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Series Preview # 8 : D-backs @ Pirates

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“All of it is contagious. It’s having a guy like Adam Jones, who is so contagious with passion for winning...” — Derrik Hall

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Greinke and Jones have a passion for winning!
Greinke and Jones have a passion for winning!
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Privateers or Villains?

Privateers were honored for being audacious and for their courage. Why? Because they carried letters of marque by which the king or queen bestowed on them the right to attack treasure ships. Others, equally audacious and more courageous were villains.

Yo-ho-ho…let’s consider the Pittsburgh Pirates. Arrr, until I see their letters of marque, I say there be more villains than privateers.

In April, Chris Archer climbed the main mast.

He was suspended for 5 games and fined for pitching behind Derek Dietrick. It looked like retaliation for 2 innings earlier when Dietrick broke an unwritten rule of baseball when he failed to immediately and quickly run the bases after hitting a 436 foot homer. Unsurprisingly, Puig immediately started a bench clearing brawl.

His uniform was dirty. During the broadcast, Chris Welsh of Fox Sports said, “Looks to me like pine tar. Right inside the belt area right there. …. you can’t apply a foreign substance to the ball. And that, it appears to me, is what Chris Archer was doing today.”

What did Chris Archer say? “First thing I’ll say is, every pitcher uses something. … I was going to my pants, but those pants don’t have a belt. More than anything, I was just trying to keep my pants up … 95% of pitchers use something that will have a little tack that would be considered a foreign substance. If they want to call me a cheater for what they saw, that’s on them.”

In April, Jung Ho Kang climbed the ketch mast.

As starting third-baseman, he took playing time from the 26 year old hero of our story, Colin Moran. Through 13 April, Kang’s OPS was less than half Moran’s (.427 vs 1.021). How did the hero react? “Once we told him we were going to start the season with Jung Ho at third, he [Colin Moran] stayed relentless with his approach and his pursuit of playing time.”— Clint Hurdle, Pirate Manager.

When opportunity knocks, heroes do what heroes do. On 12 April Colin Moran pinch hit for Kang in the tenth inning. Colin Moran hit a 3-run homer, and the Pirates won the game.

On 13 April, Clint Hurdle benched Kang for two games. An anonymous MLB coach said, “There have been flashes when Kang’s swing mechanics and approach have been very sound. What’s missing is a sort of “being in the now” — having everything work in sync naturally, without thinking about it step by step.”

Where is the Pirate treasure?

Let’s look at player salaries for the Pirates.

Over a year ago, the MLBPA filed a grievance against the Pirates for not using their revenue sharing to improve the team’s competitiveness. In 2018, Pirate player salaries were the fourth lowest in baseball. The issue was to be decided at an arbitration hearing. As an outsider, the outcome is unknown.

In the 2017/2018 off-season, the Pirates signed no free agents. What happened in the next off-season? The Pirates spent $7.8 million to re-sign Kang, and sign Chisenhall and Lyles. Despite signing those free agents, salary for the 25-man roster fell $11.5 million on opening day (from $86.3 M to $74.8 M).

Where have the Pirates buried their treasure?

Mitch Keller is “…the most polished top-tier pitching prospect in baseball. …Behind him, the system is loaded with position-player talent.”— Joel Reuter The Pirates have six players listed as top-100 prospects by at least one of Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and MLB.

The Pirates’ treasure shines brightest in players below the top 100 level. “The AAA team is stacked right now. They literally have 40 or 45+ FV prospects at ALL positions (except catcher). They also have starters Mitch Keller [top-100] and JT Brubaker who they really like[,] that are ready for ML starts now.” — ElGaupo77, April 2019.

Their treasure is about average compared to other teams. The Pirate’s farm system was ranked 15th, 16th, and 17th by Keith Law, Baseball America, and Bleacher Report.

