MLB is Fishing with Dynamite

Sticky substances and pitchers in MLB have a long and illustrious relationship. It’s not like that’s new, it’s been around almost as long as the ball has been standardized. The problem is that some players took an intentional blind spot in the league and made their willful ignoring of the situation embarrassing.

It’s the worst kept secret in sports, and not even hitters are anxious to have things changed this abruptly.

I’ve compared what MLB is doing to killing a bee with a bazooka. They wanted to get Spider Tack out of the game, a substance that has driven Spin Rates way up and taken things too far to ignore, and because they can’t just target that substance without openly making a mockery of the enforcement of their own rules they went nuclear.

Let’s break this down a bit shall we.

Why Eliminate All Tacky Substances?

Well, a couple reasons. One, expecting game officials to recognize and identify the difference between different substances is unlikely to go well. They’d also have to openly say they’re fine ignoring the rules on the books, where all of these substances are banned already.

Another thing to look at is in order to make a new rule specifically addressing Spider Tack, they’d have to collectively bargain the language. With the CBA negotiations coming up this fall already sure to be contentious, that was never going to happen.

It’s all or nothing, and while I don’t think this is a good time to do this, there’s no denying this is an issue in the game. I simply think mid season will create more problems than it fixes, but I’m used to that with MLB.

Why does this matter?

Baseball has watched a resurgence of pitchers dominating the game. Baseball doesn’t like either side of the ball getting an obvious advantage. Problem is, every time they see it, they legislate or manipulate things to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. It tends to create just as many problems as it serves.

Now, analytics have made it very apparent who is cheating. Spin rates are a dead giveaway and the thing is we don’t have a baseline for using absolutely nothing, because as many players suggest, as much as 80-90% of pitchers are using something.

Baseball has known about this forever, and honestly they’ve been fine with it until recent innovation created jumps of 300-600 RPMs on spin rate.

This would be like NASCAR having a restriction on horsepower that they knew just about every driver and team were ignoring, but a couple racers don’t just touch the top of the restriction and pass it my a fraction, instead they have flames shooting out the exhaust and are easily lapping the competition.

Everyone was fine with the “assistance” even though it was technically cheating, until it became so obvious that they might as well have been calling a press conference before every outing and slapping Rob Manfred in the face.

Rules and laws are weird, sometimes they just exist while everyone ignores them. For instance in Michigan blasphemy is still illegal. Imagine if they announced tomorrow they were going to start enforcing it. Here’s a good one, swearing at sporting events is illegal in Massachusetts, I mean, have you met a Boston fan?

What should We Expect?

Honestly, it’s not likely to be pretty. I think we started seeing evidence this was having an impact a couple weeks back. Guys who were bending it like Beckham suddenly can’t control where it winds up. high fastballs are getting blasted.

Measurably, spin rates are already down. Even pitchers who don’t throw hard like Tyler Anderson last night saw a reduction. In fact it even changed his pitch mix, completely dropped the curveball. Gee, I wonder why?

Just so we’re clear, I’m not choosing to go after one player here. I’m of the belief most pitchers have used something, and I don’t mean they just started when they got to MLB. This was present when I was in high school. Bug Spray and rosin, bubblegum, sun tan lotion, cotton candy, tricks of the trade to help control the ball have been widely used and it’s not like hitters were left in the dark either. I mean did you ever think it was strange how many pitchers liked to hit with no gloves? Hmm wonder why?

What MLB has just done is give each and every one of us the ability to easily prove our suspicions. two months from now, head over to Baseball Savant and check out the spin rate trends on your favorite pitcher. Chances are you’ll see it reduced. If it’s a huge reduction, they were probably using the Spider Tack, if it’s marginal good chance they were using something more benign.

Now if cheating is cheating to you and there’s no grey area, I guess be prepared to know you’re watching a league full of cheaters. Technically being a baserunner at second base and picking up on signs is illegal too, but I get it, you’re principled and a far superior person to everyone else.

Can it Lead to Injury?

Well, maybe. I’m not sure I can go as far as Tyler Glasnow did, blaming the rule change in part for leading to his elbow injury. Especially since his spin rate figures lead one to believe he was a Spider Tack guy.

But he isn’t wrong either. The league has turned a blind eye to this stuff for decades, and if you know anything about pitching it’s all about repeatable motion and muscle memory. Change something small like where you stand on the rubber, or adjust release point by a fraction of an inch and it could be a two week process to gain confidence and effectiveness. Now imagine asking as much as 80% of the league’s pitchers to change things like that on the fly in the middle of a season.

Yes, it could lead to injury.

More likely though, it leads to reduced velocity to gain some modicum of control. More likely it deals more damage to effectiveness than it does put guys on the shelf.

Pirates Angle

The team is in no danger of winning anything this season, so all the competitive balance issues won’t touch the Buccos in 2021. That said, they have some guys they want to move who may have just lost the bloom on their rose.

Richard Rodriguez, Tyler Anderson minimally can’t be looked at as having reliable stats. You know you’ve watched Rich Rod giving up more hits lately, now, did he just give up his sticky stuff knowing this was coming or just having an off couple weeks? Yeah, that kind of question.

Even things that many of us have used as measuring sticks in the analytics world will be called into question. That guy who added 6 MPH to his fastball over the offseason, did he do that naturally? When trading for prospects can Ben Cherington rely on spin rates or Whiff rates as accurate?

Oh there are a ton of angles here.

My Take

Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it ok, and I completely get the league wanting to crack down. They specifically wanted to target Spider Tack and after spending the first two plus months of the season warning guys they were checking balls and going to do something they saw, measurably mind you, that they were being ignored.

Something had to be done, and my only real issue is the timing.

This is a year when every team executive was already worried about the health of pitchers coming off the shortened 2020 season, and I think they just threw a few knives into the juggling act.

I remember the steroids era very well, and I also remember the stigma guys who never tested positive received. If this is indeed as wide spread as many believe they might have to just board up the windows on the Hall of Fame for a while.

Trevor Bauer started this ball rolling. He went after old rival Gerrit Cole for his incredible increase in spin rate after his trade to Houston. Now, if the league had stepped in right then, maybe we avoid the mess this has become. Instead, they put their head in the sand and ultimately led Bauer to decide he wasn’t going to just complain about it, instead he’d do it too. Why not right? The league was apparently ok with it.

