Extra Innings

Hey guys! New posts incoming for 2016, including updates on my life and more long-form pieces soon. But for now, here are my predictions for the 2016 season and playoffs. When these turn out to inevitably be wrong, I’m sure I’ll do updated ones for the actual playoffs eventually. But for now, enjoy (playoff teams and picks in bold):

AL East

Toronto Blue Jays 94-68

New York Yankees 83-79

Tampa Bay Rays 82-82

Boston Red Sox 78-84

Baltimore Orioles 75-87

AL Central

Cleveland Indians 90-72

Kansas City Royals 86-76

Detroit Tigers 84-78

Minnesota Twins 80-82

Chicago White Sox 77-85

AL West

Houston Astros 95-67

Texas Rangers 89-73

Seattle Mariners 83-81

Los Angeles Angels 79-83

Oakland Athletics 73-89

NL East

Washington Nationals 97-65

New York Mets 86-76

Miami Marlins 82-80

Atlanta Braves 70-92

Philadelphia Phillies 66-96

NL Central

Chicago Cubs 96-71

Pittsburgh Pirates 95-73

St. Louis Cardinals 84-78

Cincinnati Reds 71-92

Milwaukee Brewers 70-93

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers 94-68

San Francisco Giants 89-73

Arizona Diamondbacks 87-75

Colorado Rockies 79-83

San Diego Padres 76-86


Wild Card Round: Texas vs. Kansas CityPittsburgh vs.San Francisco.

Division Series: Houston vs. Kansas City. Toronto vs. Cleveland.
Washington vs. Pittsburgh. Los Angeles vs. Chicago.

Championship Series:  Houston vs. Cleveland. Washington vs. Chicago.

World Series: Houston vs. Chicago


AL MVP: Mike Trout

NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen

AL Cy Young: Carlos Carrasco

NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg

AL Rookie of the Year: Byung-ho Park

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

World Series

Mets vs Royals

And then there were two.

The New York Mets will face the Kansas City Royals in the World Series starting Tuesday evening, with Matt Harvey set to square off against Edinson Volquez in Game 1. The Mets will follow with Jacob DeGromm, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, while the Royals will use Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura and Chris Young to round out their rotation.

Some of the story lines worth following will be if Daniel Murphy will suffer any ill effects from his long layoff between series after briefly turning into Babe Ruth and setting the record for most games in a row with a home run in the playoffs. If Murphy’s home run streak continues, good luck to the Royals stopping the Mets in this series. Kansas City is fresh off of beating the best team in baseball (by run differential) this season thanks in part to their contact-oriented offense, great defense and baserunning like this. There have been some great pieces surfacing lately on contact-hitting teams faring better in the playoffs, especially against power pitchers, but most have focused on how the Royals have done against pure velocity (very well). However, these Mets starters (and back-end relievers) are much more than just pure power. What makes the Mets starters of Harvey, DeGrom, Syndergaard, and Matz so good is not just that they throw hard, but they have the ability to locate and control both their fastballs and their secondary pitches. It will be interesting to see if the Mets will use a counter strategy such as throwing more balls out of the strike zone against a Royals team that puts the ball in play so often and doesn’t take many walks.

To top that all off, we have the designated hitter rule making an impact in this interleague series. The Royals have employed Kendrys Morales at that position all year long, but considering that they would need to bench Eric Hosmer or play him in the outfield to keep Morales in the starting lineup, he will likely be relegated to bench duty for the three games in New York. The Mets don’t have a pure designated hitter either, with Juan Uribe or Kelly Johnson as possibilities. They could also help their defense by starting Juan Lagares in center, shifting Yoenis Cespedes to Left and putting Conforto or Cuddyer in the lineup without risking their gloves in the outfield. Cespedes has also been a question mark heading into this series, after injuring himself in an off-field golfing incident. But he says he will be ready to go in this series, we’ll see if that is the case.

So add that all together and what do we get? Well, predictions are hard in any sport, but in a seven game, winner-take-all baseball series they are pretty much impossible. With that being said my prediction is…Mets in 6 games.


