Friday, July 31, 2015

My Team Went to the Trade Deadline and All I Got Was This Lousy Ramirez, Blanton, Soria, Happ, and Morse

I imagine some Pirates fans are disappointed by the team's trade deadline deals. Specifically, the team didn't land the big arms that got dealt (Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, Jonathan PapelbonDavid Pricenor the big bats (Yoenis CespedesCarlos Gomez, Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Zobrist). But realistically, that probably wasn't going to happen. Here's why:

  • The Pirates aren't looking to take on big salaries. Look, I think this is kind of a BS argument. The city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, but the Detroit Tigers have the fifth-highest payroll in the majors. Is that because Detroit is a big-revenue market? Of course not; it means the team is owned by a zillionaire who's willing to spend many tens of millions on his baseball team. The Pirates aren't in the same situation, but it's not dictated by the population of Greater Pittsburgh. Whatever, given that constraint, Tulowitzki (will make a minimum of $98 million after this season), Hamels ($76.5 million), Reyes ($46 million) and even Papelbon ($11 million) weren't going to happen.
  • A two-month rental doesn't make a lot of sense for the Pirates. Stars who'll become free agents after this season aren't likely to sign with the Pirates, due to the team's salary constraints. So pending free agents would be with the club for only August, September and however long October lasts. That eliminates Price, Kazmir, Cueto, Leake, Zobrist, and Cespedes. Also Gomez, who'll be a free agent after next season (not that the Pirates need a new center fielder). 
  • A bigger reason rentals don't make sense is the Pirates' place in the standings. They enter play tonight 5.5 games behind the Cardinals, 101 games into the season. Could they overtake the Cardinals and skip the wild card game? Sure, it's possible. Would a Cueto or a Cespedes help? Yes, of course. But realistically, the Pirates have won their league or division 16 times. They have never trailed by 5.5 games or more after 101 games and gone on to win. Giving up prime prospects in pursuit of a divisional title that isn't likely to come? That doesn't make sense. On the other hand, the Pirates are currently three games ahead of the Giants for the first wild card, five ahead of the Cubs, 7.5 ahead of the Mets. Nothing's certain, but they look pretty solid for the wild card, no better or worse. It's hard to justify paying a lot to try to exceed or defend that.
So whom did the Pirates get?
  • Aramis Ramirez: Already covered this. He'll fill on at third until Josh Harrison comes back from the disabled list, and will continue to play there when the versatile Harrison plays other positions.
  • Joe Blanton: He effectively replaces Vance Worley, who was waived. Most fans have two images of Blanton: The guy who went 2-0 in the 2008 postseason, starting three games that his team, the Phillies, won, en route to the World Series championship; and the arsonist who put up ERAs of 5.33, 5.01, 5.00, 4.99, and a hideous 6.51 from 2010-2013. After taking 2014 off, he signed a one-year contract with the Royals this year, for whom he put up decent numbers: 3.89 ERA, 41.2 innings, 1.20 WHIP, 40 strikeouts and just 6 unintentional walks. He'll fill the role of right-handed long reliever/possible spot starter.
  • Joakim Soria: He's probably the best player the Pirates added. He was the Royals' closer from 2008-2011, had Tommy John surgery, and came back as a middle reliever for Texas in 2013. He was the Rangers' closer in 2014 and was traded mid-season to the Tigers, for whom he was the closer this year. He'll take his very good 2.85 ERA and less good 1.8 home runs per nine innings (league average for relievers is 1.0) to the Pirates bullpen, where he'll reduce the workload for his teammates. He'll provide  a right-handed counter to left-handed setup man Tony Watson, who had a 1.69 ERA through June 25 and a 7.56 ERA since. 
  • J.A. Happ: In pitching coach Ray Searage we trust. Happ, a left-handed starter, hasn't had an ERA below 4.00 since 2010, including this year, when he racked up a 4.64 ERA playing for Seattle, which plays in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. Yes, the Pirates need a starter now that they've put A.J. Burnett on the disabled list with a sore elbow, but is Happ the answer? Here's a clue: This year he's thrown his four-seam (straight) fastball 49% of the time and his two-seam (sinking) fastball 15%. The Pirates, as you probably know, emphasize sinking pitches that generate ground balls. Before the 2013 season, the Pirates acquired a left-handed starter (like Happ) who threw both types of fastballs (like Happ). The player they signed has virtually eliminated the four-seamer, become a ground-ball stud (seventh highest ground ball percentage), and posted the 14th-lowest ERA in the National League (among 55 ERA qualifiers) in the three seasons since, 3.12. Am I suggesting that J.A. Happ can be the next Francisco Liriano, who's put up those number since 2013? Probably not, but we're talking about the No. 5 guy in the rotation until Burnett comes back, so there isn't a lot of risk. Happ's a free agent after this season, and his performance to date probably dictates a pay cut from the $6.7 million he's making in 2015.
  • Mike Morse: I've talked about the Pirates' need to add a right-handed bat. Morse, a right-handed bat that's due $8.5 million in 2016, probably wasn't anybody's first choice. He batted .294 with a .343 on base percentage and a .514 slugging percentage in four years in Washington from 2009-2012, followed by a terrible .215/.270/.381 in 2013 with Seattle and Baltimore in 2013, a .279/.336/.475 rebound with San Francisco last year, and another bad year to date, .213/.276/.313 with the Marlins. He's been injury prone, but his role in Pittsburgh is likely to be that of pinch hitter and right-handed platoon partner for Pedro Alvarez at first, which should reduce wear and tear. He's a bad fielder at first, which constitutes an improvement over Alvarez. He can also play outfield, in the sense that Kardashians can read poetry: It's possible, but you'd rather not see it. He has been worse than useless against left-handed pitching this season (2-for-22, no extra base hits) but over his career, his .271/.331/.473 slash line against southpaws is a lot better than Alvarez's .198/.267/.322. 
All told, the Pirates improved themselves, in my view. Maybe not dramatically--Morse gives me flashbacks to Justin Morneau, whom the Pirates acquired at the end of August in 2013 and batted .260 with only 3 RBI over 25 games--but Soria eases pressure on the bullpen, Ramirez and Happ address short-term injury-related needs, and Blanton may be an upgrade over Worley. It's nothing flashy, but the Pirates don't appear to be a team that would benefit from flashy nor be hurt by the lack thereof.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Next Up: The Cincinnati Reds

