Is It Time To Worry About Ivan Nova?

Is It Time To Worry About Ivan Nova?


Source: Keith Allison

Ivan Nova’s Pirate career began like this:

And then his season ended like this:

Which led to him getting an extension like this:

After asking for an extension more like this:


Ivan Nova was traded to the Pirates during the 2016 MLB trade deadline. Fans weren’t too excited, but they weren’t devastated either. The Pirates had lost a measly PTBNL for a guy that was better than Ryan Vogelsong. Awesome!

After being traded to the Pirates, Nova turned the unexcited fans into fans that wanted to see Ivan Nova in a Pirate jersey for a long, long time. At first nobody really expected the Pirates to sign Nova, after all, they had failed to resign JA Happ in the previous offseason.

And then reports came out that Nova wanted $70 million spread out over 5 years. Not many people thought that would be a good deal for the Pirates. People were prepared to see yet another Searage reclamation project go to waste.

But then, the unthinkable happened. The Pirates got their guy. No, not for $70 million, but for $26 million over 3 years, an AAV of $8.5 million. A good deal for the Pirates, especially considering Edinson Volquez received a $22 million 2 year deal, Bartolo Colon signed a $12 million 1 year deal, and Rich Hill signed a $48 million 3 year deal during the same offseason. Baseball players make an obscene amount of money. Starting pitchers are no exception.

In the first year of his new contract, he posted a 1.50 ERA in April. Pirates fans spent the entire offseason arguing about if Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon was this staffs real ace, and the whole time it was Ivan Nova! Well, not so fast. Since April, Ivan Nova has a 4.39 ERA. Add that all up, and you end up with a 3.66 ERA for the year. By all means, that is well worth the $8.5 million he is being paid. But he is trending downwards. If he keeps trending downwards, this contract may ultimately end up being a bad one for the Buccos.

During Nova’s time with the Yankees last year, he had a 4.90 ERA and a 5.10 FIP. He had a major home run problem that inflated his numbers, which is not uncommon for Yankees pitchers. His xFIP, which corrects out of line HR rates, was a much more respectable 4.08.

Moving out of the AL East and Yankee Stadium into the NL Central and PNC Park is a good fix for pitchers just on its own. Nova went from giving up over 1 home run per start with the Yankees to around 1 home run every 3 starts with the Pirates. The home run problem had been solved.

But now another thing came up. Ivan Nova became a control artist. Nova wasn’t exactly wild with the Yankees. He had a 5.9 BB% with the Yankees which was better than league average. But that become an absurd 1.1 BB% with the Pirates. The improvements don’t stop there. Along with the reduced walk rate came an increase in his strikeout rate. Nova was now striking out batters 19.8% of the time, his highest mark since 2012. That 4.90 ERA with the Yankees became a 3.06 ERA with the Pirates. And don’t forget, Nova is a groundballer. The Pirates love their groundball pitchers.

Add up all of these factors and you have a pitcher that the Pirates felt was worth resigning.

Despite the huge boost in his numbers, the Pirates, specifically Ray Searage, apparently made no mechanical adjustments to Ivan Nova. In an article by USA Today, Nova said “It was huge,” when asked of Searage’s impact on his performance. “Huge. We didn’t do a lot of work mechanically or stuff like that, but the way that he communicates with you, the way that he explains something to you, it gives you the confidence to go out there and perform at a high level.”

Being confident is not something new for Nova. In 2012, Ivan Nova said “If you ask me who the best pitcher in the world is, I’d say me.”

Join Robinhood and we’ll both get a share of stock like Apple, Ford, or Sprint for free. Make sure you use my link!

He clearly has confidence in himself. But pitching takes more than just confidence in yourself. You need to be confident in your coaches, your catcher, your defense, and your stuff. When Nova began having confidence in the people around him, that’s when he really started to shine.

So what do the numbers say about Nova’s newfound confidence? With the Yankees, Nova had thrown a first pitch strike 58.4% of the time. With the Pirates, that became 66.9% of the time. Nova had began attacking hitters right from the start. As I mentioned a month and a half ago, getting ahead early in the count is crucial. Those first pitch strikes obviously led to him getting ahead in the count 0-1 instead of falling behind 1-0. Hitters (on average, not just against Nova) have a .630 OPS when falling behind 0-1. When they manage to get ahead 1-0, that catapults to a .860 OPS.  So clearly, getting ahead early is very important (ya hear that, Glasnow?).

His aggressiveness didn’t stop there. When Nova was with the Yankees, he threw in the strike zone 42.5% of the time. That number jumped to 49.9% of the time when he was with the Pirates. That jump might not seem drastic, but it certainly was. Throwing in the zone 42.5% of the time last year was good for 126th most often out of pitchers with at least 100 IP whereas throwing in the zone 49.9% of the time would have been the 27th most often.

Clearly being aggressive, AKA throwing in the zone more often, was a major strategy for Nova. After all, you don’t walk 3 batters over 64.2 innings by getting lucky.

Nova was getting first pitch strikes, he was attacking the zone, he was using his changeup more against lefties and he was throwing his curve more against righties. Everything was going well. But now, in 2017, things aren’t going as well. Now that I’ve briefly gone over what made Nova better in 2016, what has made him worse in 2017?

His first pitch strike percentage has gone from 66.9% to 64.4%. That is a decrease but not an alarming one. Opposing hitters hit .265 against Nova last year and are hitting .269 against him this year. Again, that isn’t very alarming. His strikeout rate his down and his walk rate is up. Ah! That’s alarming!

Strikeouts are the best type of outs in baseball. A ball that doesn’t touch a bat can’t fall in for a hit. Hits are bad, therefore strikeouts are good. With the Pirates last season, Nova had a 19.8 K%. This year that has fallen to 15.3%. Strikeout rates are great indicators of whether a not a pitcher will be successful or not, but strikeout rate minus walk rate is even better. Last season Nova had a 18.6 K-BB% with the Pirates. That would be ranked 20th best for starters with 100+ innings last year. This year, he has a 12.0 K-BB%. That would be ranked 78th best for starters with 60+ innings this year.

Obviously, that is not ideal. The below image might be the reason why.



The numbers represent differences between his time last year as a Pirate and this year. Right off the bat you can see he is throwing his fourseam fastball more while throwing his sinker and curveball less.

His sinker is still his most thrown pitch. But he is throwing it 45.0% of the time this year compared to 52.9% of the time last year. Nova’s sinker is a great pitch, and it should be thrown a lot. Hitters have a 55.7 GB% against his sinker while they have just a 36.5 GB% against his fourseamer. His sinker is pretty damn good. His fourseamer isn’t pretty damn good. Throwing his sinker more often should only do good things for him.