Now, here we are.

If they really manage to clean this up, in 4 or 5 years a wicked curveball will have a new look, we’ll adjust to what that is and we’ll be just as excited when we see it. I’m not sitting here telling you that the game has been destroyed. I will tell you though, be prepared to see some guys you really thought were incredible suddenly look human.

The enforcement rules are designed to equally punish the team and the player. 10 game suspensions with no ability for the team to replace the roster spot.

In other words, if you have 3 guys pinged for this, your roster is now 23 players instead of 26. It’s designed to get the teams to work just as hard to clean up the mess as the players themselves, but the players still get paid (otherwise they’d have to go to the negotiation table ya dig?) so really the teams will have a bit more onus on them.

An already sure to be contentious CBA negotiation just got a bit more so if you ask me. For those of us who want a cap, hey, I hope they flat out hate each other. I bet there are some big clubs who wear pinstripes wishing they knew this was coming before they signed someone to a 300 million dollar contract.

Pirates Buried By A Nationals Early Bomb

Follow a couple of shaky starts to the season, free agent acquisition and likely flip candidate, Tyler Anderson hit his stride over the next five outings; lowering his ERA to 3.05, his WHIP to 1.04 and his average against to .209, as he pitched an eight inning gem against the Cubs to bring his record on the season even at 3 and 3. At that point most Pirates were overwhelming positive about having a veteran anchor in the rotation, while others were optimistic about the trade return; with even a foolish few speaking about an extension for the lefty starter.

Flash forward to the present day, as Anderson has seen his ERA balloon to 4.89, his WHIP rise to 1.26 and his average against rise to 2.61; capped off by his performance against the Nationals, where a few bloops and a blast put the Pirates down 5 to 0 as the first inning came to close.

Immediately I thought Anderson’s night would be cut short. However, in the end he did what he has always done this season, in good and bad performances, which is last through at least five full innings; and somehow managing to make six in this one. Although he did surrender another run, but it didn’t really matter because of the lack of run support the Pirates offense would provide.

In the seventh Phillip Evans did bring in a run for Pittsburgh on and RBI double, only to have Washington tack on another two in the eighth; to put the Nationals up, for what what would be the final score of 8 to 1.

News and Notes

  • Ke’Bryan Hayes’ hitting streak, which stretched back to last season, ends at 19 games.
  • Ben Gamel has continued to hit. Over his last seven games he is slashing .429/.467/.786. Obviously, this pace is unsustainable; however, it should at least lead to more regular playing time in the short term.
  • Duane Underwood, Jr. hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been terrible; he has simply reverted back close to the mean of where he has been most of his career. On the season he has a 4.08 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP and 38 strikeouts in 39.2 innings of work.
  • The Pirates did manage eight hits against a somewhat efficient Patrick Corbin, with six of them coming from Gamel, Bryan Reynolds and Erik Gonzalez.
  • Adam Frazier got the night off, although he did pinch hit, and Colin Moran is still day to day with a tight back, so it was no surprise the offense was a little bit handcuffed in the contest.

The Pirates will look to break their nine game losing streak tomorrow at 4:05 PM EST at Nationals Park, with Chase De Jong (0-0, 4.80 ERA) on the mound against Paolo Espino (0-2, 2.78 ERA).

Pirates (23-42) Drop 8th Straight in Washington, Shelton Again Lifts Starter Early

A tale of two teams struggling to hit the baseball. I think that’s what this series will be.

This game is a bunch of continuations of recent themes and contradictions from a coach’s stated intent.

We need to get more length out of out starters that’s for sure, that’s the gist of what Derek Shelton had to say the other day before abruptly pulling Wil Crowe yesterday and today pulling Brubaker after five innings and 72 pitches.

At some point, you have to give guys a chance to be good. Let them have a chance to control their own career.

Think about it like this. If Brubaker is due for arbitration next year, and he’s not, tell me the team doesn’t sit there and say he doesn’t go deep into games. He absolutely does hear that, and when a guy desperately wants to get established in this league, at some point you have to just let them. It would be like hitting Hayes 5th to take the pressure off even as he hits like he currently is.

Keep showing the players who are performing that you’re afraid or waiting for the other shoe to drop every time they work, and don’t be shocked when you have a collection of guys with stunted growth.

Bottom line, a good start, cut short. An overworked bullpen gives up the winning run.

On a night when you got unexpected offense in the form of Kevin Newman.

Tyler Anderson vs Patrick Corbin tomorrow in game two of the series. Maybe Tyler will get the veteran treatment and get to pitch into the 7th. I shudder at the thought.

News & Notes

  • Clay Holmes had a really strong start to the season, but he’s struggled in recent outings. Underwood went through a stretch like this too not all that long ago. I’ve liked more than not from him so far, so I’m inclined to keep running him out there.
  • Kevin Newman grounded into his first double play this season tonight.
  • In the 8th inning, Josh Harrison got hit with a fastball square in the back. I’m sure it hurt but man what an overreaction. Clearly wasn’t being thrown at. Weird, because I always remember him being very light hearted on the field when he played here.
  • Kevin Newman had a good night. Solo shot, and a key base hit later to set up the tying run in the ball game.
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes extended his hitting streak to 19 games that I didn’t even know he had. In his second game of the season on April 3rd he had one plate appearance and drew a walk. Since that wasn’t an official at bat the streak continues. Stretches back to last season.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 6-14-21

A 7 game losing streak isn’t fun, and it’s not possible to watch it, even if you expected it, without at least asking a few questions. This isn’t a good baseball team, and if you ask me the frustration is ramped up because for the first time since game one, this team has most of their best components. So of all times to go on a stretch like this, it seems at the very least odd. It also doesn’t help bad decisions were partially responsible, this team doesn’t need help from the instructors to fail.

1. Is Derek Shelton the Coach of a Winner?

First of all, I’d actually be surprised if he was still here when this team competes. This isn’t a new thought, it’s pretty rare to see a coach hired to oversee a rebuild last with the organization to actually see the results of what the team has been putting together in the lower levels.