No team's given the Pirates more trouble this year than the Reds. The Reds are 44-54, in fourth place in the National League Central, but they've racked up a 7-2 record to date against the Bucs. The Pirates were 1-5 in their first six games after the All-Star break and have gone 5-1 in the six games since. They will try to push their overall post-break record above .500 over four games in Cincinnati starting tonight.

How Are They Doing Lately? They've thrown in the towel on 2015, trading their ace starter and pending free agent Johnny Cueto to Kansas City. By the time Sunday's game rolls around, the Reds' scheduled starting pitcher, Mike Leake, could be gone as well. Right fielder Jay Bruce has been discussed as a potential trade chip too. The Reds haven't played well, with ten wins over the last 30 days, tied with the Braves and Rockies for the fewest in the league, though the Braves have one more loss (15) than the Reds (14). They've scored 3.5 runs per game, tied for the sixth fewest in the league, while allowing 5.00, the second most. As such, they've been a little lucky to have gone 10-14; a team with that sort of run differential is more likely to go 8-16 or so.

What's Going Right? The offense has been...well, not particularly good, but not really bad, either. Over the last 30 days, they're eighth in batting average and slugging percentage and ninth in on base percentage in the 15-team National League. They've been the second toughest team in the league to strike out and they're sixth in home runs. While they've swung at an above-average percentage of pitches outside the strike zone, their low strikeout rate is illustrative of their ability to make contact, as they have the third-highest contact rate on swings in the league.

What's Going Wrong? The starting pitchers have a 4.19 ERA over the past 30 days, third worst in the league, as a way-too-high 28% of baserunners allowed have scored, also third worst. The relievers have been worse, with a cover-your-eyes 5.88 ERA, second worst in the league, and they've earned it more than the starters, with the lowest strikeout rate AND the highest walk rate in the league over the past 30 days. 