Well that went a bit better. After an 0 for 2 start in the Wild Card games, I righted the ship and went 3 for 4 with my picks in the Division Series, only missing on the Mets-Dodgers series which I did say would go 5 games and could go either way. So how am I feeling right now?

101415_tor_bats_batflip_medres_l3h1efwsI have a feeling I might use that gif a lot in the coming years.

We move now to the Championship Series round where the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays are set to face off in a best of seven series starting tonight with Edison Volquez facing Marco Estrada. The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs will start their series on Saturday with Matt Harvey squaring off against Jon Lester. All of these teams have overcome a lot of obstacles to get to this point and it will be exciting to see who moves on, especially since basically none were picked to win their divisions at the beginning of the year.

American League Championship Series

Royals vs Blue Jays

I’m keeping my picks the same through the rest of the playoffs for now. I still think the Jays have the best all around team in the playoffs sporting the best offense, an underrated pitching staff and bullpen and good defense. The Royals are a great team when they can string hits together, but I don’t see it happening over a seven game series with strikeout pitchers like David Price and Marcus Stroman ready to go. Things got chippy earlier in the season between these teams, so expect emotions to be high. I’m taking the Toronto Bat Flips in six.

National League Championship Series

Pirates Cubs vs Dodgers Mets

I knew that I liked the Wild Card winner to advance against the Cardinals, I just picked the wrong wild card. So it goes. The Cubs are one of the most exciting teams to watch this postseason, thanks to a slew of talented rookies and great managing from Joe Maddon. It will be interesting to see how they handle the loss of shortstop Addison Russell, and the flamethrowers in the Mets pitching staff. I’m still taking the Cubs in this series, but I think it will be highly entertaining and could easily go all seven games. I’m taking the Cubs in seven.

World Series

Pirates Cubs vs Blue Jays

Enjoy your baseball everyone!

Well that’s what I get for betting against the aces. I’m already 0 for 2 on my predictions so far thanks to the one game playoff, but I’m not upset about it. Those were some great games and dominant pitching performances. Both featured aces coming into a rival ballpark, quieting the crowd, and delivering dominant performances. They may have gotten a little help from the home plate umpires, but neither game was close enough for it to have made the difference between winning and losing.

Just a note that, despite picking them to win it all, I feel bad for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They have gone into two straight postseasons as a dominant team and fallen victim to aces on historic runs. The one game playoff giveth and the one game playoff taketh away.

But on we go into the Division Series round with my revised predictions.

American League Division Series

Blue Jays vs Rangers

The Jays will take on Texas with David Price going up against Yovani Gallardo. Price and the Jays are my pick for this game and for the series as a whole as they come in with the best offense in the majors and a surprisingly good defense to back it up. Price and Stroman (#ACLGang) lead the pitching staff backed up by a bullpen that has improved as the year has gone on. The Jays are the team to beat, but don’t sleep on the Rangers. Gallardo and Hamels are more than capable of silencing a lineup, even one as strong as Toronto’s, and Adrian Beltre has put together a ridiculous second-half run, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest third basemen of all time. This will be a fun series, but I’m still taking the Jays in 4.

Yankees Astros vs Royals

The Astros were the first, but will not be the last of my wrong playoff calls this year, as they cruised to a win over the Yankees in New York. Keuchel was dominant, displaying the Cy Young-caliber control and deception he has been working with all year. The Royals come into this series a bit bruised, but not broken. Catcher Salvador Perez and Center Fielder Lorenzo Cain have both been dealing with some minor injuries, but the time off for the last few days should do wonders. Yordano Ventura starts things off against Collin Mchugh tonight in what should be a back and forth series with fairly equally matched teams. The Astros are a good young ballclub and I could easily swing and miss picking against them again, but I’m taking the Royals in 5.

National League Division Series

Pirates Cubs vs Cardinals

The NL Central rivals square off tomorrow in St. Louis with former Red Sox teammates Jon Lester and John Lackey squaring off. The Cubs are healthy heading into this series, but the Cardinals are not – with Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday both question marks coming into the series. Adam Wainwright has worked his way back to pitch, but will only be available out of the bullpen, and Carlos Martinez is out for the year with a shoulder injury. But the Cardinals have overcome injuries before with a next man up approach. This will be a series decided by young position players, with the Cubs and Cardinals each possessing an embarrassment of riches in that regard. I’ll take the Cubs in 4 over the aching Cardinals.