We’ve seen this before here in Pittsburgh, John Russell and Jim Tracy preceded Clint Hurdle. We’ve seen this in Chicago, with Dale Sveum, Rick Renteria and ultimately onto Joe Maddon. Hey, we’ve seen it in the South Side of Chicago too, with Rick Renteria (hmm must be a type), ultimately giving way to Tony La Russa who I personally don’t think will be the right guy either, but that’s not really the point here.

Why is this? I mean why not just get the “right” manager at the beginning?

Well, if you spend 2 or 3 years trapesing through horse manure, don’t be shocked if you smell bad when you’re no longer doing so. That tends to linger, and fair or not this is a starter job. There’s a reason they don’t go get a Dusty Baker type, or whoever you thought was better. Those guys know what this is, and they know what they’ll smell like when it’s over.

Clint Hurdle for instance is the only Pirates manager since Chuck Tanner to have an above .500 record, and it’s partially because he wasn’t the one asked to do the doo doo dance. That went to his predecessors. He just got to come in wearing his cape to “reconnect this team to its fans”, but it sure was nice having an Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker to help.

This isn’t a perfect science, in fact sometimes teams just get their guy and stick with it like Terry Francona in Cleveland. Thing is though, the Indians haven’t had a full on blow up rebuild during his tenure, so they never had the bottoming out, reputation damaging period.

Shelton’s job is to shepherd the rebuild and supposedly build up the talent currently here. I’m sure he believes he can prove himself and be the guy, I’m sure the GM has left room for that too. I’m equally sure they aren’t of the belief it’s likely he survives it. Maybe that’s not fair, but a foot in the door is still a foot in the door, he’ll land on his feet one way or another.

2. Mitch Keller in AAA, What to Expect

Hard to say.

This could be looked at so many different ways. Tell you what, let’s start by figuring out what went wrong, and I promise I’ll go a bit deeper than he stinks.

Fastball command and movement. This is different than control. His 4-seam fastball has almost zero movement, and on top of that he can’t place it with pinpoint accuracy. This is public enemy number one. His velocity shows you the lack of consistency, ranging from 97-91, and not game to game, within one at bat. As Mitch came up in the minors that sort of thing wasn’t going to get him beat up, in fact it probably acted as a pseudo changeup to inferior batters.

So, they need to work on consistency, and they need to introduce some kind of movement. Maybe it’s as simple as introducing a 2-seam like Mitchell Nagy suggested on my Fan Forum Podcast on Saturday. No matter how they do it, what he needs is something to keep hitters of balance. A good changeup, or movement on his fastball to keep people from picking up spin and simply taking the ball resulting from his slider.

It’s also been fairly obvious he isn’t mentally strong out there. Let me put it this way, you start a new job and nobody really trains you. They just look at you, hand you the employee handbook and tell you they liked what you did in college, so go get it. Some people will take that as a sign of trust and go about making their job work for them and excel. Others will feel they’ve been set up for failure and spend so much time fretting over it they fail to ever really do what they know how to do.

These are athletes, but it’s still a job, everyone is different. I’ll tell you what I see though, a guy who needs to be retrained, a guy who was already in MLB when the regime change happened, and maybe shouldn’t have been. More than anything, a guy who the club failed on the way here. If you must blame someone, have fun, I’ll focus on fixing it now.

No they won’t DFA him, not yet. No they won’t trade him, not yet. This league is absolutely littered with pitchers who took a while to find success, and of course failures as well, it’s not time to decide which of those Mitch will be, but if I’m Oscar Marin I’m heavily invested in his day to day in AAA, zero chance his time in Pittsburgh isn’t tied directly to Keller.

3. Good Chance Payroll is Lower in 2022

With the likely ouster of Gregory Polanco after this season along with his salary, the likelihood that payroll actually goes down is really high. Toss in the likelihood that Adam Frazier is gone and you have even less payroll.

All the big guns are either pre arbitration or in arbitration and there is very little chance any free agents making more than 5 million are signed.

Even if the Pirates get an extension or two done, it’s likely they won’t add much.

I also think there are few areas that make sense to bring in players from the outside at this stage. They’ll need at least one, probably two Tyler Anderson types. An insurance policy in the outfield, and a better option at the backup catcher position.

AAA is going to undergo a change. This year it’s a holding tank for failed prospects aging out, and little else. As Altoona players graduate like Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Mason Martin, Roansy Contreras, Braden Ogle, we’ll start to see more players ready to come in and contribute. Players like Miguel Yajure, Max Kranick, Travis Swaggerty, Jared Oliva and Nick Mears will either make the opening day roster or be close. These guys might not be the answer either, but development doesn’t happen if you don’t graduate players.

Point is, payroll isn’t going to really be a thing in 2022, and if you truly believe in rebuilding, at some point you have to play the guys you’ve brought in.

If I felt the Pirates were one good player away, this is a different conversation, they just aren’t there, nor were they trying to be. This is why right this second, I couldn’t care less about Bob Nutting. He’ll matter again, absolutely, but right now, I honestly don’t see any one area I’d recommend spending big on. Maybe I could make an argument for DH, but if I’m honest, I’d almost like to keep that open so we don’t see prospects blocked positionally. For instance, If Oneil Cruz’s glove hasn’t come along, I sure would like to stick him in the lineup anyway. What if you still have Colin Moran and Mason Martin is ready, wouldn’t it be nice to have that spot?

If you’re already on the payroll is everything train, I’m probably not someone who’s writing you enjoy anyhow, but honestly tell me, where would you spend the money? Maybe a big name starting pitcher? If so it better be with some length. I could see a need for an AJ type veteran presence with all these kids. Maybe someone like Alex Wood would be worth a shot. The top end of the market is loaded with guys who are too old and will want way too much and that’s even if you believe they’d help. For instance, do you want Justin Verlander? Does he have anything left in the tank? Even if he does, he’s hunting championships at this point right?

4. Control Isn’t Everything

The Pirates will trade some players, and we always talk about team control dictating that timing. Something I think we’re going to see this offseason is some players leaving even while they have some left.

So who am I thinking here?