Who's Hot? First baseman Joey Votto has been on fire: .386/.514/.639 slash line over the last 30 days, .523/.644/.886 since the All-Star break. I typed all of that correctly: He's gotten on base more than half the time over the last 30 days, and he's gotten hits in over half of his at bats since the break. Bruce has been sensational, too, .303/.347/.596 over the last 30 days. Closer Aroldis Chapman has been his usual dominating self: six saves in ten games over the last 30 days, 18 strikeouts in 10.1 innings, batters whiffing on 39% of their swings against him. (League average is 23%.) Cueto had a 1.59 ERA over five starts in the past 30 days, but he's gone. Leake' ERA over the same period is better, 1.25, but he might get traded too. In fact, the only person in this paragraph who's not been mentioned in trade rumors is Votto, and that's because he's owed $192 million over the next eight years.

Who's Not? I mentioned Cueto, Leake, and Chapman above. Over the last 30 days, the rest of the Reds' pitching staff has a combined ERA of 6.80. On offense, second baseman Brandon Phillips is hitting .223/.270/.266 over the past 30 days, catcher Brayan Pena .185/.228/.185. They have a total of four extra-base hits (all doubles by Phillips) over 148 at-bats between them. All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier's hit .215/.248/.376 over the period, though the Pirates have been his personal slump-buster this season, as he's hitting .359/.419/.846 with five homers, ten RBI, and ten runs scored in nine games against Pittsburgh this year. 

What's the Outlook? Their 2-7 record against Cincinnati so far this year notwithstanding, the Pirates are facing a diminished Reds team from the one they faced earlier in the season, and they could become more diminished by tomorrow's trade deadline. The Pirates' rejuvinated offense (38 runs in the past six games) will face rookie David Holmberg (making his 2015 debut; he had a 4.50 ERA over four starts in 2014), rookie Michael Lorenzen (8.83 ERA over his last four starts), rookie Raisel Iglesias (6.19) and, if he's still with the club, Leake over the four game series. That makes for good prospects for improving on 2-7.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Next Up: The Minnesota Twins

Continuing their tough second half schedule, the Pirates travel to Minnesota to play two games against the Twins, their eighth and ninth straight games against teams currently qualifying for the postseason, before traveling to Cincinnati for four games against the (Cueto-less) Reds. After that respite, it's twelve straight against teams with winning records: Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Mets.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Twins are 12-12 over the past 30 days, the sixth best record in the American League. During those 30 days, they've scored 4.3 runs per game, the seventh most in the league, while giving up 4.2 per game, the seventh most. That's the run differential of a .500 club. So far this season, they're in second place in the American League Central, eight games behind the Royals. They're tied with the Astros for the two American League wild cards, three ahead of Toronto and Baltimore. I still consider the Twins to be the most surprising team in the majors this year, given that they seemed, going into the season, a lock for the American League Central cellar. They're only 3-6 since the All-Star break, though six of those games have been against the two hottest teams in the league, the Angels and Yankees.

What's Going Right? The Twins are seventh in the league in batting average (.258) over the past 30 days, sixth in on base percentage (.316), and sixth in slugging percentage (.417). They strike out a lot (21% of plate appearances, fourth most in the league) and don't hit a lot of home runs (ninth in the league in home run rate). They make up for it by walking a fair amount (7% of plate appearances, seventh most) and hitting lots of doubles and triples (two per game, third most in the league). They've stolen a lot of bases over the past 30 days (16, second to the Royals) but negated it by getting caught stealing too often (nine times, most in the league), resulting in a subpar 64% success rate. 

What's Going Wrong? The bullpen ERA of 4.25 is the fourth worst in the league over the past 30 days, and, typical of the Twins, they've struck out the fewest batters in the league. They've blown four saves, tied for the third most in the league. The starters have been better--3.86 ERA, seventh best in the league over the past 30 days--with a middle-of-the-pack strikeout rate (ninth highest in the league). Twins pitchers pitch to contact--opposing batters have whiffed on only 19% of their swings over the past 30 days, the fourth lowest rate in the league--but the team defense rates somewhere between average and below average by standard and advanced fielding metrics, meaning that all that contact's resulting in base hits that a better-fielding team might prevent.