Dodgers vs Mets

The last matchup on the Division Series slate will see Clayton Kershaw go up against Jacob DeGromm. This will be a series decided by the pitching, as Zach Greinke will also face Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey will go in Game 3. This is going to be a fun series to watch, as the Dodgers are World Series or bust after three straight division championships and the Mets are trying to capitalize on their great season and contract years of their deadline acquisitions. This should be another series with great pitching matchups, meaning it will likely be settled by a few timely hits or some untimely defensive lapses. I’m going with the Dodgers in 5, but this could easily go either way.

The rest of my predictions are below and I’ll do another post leading up to the Championship Series games, and I’m sure updating my many incorrect predictions. Enjoy the games everyone!

American League Championship Series

Royals vs Blue Jays

National League Championship Series

Pirates Cubs vs Dodgers

World Series

Pirates Cubs vs Blue Jays

It has been an incredible season highlighted by historic pitching performances and ridiculous rookies. As usual, some of my preseason picks worked out, some did not. What follows will be a rundown of each of the playoff matchups and my picks for the winners, starting with the wild card round. My picks for the winners are in bold, but I’ll also include why that pick could be wrong – meaning what would happen to cause the series to swing the other way. Enjoy the playoffs everyone. Baseball is awesome.

American League Wild Card

Yankees vs Astros

The baseball playoffs kick off tonight with Dallas Keuchel leading the Astros on three days rest against Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees. I’m taking New York despite Keuchel’s history of dominance against the Yankees. For the Yanks to win, they’ll need their right handed bats led by Alex Rodriguez to come up big and put a few balls in the air against Keuchel’s groundball-centric arsenal. For the Astros to win they’ll need Tanaka to falter in a big game situation and their 1-3 in the order of Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa to string some timely hits together.

National League Wild Card

Pirates vs Cubs

In what is probably the most fun matchup on paper for a wild card game in its brief history, Jake Arrieta leads the Chicago Cubs into Pittsburgh to take on Gerrit Cole and the Pirates. With this matchup you can pretty much flip a coin, but I’m taking the Pirates in what could ostensibly be an upset. Arrieta has been on an absolute tear for the last few months of the season, vaulting him into the conversation for the NL Cy Young with the Dodger Duo of Kershaw and Greinke, and it would be easy to make the prediction that that tear will continue into the postseason. But the Pirates are possibly the best team in the Majors, and with an ace of their own, a deep bench, and a fan base that has been waiting a calendar year for redemption in the one-game playoff, I’m taking the Pirates in this one. Expect a low-scoring, tense affair. This one is going to be fun to watch.

American League Division Series

Yankees vs Royals

Blue Jays vs Rangers

National League Division Series

Pirates vs Cardinals

Dodgers vs Mets

American League Championship Series

Royals vs Blue Jays

National League Championship Series

Pirates vs Dodgers

World Series

Pirates vs Blue Jays

ESPN’s Outside the Lines recently reported information from a previously unseen notebook that proves Pete Rose bet on baseball as a player. Pete Rose of course, was famously kicked out of baseball by then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti for betting on the game while as a manager. However, he maintained throughout his investigation and to this day that he never bet on the game when he was a player, which was one of the arguments many of his proponents used to make his Hall of Fame case. This new revelation changes his story and certainly makes it very unlikely that current Commissioner Rob Manfred will overturn Giamatti’s ruling or re-open the matter. Meaning Pete Rose will likely remain barred from baseball for the rest of his life.

There are official and unofficial rules in baseball. You shouldn’t cheat or take performance enhancing drugs, you shouldn’t try and get hit by a pitch to break up a perfect game, you shouldn’t flip your bat or admire your home run ball, and you shouldn’t touch an umpire or take too long to adjust your batting gloves in the batter’s box. But more important than any of these: you can’t bet on baseball. The Chicago White Sox were famously dubbed the Black Sox in 1919 for taking money from gamblers to help throw the World Series. And due in part to that scandal and the effect it had on the game, fixing and betting on games was considered the ultimate evil for someone involved in the game to do. Fans looked the other way at stars taking PEDs and amphetamines, at minor league players earning less than minimum wage and even at outright racism and homophobia from their team’s players and personnel, but what they would not tolerate was betting on the game.