Erik Gonzalez is the first that comes to mind. He’s cheap, 1 million this season and if he gets more than 1.5 in 2022 I’d be shocked. He has one more year of arbitration but if I’m the Pirates, I like my options coming up to fill a utility role more than him. His defense is good and he can play 3-6 but is that enough to keep him and his no bat? Not to me, but I’m not the one putting him in the middle of the lineup regularly. I just don’t see them getting anything in a trade for him, so keeping him seems pointless to me.

I guess you could feel you’ve seen enough of Kevin Newman, but that’s a whole lot more control than Erik has, I might just move to him being in the Gonzalez role.

Ka’ai Tom I’m not even sure if he’ll survive this season.

Who do you got here that fits this mold? If you’re just going to be jaded and say everyone, again, I’m not sure why you’re reading.

5. Can We Discuss Slippery Balls Without Laughing?

Chad Kuhl probably had no business complaining about the baseballs in the Milwaukee series, but that doesn’t mean what he had to say wasn’t true.

MLB has decided foreign substances on baseballs is an issue they need to crack down on, and while we wait to see what they decide to do about it, not rubbing up the balls does make an immediate impact. For guys who maybe only used bug spray and rosin it changes everything. Guy using spider tack it’s a minor annoyance.

It sounds like MLB will be looking to do in game inspections of balls and pitchers themselves. They may even take it to position players. If they couple that with using “pearl” balls, meaning not rubbed up with the Delaware River mud they’ve used forever, instead using straight from the manufacturer balls, we’re going to see more than pitchers getting touched up, we’re going to see more hit batters, walks and short outings.

Things will swing back to the offense, which isn’t the worst thing, but it also should get some pitchers to pull back on how hard they throw the ball.

This is a perfect example of letting things get out of control.

A little pine tar or bug spray helped the pitchers control the ball better, and then a few guys took it too far, taking it from assistance to dominance. That made more guys realize they couldn’t keep up naturally and since the league wasn’t doing anything about it, why not jump on board?

As this evolves, watch how the game changes with it. As if the last two seasons haven’t been weird enough. I’m all for rooting out cheating, but as they’ve let this go as long as they have, at this point I’d prefer these enforcement efforts wait for the off season.

Imagine being a team looking to add pitching at the deadline. You’ve got a guy like Richard Rodriguez targeted and you know his spin rate is a bit reason for his success. You also at least know it’s been rumored he didn’t come by it naturally, and now he’s going to be under a microscope. How does that affect your value placed on him? He’s just an example, obviously every pitcher is going to be seen with new eyes. Odd timing to say the least since they plan on rolling out these new enforcement rules in a few weeks. Even hitters will tell you this is not something they’re entirely comfortable seeing right now. Believe it or not, they like pitchers controlling their pitches too.

Two Guys Talking Trades – With Joe Boyd and Justin Verno – The Rentals Edition 6-14-21

Joe Boyd – Alright, Justin et al., we have had several conversations about the value of potential trade chips for the Buccos ranging from the obvious (Frazier/RichRod) to the polarizing (Stallings), so how about today we sing back towards the obvious? There are two players that the Pirates are almost assuredly going to ship out in the coming weeks, and that is Tyler Anderson and Trevor Cahill.  The former has performed admirably this season and Pittsburgh could expect a decent ROI from him, the latter however has left a lot to be desired.  

The values for rentals are substantially lower due to the fact that your trading partner is only getting the player for a portion of the season, whereas your controllable assets allow for that value to multiply.  But I’ll give Justin the first crack at putting together his valuation of these two players.

Justin Verno – There are two kinds of rentals that can still bring a solid return. The first is a power hitter that is on fire. The second? Pitching, specifically LH starters. This bodes well for the Buccos when looking at Anderson. Cahill? I think we have to hold our breath there, Joe.

Before we dive into the monetary trade values, let’s take a look at a deadline trade from last year.  

Mike Minor had seen appearances with the Rangers last year leading up to the 2020 deadline. The fruits of those seven starts?

35.1 innings  ERA+82  FIP 4.89   WHIP 1.35  ERA 5.60  xFIP 4.50

His velo was down. He was a rental player in a season that had a much shorter second half. He had accumulated a WAR of 0.2 and was owed  $750,000. In other words, he wasn’t very good. What did he have going for him? He was a  left handed starter.  And with all due respect to Mike Minor, that’s pretty much the only thing he had going for him. 

Enter one Tyler Anderson.  In Anderson’s 11 starts, his number are a little better:

61.2 innings  ERA+ 87  FIP 4.17  WHIP 1.20  ERA 4.67  xFIP 4.11  WAR 0.8

Now, these numbers aren’t glaring, obviously, but a few things stand out. Anderson has averaged almost a full inning more per start and has fared better in his ERA and WAR.

Here’s the thing: Texas was able to get a solid enough return for Mike Minor. In return for Minor, the A’s traded two Top 20 (organizational) prospects. 

Marcus Smith CF — FV 40+ ($3.0M) now 17th on the Rangers list

Dustin Harris 1B–FV 40+($3.0M) now 20th on the Rangers list

That is not a bad return at all for a Mike Minor. Using the Pirates system, that’s comparable to Canaan Smith-Njigba and Mason Martin.

Cahill, well, that’s a little different.  He isn’t LH. His WAR is similar to Minor’s last year. However, his FIP 3.98 and xFIP 3.99 do suggest some bad luck, so perhaps Mr. Cherington can sell those peripherals. 

JB – Taking the usual approach, Anderson has been good for 0.8 WAR so far this season, and a reasonable assumption is that he can match that over the remainder of the schedule.  He’s making $2.5M this season as a one year deal so no real need to estimate any future salaries here.  Pretty straightforward assessment.  

Cahill is a slightly murkier projection due to his time on the IL.  He’s already posted 0.5 WAR this season, but he needs to get back to the active roster to ensure he’s 100% and a valuable asset.  To hedge that a bit, I’m going to suggest a 0.2-0.3 range for his remaining value this season.  He’s only making $1.5M this season, and like Anderson, there is no need to estimate future salary as he will be a free agent at the end of the season. 

Below we have a breakdown of the value for each rental:

Justin Verno -I don’t think that I will ever get used to how much even a little control can change these values. But, here we are. A modest surplus and pinch of surplus. Not gonna let that ruin my day, Joe. Good value can still be had here, particularly with Anderson and that left arm. But, let’s take a look at some potential deals for these guys.