Who's Hot? The Twins signed pitcher Ervin Santana to a four-year, $54 million (with a $15 option/$1 million buyout for a fifth year) free agent contract over the winter and he promptly got himself suspended 80 games by testing positive for PEDs. He's back now, and has been pretty good: 2.60 ERA over four starts, though with lousy peripherals (not a lot of strikeouts, too many walks and homers, and an unsustainably low .205 batting average on balls in play). He'll face the Pirates tomorrow. Over the past 30 days, All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier is batting just .221 but he leads the team with six homers and 18 RBI. Rookie Miguel Sano, called up at the beginning of the month, has a team-leading .922 OPS in 18 games at DH. Center fielder Aaron Hicks, a strong defender who's blown hot and cold offensively throughout his career, has been hot over the past 30 days, with a .306/.392/.516 slash line. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe's hit four homers, leads the club with 17 runs scored, and is second in RBI to Dozier. First baseman Joe Mauer's hit .326 over the period.

Who's Not? Closer Glenn Perkins has pitched in nine games over the past 30 days. In seven of them, he's pitched seven innings, allowing no hits and one walk while striking out eight, racking up five saves. But in the other two--two of his last three appearances--he's pitched 1.2 innings, allowing seven hits (including two homers) and five runs, blowing two saves. This presents a problem for the Twins, whose only other relievers who've pitched over seven innings in the past 30 days with an ERA below 4.50 are Brian Duensing (0.00), who doesn't strike out enough batters, Ryan O'Rourke (1.23), who walks too many, and J.R. Graham (3.86), who's been used more as a long relief/mop-up guy than a set-up man. Tonight's Twins starter, Mike Pelfrey, has been terrible over the last 30 days (7.78 ERA in four starts, barely more strikeouts than walks). 

On offense, over the past 30 days, the Twins have gotten almost no production from catcher Kurt Suzuki (.222/.290/.238 slash line), shortstop Danny Santana (.234/.279/.344), and right fielder Torii Hunter (.209/.242/.442). (The league average is .252/.310/.408.)

What's the Outlook? I haven't made any secret of my disdain for Twins management, and it strikes me that the Pirates are catching a team that played over its head for the first half of the season just as the clock's striking midnight, to mix metaphors.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Is A.J. Burnett Broken?

In two starts following the All-Star Break, A.J. Burnett has allowed 27 baserunners (16 singles, four doubles, two homers, four hit batters, one walk) in 11.2 innings, giving up 11 runs, all earned, for an 8.49 ERA. Granted, that's only two games, but this appears to be more than disappointment over being named to his first All-Star Game but not appearing; his ERAs have risen every month this season:

Generated 7/26/2015.

I think you know most of those column headings. BF is batters faced, WHIP is walks plus hits over innings pitched, SO9 is strikeouts per nine innings, SO/W is strikeout to walk ratio.

Obviously, the ERA's a concern. He's allowed more earned runs so far in July than he did in any two other months combined. His strikeout rate is down, and while he's not walking more hitters, those six hit batters indicate a lack of control. So what's going on?

I'm going to walk through a few steps that I like to check when a pitcher's effectiveness changes.

tl;dr: Burnett's been throwing pretty much the same pitches, at the same velocities, to the same spots of late. However, he's facing tougher opponents than he did earlier in the year, and when batters make contact, they've been hitting the ball harder than in the past. There is also a fair amount of evidence that Burnett's been just unlucky of late, suggesting that he could rebound from his July performance.

Has his repertoire changed? Sometimes a pitcher will change his mix of pitches, changing his overall outcomes. Burnett throws four pitches: A four-seam (straight) fastball, a two-seam (sinking) fastball, a curve, and a changeup. Here are his mix of pitches, by month, from Brooks Baseball:


Do you see any big changes there? Me neither. Yes, he's throwing a few more changeups and fewer four-seam fastballs, but we're not talking a big shift.

Has his velocity changed? Burnett is 38 and in (he swears) his last season. There are only three starting pitchers in the majors who are older: San Francisco's Tim Hudson (40), Toronto's R.A. Dickey (40), and the Mets' Bartolo Colon (42). Might he be slowing down? Here are the velocities of his pitches, per month:


There's almost no change there. Decreased velocity is not an issue.

Has his command changed? Velocity's nice, but it's not the whole story. Among National League pitchers, the Pirates' Arquimedes Caminero has the third highest average fastball velocity, 97.9 mph. But among Pirates pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, he has the highest home rate and second-highest ERA, because major league hitters can hit just amount any pitch if it misses its intended spot. 

Here are his percentage of Burnett's pitches in the strike zone, starting in April: 48.0%, 49.5%, 47.8%, 48.5%. He's been right around the National League average of 47.9% all year. 