But the big problem is his reduced use of his curveball. His curveball was a strikeout machine in 2016, and it has been one in 2017. The problem is the machine has been pushed to the side. If he wants to see his strikeout rate return, he’ll need to bring back his curveball.

The problem with throwing his curveball less often is this: he throws his fastball more. There are advantages and disadvantages to throwing a fastball 70% of the time like Nova does. However, it seems like there are more advantages to throwing it around 60% so he can throw his curve around 30% of the time. Less contact, more strikeouts, even if that means less 8 inning games. It’s very early in his Pirate career, but Kontos may be what the Pirates need to shorten the game.

In the end, I really don’t know if Nova does have a problem. If you think there is a problem with Nova, leave a comment saying what you think Nova should attempt to do to fix it. Maybe 2016 was just him overperforming. After all, a 1.1 BB% didn’t seem sustainable and his BB% this year is still the 2nd best in the league. The strikeouts need to return in order for him to return to being the pitcher he was in 2016. But there’s a chance they don’t. Fortunately for the Pirates, that’s already priced into his contract. People came into 2017 with high expectations for Nova. He may not be the teams ace, but there are 5 spots in a rotation, and he still looks like a great guy to have in ours.

The Pirates Bullpen Needs To Look Left To Get Right

The Pirates Bullpen Needs To Look Left To Get Right


Photo: richardhe51067


Coming into the season, Tony Watson was the Pirates closer. He currently has a 4.00 ERA with a 5.05 FIP. In the off-season, Daniel Hudson was signed to be the primary setup man. He has a 4.91 ERA with a 5.05 FIP. The Pirates two most important relievers coming into the season have a combined 4.43 ERA with a 5.05 FIP. They have 7 of the Pirates 12 blown saves.

Despite that, the Pirates bullpen ERA is actually not that bad. In fact, they have the 11th best ERA in the entire league. But what has been bad, however, is their ability to close out ball games.

Win Probability Added (WPA) is a context dependent statistic that allows you to see how well a player performed in important situations. For example, if Jameson Taillon gives up a solo home run in the first inning of a game, his WPA would hardly be affected. However, if Tony Watson gives up a home run in the bottom of the 9th of a tied game, his WPA would go down significantly. FanGraphs mentions that WPA will not tell you how well a player performed, but it will tell you something about how important a players performance was.

The Pirates bullpen has the 6th worst WPA in the league (-1.93). This means that that the bullpen has cost the Pirates 1.93 wins. Round that up to 2 wins, and the Pirates record should be 39-40 with a bullpen that was completely average.

So, in summary, the Pirates bullpen hasn’t actually given up a ton of runs. They are even slightly above average in that department. But the runs they have given up have been important.

As of right now, the Pirates are rolling without a ‘closer’. When Watson was removed from the closer role, Hurdle said that Rivero and Nicasio would stay in their current roles. However, they would now be allowed to pitch in the 9th inning. Rivero staying out of a fixed 9th inning role has helped this team tremendously.


Rvero Nicasio order


Rivero has been used against the heart of the lineup most often, while Nicasio has been used against the bottom of the lineup most often. This means that if Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are expected to bat in the 8th inning, then the 8th inning belongs to Rivero. If not, the 9th belongs to Rivero.  The fact that Rivero has faced the opposing teams top batters, and still has an ERA below 1.00 is amazing.




The above lists the amount of runners the pitcher has inherited, and how many inherited runners the pitcher has let score. Once again, Rivero shows he is insanely valuable. Not only has he had to face the heart of the order most often, he has also had to come into the game with runners on base. If Rivero becomes the fixed 9th inning guy, you lose this wonderful perk.

Hurdle’s decision to use a “closer by platoon” is a decision no other manager has made. If Hurdle decided that Rivero would become the full time closer, you would lose all of the above. He would not get the Pirates out of jams. He would not face the top of the lineup. He would do what all other closers do, which is enter the 9th inning whenever a team has a lead of 3 runs or less.

This bullpen is not far from being reliable, or even very good. They simply need one thing to happen.

They need Antonio Bastardo or Tony Watson to be good.

The Pirates starting rotation has 5 right handed pitchers. That means that every game, opposing teams are trying to get as many left handed bats in their lineup as possible. Right now the Pirates starting rotation is giving up a .347 wOBA to lefties but just a .299 wOBA against righties.

Like the Pirates rotation, the bullpen has no issues getting out right handed hitters. Jhan Marinez, Juan Nicasio, Edgar Santana, and even Daniel Hudson have all been fine against righties. However, 54% of the batters the Pirates pitching have faced this year were right handed, which means that around 46% of the batters the Pirates have faced have been lefties. That is the 3rd biggest percentage of lefties faced in the league. Teams have attacked the Pirates with lefties, and so far it has worked. The Pirates need a lefty that can get out left handed hitters.

Right now, the Pirates have 4 lefties in their bullpen. Those 4 are Felipe Rivero, Tony Watson, Wade LeBlanc, and Antonio Bastardo. Felipe Rivero is phenomenal. But you need more than one good lefty to be successful, which is especially true of the Pirates. Since the Pirates have faced lefties 46% of the time, they probably should have at least 3 good lefties.

Wade LeBlanc could certainly qualify as a good lefty. He has had a good year, and he is a lefty. But he isn’t a typical lefty. His best pitch is his changeup, which has a reverse platoon effect. That means LeBlanc does better against opposite handed opponents than he does against same handed opponents. So for the purposes of getting lefties out, LeBlanc isn’t really an ideal option.

That leaves Tony Watson and Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo has been bad all year. He got hurt and went on a 30 day rehab assignment. He proceeded to be bad for 30 more days. There aren’t many reasons to be optimistic, but his velocity had ticked up towards the end of his rehab assignment. Maybe he could still be good. I’m skeptical.

Tony Watson has also been bad this season. But, there are reasons to be optimistic. Watson has given up 7 home runs this year, but 3 of them have traveled less than 360 feet. Those home runs were responsible for 6 of Watson’s 16 earned runs. A 360 foot home run is a wall scraper, so Watson has certainly had at least some bad luck. Balls that weren’t hit very far have elevated Watson’s ERA.

Since being removed as the closer, Watson has pitched 9.2 innings and has a low 2.79 ERA. He has managed to strike out 21.9% of the batters he has faced, which is something Watson has struggled to do this season. But more importantly, Watson has dominated lefties during that span. The below might be the reason why:


Brooksbaseball-Chart (10)


That is Tony Watson’s slider usage by month since 2013. Over the last two months Watson has seen a dramatic increase in his slider usage. Batters are hitting just .095 against Watson’s slider this year to go along with a 58.3% groundball rate. His slider is a great weapon against lefties and it could help turn him into the player the Pirates need him to be.