JB –  Trade Partner: San Francisco Giants:

The Giants are a team that are punching above their weight this season, and ahead of schedule on their mini-rebuild.  Everything they have done has turned to gold, including several one-year free agent deals that have paid off.  Despite leading the NL West, Fangraphs still only gives them a 4.5% chance of winning the division and only a 57% chance of making the playoffs.  They have to contend in their division with two of the heaviest hitters in the National League, so it’s understandable that those percentages may seem a bit low.  Could San Francisco push their chips in the middle and make a play for a larger trade asset?  Certainly, but my guess is that they play things conservatively and only marginally add to their roster and don’t give up the farm in anticipation for larger payoffs down the road. 

Additionally, the Giants have familiarity with both Anderson and Cahill as they were both in San Francisco in 2020.  Given the small price tag and the familiarity, I could see the Giants making a move for either player.  

Anderson for Jairo Pomares — Corner OF — ETA: 2023 — 40+ FV ($4.0M)

Pomares is a lefty bat from Cuba that already exceeds MLB average exit velos.  So at 20 years old, the kid is already bringing the power potential.  Longenhagen gave him a Mikey Moniak comp in that he has good bat to ball skills, but a poor approach at the plate, and does not profile as a CF in the future, so he’ll have to hit to get on a major league roster.

Cahill for Camilo Doval  — RP — ETA: 2021 — 40 FV ($1.0M)

If you read Longenhagen’s report on Doval, an optimist can see traits in there that can get you excited that he is a potential unicorn. There’s high velos, there’s high RPMs (which make the velos play up even more), there’s a unique delivery that plays tricks on the batter’s eye, there’s heavy ‘sink’ and risking ‘cut.’  If you trust the Pirates’ Player Dev, maybe you can dream on unlocking these traits and they could get a massive chess piece for high leverage situations. Or you could look at Doval and his poor command as a player that could be unreliable and pitch himself into jams.  Either way, this is a player that is worth the cost of a rental piece like Cahill. San Francisco gets a depth arm and Pittsburgh gets a lottery ticket.

I do not want to construe this as a guess that San Francisco will deal for both players, but rather that they have a higher likelihood of obtaining one of the two rentals. I could pick another team and one of their 40 FV prospects, but at the end of the day, these types of players are pretty fungible and I figured that the Giants, a team probably not looking to go all in, would be a likely partner in these negotiations.

JV– I had my list down to three teams: the Giants, the Marlins, and the Royals. I had a similar thought process–that a team ahead of it’s rebuild schedule could err on the side of a rental. Then I remembered a while back, someone had mentioned the Cubs being in the same group here. The Cubs started to retool and regroup this past winter and are a team that can make a push. Either of these rentals could fit!

When Joe and I started this, I had hoped for a few packages to show more of a gap in the return. Not in the teams we picked or the position players we packaged, but in the type of “value” coming back. We’ve been pretty close in the way we’ve built our deals, and that’s okay as we’ve both gone in different directions with the teams we’ve built the deals from. 

Well, my friends, that ends here! I see more value in Anderson, not because of the “monetary” value, but because of the typical market we see with LHP. Sometimes it’s about the market as I demonstrated in the Mike Minor deal. Yes, I realize that every trade market is different. Sometimes it’s high, sometimes it’s low. Sometimes it’s saturated with similar players at the same positions and other times it’s bare in the same fashion. But, one of the things we can usually count on is getting a little bit of an overpay for left handed pitching. And I for one think Cherington can cash in here and get a few extra shekels for Mr. Anderson.

Trade partner-Chicago Cubs

Kohl Franklin — RHP — ETA: 2023 — FV 40+ ($3.0M)

Kohl is a pure athlete. He has a solid 3 pitch mix. His best offering is his change up with an FV of 60. His curve has an FV of 55. What I do like with Kohl is he experienced a velo bump and is now hitting 95 and at 6’4” he is a candidate to add a few more clicks. 

Ethan Hearn — C — ETA:2024 — FV 40 ($2.0M)

A glove first catcher with some pop. Fangrpahs mentioned he needs his swing reworked but he’s a solid athlete with some interesting tools. 

Now onto Cahill, I could see Cherington getting cash considerations here, but hell, that’d be cheating.

Yunior Perez — RHP– ETA:2021 — FV 35+ ($0.5M)

Another 6’4” pitcher who brings the heat. Yunior is a slider/FB guy that can turn it up to 98, is there untapped velo here? Possible, at 21 that’s always something to watch.

I think the Anderson deals we built are by far the most drastic gap in return value we’ve shown so far, and really, it isn’t all that far. 

JB – I honestly looked at Anderson in a vacuum, so you definitely bring up a good point. I popped over to Cots to see what lefties might be available at the deadline.  My concern is that it may be a buyer’s market.  On teams that could potentially sell, there’s Danny Duffy (1.6 WAR), Steven Matz (0.7 WAR), Robbie Ray (0.5 WAR), Wade Miley (1.5 WAR), and Andrew Heaney (1.0 WAR).  Now, I think that Anderson is probably the most cost-effective of the bunch, but there’s enough of a pool that I would not expect much excitement for the return for Anderson.  Could be wrong, but that’s where I am at.  With that, I’ll give Justin the floor to close us out and pick where we go next.   

JV-That’s a solid point, but with LHP there’s never enough. There’s still some “ifs” in that group. If the Jays are still in the hunt, that would take Matz and Ray off the board. If the Royals are still sniffing around Miley is off the board. Hearn will likely be on the board, but what IF the Reds have a nice streak and jump into the wild card race?  Saturation is always a concern, but LHP is always a big need. With all those variables, I would love to see if Cherington is willing to take phone calls sooner rather than wait until July 30th on Anderson.

Up until the 7th inning or so in Wednesday’s game, I was thinking of Moran next, but we should hold off until we know what is happening with his hand. Let’s attack the bullpen arms next? And there is no shortage of guys the Bucs can look at moving here, we should split them into groups? Say, more likely and less likely? Which group should we start with?