Of course, just throwing strikes isn't the story, either. Brooks Baseball tracks what it calls "grooved pitches." Think of the strike zone as a 3x3 grid, with nine identically-sized squares. The one right in the middle of the grid--the "middle middle" pitch, in the middle of the zone horizontally and vertically--routinely gets crushed. Andrew McCutchen is batting .393 with a .699 slugging percentage on middle-middle pitches. Starling Marte is .347/.551. Neil Walker, .313/.567. On the other side of the ball, Burnett has given up a .270 batting average and .358 slugging percentage overall this year, but .347/.569 middle/middle. So has he been grooving his pitches more? Nope. Here are his percentage of grooved pitches against right handed batters: April 6.9%, May 5.8%, June 6.3%, July 5.9%. Against lefties: April 5.0%, May 5.5%, June 4.5%, July 6.1%. It's all pretty consistent.

OK, so he's not missing the strike zone, and when he's in the strike zone, he's not missing his spots. How about when he's outside the strike zone? How is he at getting batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone, where they're more likely to make weak contact? It turns out he's gotten better as the year's progressed: swings on 28% of pitches outside the strike zone in April, 24% in May, 33% in June, 30% in July. 

Are his pitches getting hit harder? His ground ball rate is down, and Pirates pitchers live on ground balls: 56% in April, 55% in May, 52% in June, 50% in July. Do hitters know what pitch is coming and therefore hit it harder? Well, they're making a little more contact, whiffing on 19% of Burnett's pitches in April, 21% in May, 18% in June, and 17% in July. The National League average is 21%. However, as he's allowed more contact, he's induced more soft contact: 15% of batted balls in April, 16% in May, 17% in June, 21% in July. Yet at the same time, he's allowing more hard contact as well: 27% in April, 33% in May, 27% in June, but (gulp) 43% in July. That's the second highest hard contact rate in the league in July. However, he's middle of the pack in soft contact this month. So batters are making more and harder contact off Burnett, though I'd really like to see another month of data to see whether this is a trend or a blip.

Is he facing tougher opponents? This gets overlooked a lot, but it's important in an era in which starting pitchers get, at most, 35 starts per year. If a starting pitcher goes against the Mets and Phillies (each scoring 3.5 runs per game) a lot more than the Rockies and Diamondbacks (4.4 each), he's likely to have better numbers than a starter who does the opposite. Let's divide each 15-team league into thirds to define good-hitting, average, and weak-hitting teams. During April, Burnett faced two good-hitting teams (Diamondbacks, Tigers), one average (Reds), and one weak (Cubs). In May, he faced three average teams (Cardinals, Reds, Padres) and two weak (Mets, Phillies). In June he faced two good (Giants, Nationals), two average (Brewers, Reds), and one weak (Phillies). In July he faced two good teams (Nationals, Tigers), and two average ones (Cardinals, Royals). He hasn't caught a breather, opponent-wise, since his June 14 start against the Phillies. So some of the deterioration in his performance is probably just a reflection of pitching against better-hitting teams.

Has he been unlucky? This is the trickiest question, because it depends on how one defines luck. Baseball analysts look at three statistics: batting average on balls in play (BABIP), percentage of baserunners left on base (strand rate), and percentage of fly balls going over the fence (HR/FB).

This doesn't mean that these figures are all a product of luck. Let's take two pitchers: Phillies ace/trade bait Cole Hamels, whose career ERA is 3.30, and his teammate Jerome Williams, currently sporting a 6.28 ERA and a career ERA of 4.55. Hamels' career BABIP is .285, Williams' is .290. Hamels' career strand rate is 76.9%, Williams' is 70.5%. Hamels' career HR/FB rate is 11.0%, Williams' is 12.0%. Does that mean Hamels' superior ERA is a product of BABIP, strand rate, and HR/FB luck? Certainly not; he's legitimately a better pitcher, and his numbers reflect it, across the board.

But variations in those figures can reflect luck. BABIP can be helped by scorching line drives hit right at a fielder and hurt by a pop-up that falls just beyond the reach of a retreating infielder. Strand rate is affected by clustering of hits; if a pitcher allows two singles, and no other baserunners, in each of three innings, he'll give up six hits and no runs. If a pitcher gives up no hits in two innings and six singles in his third, he'll also give up six hits, but will probably give up four runs. As for HR/RB, a 400 foot drive to straightaway center is a home run at Angel Stadium of Anaheim (the fence is 396 feet from home) but doesn't even reach the warning track drive at the Marlins Park in Miami (422 feet). So each of those factors can be influenced by circumstances other than the pitcher's skill.