However, we always need a backup plan. Let’s assume neither figure it out. The Pirates still have a lefty problem. They could try and trade for a left handed reliever like Sean Doolittle, Mike Minor, or Ryan Buchter. If the Pirates decide trading is not for them, they have an obvious option in AAA.

Steven Brault has been stellar this season for Indianapolis. If he was promoted, he would immediately become an excellent weapon out of the pen. He, like Kuhl, has some issues against opposite handed batters. He, also like Kuhl, has command issues.

The Pirates have already been willing to think outside the box this year with ditching the traditional closer role. Why stop there?

Kuhl has shown that his command is poor, which has led to short outings. He and Cole both have shown that they struggle against lefties. Brault would help alleviate both problems.

Here is a scenario: Chad Kuhl is the starter. The opposing team has 7 lefties in the lineup. The Pirates could use Chad Kuhl for 2-3 innings, pull him for a pinch hitter whenever his spot in the order comes up, and use Brault for another 2-3 innings. This would not put any additional stress on the bullpen, and would be a killer for teams that stack lefties against Kuhl. Decide to stack lefties against Kuhl? Fine, you get Brault. Decide to not stack lefties? That’s fine too, because then Kuhl will just (hopefully) go 5 strong innings against you.

This isn’t a completely new concept. The Rockies attempted ‘piggybacking’ back in 2013. However for whatever reason, I can’t think of a single team who has attempted something like this recently.

Think of it as Chad Kuhl is the Pirates 5.1 starter and Brault is the Pirates 5.2 starter. Both pitchers would remain stretched out, both pitchers could continue developing as a starter, both pitchers could pitch to their strengths.

The ideal scenario for the Pirates is Tony Watson becomes good again, Antonio Bastardo doesn’t suck, and Daniel Hudson starts pitching like a 6 million dollar pitcher. But if these don’t happen, Neal Huntington has options. Will they be buyers at the deadline? I hope so. Sean Doolittle and Ryan Buchter both have multiple years of team control. Trading for them could help the Pirates in 2018 and beyond. If they aren’t buyers, though, they can always turn to AAA All-Star Steven Brault to help get this bullpen back on track to being the dominant force it was in 2015.

The Pirates Pitching Struggles Begin At Ball One

The Pirates Pitching Struggles Begin At Ball One


First Pitch of AB Chart


This season has been a season of ups and down for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But for the Pirates pitching staff, there is no bigger cause for their ups and downs then when they are up and when they are down.

At a young age, pitchers are taught to get ahead of the batter. That philosophy doesn’t stop being taught when you make it to the big leagues. In fact, Ray Searage specifically stated this his pitching philosophy is, “First-pitch strikes, having an aggressive mentality, control the running game, pitch in, stay aggressive out there and compete.”

Getting a first pitch strike is always a great idea. But not falling behind of the batter is equally as important. Getting a first pitch strike puts the pitcher in control. Want to throw a breaking ball off the plate? No problem. Want to throw a fastball wherever you want? No problem. But if the pitcher falls behind, do you want to risk falling behind 2-0? That breaking ball off the plate becomes much less appealing for not only the pitcher, but also for the batter. Since the batter is ahead, the batter can become more selective at the plate and really wait for a good pitch to hit.

The following chart shows the benefits of getting ahead of a batter with a first pitch strike, and also shows the challenges a pitcher is faced with when falling behind the batter.


0-1 1-0
wOBA 0.272 0.364
K% 29.5 17.2
BB% 4.9 15.3


This season following an 0-1 count, a batter has a .272 wOBA. However, if a pitcher falls behind a batter 1-0, a batter has a .364 wOBA. To help put that in perspective, Chris Stewart has a .272 wOBA over his entire career. Robinson Cano has a .364 wOBA over his entire career. Pitchers would love to face Chris Stewart. No pitcher wants to face Robinson Cano.

As you can tell, getting a first pitch strike is extremely important.

This season, the Pirates have the 11th best first pitch strike rate. They get a first pitch strike 60.7% of the time. The league average first pitch strike rate is 60.3%, so the Pirates are slightly above average in that department. Despite being above average as a team, some Pirates have struggled in getting first pitch strikes. But for some pitchers, getting a first pitch strike hasn’t been a problem. What happens when they don’t get a first pitch strike, however,  has been a problem.

So as the chart above illustrates, the difference in wOBA between starting ahead 0-1 and behind 1-0 is .092. However the gap for the Pirates is much wider. When the Pirates get ahead 0-1, opposing batters manage just a .269 wOBA. When the Pirates fall behind 1-0, opposing batters manage a .381 wOBA. The difference in wOBA between the two scenarios is .112. Below is a chart of how the Pirates pitchers have performed this season:


Name 0-1 wOBA 1-0 wOBA Difference F-Strike%
Gerrit Cole 0.209 0.488 0.279 64.8
Daniel Hudson 0.176 0.399 0.223 54.2
Tyler Glasnow 0.347 0.507 0.161 56.6
Trevor Williams 0.252 0.409 0.157 59.9
Wade LeBlanc 0.220 0.354 0.134 58.7
Felipe Rivero 0.103 0.223 0.119 52.8
Johnny Barbato 0.307 0.415 0.108 59.2
Chad Kuhl 0.310 0.411 0.101 58.9
Ivan Nova 0.256 0.327 0.072 65.9
Josh Lindblom 0.321 0.360 0.039 66.7
Antonio Bastardo 0.583 0.561 -0.021 52.4
Jameson Taillon 0.324 0.303 -0.021 61.1
Juan Nicasio 0.231 0.203 -0.028 63.5
Tony Watson 0.335 0.277 -0.058 66.2


Gerrit Cole is the guy that sticks out the most here. But first, I want to talk about Tyler Glasnow.

When Glasnow did manage to throw a first pitch strike, opposing batters had a .347 wOBA against him. Already, that is very high. But when he falls behind 1-0, opposing batters manage a staggering .507 wOBA against him! Babe Ruth’s career wOBA is .513. Hitters were pretty close to performing like Babe Ruth when Glasnow fell behind 1-0. Glasnow’s K% and BB% are both pretty good when he manages to get a first pitch strike, so it’s a little odd to see him have such a high wOBA. However, he is giving up a lot of home runs. That could be because of two reasons: bad luck, poor command. We all know by now that Glasnow has no command. But it’s possible that bad luck had at least something to do with his struggles. It doesn’t matter though, as the Pirates have seen Glasnow struggle long enough. Glasnow will need to work on his command in AAA, but after two starts he’s walking 17.4% of the batters he’s faced.

However the guy that inspired this article was Gerrit Cole. Gerrit has the worst wOBA in the league following a 1-0 count (min 20 IP). However, he has the 7th best wOBA in the league following a 0-1 count (min 40 IP). What has caused Cole to get so much worse when falling behind?

Gerrit is getting hit very hard when he falls behind 1-0. In fact, he is giving up a HR every 13.4 PA when he falls behind 1-0. Before this season, he was giving up just one HR every 69 PA when falling behind 1-0. Clearly, something has changed. Home run rates are up across the entire league, but that doesn’t explain that large of an increase. When Cole is ahead 0-1, he only gives up a HR once every 68 PA.

I think it’s possible that Cole is trying to attack the zone more often, just like Searage teaches. According to pitch f/x, Cole has thrown pitches in the zone 52.2% of the time which would be the highest mark over his career. But I think that has backfired some, possibly due to poor command.

First pitch strikes are great, but throwing pitches down the middle isn’t great. Maybe Cole has taken Ray’s teachings too literally. Maybe Cole needs to attack the zone less, and try and paint the corners more sacrificing some strikes in the process. He has the highest first pitch strike rate of his career, so getting ahead hasn’t been a problem. But when he does fall behind, he has performed horribly.

At the end of the day, first pitch strikes aren’t the only thing a pitcher needs to succeed. Heck, the Pirates pitcher with the lowest first pitch strike rate has been the most dominant (Felipe Rivero). I’m not at the point that I think the Pirates should be concerned. But I am at the point that I am intrigued. The Pirates have done much worse when falling behind in the count instead of getting ahead. Maybe that’s something that falls back on Ray Searage’s philosophy. If it is, then I have little doubt that there will be a fix in the near future.


Pittsburgh Pirates: Maximizing Exit Velocity and Optimizing Launch Angles

Pittsburgh Pirates: Maximizing Exit Velocity and Optimizing Launch Angles

Whether you’ve played Tee Ball, Pony League, college baseball, or even played baseball professionally, you will always hear baseball coaches teach the same fundamental concept: hit the ball hard.

With the recent addition of Statcast to every major league stadium, discussion regarding exit velocity and launch angles has reached an all time high. Like I said, hitting the ball hard is not a new groundbreaking concept. It’s common sense. Hit ball hard, ball go far. However, being able to track launch angles has given hitters more information to work with.

Despite the Statcast data being new, the information isn’t. Ted Williams wrote in his book “The Science of Hitting” that having a slight uppercut in your swing is ideal. Now, Ted’s teachings from 1971 are finally starting to take over Major League Baseball.


ted williams upswing


As you can see below, last year the HR rate record was broken. This year, it is being broken once again.



What is causing the dramatic increase in HR%? Well, nobody knows for sure. Some of the theories are:

I have no idea if steroids or juiced baseballs are having an impact. They may be. However, I think it’s very likely that hitters changing their approach at the plate, their swings, and a rise in the game time temperature are all at least having some sort of impact on the recent home run surge.

While the league as a whole has seen a bump in the amount of HR, have the Pirates?


Pittsburgh Pirates HR percent


Compared to 2015, the Pirates have seen an increase in their HR%. But it’s nothing extraordinary, as they’ve just managed to get back to 2013-2014 levels. Also, over each of the last two seasons, the Pirates have been below league average in HR%. The Pirates are certainly not a big home run hitting team, and haven’t been for years.

However, that does not mean that the Pirates are not aware of the importance of launch angles and exit velocity. With the help of sabermetrics, teams now value good hitting over one dimensional power hitters. For example, take a look at Chris Carter. This man hit over 40 home runs last year, but didn’t sign with a team until February. He is making only 3.5 million for the Yankees. Twenty years ago, I’m almost certain Chris Carter would be looked at much differently than he is today. Power is important, but it’s only one piece of a complicated puzzle.

I have listed the Pirates hitters ‘optimal’ launch angles for exit velocity, and the launch angles they hit at most often below. What I mean by this is, at what launch angle does a player generate the largest exit velocity. That does not necessarily mean that this is a players ‘optimal’ launch angle . It simply means it’s the players ‘optimal’ launch angle for generating the largest exit velocity. Hitting the ball hard is good, but hitting the ball hard in the air is better than hitting it hard on the ground. A player should adjust their launch angles according to how hard they can hit the ball. In the end, the true ‘optimal’ swing, is the swing that generates the highest wOBA. The first player listed, Adam Frazier, is a good example of this.



When reading, remember:

Ground balls are under 10°

Line drives are between 10°-25°

Fly balls are between 25°-50°

Pop ups are anything above 50°


Adam Frazier

Optimal: (-8°)-0°

Most often: 3°-10°

frazier la graphs

Adam Frazier’s ‘optimal’ launch angle for exit velocity is between -8° and 0°. Frazier is a unique hitter, and as you’ve probably noticed, doesn’t hit the ball very hard. But what he does do, is hit line drives. Since 2016, Frazier has a 28% line drive rate. That line drive rate allows him to get away with not tearing the cover off the ball. It’s obvious why Frazier could make a run at a batting title at some point in his career.

If you look closely at the graph, you can see there is a slight bump between -10°-0°. That shows perfectly that -10°-0° is his optimal launch angle for maximizing his exit velocity. But, you can also see the graph peaks around 5°-10°. And that is exactly where Frazier is hitting the majority of his balls.


Josh Harrison

Optimal: 0°-10°

Most often:  5°-15°

Josh Harrison LA Graph


Josh’s graph is fairly flat. No worries though, because xwOBA only factors in exit velocity and launch angle, it does not factor in speed. Josh has outperformed his xwOBA every year because of his ability to run the bases, and so far, hasn’t lost that ability. When he loses a step, things could get ugly. But until then, Josh should continue doing more of what he’s doing right now.


Gregory Polanco

Optimal: 4-12

Most often: 3-11

gregory polanco la graphs

Gregory Polanco’s ‘optimal’ launch angle and the range he hits at most often are nearly identical. However, this season his average launch angle has fallen to 7.8°. Last year his average launch angle was 13.5°. With his 13.5° average launch angle last year, he was able to put up a career high 22 home runs. This year, he is on pace for around 10 home runs.

But maybe Polanco lowering his launch angle has allowed allowed him to lower his 20.3 K% to a 15.1 K% this year? What he did last year wasn’t great, but it was better than what he is doing now. His wRC+ is 11 points lower, but you could attribute that to him being unhealthy with a weak shoulder for most of the season. It’s early in the season, but Polanco’s development has been and will continue to be very intriguing to watch.


David Freese

Optimal: 17°-25°

Most often: (-6°)-2°

david freese launch angle graph

If you want to read about David Freese’s swing, click here. That does a far better job of explaining Freese than I could manage.


Josh Bell

Optimal: 4°-12°

Most often: (-1°)-4°

josh bell la graph

Josh Bell’s swing has been bad this year. Not only is his swing bad, so is his plate discipline. He is swinging at pitches out of the zone more, while swinging at pitches in the zone less, and is making less contact. His ‘optimal’ launch angle range is between 4°-12°, but instead he’s most often hitting balls into the ground at -1° and 4°.

Since his debut, he has the 23rd highest GB%, and the 36th lowest LD%. The increased power is nice. But if it comes with the cost of poor plate discipline, maybe it’s best for him to go back to his 2016 approach.


Andrew McCutchen

Optimal:  0°-8°

Most often: 7°-14°

Andrew McCutchen LA Graph

McCutchen’s fall has been covered plenty of times, so I won’t add too much. But a quick summary is his start to the season was very bad, but since his drop to the 6th spot in the batting order he has improved his wRC+ from a not so nice 69 to 94. He needs to sustain it for longer than 10 games, but it’s hard to argue with the results so far. His issue wasn’t launch angle though, it was launch direction. He was pulling far too many balls that shouldn’t have been pulled.

However, if he ever wants to try and revamp his swing entirely, it might not be a bad idea to swing for the fences. From 2016-2017, his ‘optimal’ launch angle for maximizing his exit velocity is 0°-8°. But his ‘optimal’ launch angle for maximizing his wOBA is between 19°-29°. Of course it’s a SSS, but since his drop to 6th in the batting order, McCutchen has a 22.4° average launch angle. Like Polanco, I’m very intrigued at what McCutchen can do over the remainder of the season.


Francisco Cervelli

Optimal: 9°-16°

Most often: 0°-6°

Cervelli launch angle graph

A fully healthy Cervelli has found new power. Last year, Cervelli managed just 1 home run over 393 PA. This year, he has 3 home runs over 178 PA. Not only has he hit more home runs, he’s nearly matched his 2016 doubles total. Add both of those up, and his ISO is much higher than it was last season. But in the end, Cervelli had a 99 wRC+ last year and just a 102 wRC+ this year.

However, his xwOBA is about 25 points higher than last season. He’s making better contact and at a more ideal launch angle. As long as Cervelli stays healthy, he could be on track to being one of this teams better hitters.


Jordy Mercer

Optimal: 12°-19°

Most often: 1°-9°

Jordy Mercer launch angle graphs

Jordy Mercer has an ‘optimal’ launch angle between 12° and 19°. Unfortunately, he instead likes to hit the ball between 1°-9°. Jordy is, at best, a league average hitter. If he could find a way to increase his launch angle, even slightly, it might make a significant difference for him. Next year will be his contract year, so maybe he will experiment with his swing in an attempt to land a nice contract somewhere. Only time will tell, but for now, the Pirates will have to be content with what he offers currently.


John Jaso

Optimal: 7°-15°

Most often: 1°-9°

John Jaso launch angle graph

Jaso’s ‘optimal’ launch angle for maximizing exit velocity is 7°-15°, and that matches exactly with his ‘optimal’ launch angle for maximizing his wOBA. This year, Jaso has increased his average launch angle to 19.8°. Last year, he had an average launch angle of 7.0°. This year is a small sample, but it also seems like Jaso may have made an effort to hit the ball in the air more often. It hasn’t turned into better results yet, but if Jaso can find a way to hit the ball between 7° and 15°, he could have a nice year off the bench.




The Dishonorables


Starling Marte

Optimal: 5°-14°

Most often: 0°-9°

Starling Marte launch angle graph

Look at Marte’s xwOBA between 8° and 22°. If he managed to hit the ball there every time, he would be an absolute stud. For now, we will have to keep waiting to see if he made any adjustments to his swing.


Jung Ho Kang

Optimal: 18°-30°

Most often: 2°-11°

jung ho kang launch angle graph

The Pirates lineup sorely lacks power. Kang certainly produced power, as you can see in his graph. Any time he elevated a baseball, he crushed it just as hard as he crushes a 24 pack.


The ‘Best in the League’ List

The 2017 leader in exit velocity: Miguel Sano

Optimal: 23°-34°

Most often: 10°-18°

Miguel sano launch angle

Ya, he’s crushing baseballs.


(ALL DATA IS FROM 2016-2017)


This post was heavily inspired by Tango Tiger, or @tangotiger. His blog post here is what gave me the idea to do this. This was also done with the help of @EvilNeal. Give them both a follow on Twitter if you haven’t already, and while you are at it, follow me at @CannonballCrner!

Pittsburgh Pirates Power Rankings 2017.1

Pittsburgh Pirates Power Rankings 2017.1





I’m sure most of you reading this love rankings. I do, you do, everybody normally does. So, I will be ranking the Pirates roster at the end of each month. It won’t be *exactly* the 25 man roster. For example, Chris Stewart is hurt for a short period of time, so he will remain. But, Jung Ho-Kang has no return date set so he will not be on the list.

I will be ranking the Pirates based solely on how valuable I think they will be to the team over the rest of the season. With that said, if you disagree with any of the rankings feel free to leave a comment!



29. Danny Ortiz

Weighing in at dead last is Danny Ortiz. I’d imagine with a healthy Polanco, and an almost ready Austin Meadows, that we may have seen the last of Danny until September.


28. Gift Ngoepe

I actually think Ngoepe is a nice guy to have around. He started off red hot with a .375/.545/.563 line over his first 7 games played. However, since then he has a .158/.200/.184 line while striking out 48.4% of the time. In the minors he was a glove first guy with a poor bat, and that didn’t stop once he reached the bigs. At 27 it’s unlikely his bat gets any better, but he is an easy guy to root for.


27. Johnny Barbato

No thanks.


26. Phil Gosselin

He started off the season about as poorly as one can start. A -11 wRC+ paired with remarkably bad fielding is not ideal. With that said, since being demoted he’s only committed one error and has a .310 batting average with a .337 OBP. He was only ever meant to be the last guy off the bench, and I think he will be OK going forward.


25. Jhan Mariñez

With Bastardo and Lindblom due back, it’s hard to imagine Marinez will still have a spot on this team. He has an ERA in the mid 4’s and is walking batters more often than Tyler Glasnow.