JB – Ha! I’m always going to lean towards more likely, so let’s start with the guys are more likely to move!

Update: Adam Frazier

JB – The injury bug unfortunately struck the South Side of Chicago with Nick Madrigal going on the 60-day IL.  Ben Clemens over at Fangraphs wrote a piece on Friday about potential replacement options. The first suggestion? Adam Frazier. So I wanted to quickly check in at what a potential package from the White Sox might look like.  As a refresher, we put a value of $16.7M on Frazier.  

At first glance, I would consider a rental as the ideal option. We don’t know how long Madrigal will be out, but one would expect that he assumes his role at 2B in 2022, so where would Frazier go in that situation? Well, Frazier has proven to be versatile, so at worst he could be a super utility on an ascending team. 

I expect Cherington’s phone to be ringing quite a bit in regards to Frazier, so there’s no real need to settle here, and I would think Frazier is the closest comp Madrigal of the available trade pieces, so I would also assume that Chicago would want to get something done here rather than play chicken.  

Jared Kelley — RHP — ETA: 2025 — 45FV ($4M) 

According to FG, Kelley is the #5 prospect in the White Sox system, but he’s #1 according to MLB Pipeline.  So I’ll say it depends on how Chicago feels about Kelley.  However, his distance from the majors should be enough to pry him loose.  Kelley is a big righty that possesses a fastball that touches 99 and with a plus-plus changeup.  To reach his full potential, however, he’ll need to develop his breaking ball.  

Matthew Thompson — RHP — ETA: 2024 — 40 FV ($1M)

Fangraphs is certainly lower on Thompson than I am and lower than MLB Pipeline. According to Pipeline, Thompson is the most athletic player in the system, and sits 92-94 mph.  Fangraphs says he can oscillate between that range and 90-92.  Both sites agree that he has the frame to develop and there is still time and hope that he can fulfill his potential and consistently bring the heat.  

In conclusion, if you look at the values from Fangraphs, which we have used for consistency, it looks a bit light.  But if you look at the prospects from a MLB Pipeline perspective, we’re looking at the #1 and #3 prospects in the system.  That’d be a serious haul for Pittsburgh, and gets Chicago a replacement bat for the spark plug for their offense. 

Pirates Swept Out Of Milwaukee

After the first two batters of the game for Milwaukee I was honestly felt deflated, and began to prepare myself for disappointing afternoon of baseball. A single by Luis Urias, followed by a rocket shot of a double by Daniel Vogelbach quickly put the Pirates in the hole 1 to 0; with the recently recalled Wil Crowe on the mound set up to take a pounding. However, this never came to pass as Crowe methodically sat down the next 15 Brewers that came to the plate; striking out eight in the process.

Then came the bottom of the sixth, which was immediately proceeded by Crowe grounding out with the bases loaded; but more importantly a Jacob Stallings solo shot that gave Pittsburgh the 2-1 lead, and put Crowe in position for his first big league win. However, after walking the first batter, Crowe was abruptly removed from the game; although it wasn’t the entire story, because truthfully he looked a little off during the first batter of the inning in his mannerisms and reactions to the pitches Stallings was calling.

Whether you thought it was a curious decision, or clearly the wrong call by Shelton, unfortunately it didn’t work out in his favor as David Bednar promptly gave up a game tying triple and a go ahead two run homer later that half inning.

The Brewers would go on to add an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, as the duo of Devin Williams and Josh Hader shut down the Pirates to preserve a 5-2 victory and a series sweep for Milwaukee.

News and Notes

  • Colin Moran left the game with back tightness after running from second to third base, and eventually scoring in the top of the second. This dude can’t catch a break when it comes to injuries this year. Hopefully, he just needs a little rest and doesn’t end up on the IL again.
  • Ben Gamel had a pretty nice series against his old ball club; starting with a home run on Friday, and capping it off with a 3 for 4 day on Sunday. Since joining the Pirates, Gamel is slashing .243/.295/.414 with 9 extra base hits, which isn’t off the chart; but it sure is a lot better than some of the outfielders he could be replacing in the lineup.
  • Over his last seven appearances and six innings of work David Bednar has posted a 4.50 ERA, while allowing three earned runs on six hits, with six strikeouts and four walks.
  • Geoff Hartlieb looked pretty good in his second outing of the year, and his first since May 10th against Cincinnati, as he struck out one and didn’t allow a hit to give the Pirates a shot at comeback in the ninth.
  • The Pirates are on their longest losing streak of the season, seven games; now sporting a 23-41 record on the season.

On Monday the Pirates travel to Washington, D.C. to take on the Nationals for a three game series, before a scheduled off day on Thursday.

JT Brubaker (4-5, 3.90 ERA) will toe the rubber for the Pirates in the first game against Jon Lester (0-2, 4.19 ERA) for the Nationals at 7:05 PM EST from Nationals Park.

Biding His Time In AAA

Since the beginning of the 2021 season, the words Rule 5 Draft, have become as commonplace as Spend Nutting, Win Nutting amongst Pirates Fans. Obviously, I am kidding to a certain extent, but they have been used often enough that I believe many are beginning to understand the intricacies as to why a player could be selected and what could happen if he is ultimately designated for assignment.

Currently the Pirates have two players on their Major League Roster in Ka’ai Tom and Luis Oviedo, although Oviedo was just recently placed on the 10-Day IL with a left quad strain; which in all honesty could be a phantom injury to protect his usage, while still adhering to the 90 day/26-Man roster requirement for the season. Another pitcher, Jose Soriano-who the Pirates selected with the first overall pick-has been shut down due to new damage to his reconstructed elbow after only 3.2 innings of a rehab assignment with the Bradenton Marauders.

These are the guys that Pirates Fans are more familiar with due to the fact that they fall, or could fall into the previously mentioned intricacies. However, they weren’t the only players selected on that day. Claudio Finol, a shortstop from the Reds, that is currently batting .125 for the Greensboro Grasshoppers, pitcher Jeffrey Passantino from the Cubs, who has 2.70 ERA, a .94 WHIP and 27 Ks in 23.2 innings for the Curve and a guy that have mentioned on several episodes of Bucs In The Basement and at least one episode of Gary Morgan’s Fan Forum on DK Pittsburgh Sports Podcasts, also became Pirates on December 10th.

