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Pirates First Half Story Sequel Sampler, Volume II

We’re at the midway point of the season. How are my articles holding up? Photo by Mjmalone54.

That headline rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? Sorry. I promise it could have been worse.

Yes, it’s volume II but installment three in this series where I write a P.S. to some of my favorite or most relevant TPOP articles of the season to this point. Sometimes an idea is worth one more look, but not a full blown article. Here are three such posts!

Joe Musgrove Is Throwing His Slider Again

Musgrove’s last start on June 21 was a much needed return to form. The big right-hander bucked his slump and gave the Pirates seven strong innings in the win. He credited his breaking ball for his success, throwing it a season high 39 times. What made that pitch mix interesting is Musgrove hadn’t been relying on his slider of late. Back in April, I observed how a slider heavy approach was yielding better results for him early in the season.

Said Musgrove after the game:

???I hadn???t really gone to my best weapon, which is my slider. So I threw a lot of sliders tonight. I kind of told myself if I get into situations where I need outs, I???ve got to go to my best pitch. In the past, I???ve tried to do a little too much pitching and not just going at guys with my best weapon.”

Throwing your best pitch more to get better results? That???s an idea.

Musgrove’s slider might not be only his best pitch, but the best pitch in the Pirates’ rotation. It certainly has yielded the worst contact, going by xwOBA.

Best xwOBA By Pitch, Pirates starters

Joe Musgrove Slider, .221

Nick Kingham Changeup, .227

Jameson Taillon Curveball, .238

Jordan Lyles Curveball, .243

Mitch Keller Slider, .262

Now we have to wait if Musgrove is going to consistently throw his slider 30+ times a game or if that Padres game was just a tease.

Chris Archer???s Ditched The Two-Seamer

A few days before Musgrove’s revelation, Chris Archer had a similar epiphany and decided he wasn’t going to throw his two-seam fastball.

The Internet joked Archer reads FanGraphs and that’s why he made the change. Maybe he should have read TPOP before his start against Atlanta.

The Pirates??? one stop fix had been Archer???s detriment. This year, the only pitchers with a worse slugging percentage allowed on sinkers and two-seamers are Ryan Carpenter (a 28 year old rookie who was recently optioned to AAA) and Mike Leake. As I said in the original post, Archer???s other stuff hasn???t been that bad this year. The impact pitcher they traded for is still in there. His problems were amplified by trying to force a two-seamer that doesn???t move into his pitch mix.

If there’s been a common theme in my writing this year, it’s been “Yay, sliders! Boo, sinkers!” In fairness, the Pirates have really cut back on their two-seamers this year. Only 14.5% of Pirate pitches in 2019 have been two-seamers or sinkers- by far the lowest since the advent of pitch tracking in 2008.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

The decrease has been gradual since the peak in 2014, but you have to wonder if results are driving this year’s drop. The Pirates have a team .410 wOBA and .542 slugging percentage allowed on two-seamers and sinkers, according to Baseball Savant. The only NL team worse in those categories are the Colorado Rockies, and Coors Field is a pretty good place to pick up extra-bases.

The Pirates can’t, and shouldn’t, completely eliminate the two-seamer from the repertoire, but it’s been an ill-advised fix for Archer, Michael Feliz, Jon Niese, Daniel Hudson and almost every other reclamation project since 2016. It’s time to retire that strategy.

What to Expect When The Pirates Are Expecting (wOBA)

See? I told you the opening headline could have been worse.

On May 3, I took a look at the expected stats of Pirates’ hitters to see who was overachieving and who was getting unlucky.

Marte was under performing, recording?? a .283 wOBA compared to a .357 xwOBA. Since then, he’s slashed a very Marte-like .306/.349/.500 and his results have finally matched his forecasted total (.340 wOBA, .343 xwOBA). Meanwhile, Melky Cabrera was vastly outproducing his projections, and he’s since posted a .723 OPS and 91 wRC+. While that’s not terrible and inconsistent playing time could be a factor for the slump, he’s been regressing for almost two months now.

Now that we’re at the midway point, it seems like a fitting time to recheck those expected stats. According to Baseball Savant, the Pirates who have outpaced their projections the most so far are:

Corey Dickerson, .332 wOBA, .272 xwOBA

Bryan Reynolds, .419 wOBA .366 xwOBA

Kevin Newman, .343 wOBA, .301 xwOBA

And of players still on the 40-man roster, the three who are striking the ball better than their results would indicate:

Jung Ho Kang, .233 wOBA, .274 xwOBA

Cole Tucker, .244 wOBA, .274 xwOBA

Francisco Cervelli, .244 wOBA, .264 xwOBA

The bad news for the underachievers is even if they were reaching their expected output, it would still be pretty bad.

As for the team overall, the Pirates have a .317 wOBA and .309 xwOBA, so they may be due for some regression. Even so, they are still hitting better than they did in April.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

1 Comment on Pirates First Half Story Sequel Sampler, Volume II

  1. Susie Cooper // June 25, 2019 at 7:37 AM //

    Interesting in-depth read

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