan did caution that it remains a question whether Polanco can translate his large frame (6’5” and 230 pounds) into additional power at the plate, considering he only hit nine home runs in 153 games last year and seven homers in 89 games in 2014. While that power surge may eventually come, Polanco’s speed makes him a dangerous threat on the basepaths and in the outfield.

According to FanGraphs, Polanco was responsible for 12 defensive runs saved above average in the outfield last season. It is a testament to his overall skill set that he doesn’t need to rely solely on hitting long balls to make a significant impact for the Pirates.

Polanco is only 24 years old and is a productive contributor alongside McCutchen in the outfield. The Pirates have their work cut out for them competing with the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central, but this extension ensures they’ll have an important piece to assist them in that battle for the foreseeable future.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Andrew McCutchen at Full Strength Paves Way for Monster Year in 2016

There’s just one way to explain Andrew McCutchen “only” finishing fifth in the National League MVP voting in 2015. The guy just had an off year. Sad, but true.

But from the looks of things, 2015 is about to be ancient history.

As the Pittsburgh Pirates prepare to set sail on their follow-up to a rollicking 98-win season, they must be positively beaming over what McCutchen is doing this spring. Their superstar center fielder may only be hitting .243 with a .317 on-base percentage, but he’s slugged five home runs to help push his spring OPS to .966. 

One of those dingers hasn’t landed yet. Specifically, this one:

OK, so, watching a former MVP go to town on some baseballs in spring training shouldn’t surprise us too much. This is a guy who hit .292 with an .889 OPS and 23 home runs last year, ultimately checking in as the National League’s fourth-best hitter. And over the last four years, only Joey Votto has been better.

Just because something’s not surprising, however, doesn’t mean it’s not a welcome sight.

Anyone with a decent memory or Internet search capabilities knows that power was hard for McCutchen to come by this time last year. He didn’t hit a single home run last spring, and that ended up being a preview of an early-season slump, as McCutchen hit just .188 with a .571 OPS and two home runs in his first 26 games of 2015.

Though most everyone was quick to blame the left knee issues that had dogged McCutchen during spring training, the man himself shot the notion down and accused everyone of “overanalyzing” his struggles. Nowadays, though, the 29-year-old is singing a different tune.

“Got my power back. Got my legs back,” McCutchen told Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in mid-March. “It’s about using them now.”

Hooking McCutchen up to a lie detector sadly isn’t an option in figuring out if he’s telling the truth. But we do know what he looks like with a pair of healthy legs, and that particular hitter looks a lot like…well, a lot like the hitter McCutchen is now.

If we flash back to 2015, it’s clear it was only partially an off year for McCutchen. He definitely struggled in the beginning, but in his final 131 games he hit .313 with a .953 OPS. Basically, he was his 2012 (.953 OPS) and 2014 (.952 OPS) self again.

The hot finish was legit. McCutchen boosted his on-base percentage by upping his walk rate from 9 percent early in the year to 15.3 percent down the stretch. And courtesy of Baseball Savant, his average exit velocity readings confirm that he was simply hitting the ball harder:

  • First 26 games: 88.02 mph
  • Final 131 games: 92.00 mph

As for what specifically changed for McCutchen, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs noticed a couple of things.

In a piece at Just a Bit Outside, Sullivan noticed that early-season McCutchen seemed incapable of hitting the ball with authority to left field, and that, in a seemingly related story, his swing suddenly didn’t feature a noticeable weight transfer from his back foot to his front foot. That is, he was swinging like a right-handed hitter with a bad left knee would be swinging.

But then everything changed. After that slow start, McCutchen began crushing extra-base hits to left field (also center and right field) again. And as Sullivan noticed, the weight transfer from McCutchen’s back foot to front foot was pretty much back to normal.

After a finish like that, there admittedly wasn’t too much doubt that McCutchen would pick up where he left off. But it still serves as a nice bit of affirmation that his left knee woes appear to be firmly in the past.

Four of his five spring home runs have been to the left of center. And if we plug some of the images from the above video into a low-budget Photoshop production, we get a picture of a healthy weight transfer:

Assuming McCutchen’s legs are indeed fully healthy going into 2016, consistent power might not be the only thing we see out of him. After he attempted only 16 last year, we could also see more stolen bases. Better defense could also be in the cards.

And as McCutchen gears up for the 2016 season looking like his old self, it would seem he also has a new role to adjust to. And this, too, is an area that makes it easy to have high hopes.

As many have surely already heard, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has experimented with McCutchen in the No. 2 spot in his batting order. Considering McCutchen is a No. 3 hitter by trade, this is unusual.

But although the Pirates may not be going by the book, they are going by The Book. Written by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin, Sky Kalkman wrote at Beyond the Box Score that The Book highlights how “the [No. 2] hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the [No. 3] hitter, but more often.” As such, it’s actually a better place for a team to put its best hitter.

The Pirates have more reason to believe this than most teams. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reports that they sold McCutchen on the idea by showing him how frequently he came to bat with two outs and nobody on in 2015. And in general, he’s come to bat with the bases empty a lot in his career:

If the Pirates do indeed make McCutchen their new No. 2 hitter, he may start coming to the plate with runners on more often in 2016. That could be a very good thing. And not just because it would mean more RBI opportunities—because, really, who cares?

What’s more important is the fact that McCutchen has been a notably better hitter with the bases occupied throughout his career. With the bases empty, he’s a .293 hitter with an .857 OPS. With runners on, he’s a .305 hitter with a .927 OPS.

If McCutchen lives up to that performance while also coming up in those situations more often in 2016, that could be yet another force that puts his “off” 2015 season behind him. The end result could be a season as good or better than any of McCutchen’s best years.

That’s how we’d sum up our feelings in words, anyway. Here’s the GIF translation:

McCutchen back? McCutchen back.


Regular-season stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Spring training stats courtesy of MLB.com.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

David Freese to Pirates: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

David Freese is taking his hitting prowess to a new home, as the veteran third baseman signed with Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.

The Pirates announced Freese’s signing on Twitter:

Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review reported it’s a one-year deal for $3 million.

To make room for Freese on the roster, the Pirates also announced they designated pitcher Jesse Biddle for assignment.

The former World Series MVP has been an effective hitter throughout his career, but injuries have prevented him from playing more than 140 games in a season since 2012.

When healthy, Freese has remained steady with a .258/.322/.401 slash line in 981 at-bats with the Los Angeles Angels over the past two seasons.

Freese was terrific down the stretch while trying to keep the team in the playoff picture. Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com noted Freese hit .364/.391/.477 during a two-week stretch in September after returning from a fractured right index finger.

At this stage of his career, Freese fits in best as a complementary piece, which was perfect for the Halos because they had Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the middle of the order. He does have a flair for the dramatic, such as this walk-off home run against the Seattle Mariners in the season’s final week, which kept Los Angeles’ postseason hopes alive, via MLB.com:

Even though things did not pan out for the Angels, Freese’s late-season surge increased his value heading into free agency. He’s one of the few affordable right-handed hitters with power.

As long as the 32-year-old is able to stay healthy, he has enough pop in his bat to make a difference.

The Pirates don’t have an immediate need at third base, with Jung Ho Kang slotted in as the starter, but he suffered a knee injury in September, which prematurely ended his season. At the least, Freese will provide insurance at the position, though his late signing will likely keep him in extended spring training when the season begins.


Stats via Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Copyright © 1996-2010 Kuzul. All rights reserved.
iDream theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress