26 April 2012

Unsung Heroes of The Battery

The pitching performances witnessed on Saturday were as incredibly rare as they were mesmerizing and exciting. Perfect games are so sparse that only 21 have been recorded in MLB history (this blog recognizes the incredible performance of Armando Galarraga), one of those 21 was Saturday afternoon. A PERFECT game; 27 batters faced, 27 batters retired at the plate. Arguably the Pirate's best reliever, couldn't even get through 1 inning on Saturday night without giving up walks to the first two batters he faced. Phil Humber stared down 27 men and only 3 even faced a 3-ball count. This kind of performance obviously comes from a ridiculously controlled athlete but what is oft overlooked is the role that the catcher plays in these accomplishments.

The first word that comes to mind when the names Robby Hammock, Ramon Castro, Landon Powell, Carlos Ruiz, Alex Avila and A.J. Pierzinski may not be masterminds but when their counterparts: Randy Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay, Armando Galarraga and Phil Humber, names are mentioned I either immediately remember their perfect game or incredible control and career. The reality may be that these pitcher's talent would have carried them through a perfect game regardless of who was behind the dish, but my opinion is that such an achievement should be credited to the one catching just as much as it is to the one throwing. The catcher has to be in the zone as well; calling the right pitches, setting up in the right locations, and playing a human brick wall.

The perfect game for Humber and Pierzinski on Saturday sparked the beginning of this conversation in my head, but it only grew louder as the Burnett/Barajas battery took the field at 7:05. Almost any pitcher will tell you that his performance and success depends greatly on the other 8 players on the field but most importantly on the catcher. It is a special bond that pitchers and catchers have, a bond that may have played a large part in the reason Burnett is even with the Pirates this season. Barajas was Burnett's designated catcher during his 3 year stint in Toronto and 2008, Burnett's last year with the squad, is arguably the best season of his career. During the 2008 season he threw to Barajas in 24 starts and went 14-6 with a 3.27 ERA versus going 4-4 with a 6.05 ERA with Gregg Zaun behind the dish. (source: Tom Singer  http://tomsinger.mlblogs.com/2012/02/14/burnetts-bff-rod-barajas/) That season alone may be the reason Burnett chose Pittsburgh as his next stop, a desire to return to the hay day and to the relationship he had built with a capable backstop.

It is a trusting relationship where the pitcher has complete confidence in their catcher to handle everything he can throw at him. I genuinely believe that the success that Burnett will see in the next two years with the Pirates will be due in a large part to the pairing he has come to love and feel comfortable with. Also, lest we forget, the pitching, especially starting pitching, that we have seen through the first 18 games of this season must also share the spotlight with the counterpart receiving the pitches. The pitchers feel comfortable with Barajas and also McKenry. This illustrated thoroughly with the performance by JMac today. A no-hitter into the 7th is an incredible accomplishment for both Mc's on the battery. An accomplishment I believe will appear more often now that the Pirates organization has shored up the holes in the backstop.

25 April 2012

G.I. JONES



And there was noooo doubt about it.... G.I. Jones strikes with an air assault against the Rox.  Jones has been bipolar at the plate so far this season collecting 8 of his 11 hits in just three games, including a home run in two of those games.  This is a guy that the Pirates need to have producing in their lineup, as he and Alvarez are the only ones that can consistently drive the ball out of the ballpark.  The clean up spot has been an issue for the Pirates for as long as I can remember and this year especially they desperately need some one to step in to that slot, and I don't see why it can't be GFJ.  As the season progresses it is crucial that Jones continues to show improvement at making contact and not just hitting home runs.  Cutch will see fewer and fewer good pitches without some protection behind him in the lineup.  Jones has shown that he can string together multiple hit games, now he must do it on a more consistent basis.  The results, or lack there of, from the middle of the lineup will be a tell tale sign as to how good this team can be.  We have two guys at the top of the lineup that are going to have high on base percentages now if we can only find someone to drive them in.  (Side note: I think Barmes could do great things in the two hole if he continues to hit the ball like he has in the last couple games)

18 April 2012

Pitching Accolades


Seriously Bucco fans, our pitching staff is looking like a top of the league staff. All you naysayers will probably come up with a million reasons why this isn't the case, but the numbers don't lie. In fact the numbers are quite favorable. Our team ERA ranks 3rd in the National League behind Philadelphia and Washington. Yes I said Washington. A direct correlation to ERA is usually opponents batting average which is a very respectable .237; below the league average. Tony Watson has been lights out on the mound stranding all 9 runners that he has inherited. And lets not forget the job Juan Cruz has done especially very recently in the absence of Hanrahan. Cruz has in fact been the biggest surprise carrying over the strong stuff we saw this spring into the regular season, not allowing an run as of yet.
Maybe the most significant and important statistic for our staff is their pitch efficiency. Not only have they thrown the second least amount of pitches as a staff, but in doing so they have one of the best strike to ball ratios. I cannot stress how important this is to being an effective pitcher. Getting ahead in counts keeps hitters off guard and doesn't allow them to get into any sort of a rhythm. Once our starters are all healthy they should only get better. As good as they have been, we haven't seen any of them pitch to their fullest potential yet this year. They have a long way to go as the season is still young, but I can't help but be excited with the work that Ray Searage has done with this staff.

16 April 2012

Offensive Breakout for the Ace


  No matter what team you are on there is always that one pitcher who receives no run support. It usually seems to be that another pitcher on the staff steals all the runs from the other by winning games with scores of 8 to 5, 7 to 4, and even 15 to 7. It has become the norm for one pitcher, especially on the Pirates, to be a victim of that. Yes, you can make the argument that no one on the Buccos staff is receiving run support, but Erik Bedard is the obvious one. He is pitching like a legitimate ace and yet is coming into tonight’s game with a 0 and 2 record. He has the fourth worst run support in the league with .75 runs per game and 1 of 5 pitchers that have not received at least a run per game in the majors. Clint Barmes' first hit of the season, which happened to be a homer, was the only run put on the board for him against the Dodgers. In order for the Pirates to right the ship being captained by Clint Hurdle, the bats have to wake up especially for the ace of team. With Bedard’s 2.25 ERA there is no reason for him to fall to 0-3 on the year and can start the streak tonight with a big win against Arizona. Joe Saunders was solid in his first outing for the D-backs. However, we are not seeing  Cy Young pitching tonight (FINALLY!!!) and need to take advantage of that!

14 April 2012

Hope Springs Eternal

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come. "



Being angry about how your favorite teams are playing and coaching does not make it very easy to be hopeful, energetic or uplifting when writing or thinking about them. In fact, it makes it almost impossible because on the one hand you want to be cynical, you want to be an armchair base coach, you want to yell obscenities and throw ottomans; yet on the other hand there is an innate feeling in humanity to continue rooting for the underdog, to be unsatisfied with losing, hope springs eternal.

It seems as though the Pirates hitting does not suck, because it seems it doesn't even exist. The team is batting .178 with the highest individual average belonging to Kevin Correia (sure that's just 1 hit in 2 plate appearances, but its still better than position players Barajas, Walker, Alvarez, Hague [HE HAS 20% OF THE TEAMS RBI'S! WHY'D THEY SEND HIM DOWN! GET RID OF ALVAREZ! WAAAAHHHH!], Harrison, McLouth, and Navarro who all have 1 or 0 hits in numerous at bats). The silver lining is that hitting isn't the only thing the pitching staff is doing to keep the team fighting in games, the pitching has been above or at par for every game. 5 of the 7 games have been won or lost by only 1 run and while they've only scored a horrendous 11 runs, they have only allowed 20 through 7 games. The 3 division leaders in the NL: Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers, have given up 18, 30, and 28 runs respectively. So while this mainly looks like a terrible offense highlighter, the hope should focus on the outstanding job the pitching staff as a whole and the defense behind them has done to try to win the first 7 games. The hitting will come. Hope springs eternal.

08 April 2012

Walk it Off Andrew McCutchen


Different day, same story. Just one day after Alex Presley's walk off infield single the Pirates were back at it with another game of late inning heroics. Had you asked me mid-way through Saturday's game what the outcome of this series was going to look like I would have without question not been able to predict how things played out.

The ninth inning was particularly odd to me on Sunday. Looking back I'm not only confused as to why Manuel pitched to McCutchen, but also why it was Herndon and not Papelbon on the hill. You are paying Papelbon top of the market money to pitch in exactly those types of situations. Forget the fact that it wasn't a save situation, it was a save the game type of situation, one that you want your guy with the best stuff pitching in. That takes us to the actual at-bat, one where McCutchen battled back from an 0-2 count to drive in the game winner. McCutchen has been swinging a hot bat and with a much less potent Neil Walker on-deck why not pitch around him. The old unintentional intentional walk if you may. Nevertheless they pitched to him and we see how that turned out.

To cap off the unusual events on Sunday the Philadelphia outfield seemed to be still playing shallow as if they didn't realize how many outs there were. Given that there were 2 outs there is no reason not to be playing normal depth, possibly even a slight bit deeper to not allow a ball to get over your head. Anything on the ground in front of them was going to score a run either way, why not eliminate the alleys a bit. A threefold error on Charlie Manuel's part in my opinion. It seems as if Manuel forgot for a second that he is actually suppose to manage the game. With his counterpart Clint Hurdle playing all the right cards at exactly the right time it's safe to say that Philadelphia just go Hurdled.


Regain the Respect From the Past!

Preceeds LaBrandon's post well!!

07 April 2012

The character of AJ Burnett



I'll admit, I don't know a ton about Mr. Burnett. The things I DO know are as follows: statistically he is a good pitcher; an ace on many staffs yet not a top-tier, elite pitcher. His bunting skills are suspect, almost a necessity as a pitcher in Clint Hurdle's NL army. And, he has a tough exterior typically sporting a focused look on his face and tattoos up and down his arms. One thing I didn't know is what kind of character he has. I've been told he's a leader (a quality I think the Pirates clubhouse is in need of, particularly leadership by a veteran ball player) but haven't had a chance to catch a glimpse of it until tonight.

While rehabbing with the Bradenton Marauders, "Assassin", as I'm sure his mother calls him, pitched 4 2/3 innings striking out five, giving up one run and eventually taking the 5-1 loss. After the game, Burnett made comments that struck me immediately and spoke toward the kind of person he is both on and off the playing field. When asked about the game his performance, and the other single-A players he said:

"They had some good at-bats, and I had some great plays behind me, too... Those guys played hard tonight), and it was a good game all around."

This struck me because he uses two personal pronouns to refer to himself, yet neither one reflects his performance. He had an opportunity to inflate himself and talk about how well he pitched (despite throwing against some of the lowest minor leaguers in the system) or to give some credit to the other players and also express his pride in himself, but he chose not to. He chose to instead lift up the efforts of the entire team and praise the skill and passion of the coming generations of Pirate players. I hope that Cole, Taillon, and the rest of the future Buccos in Bradenton are paying attention and taking in what AJ has to offer them. Drive and humility are desirable characteristics in anyone, especially your veteran ace.

These are certainly pieces of character that I am looking forward to seeing wear the all black jersey, P on the left chest.




05 April 2012

Missed opportunity off Doc


The first inning looked promising for the offense. A leadoff single by Alex Presley than an infield single by Jose Tabata made it look like we might squeak one or two out earlier off the Doc. Needless to say we weren’t able to pull it off. The double play that speedy Cutch could not even beat out killed our chances to get a run early. One thought that came to mind at the time was why not bunt McCutchen? I am a firm believer that you do not bunt your big bat, especially that early in the game, but Andrew is not your normal big bat nor Halladay your normal pitcher.
Cutch is the fastest three hitter in the game and Roy is one of the best aces in the game. At worst bunting puts runners on second and third with one out. This would have allowed Walker to get an RBI without a base hit. With Halladay pitching you are lucky to get one run in nine innings of play let alone in the first inning, and that was an opportunity that slipped through our fingers that could have changed the game. I know hindsight is always 20/20, but with a pitcher of Roy Halladay’s caliber on the mound, present sight needs to be 20/20 as well.
Even with the loss today there were still gleanings of a different, better team. Seeing Erik Bedard throw the way he did gives us a great feeling to know we might finally have a legitimate number 1 barring his health. Keeping it all in perspective, Opening Day is still only 1 game that means no more than the other 161.

01 April 2012

Welcome!


The time has come to take back what's ours, to reclaim greatness. For too long the great city of Pittsburgh has had to endure losing at a level that few sports franchises can understand. What if I told you it wasn't always this way? What if I told you that the end is in sight? Few Pirate fans from this generation can even recall the above scenario of which led to this unthinkable streak. I truly believed that the losing was going to come to an end last year had Jerry Meals not performed his Voodoo magic in that 19 inning summer nightmare.

So here we find ourselves at the cusp of another summer of baseball in Pittsburgh, yet this year the glimmer of hope has turned into a ray of light. We at Captain Jolly Roger believe this is the year, maybe not the year we win the World Series, maybe not the year we make the playoffs, but indeed the year in which the losing stops. We hope you will come aboard with us and find this blog a place you can gain insight, analysis, and explanation as well as a place you the fans can dialog and debate with one another. It's not just another year, it's the year we right the ship!