This has been the doctrine of the league for years and no one has questioned it. And yet, on April 2, 2015, became the official Daily Fantasy Sports partner of Major League Baseball.


DraftKings is an official partner of Major League Baseball

Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) has seen an explosion of popularity over the last few years, and recognizing this, Major League Baseball capitalized on the surge in enthusiasm and the emerging market. There are many DFS sites around, with the most popular being DraftKings, FanDuel, and FantasyAces, but there are many more and no reason to list them all here. Fantasy sports is a multi-billion dollar industry, and DFS capitalizes on that market by giving players the opportunity to play every day with a different team participating in new contests for new prizes. While there is skill involved in picking your lineup and optimizing to the opposing pitcher, where your player is batting in the order, ballpark factors and more, it is still a form of legalized gambling. You pick your roster and pay a certain amount to enter that roster into daily contests. The contests then pay out a prize to either the top half of entrants or to a set number of winners (depending on the site and contest).

DFS has been a huge boon for the fantasy sports industry, as fantasy writers and experts can double up by participating and making money in the contests since they usually know more than the average participant while also writing articles and giving advice on DFS tactics through their personal websites, companies and other mediums. It also continues to grow in popularity, and with money on the line, people are likely to seek the advice of experts to make sure they are making the right moves.

DFS has also been a hit for MLB, as with any fantasy sport, fans are more likely to tune in to track their players and see how well their team is doing. Baseball especially is a tribal sport with most fans only following the progress of their own team or maybe sometimes that of their rivals as well. But with fantasy sports, players track stars across the sport on all 30 teams and look for the best value if he is wearing your team’s colors or not.

But even while the baseball industry makes money hand-over-fist from fantasy, it punishes its players for participating or even mentioning it. On April 3, 2015 (one day after signing the deal with DraftKings), Major League Baseball fined Miami Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart for a link to gambling. In a statement from Commissioner Manfred, “the investigation [into Cosart] did not reveal any evidence to suggest that Cosart, who fully cooperated with the investigation, bet on baseball.” Instead, they fined him for violating a rule that “prohibits players from placing bets with illegal bookmakers or agents for illegal book makers.” In other words, even though Cosart did not bet on baseball he did make a bet. And it was with an “illegal bookmaker.” Now what constitutes an illegal book maker? The rule comes from Major League Rule 21(d)(3) which just says the above and that it is “strictly enforced and applies to gambling with illegal bookmakers of any sport or event” (not just baseball). So that doesn’t clear anything up about what is illegal. All we can think is that MLB wants to discourage gambling, except when it is sanctioned or through their own legal bookmakers – DraftKings.

The purpose of MLB’s hardline about players betting on baseball is that the Black Sox Scandal was a real black mark on the sport, and thanks to its occurrence during the World Series, many fans were lost and never returned. Leaving aside that at the time the players did not have any form of free agency and were similar to indentured servants, tied to their teams and owners who were the only people they could negotiate their salary with as a reason that the players on the White Sox took the money from gamblers when it was offered – the issue still seemed to be that by agreeing to fix and lose the game, the legitimacy of the sport was called into question. The White Sox players did not take money to try and win the Series (something that they obviously would have tried to do without any extra incentive), they took money to lose it.

This all brings us back to Pete Rose. Major League Baseball will likely review the new report from Outside the Lines and conclude that the initial ban from baseball by Bart Giamatti was the right decision and that Pete Rose will never be allowed back in baseball in any capacity. But to do so is to assume that when Rose was betting on baseball, he was ever doing so to lose a game. The thought that one of the greatest players to ever play the game, the man who holds the records for the most hits in major league history, was trying to lose is just silly. If you have ever watched Pete Rose play – live or in clips from the past – you knew that he played all out, all the time. Heck, his nickname was Charlie Hustle. To think that he was ever betting on the Reds or Phillies to lose while he was playing for them does not align with everything we’ve ever seen him do. And he makes the same claims for himself as a manager when he admitted to betting on the game, but never against his own team.