Consider, for example, Hamels' disappointing 2009 season. After going 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 2007 and 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA in 2008, he slumped to 10-11, 4.32 in 2009. He was supposed to be the ace of my fantasy team that year, and toward the end of the season, I changed my team's name to Cole Hamels You Suck. But did he really suck? Let's look at those three luck indicators, from 2008 (when he was good), 2009 (the year in question), and 2010 (good again; 12-11, 3.06 ERA):
  • BABIP: .259,.317, .289
  • Strand rate: 76%, 72%, 83%
  • HR/FB: 11%, 11%, 12%
OK, the last one didn't change much. But his 2009 BABIP and strand rate were career worsts for him. More hits dropped in that year (and no, it wasn't because batters were hitting the ball with authority; his hard contact rate of 26% in 2009 was the second best of his career), and they came more often with batters on base. His "peripheral stats"--strikeout, walk, and home run rates--were more suggestive of a pitcher with an ERA in the mid-threes, rather than his career-high 4.32. And, sure enough, he rebounded to a 3.06 ERA the following year.

So let's look at Burnett's BABIP, strand rate, and HR/FB, April-July:

Month BABIP Strand HR/FB
April .319 88% 5.3%
May .294 80% 4.3%
June .361 79% 4.2%
July .352 74% 10.0%

Every single luck indicator has moved the wrong way over the past couple months, during which his ERA's gone from 1.81 in April-May to 2.41 in June and 4.68 in July. This isn't to say that he's been equally effective; as I've shown, he's allowed more hard contact in July, and he's also facing tougher opponents. (The latter's not going to let up; heading into today's games, the Pirates have the fifth toughest schedule in the league over the rest of the season, with an average opponents' winning percentage of .506.) But there's been enough going against him in those luck indicators to make me think that we haven't seen the last of the good A.J. Burnett.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Johnny Cueto, Kansas City Royal

Johnny Cueto, of course, lost the most famous Pirates game of this generation, the 6-2 victory over Cincinnati in the wild card game of 2013. Other than that, though:

  • He has an 18-4 record against Pittsburgh. That's twice as many victories as he has against any other club.
  • He's pitched two of his career five shutouts against the Pirates.
  • His career 2.13 ERA against the Pirates is his lowest against any team (minimum 50 innings pitched), as his 0.984 WHIP.
  • His slash line allowed against Pittsburgh: .201 batting average, .260 on base percentage, .324 slugging percentage. Naturally, each of those are the lowest he's allowed (minimum 50 innings pitched). That's basically like the Dodgers' Zack Greinke last season. As a hitter. Greinke, a pitcher, batted .200/.262/.350 in 2014.
The Pirates have ten more games this year against the Reds. They'll be glad to not have to face their old nemesis. He's been traded to Kansas City. But he's a free agent at the end of the season, so he could come back to the National League.

Trailing 30 - July 26

Here is an explanation of this weekly feature, listing the best and worst of past 30 days, made possible by FanGraphs' Leaders application. Comment for the week: For six straight weeks, the Philadelphia Phillies had the worst record in the National League over the prior 30 days. This is the first time since the beginning of June that they haven't. The Aaron Nola effect?

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Los Angeles     17- 7     1. Milwaukee       16- 8
2. New York        15- 8     2. Pittsburgh      16- 9    
3. Kansas City     17-10     3. Los Angeles     15-10         
4. Chicago         13-10        St. Louis       15-10   
5. Minnesota       13-12     5. San Francisco   13-10        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Tampa Bay        8-17     1. Cincinnati       9-15      
2. Baltimore        9-15     2. Colorado         9-14       
3. Texas           10-14     3. Philadelphia    10-15      
4. Toronto         11-14     4. Atlanta         10-14
5. Oakland         10-14        Arizona         10-14