Looking Ahead

“All of it is contagious. It’s having a guy like Adam Jones who is so contagious with passion for winning; and wanting to win and do it right. He talks about having fun, how much fun they are having.” — Derrick Hall, Doug and Wolf Show, 18 April

If the D-backs finish April around 500, Hall said they would be “in pretty good shape.” To me, 500 in April would mean the D-backs are contending for the playoffs.

At my core, my passion is writing about winning. When my writing is on-target, insights and optimism are contagious. When the D-backs are on-target, they are playing well and contending for the post-season.

The D-backs beat my predicted series win against the Braves with a sweep. With Musgrove pitching the first game, another sweep is unlikely. In this four game series, I predict a split. Will they again beat my prediction?

Who will pitch in this series?

Monday. Joe Musgrove (546 ERA+, 8.5 SO/9, 1.6 BB/9) vs Zack Godley (75 ERA+, 7.8 SO/9, 3.9 BB/9)

Joe Musgrove is first in the NL with 0.81 ERA, 1.93 FIP, and 0 HR/9. How did he reach this level? In an interview, I heard three things that were extraordinary.

  • “My mental training comes with my physical training. I pair them together.”
  • “I try to push myself to a limit where everyday I’m forced to face that uncomfortableness, that fear of failure. Failing is a big part of it.”
  • “My biggest takeaway is ... the level of accountability amongst your teammates, a level of selflessness, a desire to want to win more than you want to be the hero.”

Zack Godley. His last two starts were similar in length: he completed 6 innings, walked the first batter in the seventh, and a reliever entered the game. Perhaps he should pitch his best for six innings and in the seventh watch from the bench.

Tuesday. Trevor Williams (166 ERA+, 6.3 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9) vs Luke Weaver (120 ERA+, 10.5 SO/9, 2.2 BB/9)

In September, Trevor Williams stood next to a camera wearing earphones; he was doing an in-game interview. Jordan Luplow grounded a fowl ball at Williams. Calmly, Williams caught it bare handed, and added a dab. When Pirates make excellent plays, they do a dab. It’s what Pirates do.

Weaver’s 2017 pitches are shown in color! The most frequent pitch, the 4-seam, is red. The next most frequent pitch, the change-up, is green. Their frequency hasn’t changed very much. However, Weaver increased his cutters and added a sinker pitch (Source: Brooks Baseball) .

Wednesday. Jordan Lyles (801 ERA+, 9,5 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9) vs Merrill Kelly (105 ERA+, 8.7 SO/9, 4.0 BB/9)

Last season, Jordan Lyles pitched 40.2 innings from the bullpen and 47 innings as a starter. His split showed batters OPS against him rose in their third plate appearance (from .629/.760 to 1.111). This season he figured out how to pitch the third time through the order (allowed OPS of .533). On 19 April, he left the game with a bruised hand, so it is unknown whether he will pitch this game.

Merrill Kelly, an average pitcher, might feel in awe of his teammates. He should feel successful because he is playing in the Major League - the highest level of his profession. “Success and average don’t have nothing to do with each other.” Eric Thomas

Merrill Kelly has exceeded expectations. If he is anything like me, that accomplishment arrives with fun and delightful joy.

Thursday. Jameson Taillon (136 ERA+, 6.9 SO/9, 2.1 BB/9) vs Zack Greinke (100 ERA+, 9.8 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9)

Last season, Taillon pitched two complete games. The first was a 1-hit shutout. Although the second was 10-hits with 2 allowed runs, it was most impressive because it was at Coors field - the first complete game at Coors since July 2013 (Clayton Kershaw). “When you run back out for the ninth, it’s a cool feeling....weird things happen in the ninth, so I told myself, ‘Let’s close out this inning.’ “ — Jameson Taillon

Excluding his first game hit-fest against the Dodgers, Greinke is pitching great (ERA 2.81). Oh by the way, his OPS is excellent (1.845). As has often been suggested in game-day threads, he could pinch hit in critical situations. Weirder things have happened!