Budweiser markets many of their products using MLB logos thanks to their partnership

I will never know what exact bets Pete Rose placed, and likely he doesn’t remember all of them either. Gambling is an addiction that can be as harmful as anything, and it can tear apart families and lives just like more common addictions to drugs and alcohol. But before we vilify Rose and prop up MLB for keeping out a criminal, let’s remember that profiting off of vices has been part of baseball’s business model for almost its entire existence.

Major League Baseball has no place being high and mighty about gambling and Pete Rose. Just as they had no place suspending and punishing Josh Hamilton for admitting to relapsing on alcohol and drugs in the offseason. As long as baseball continues to take money from DraftKings and Budweiser for being the “official daily fantasy sports partner” and “the official beer of Major League Baseball,” then they don’t get the moral high ground to fine and suspend their players for participating in those same vices. DFS is not going to go away, and since most sites operate online, it is not an easy form of gambling to regulate. If Major League Baseball wants to police its players and keep them from participating in activities that are thought to be unbecoming without being hypocrites, they must renounce their deals and partnerships with these companies and industries.

Last year, we looked at the arguments for and against the implementation of instant replay in baseball. This year, Major League Baseball decided to make replay a part of the game, but as with any change, there have been some hiccups. These hiccups have led to some resistance and blowback, leading to contention about the system itself. Each failure of instant replay in its infant stage represents a chance for the entire system to come crashing down. Baseball should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.


While many initially fought replay on the grounds that the new system was too complex or arbitrary, the list of rules agreed upon by MLB owners is very straightforward. A list of reviewable plays as reported by Jayson Stark at ESPN reports, can be seen below:

In addition to home runs, expanded replay was unanimously approved by MLB owners for the following plays:

• Ground-rule double
• Fan interference
• Stadium boundary calls
• Force play*
• Tag play
• Fair/foul in outfield only
• Trap play in outfield only
• Batter hit by pitch
• Timing play
• Touching a base (requires appeal)
• Passing runners
• Record keeping

*Except fielder’s touching of second on double play

These plays provide little room for interpretation and instead place a burden of education on the managers and team staff, as is the case with all other baseball rules. It is the team’s responsibility, as well as the announcers commentating on the game, to understand the possibilities of replay in order to effectively do their job.

Any critique of the new system on the basis of challengeable plays, such as those regarding the “neighborhood rule”, which is the caveat to the force play listed above, are fair in order to examine possible improvements. Yet these arguments should be analyzed through the lens of player safety, which is another focus that MLB is attacking through new policies regarding catcher collisions, pitcher’s padded hats, and now middle infielders.


Mark Ellis Needed Surgery to Save His Leg After a Double Play Slide Injury Last Season

Another large critique is that replay is still getting calls wrong. However, it should be understood that replay is not a method that eliminates mistakes; as football fans will attest. Instead, the goal of replay is to reduce the number of incorrect calls. And this is done through the requirement that a replay needs “indisputable video evidence” in order to overturn, which gives preference to the initial call, sometimes at the cost of the right call. Yet this type of system, as opposed to one that assumes skepticism toward the play, limits the umpire’s ability to change a right call to a wrong call and will ultimately reduce the number of blown calls.

By no means is the system perfect, but it should be looked at with respect to what other negative effects replay could have imposed on the game. The current system does a good job of allowing for the possibility of taking a second look at close plays while limiting the possible nuances that could accompany play review. Currently replay rarely prolongs the game any more than a standard pitching change (average replay was just 1:39 in the first 13 games). It limits the possibility of over-challenging by invoking a negative penalty for poor challenges. And it gives GM’s another tool that they can use to evaluate their coaching personnel with; is the manager challenging at the right time, or is the manager too quick to go to replay.