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Odor, Tex        .375     1. Posey, SF        .408  
2. Kinsler, Det     .366     2. Parra, Mil       .374      
3. Cain, KC         .364     3. Blackmon, Col    .358           
4. Aybar, LA        .358     4. Revere, Phi      .355          
5. Bogaerts, Bos    .350     5. Tulowitzki, Col  .351       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Morrison, Sea    .132     1. Desmond, Was     .134          
2. LaRoche, Chi     .149     2. Duda, NY         .143       
3. Moss, Cle        .160     3. Norris, SD       .152
4. McCann, Det      .179     4. Carpenter, SL    .157           
5. Zunino, Sea      .184     5. Lagares, NY      .159      

   On Base Percentage           On Base Percentage  
1. Trout, LA        .446     1. Posey, SF        .448           
2. Cain, KC         .417     2. Lind, Mil        .446          
3. Odor, Tex        .408     3. McCutchen, Pit   .442         
4. Cruz, Sea        .400     4. Yelich, Mia      .433          
5. JD Martinez, Det .398     5. Heyward, SL      .427      
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Trout, LA        .753     1. Arenado, Col     .681        
2. Odor, Tex        .716     2. Posey, SF        .658     
3. JD Martinez, Det .645     3. Harper, Was      .656       
4. Cain, KC         .636     4. Peralta, Ari     .647       
5. Cabrera, Chi     .618     5. Grichuk, SL      .644        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Trout, LA          11     1. Gonzalez, LA        8
2. JD Martinez, Det    9     2. Gonzalez, Col       6        
3. Hunter, Min         8        Kemp, SD            6
   Rodriguez, NY       8        Lind, Mil           6
5. 6 with              7     5. 6 with              5

   Runs                         Runs    
1. JD Martinez, Det   24     1. Parra, Mil         20        
2. Altuve, Hou        20     2. Braun, Mil         18     
3. Cano, Sea          19        Lucroy, Mil        18
   Trout, LA          19     4. Duffy, SF          17
5. 2 with             18        Walker, Pit        17

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Calhoun, LA        24     1. Lind, Mil          27        
2. Cabrera, Chi       20     2. Posey, SF          19      
   Donaldson, Tor     20     3. Grichuk, SL        19       
   Morales, KC        20     4. 3 with             19
5. Dozier, Min        19        
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Altuve, Hou         8     1. Hamilton, Cin      10               2. Dyson, KC           7        Hernandez, Phi     10     
3. Reyes, Tor          6     3. Braun, Mil          8   
4. Burns, Oak          5        Gordon, Mia         8
   Ramirez, Chi        5     5. 2 with              7
   Saves                        Saves
1. Uehara, Bos         9     1. Kimbrel, SD        10
2. Holland, KC         7     2. Rosenthal, SL       8
   Tolleson, Tex       7        Storen, Was         8
4. 4 with              6     4. 5 with              7

   ERA                          ERA
1. Kazmir, Oak-Hou  1.08     1. Greinke, LA      0.00
2. Hernandez, Sea   1.09     2. Kershaw, LA      0.45
3. Tillman, Bal     1.38     3. Martinez, SL     0.84
4. Buerhle, Tor     1.50     4. Heston, SF       1.32
5. Heaney, LA       1.59     5. Lester, Chi      1.53

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Simon, Det       7.46     1. Bettis, Col      7.62
2. Happ, Sea        5.96     2. DeSclafani, Cin  6.29
3. Hutchison, Tor   5.68     3. Lohse, Mil       6.26
4. Lewis, Tex       5.63     4. Morton, Pit      5.28
5. Bauer, Cle       5.46     5. Wood, Atl        4.91

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Kazmir, Oak-Hou  0.69     1. Greinke, LA      0.46
2. Heaney, LA       0.81     2. Kershaw, LA      0.70
3. Samardzija, Chi  0.82     3. Lester, Chi      0.76
4. Ramirez, TB      0.84     4. Arrieta, Chi     0.82
5. Salazar, Cle     0.85     5. Cueto, Cin       0.90

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Kluber, Cle        49     1. Kershaw, LA        54     
2. Sale, Chi          41     2. Arrieta, Chi       45
3. Quintana, Chi      40     3. Scherzer, Was      43
4. Archer, TB         39     4. Miller, Atl        37
   Price, Det         39     5. 2 with             36

Friday, July 24, 2015

Aramis Ramirez, Historically

As I noted yesterday, the new/old Pirates third baseman, Aramis Ramirez, is returning to the club for which he started his career in 1998. He was traded to the Cubs in 2003. Pittsburgh Tribune editor Joe Rutter, who was the paper's beat writer in 2003, remembers his departure in a column today
I can still vividly remember Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton hugging and laughing after learning they had been traded to the Chicago Cubs. The announcement came moments after the Pirates were beaten 2-0 by the Houston Astros at PNC Park. And while the rest of their teammates looked on in stunned silence, Ramirez and Lofton acted like they had just won the lottery. Which, in a way, they had. They were leaving a team that was 9.5 games out of first place and en route to an 11th consecutive losing season for a team that, although sitting in third place and 5.5 games out, was intent on making a run for the playoffs. And the Cubs did, winning the division on the final weekend of the regular season (against — who else — the Pirates) and reaching the NLCS before the infamous Game 6, Steve Bartman-fueled collapse.
So Ramirez (and center fielder Kenny Lofton, whom the Pirates had signed as a 36-year-old free agent for $1.025 million before the 2003 season) left what was arguably the worst franchise in baseball for arguably the most snakebit one. Lofton played only 56 games in Chicago before departing as a free agent to the Yankees over the winter, but Ramirez was the Cubs' third baseman from the time of the trade through 2011, hitting 239 home runs as a Cub, sixth on the club's all-time list. In return, the Pirates got pitcher Matt Bruback, who never made it out of the minors, utility player Jose Hernandez, who batted .223 as Ramriez's replacement and was released, and second/third baseman Bobby Hill, who batted .267 with an okay .352 on base percentage but no power in 185 games in Pittsburgh. So, yeah, it was a terrible trade, driven by economics (the arbitration-eligible Ramirez's salary went from $3 million in 2003 to $6 million in 2004).

Pittsburgh's PNC Park opened in 2001, which was the 23 year old Ramirez's first season has a full-time regular. Though the ballpark was his home field for only two and a half seasons, he's seventh on the all time home run list for PNC Park:

1 Andrew McCutchen 487 68 2064 1770 314 555 127 17 267 78 25 246 305 .314 .403 .520 .922
2 Jason Bay 370 61 1550 1314 222 372 78 12 241 30 2 203 327 .283 .381 .500 .881
3 Pedro Alvarez 337 56 1264 1140 139 267 51 4 185 6 3 109 323 .234 .302 .433 .736
4 Garrett Jones 338 51 1185 1059 137 261 64 5 175 8 2 105 225 .246 .313 .461 .773
5 Craig Wilson 316 47 1046 897 144 239 48 9 133 7 3 90 284 .266 .365 .497 .862
6 Brian Giles 223 45 953 779 153 252 69 7 143 16 12 160 96 .323 .440 .603 1.043
7 Aramis Ramirez 282 45 1168 1059 136 279 58 0 181 3 1 79 154 .263 .321 .446 .767
8 Ryan Doumit 320 41 1133 1019 127 291 69 2 156 5 4 82 173 .286 .350 .478 .828
9 Neil Walker 391 37 1595 1425 201 398 80 7 185 12 7 128 276 .279 .345 .423 .768
10 Adam LaRoche 213 36 864 769 119 231 69 3 125 4 2 85 168 .300 .368 .538 .906
Generated 7/24/2015.

Some footnotes:

  • Ramirez hit 29 of his homers at PNC as a Pirate, 11 as a Cub, and 5 as a Brewer. LaRoche hit three as a National and two as a Brave; Giles hit two as a Padre. They are the only hitters in the top 10 who didn't hit all their PNC Park homers as a Pirate. 
  • Are Ramirez's 16 homers as a visitor the most in PNC Park history? Not even close: Albert Pujols had 29. His lifetime splits in Pittsburgh: 89 games, 354 at bats, 32 doubles, 29 homers, .376 batting average, .452 on base percentage, .718 slugging percentage.
  • Ramirez also ranks 12th in PNC Park games played, ninth in at bats, 13th in runs scored, eighth in hits, 11th in doubles, and sixth in RBI. This, for a guy who called the park home only two and a half seasons. It says something about both his excellence and the, let's say, fluidity of the Pirates' roster over the past 15 years.
  • McCutchen's in only his seventh season, but he's already No. 1 all time at runs, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, caught stealing, walks, and total bases at PNC Park.