24. Antonio Bastardo

I really don’t think Bastardo is that bad. He won’t be pitching in high leverage situations, but will he be better than Barbato and Marinez? I think so.


23. Max Moroff

He has 13 HR in AAA this year. The Pirates have 50 as a team. They lack power, Moroff provides it. I’m not sure how good Moroff can be, but he can certainly be better than Ngoepe.


22. Chris Stewart

He cant hit. But he’s a fine fielder, and has a 30.7 CS%. You could certainly do worse at backup catcher.


21. Daniel Hudson

This seasons big bullpen acquisition has been a dud so far. Before yesterdays game, he strung together a nice streak of scoreless innings. Rivero, Watson, Nicasio, and LeBlanc have all been better than Hudson and should be used in high leverage situations over him. However, with another year on his contract, there is plenty of time for him to figure it out.


20. Jose Osuna

Jose Osuna had an incredible spring training. Many wanted him on the opening day roster, but with no sign of regular at bats, it was best for him to keep developing in AAA. Now, the Pirates don’t have the luxury of letting him develop. His bat has been good off the bench, and at just 24, he could have a long future on this team as a nice backup to Josh Bell.


19. John Jaso

John Jaso is not an outfielder. Blame Huntington for that. John Jaso is a good hitter. He was acquired to do one thing: crush right handed pitching. He has done that, but his poor fielding has overshadowed his ability to hit. Once things are back to normal and Jaso can focus on playing first base and hitting, he will revert back to being an asset on this team rather than a liability.

18. Wade LeBlanc

Leblanc features an 87 mph fastball and an 84 mph cutter. His cutter has a 13.6% line drive rate, his changeup has a 18.5% line drive rate, but his fastball has a 28.0% line drive rate. Even though his fastball is getting squared up, hitters aren’t getting good results off of it. After seeing Rivero throw 100 heat, LeBlanc is an interesting guy to watch. I see no reason why he can’t sustain his success, and would like to see him pitch in high leverage situations more often.


17. Trevor Williams

He’s posted good numbers as a starter. With Taillon coming back soon, he may stay in the rotation due to Kuhl and Glasnows struggles. I’m more optimisic about Kuhl and Glasnow long term, but Williams does have a 3.32 ERA over his last four starts. It’s hard to argue with that.


16. Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow is slowly getting better with each start. I recently wrote about how he doesn’t have to get much better to be good. I think in the second half of the season, Glasnow will be impressive.


15. Jordy Mercer

His bat is heating up, and his glove is just fine at short. Nothing special, but not bad either. He’s started nearly every game so far, and is dependable as they come.


14. Tony Watson

A lot of people don’t like Tony. I personally love Tony. Watson has given up 4 HR this year. They have traveled 347, 356, 359, and 383 feet. Balls hits between 347-360 ft are HR 6.9% of the time. 6 of the 10 runs Watson has given up this year have come from the three HR that traveled less than 360 feet. He’s been unlucky this year. He doesn’t have many clean innings because of his style of pitching. He gives up weak contact, and gets outs that way. Rivero is certainly the better pitcher. But Watson should remain the closer.


13. Chad Kuhl

I’m obviously a big fan of Chad Kuhl. I have him ranked at 13 because if the team ultimately decides he should be a reliever, than he will be a great one. However, I don’t think they are converting him to a reliever anytime soon. His swinging strike rate is still up, and he has now added a curveball. By Baseball Prospectus DRA, Kuhl is an above average pitcher. I think Kuhl, like Glasnow, will post an impressive second half.


12. David Freese

Daniel Hudson hasn’t been Huntington’s best signing so far, but David Freese has to be one of his best. Keep in mind, David Freese was signed to come off the bench. His batting and fielding have both been excellent. However, since coming off the DL he has been quite bad offensively. He’s striking out 27.7% of the time and has just a .179 batting average. Hopefully he can turn things around soon.


11. Adam Frazier

Adam Frazier is a fascinating guy. He doesn’t hit the ball very hard, but he hits line drives everywhere. He has struckout only 3 more times than he has walked, and has actually played a decent left field. I’m not sure where his batting average will end up at the end of 2017, but he has given the Pirates every reason to want to find out.


10. Juan Nicasio

This guy started his Pirate career as a starter. He was never supposed to be a starter, and is back in the bullpen where he belongs. Since being put in the bullpen back in 2016, Nicasio has a 1.67 FIP against right handed hitters. However, this year Nicasio has a 1.95 FIP against left handed hitters as well. Depending on where the Pirates are at in July, Nicasio could fetch a nice return. I wouldn’t be opposed to the Pirates locking him up for a few more years though.


9. Francisco Cervelli

cervelli 2016 17

2016 Cervelli and 2017 Cervelli look pretty similar. In fact, they have an identical wRC+ of 99. However, last year Cervelli had a .329 BABIP and this year he has just a .292 BABIP. The power has gone way up, thanks to being healthy. The BABIP should rise a bit, and so will the rest of his numbers.


8. Gregory Polanco

It looks like Polanco just avoided a serious injury to his knee. He will probably be back in the lineup sometime this weekend. He started the season with an injured shoulder, and I think that had affected his swing early on. He wasn’t driving the ball at all, but since coming off the DL from his hamstring injury, he has looked much better. His bat is nice to have, but the glove is extremely important. No more John Jaso in right field will help this teams pitching out quite a bit.


7. Felipe Rivero

This guy is great. Lefty hander with a 100+ mph fastball, a wicked changeup, and a filthy slider. That sounds a lot like someone else in the league who gets a ridiculous amount of hype. Rivero is not a closer yet, so there hasn’t been as much hype. Eventually, I think I’ll do a complete write up on the Pirates bullpen. Earlier I mentioned Watson should remain the closer. The chart below is why.

pirates RP

Felipe Rivero has gotten the Pirates out of many jams. Watson starts the 9th inning with the bases empty. Felipe Rivero comes in with no outs and men on base. Rivero is being used exactly how he should be used. Don’t be fooled by the ‘Rivero For Closer’ talk.


6. Andrew McCutchen

I probably have McCutchen ranked higher than I should. But since his drop to 6th in the batting order, he’s been on fire. It’s a small sample, but its obvious McCutchen still has some left in the tank. His 2014 MVP days are gone. But he may still have enough left to be a great hitter. Only time will tell. Next months power ranking update could have McCutchen in the top 5, or outside of the top 15. Only time will tell.


This is where it gets really tricky. This is basically the ‘Ya, these guys are important’ tier. They could be ranked a bunch of different ways, but this is how I’d rank them.