While replay has its flaws, the current system accomplishes its goal of reducing blown calls while working within current MLB policy focuses. Any critiques of the replay system should also be viewed and discussed with the acknowledgement of how they will influence the larger game of baseball. New technologies represent new ways to help improve the game, provided any changes are evaluated and implemented with an eye to existing rules. There is no reason for baseball to stick its head in the ground and reject all change. Its time to move forward and look towards ways to continue improving the game.

So, nothing has happened in the past five months, right?

I’m sure our tens of readers have missed us, but unfortunately both Ryan and I got a little sidetracked with work and other things going on in our lives. The reason for restarting this is more to give myself an outlet than anything else, but if you want to come along for the ride, welcome.

We left off at the all-star break and we are now at the end of the season, the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in the World Series, and the hot stove is burning up. I will likely follow up with some pieces retrospectively looking at our previous fastball/changeup arguments and looking at which side was closer to the mark, but for now the reason that I wanted to start writing again is simple, I miss the promise and the possibility.

This past year in baseball showed that anything is possible in this game. The Red Sox were the worst team in 2012 and the best in 2013. The Giants won the World Series in 2012 but were mediocre for the entire year. Teams like the Marlins and Mets in “rebuilding” years still entertained with phenoms like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey. And teams that spent big in the offseason such as the Nationals and Blue Jays put up mediocre seasons despite being “all-in.”

The offseason is the least interesting part of the year to most fans, but to a stathead like me, there is no better time to run wild with projections, hypotheticals and trade talk about how a team can improve, which moves are “good” or “bad” and how best to construct a roster for the short term and the long term.

There are plenty of places you can look to find analysis on whether the Yankees can succeed without Cano (they can) or the A’s can compete without greatly expanding payroll (they can) or the Dodgers can buy themselves a championship (they can’t), but I am hoping in subsequent pieces on this site to delve a little deeper into both the statistical and human side of this game and why we find it so compelling.

Baseball is a business, but in any business there are multiple reasons and motivations that any action is taken. A capitalist works to optimize profit, while a community bookstore might be interested in teaching kids the joy of reading. A sabermatrician is interested in optimizing wins, while a regular fan might just want to see their favorite player because he has a great nickname and his kid likes to dress up in a panda hat. This site is called Fastball/Changeup because it was started as a way for my friend and me to argue and discuss an issue from two different sides. In the past, you have seen both sides taken to an extreme for the case of argument and then been left to decide for yourself which side was more compelling. While it is easy to write from just one perspective, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. There are always multiple reasons and motivations in baseball and in life, and going forward I will do my best to analyze all of those reasons and find that middle ground here.

Over the past decade, Major League Baseball has attempted to drum up support for the All Star Game with a new democratic selection process and a “This Time it Counts” ad campaign, the later of which was more of an apology for 2002 than a groundbreaking statement. One of the more popular reforms gave fans the ability to select the starting lineups through a voting process. Managers would still be in charge of filling out their respective lineups, but MLB put its belief in the fans ability to find the balance between the most worthy and most popular. The league also started giving home field advantage in the World Series to the side that won the All Star Game in an attempt to improve the game’s meaning for the players and the fans. Ultimately, MLB sought to make the game more of a spectacle for the fans by empowering their control over the game.


Some have derided the changes, claiming that the game is being made into a spectacle and popularity contest all while undermining the accomplishments of the higher seeded playoff teams. What seems to be the most striking is the lack of criticism for the undemocratic final vote competition.

After the lineups are set and the league managers fill their remaining spots, the manager decides on which five players will go before the fans in a vote for the final spot. The winners this year were Freddie Freeman (1B-Atlanta) and Steve Delabar (RP-Toronto).  But days before the All Star Game, Freeman injured himself preventing him from participating in the festivities. Bruce Bochy, the NL manager, then appointed his replacement, an action that undermines the premise of voting for the final spot.

Anecdotally, Americans are most accustomed to voting in regards to political races. While there are many different rules regarding voting processes, we, as Americans, like to feel that our vote had a direct result in the eventual outcome. In single candidate races, it is expected that the top vote getter receive the position he was elected to. If, for whatever reason, he is unable to perform, then it is only fair for the second vote getter to step into his place.