During the Minor League Portion of the Rule 5 Draft, Pittsburgh kicked off the first round by selecting right handed reliever Shea Spitzbarth from the Dodgers organization. Back in 2019 Spitzbarth had reached the AAA level, but initially struggled to adjust. After starting the year in AA-Tulsa with a 2.05 ERA, a 1.023 WHIP and 60 strike outs in 44 innings for the Drillers, he saw his ERA rise to 8.18 and his WHIP balloon to 1.727, but his K/9 only fall from 12.3 to 11.9. However, Spitzbarth didn’t let this or even the shutdown stop his drive for the majors as he spent the summer pitching for Butchy’s Heat in the Mid-Island Men’s League, located close to home in Staten Island, New York.

When Spring Training finally rolled around, Spitzbarth got some limited work in as he pitched in 3.2 innings, striking out 4 batters along the way; finding his way to the Alternate Site, and eventually the AAA Indianapolis Indians. Since arriving in Indy he has posted a 1.32 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and 11 strikeouts in 13.2 innings, with his above average change up leading the way.

In his career, Spitzbarth has not had a K/9 below 11.86, so the 7.24 this season could be a little concerning; however, most runners that do get on base don’t end up scoring due to his career high 96.2% left on base rate. Sure it is possible that this percentage cannot stay as high as it is, but the same could be said about his low K rate; so in the end it feels like things would ultimately even out.

As it stands currently the only roadblock to a Spitzbarth promotion would be the need to open up a spot on the 40-man, which could easily occur if any of the current trade rumors come to fruition, or another long term injury occurs.

In any case, I would still be looking for another Rule 5 Pick-this time from the Minor League side-to make his MLB debut at some point during this year as depth, and options, continue to be a focus of General Manager Ben Cherington.

Pirates (23-40) and Brewers Serve Up a Lunch Lady Special, Sloppy 7-4 Loss for Buccos

Both teams kicked the ball around the field. Both teams couldn’t find the strike zone, partially because it took the umpire 4 innings to find it too.

These things happen, but the Pirates can’t afford to play that way to beat anyone. This is a team who even when they decide to play all their cards in one game for a change have little room for error. Compound that with walks galore, 4 more by Chad Kuhl today, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The team is doing what most figured they would, losing. If this lineup stays intact, they’ll play a good stretch here and there, but for the most part, this is what this season was always going to be.

I do think it’s fair to ask though, being that the management staff said they wanted to get batter. And they were pressed on this, they were asked do you mean get better like as if to say get better players or get better meaning you need to train some guys up. The answer was to improve the guys who are here.

That being said, who’s gotten better?

Frazier? Ok, this is absolutely as consistent as he’s ever been, but here’s a guy who’s hit .280 in this league. You hit .280 it’s not inconceivable you’d get it over .300 someday. But ok, maybe right?

How about Reynolds? He’s certainly got the power stroke going, On a good pace to hit 25 this year, and he hasn’t done it at the expense of contact, the average is looking good too. He’s Reynolds 2019, plus some Hulk. Do they get credit for that? I don’t know, kinda just looks like maturity to me, but it’s under their watch.

Moran? Nah, this is what he was doing in 2019, actually his power numbers (percentage wise of course accounting for IL time) is down a touch. I love the approach, so I guess that’s a coached alteration.

How about on the mound? The bullpen is doing really well. I give them credit for getting something out of Kyle Crick. I wrote him off before the season. This is what Rich Rod has been for a while really, but they identified him as a 9th inning guy. And they found Howard on the scrap heap, so total credit there.

Starters, Hmmm. I mean I guess Anderson has been better than his payscale, but how much or that was Colorado? Eh. What about Brubaker? He’s grown on a pretty even and steady angle really since 2020 when he got his first shot. I got nothing else.

Is that enough? I mean where’s that guy you actually found a way to get blood out of a rock with? Like do something with a Newman or Tucker, maybe even Craig or Kramer. Find a way to make one of those picks look pretty good. That to me would show more about the assumed improvements to the development system than what we can actually see. I’m thrilled to watch Oneil Cruz start to really emerge in AA, that’s awesome, I guess I’m not seeing it at the MLB level, and maybe it’s not even fair to expect based on the roster, ya know?

Two games given away so far in Milwaukee, partially by uncharacteristic relief pitching and bad starts.

One more in Milwaukee tomorrow at 2:10 Pirates will send Wil Craig (See notes) to the mound to face Adrian Houser who the Pirates almost always struggle to see.

News & Notes

  • Prior to the game the Pirates sent Trevor Cahill back to the 10-day IL as he apparently reaggravated his calf injury. To take his spot on the roster the Pirates recalled Geoff Hartlieb who was already with the team on the Taxi Squad.
  • Also before the game, the Pirates exercised an option on Mitch Keller sending the youngster to AAA to work on some things. Derek Shelton said prior to the game they still very much believe in him but as you all know how I feel about statements like this, what’s he gonna say really? Bottom line is Keller needs to command his pitches, add some movement to his 4-seam, potentially develop a better changeup. This could be a bit longer than many assume. And don’t think Glasnow isn’t in everyone’s head. Stallings mentioned him in reference to Keller, so did Cherington and Shelton, both of which weren’t even here to witness him.
  • The corresponding move for Mitch Keller was to recall Wil Crowe, and while I’m fine with that, he himself was just send down for having his own bout of ineffectiveness after a really nice start where he slowly ramped up into some nice outings before ultimately falling back.
  • Ka’ai Tom has a lower SLG% .226 than OBP% .286, his OPS sits at .512. This just doesn’t make sense anymore. He’s had over 100 PA now and they cut bait on Anthony Alford after 29, Dustin Fowler after 46. I guess you could say they like that he draws some walks but surely his Rule 5 status isn’t keeping him safe. Jared Oliva was just activated from the IL today, give him a couple weeks and here’s hoping they make a move. I didn’t even touch Troy Stokes in that rant. Now, I realize this is like complaining about a mustard stain on a tie dye shirt, but I can’t think of one thing to hang my hat on with this guy.
  • For the first time tonight Shelton openly said he has got to start getting more length out of his starters, I just question how possible that is. Anderson and Brubaker are just about the only ones I’d look for that from, and that’s just not enough. Either of them have a blow up early and the pen is in real trouble.

Pirates Walk Their Way To A Loss

In the first game of a three game set versus the Brewers, the Pirates put out a what resembled a full Sunday lineup against one of the top pitchers in baseball currently in Brandon Woodruff; and for almost seven innings the strategy to sit Stallings, Reynolds and Moran-whose hand obviously couldn’t have been feeling too great just yet-seemed to be paying off as homers from Ben Gamel and Gregory Polanco had the game knotted at two a piece.

However, this feeling of a game that could last to extras or that Pittsburgh could squeak out didn’t last much longer as Clay Holmes and Trevor Cahill combined to give up five runs on two hits and six walks; three of them with the bases loaded. For Holmes this was his worst outing of the season by far, and not what had come to be expected from him after over a month of dominance. However, for Cahill it’s actually hard to expect much different, as his ERA now sits at 6.57 on the year; making him one of the more peculiar pickups in Ben Cherington’s time with the Pirates.

In the top of the 8th, the Pirates would get a couple right back thanks to a two run home run from Ke’Bryan Hayes, but in the end it simply wasn’t enough as Pittsburgh fell to Milwaukee 7-4.

News and Notes

  • Pirates starter Chase De Jong didn’t do bad, but he didn’t do great as he allowed two earned runs on four hits with four walks and two strikeouts.
  • Adam Frazier’s most recent hitting streak has ended at 13 games.
  • This Hayes kid is pretty good. Ridiculous small sample size, but after 123 at bats his OPS is still over a thousand at 1.098.
  • The Pirates didn’t draw a single walk in the game. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure I saw some ridiculous stat that Pittsburgh was only the only team in MLB that had walked at least once in every game this season; so I guess that’s over.
  • Ka’ai Tom has one hit and one walk in his last 18 at bats, is now batting .143 with a .512 OPS. Pretty sure we have seen enough from him.

The Pirates and the Brewers are back at against 4:10 PM EST from Milwaukee, as Chad Kuhl (0-3, 5.61 ERA) toes the rubber against Corbin Burnes (3-4, 1.97 ERA).

Being Designated Isn’t Always A Bad Thing

As I sit here, looking forward to my next trip of the season out to PNG Field in Altoona to check out the Curve and the Pirates Top Prospects on the current roster, of which there are many, my mind drifts back to the last time I traveled out 22 and up 99 back at the beginning of May. In this game Oneil Cruz didn’t start or make an appearance, which I was really looking forward to; however, the Curve got the win, Canaan Smith-Njigba-a Pirates Top 30 Prospect acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade with the Yankees-had a playful back and forth with an Adley Rutschman supporter throughout the afternoon, Rodolfo Castro went 3 for 5 with a double, Arden Pabst drove in four on homer and a double of his own and my youngest got to run the bases following the contest- the obvious highlight of his day and mine as well.

Since this trip, and actually even before, my eyes (and ears) have been taking in as many MiLB TV and radio broadcasts as possible, scouring the box scores and stat lines on daily basis and reading every article I can find concerning each of Pirates Affiliates (Indianapolis, Altoona, Greensboro, Bradenton); all the while looking for players who are performing well, those that are struggling, what a specific player could be working on, different positions a guy may be experimenting with and pretty much everything else you can think of.

During a few of these routine stat research sessions, I began to notice a player that had not seen, or heard much from, since the 2019 season when I saw him play for the now defunct Short- Season A Affiliate for the Pirates, the West Virginia Black Bears-who are now a part of the MLB Draft League. At the time he was bouncing back and forth between first base and right field, on a pretty consistent and even basis, but-sometimes-more importantly he was hitting everything that was thrown at him. So, as I often do, I quickly jotted down his name; both then and now, for future reference as it seems that Brendt Citta may be a player worth keeping tabs on in the Pirates Farm System.

Drafted by Pittsburgh in the 38th Round of the MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Kansas, Citta has an abundance of players he must compete against in order to get on the field on a regular basis; including the previously mentioned outfielder Smith-Njigba, Mason Martin-the Pirates Top First Base Prospect and another outfielder and Top 30 Prospect in the form of Cal Mitchell. Luckily though, three of the Curve’s five opponents are American League Affiliates, so they have been able to utilize the designated hitter more often than not to find a way to get Citta in the lineup. On the season thus far he is slashing .328/.386/.516 with one homer and eight total extra base hits in 64 at bats, which fits his reoccurring profile of being a player with power to the gaps.

Back when he was with the Bristol Pirates for the second year in a row in 2019, due to a Spring Training Quad Injury, then Manager Kieran Mattison and Hitting Coach Jonathan Prieto worked closely with Citta to unlock his often untapped power potential; ultimately resulting in a career high-at the time-.185 ISO and 132 wRC+. Unfortunately this did not fully transfer over to his time in Morgantown, as his ISO dropped back down to .138.

This season in Altoona-I know, small sample size-Citta has new career highs in ISO at .188 and wRC+ at 147, which is extremely encouraging see as he-like many other Minor Leaguers-dealt without having a season in 2020; coupled with the fact that he legitimately jumped two full levels since he last played an organized game.

Now, there are some potentially unfavorable attributes to think about; as there are with most players. The first one, often considered by many prospect evaluators, is that Citta is set to turn 25-the average age for AA player-in a little over a month. next is the fact his K rate has risen 24.3% and his walk rate has fallen to 5.7%-both are the worst in career thus far-and finally is the level and depth of competition that exists at the positions that he plays; not only at AA-Altoona, but also those that will eventually need to move up from Greensboro. For example, outfielder Matt Fraizer and Lolo Sanchez, who both have a .900+ OPS.

Clearly, it might not be an easy path for Citta to make it to PNC Park, but things have never really been that easy for him since he left Leland High School in San Jose, California; losing a year to the transfer portal after leaving San Jose State following a frustrating freshman year, not getting much draft buzz, despite a solid redshirt Sophomore season at Kansas and the injury set back in 2019. Although I wouldn’t worry too much about Citta because he has always made the best of every opportunity; even when it is being the regular designated hitter.