5. Ivan Nova

Nova has the 15th best ERA in baseball among starting pitchers. Yet, I have him ranked 5th. I am working on an article going over Nova’s season so far, and given that Nova is ranked behind Taillon and Cole, this should be a good indicator of what’s inside that article. However, what an incredible signing by Huntington. Nova mentioned he thought he was worth 70 million dollars. Everyone laughed. Instead, Nova got 26 million over 3 years. It looks like Nova may have been right about being worth 70 million.


4. Josh Bell

Josh Bell’s use has been frustrating. His defense at first has been dramatically better compared to last season. However, that hasn’t stopped Hurdle from constantly double switching him out of games. Bell has been ice cold lately, but I’m in love with this kids upside. He has 350 career plate appearances, but has incredible plate discipline. Combine his plate discipline with his power being way up this season, and I think the Pirates have finally found their long term first baseman.


3. Josh Harrison

I’m sure many of you will disagree with Josh Harrison being ranked third here. However, given that he has the 2nd most WAR on the team I think it’s a suitable spot for him. What really sets him apart, though, is his defense. He has been the full time second baseman this year, but when Marte comes back, Harrison’s defensive versatility will be on full display.


2. Jameson Taillon

What a bizarre career this guy has had. Tommy John surgery, followed by a hernia that he needed surgery for, followed by cancer. He hasn’t let any of that get in his way of becoming a top pitcher in baseball. There is no Pirate that is easier to root for that Taillon. His interviews show that he is a wonderful human being, and his starts show he will have an excellent career. He likely has one or two more rehab starts to make before rejoining the club.


1. Gerrit Cole

Number one on the list is Gerrit Cole. Gerrit started the season on fire. But, his last two starts have been disastrous. About 10 days ago I think Gerrit could have been an easy choice for number one. Now, I think I could have him ranked as low as 5th. Like McCutchen, next months power ranking will be very telling for Gerrit Cole.


Glasnow Doesn’t Have To Get Much Better To Be Good

Glasnow Doesn’t Have To Get Much Better To Be Good




A little over a month ago, I had written about Tyler Glasnow being the recipient of some atrocious umpiring. My assumption was that he was simply the victim of a small sample size, and given a larger sample size, his misfortune would even out. That hasn’t been the case. In fact, no other pitcher has gotten more ball calls on pitches thrown in the zone than Tyler Glasnow.

Despite the ongoing bad calls, he has managed to consistently lower his ball rate. As you can see below, three out of his first four starts were far from ideal. However, since then, he’s been much closer to league average. His last five starts have been right around league average, and in his previous two starts he’s actually thrown less balls than the league average.



Obviously, balls mean walks, walks mean baserunners, and baserunners lead to runs. Runs are bad, so less balls are generally better. The more recent version of Tyler Glasnow has thrown less balls than the earlier version, but the results haven’t been great. Over his last five starts he has a 5.96 ERA and a 5.71 FIP, while still walking 11.2% of batters he has faced. The numbers have gone from terrible to just really bad.

Despite the league average ball rate, he is still walking 11.2% of batters over his last 5 starts, which is above the league average walk rate of 8.7%. His 11.2 BB% is certainly an improvement over his 15.5 BB% from his first four starts. There is certainly room for improvement, but I don’t think he needs to improve much more to get significantly better results.

Tyler Glasnow survived in the minors because of one thing: stuff. At just 22 years old, Glasnow managed to strikeout 30.4% of the hitters he faced in AAA last year. You simply can’t do that without incredible stuff. At this point we all know that his strikeout rate comes with an equally impressive (or depending on how you look at it, unimpressive) walk rate.

But, what often gets ignored from his minor league career is his very low BABIP at each level that he’s played at. His low BABIP could mean a few things. First, it could mean he simply got lucky. Second, it could mean that his team had good defense. The go to explanation when referring to BABIP is the first reason, luck. However, I think that his low BABIP in the minors could, at least somewhat, be attributed to hitters being unable to square him up.

So far this year, Glasnow has given up good contact on only 9.16% of the balls put in play against him. That has him ranked 26th best in the league, ahead of guys like Jacob deGromDallas Keuchel, and Clayton Kershaw. He’s also ranked above teammates Chad Kuhl, Gerrit Cole, and Ivan Nova.

Considering that he hasn’t given up much good contact, it’s weird that opposing hitters have managed a .302 batting average against him. But, his xBA suggests he has gotten extremely unlucky. He has the biggest gap between his xBA and actual BA in the league (Chad Kuhl is 4th). According to Baseball Savant, Tyler Glasnow has an expected batting average of .250. If you wish to read about xBA, you can do so here. If you don’t wish to read about it, I’ll explain it briefly anyway. It takes hit probability, which is determined by exit velocity and launch angle, and uses that to come up with an expected batting average. Why would a player have a difference between their xBA and actual BA? Again, it comes down to team defense and luck. In actual BA, defense and luck are a factor. But a pitcher has no control over their luck, or their team defense. So, it’s best to remove them altogether which is why xBA is preferable.

Batting average is a fine stat, and is perfect to use for what I am trying to show, Glasnow has been a bit unlucky. But wOBA is a far better overall statistic. xwOBA is much like xBA, the only difference is it calculates the expected wOBA instead of expected BA. Once again, Glasnow has the biggest gap between his xwOBA and wOBA (Chad Kuhl is right behind him). If you assume his xwOBA should be his wOBA, his wOBA would still be below average in the league. However, being slightly below average is still better than being one of the worst in the league like he is now.

John Jaso has been awful in right field for the Pirates. Nobody has cost their team more runs in right field than him. Since Glasnow is a right handed pitcher, teams like loading up their lineup with lefties (this could explain some of Kuhl’s problems as well). Lefties, just like righties, tend to pull the ball. Lots of lefties pulling the ball results in lots of balls hit to John Jaso. Getting Gregory Polanco (and eventually Marte) back in the outfield should be a huge boost to both pitchers production going forward.

The featured image used for this post is used without context. Below, it’s used with context.

scatter (1)


As Daren Willman found, Glasnow is off the charts when it comes to the extension he gets and the perceived velocity it helps generate. The reason for his upside, and one of the reasons for his current downside, is his height. His height makes his delivery hard to repeat, which is why he has no control. But his height also brings a larger wingspan. As explained here, his long wingspan allows him to hold the ball longer than normal.

The longer a pitcher can hold onto a ball, the higher the perceived velocity. Glasnow already throws hard. He currently possesses the 34th fastest fastball out of all starters. His 94 mph fastball is certainly fast. However, the image above shows why his fastball is better than just a 94 mph fastball. His height allows him to get such good extension, that his perceived velocity is 2.5 mph faster than his actual velocity! All of a sudden, his 34th fastest fastball becomes the 3rd fastest fastball behind Stephen Strasburg and Luis Severino, but ahead of guys like Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, and Chad Kuhl.