In the NL MLB vote, Bochy superceded this process and selected someone who wasn’t even part of the top five vote to begin with. As manager, Bochy should have authority over some roster moves, but he should not disregard the parameters that the MLB has set up in order to increase fan involvement.

If MLB wants to legitimize the impact that the fans have on the All Star Game, it must honor the democratic elements of the “fan-vote”. Otherwise, the sport should recognize the limited amount of influence the fans actually do have over the rosters and rename the final man vote to a final man recommendation.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are once again off to a hot start. The owners of a 53-34 record, good for second in their division, the Pirates are looking to finish 2013 in the style they hoped to finish 2012. If current trends are any indicator, Pittsburgh should have no problems locking up their first playoff birth since 1992.


PNC Park – Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

The biggest strength that the Pirates have this year is pitching, although it wouldn’t seem that way when looking at the starting rotation. Entering the season, Pittsburgh’s starting rotation consisted of A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, and James McDonald. The first three names of that list are the most recognizable but also came with the most uncertainty at the beginning of the season. Burnett entered the season at 36 years old. Wandy Rodriguez is 34. And Francisco Liriano has always been known to have streaks of greatness that are perpetually stalked by an inability to throw strikes. McDonald was going to be a solid mid rotation guy, and Locke, with half a years experience, would attempt to fill out the back end.

Once the season got underway, all expectations were exceeded and the rotation proved to be a dominating force. Burnett showed that the Fountain of Youth filters out of the Allegheny River, pitching to a 3.12 ERA and 10 K/9 in 14 games. Wandy drank some of the same stuff and produced equally strong numbers. But the real stories went to both Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke.


Even Russell Crowe is excited

Liriano was a high risk/high reward acquisition that many assumed would do far more damage to the team that dared take a flyer on him. But so far, he has been magnificent. Through 10 starts, Liriano has posted a 2.23 ERA and a 9.9 K/9. While the walk rate remains high on the higher end of the spectrum (3.41 BB/9), he is still well under he previous two seasons, which both had a BB/9 ration of 5. While it’s hard to apply the decreased walk rate to any one thing in particular, Liriano will continue to be an asset to the Pirates if that walk rate stays down.

Locke, who has been equally as dominant this year, has a different set of concerns. While on the surface his 2.06 ERA and 7-1 record look remarkable, some of his other numbers raise some questions. So far this season, Locke has been very fortunate to strand a large amount of runners on base. He currently stands with a 85.6% strand rate, which is unsustainable for any big leaguer. Locke has also given up fewer home runs than his fly ball rate would support (8.2%), another reason for second half regression considering it is far under his career average. As both of these stats return to the norm, Locke will see his ERA climb closer to his xFIP of 4.11. Even with this regression though, Locke should continue to contribute to the Pirate rotation in a meaningful way.


Jeff Locke

There is no denying the strength of this rotation. The pitching staff that is 1st out of all major leagues when it comes to team ERA (3.11) and opponent batting average (.225), and third in baseball in WHIP (1.19). But strong rotations tend to get teams only so far before injuries and bullpens cost the team wins. The Pirates have already been faced with these challenges this year and have proved that they have depth, both in the minors and in the pen, which make up for the doubts within their rotation.

So far this season, the Pirates have had to fill their rotation after injuries left them with holes. First they turned to Jeanmar Gomez who after starting eight games, currently sits with a 2-0 record and a 2.76 ERA. They also were forced to turn to highly touted prospect Gerrit Cole, who started his career off 4-0.

The bullpen has also been one of the safest late inning bets in the MLB. Jason Grilli leads the NL in saves and is 27-28 in save opportunities. Before Grilli enters in the ninth, the Pirates have the best set-up men in the game. Mark Melancon has and ERA and WHIP just above 0.8 in 41 innings. The rest of the bullpen combines to have an ERA of 2.92 and an opponent batting average of .217. The strong bullpen helps to fill in for the starting rotation which averages just over 5 1/3 innings per start.

The Pirates second half will not be as good as their first half. The starting rotation will continue to be tested and there will be some regression for Locke and the questions with Liriano will remain. But the Pirates have proven that they have the depth to overcome any pitching problems that may arise.

The worst thing to happen to the Pirates this year