This season has been a season of extremes for Glasnow. He is a huge outlier in many aspects. His height has cursed him with poor control, but has blessed him with great perceived velocity. He may never have great command, but I do think he will need average control to succeed. Command is the ability to throw pitches exactly where you want whereas control is simply the ability to throw strikes. Glasnow can get away with missing his spots, since his stuff is so good. All he will need to do is be able to throw strikes, and make hitters beat him. They weren’t able to hit him at any level in the minors, and they haven’t been making great contact so far this year. He is still just 23 years old, and clearly has the stuff to dominate at this level. He may never put it all together and become an elite starter. But he’s not far from putting a little bit together, and becoming a volatile back of the rotation arm.

The Pirates Could Still Make The Playoffs

The Pirates Could Still Make The Playoffs


Photo: Keith Allison

This is part two of a two part series. I will be discussing why I believe the Pirates have a shot at the playoffs in this article. In the previous article, I discussed why I believe they won’t make the playoffs. That can be found here.


Since writing my last article on why the Pirates won’t make the playoffs, they’ve lost two straight games to the Atlanta Braves. Their odds of reaching the playoffs have dropped 3.9%, and now rests at just 5.9%. And now, with McCutchen being close to hitting below the Mendoza line, the Pirates currently have a black hole batting 3rd and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

chart (49)

First, something that I have briefly discussed on my Twitter account (@CannonballCrner) is the Pirates schedule. I noticed that they had played an insanely tough schedule in April and during the first half of May. However, I didn’t do any analysis on just how tough the schedule has been. In what could only be described as very fortunate timing for this article, Eno Sarris over at Fangraphs did just that for me. He found that the Pirates have had the toughest schedule so far this season. The way he found this was by using Baseball Prospectus’ wonderful statistic called oppRPA+. If you wish to read more about oppRPA+, you can do so here. Or, if you wish to read more about how Eno Sarris calculated strength of schedule, you can do so here (highly recommended).

All you need to know about oppRPA+ is anything over 100 is more difficult, and anything under 100 is less difficult, and 100 is league average. The Pirates combined schedule had an oppRPA+ of 105.6, which means they have had the toughest schedule of any team, by more than a whole point.

If you instead wish to evaluate the schedule another way, we can look at Baseball Reference’s strength of schedule metric. Their strength of schedule metric is calculated by using the number of runs per game teams opponents are better (or worse) than the average team. According to this, it also shows the Pirates have played a rather difficult schedule so far.

There are a few things to takeaway from this. The Pirates have gone without some of their best players so far this season, have played the toughest schedule, and are still just 5 games under .500. Being 5 games behind is no accomplishment. However, with the way things have gone, it’s easy to think that they could have just as easily be 10 games back instead.

So yes, it’s obvious that their schedule has been quite tough thus far. But the Pirates are now 46 games into the season, almost a third of the way finished. So far, the Pirates are on pace to win 70 games. But what does that mean moving forward?

This is another great piece that I highly recommend reading. In it, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs shows just how much 50 games into the season means going forward. To sum it up, it means basically nothing. A teams win percentage 50 games into the season had very little correlation to a teams rest of season win percentage. However, the preseason projected win percentage showed a stronger correlation to a teams rest of season win percentage.

Coming into the year, the Pirates were projected to win 80 games and were given a 15.9% chance to make the playoffs. Is it still a small chance? Yes. But their chance of making the playoffs in the preseason was nearly three times higher than what they are currently projected at. That 15.9% should be more accurate than the 5.9% they are at now

However, it’s important to keep in mind that projections aren’t perfect (at all). The playoff probabilities are calculated using player projections. McCutchen is still projected to be the Pirates best player. Cole, Nova, and Taillon are projected to all have ERA’s in the high 3s. Projections are slow to adapt because players talent levels usually don’t drastically change all of a sudden. I think it’s clear to anybody that McCutchen is no longer the Pirates best hitter and Nova, Cole, and Taillon won’t have ERA’s in the high 3s.

The Pirates lineup is now completely healthy, and they are getting closer to a Marte and Taillon return. Chad Kuhl looks like he might put up a nice season, and Glasnow has been steadily improving. The problem hasn’t been their pitching, it has been their hitting. The Pirates are just 9-5 when allowing 2 runs or less. The bad news is that’s a win percentage of just .643, well below the league average of .847. The Pirates also lead the league in Tough Losses. Tough losses are simply losses in quality starts. They have 7 of those, 3 of which belong to Gerrit Cole. The good news, though, is they have only allowed 2 runs or less in 14 games, which is the 7th most in the league.

The Pirates offense is averaging 4.15 runs per game when Adam Frazier starts, and 3.50 runs when he’s not starting. The Pirates will certainly start scoring more runs and winning more close games now that Adam Frazier is back in the lineup. A healthy Adam Frazier and David Freese is critical to this teams success going forward.

What’s even more critical to this teams success, and has been for years, is Andrew McCutchen. He is hitting just .200 thus far. cutchwoba

The reference line indicates McCutchen’s career average, and you can see he’s been well below that in 2016 and 2017. However, the league average wOBA is .320 and he’s even fallen well below that this year. Sure, baseball is a team sport. No one player will make or break a season. But, with McCutchen in the three spot and once again playing poor defense, he’s hurt the Pirates chances quite a bit. With Hurdles loyalty towards players, it is unlikely that he will be benched or even moved down in the lineup anytime soon. If McCutchen can get his swing back, the Pirates will obviously have a much better chance at making the playoffs.

Right now in the NL Central, the Brewers are in first place. There is no way they will be able to sustain their success with the rotation that they have. The Cardinals and Cubs are both legitimate contenders. However, both have their issues. For example, the Cubs left fielder is batting a lot like McCutchen (under .200). Nearly all of the Cubs pitchers have regressed in one way or another. Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta have both lost multiple mph on their fastballs. They too came into the season with a wild card 5th starter, and have gotten poor results because of it.

The Cardinals are a fine team. But they are no powerhouse. Adam Wainwright has an ERA in the high 4s, and believe it or not, they have far less depth at pitching than the Pirates. If they suffer any injuries, it could be catastrophic for them.

The division and wild card is both within reach. A lot of things will need to go right for the Pirates, but it’s possible. If the Pirates are in it around the trade deadline, I expect them to make moves much like the Happ and Nova trades of the previous years. I’m not saying the Pirates will make the playoffs. A lot will have to go right in order for them to even finish above .500. But, there are some signs that say this team is far better than they’ve been.