Just A Little Getaway: Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball and Me

We all have hobbies, interests, passions or activities that allow us to escape the “hustle and bustle” of daily life; bills, work and anything else that causes us stress and anxiety. For me the one constant “escape” in my life has been Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball. However, I never really looked at it that way because I always took people along with me on the journey and met many others along the way. It always brought me closer to people, especially my family and friends; probably due to where the roots of my passion grew from.

I have spoken of and written about this part of my Pittsburgh Pirates journey before, but I will mention it again because it is so special to me. Growing up I spent a lot of time with my Grandma and Pap; at their house, at their camp (Coal Miner’s Castle) in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest and in my own home when they came by to visit or help my parents with a project around the house. It seems as if every time I time I was with them, baseball was somehow involved and with my Grandma it was all about the Pirates. The sounds of Lanny Frattare, Steve Blass and Jim Rooker, later joined by Greg Brown, Bob Walk and John Wehner filled the air around my Grandparents porch, inside the comfy confines of our camp and amidst the crackling wood of many fires. I was as familiar with their voices as I would be with any members of my immediate family or circle of friends. My Grandma talked to them through the radio waves and about the players like they were life long friends.

My Pap on the other hand was an equal opportunity “fan”; he just loved the game. A pitcher in the old coal mining baseball leagues of Western Pennsylvania, he would talk about all of the players he took the field with while we watched the Pirates on KBL, the Braves on TBS and the Cubs and White Sox on WGN or listened to the game if their wasn’t one on TV. Afterward my cousins, my sister, the rest of the family and I would take to the backyard for a friendly Wiffle ball game or or out in the empty lot by our camp to play a game of “21”, where you received a different number of points for fielding a grounder, off of a bounce/hop or on the fly. This was my life growing up and I loved it. Baseball brought my family together.

As I started to get a little older and I was playing Little League Baseball, my friends and I would get together and play home run derby anywhere we could. Most of the time the game took place in my yard between the garden and the house, where the weeds/field and the porch on the house set up “natural” markers for each dinger we hit. We were Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Jose Canseco, Cecil Fielder as we held the bat waiting for a pitch from a friend that was pretending to be any of the famous hurlers from the present day, all the way back to Sandy Koufax. Then one by one we started to get our drivers license and were able to drive down to Three Rivers Stadium for the afternoon or evening to catch a ball game, feeling like we we were on top of the world. During the summer in between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college I went to what felt like a game a week. Every summer when I came back home from Erie I would spend as much time as I could at the ball park and of course with my Grandparents listening to games as the sun set over the trees in front of their house.

After college graduation it was time to enter the workforce and luckily for me I found a group of friends that were as big of Pittsburgh Pirates Fans as I am. We bought bobble-head packages and went to other games in between, now at PNC Park instead of Three Rivers. We tailgated before games, we went out for drinks afterward and enjoyed every second in between; even though during that time the Pirates teams we were going to see were not the best. I went to games when I was happy, when I was sad and after 9/11 I went to the three games in a row once baseball resumed with my uncle, one of my cousins and a group of friends as a way to find some regularity in a crazy world.

Then came kids. I didn’t think going to ballgames could get any better, but believe me it did. Seeing the sheer excitement on my kid’s faces as Andrew McCutchen hit a home run (each of them have passed down a shersey with his name and number on it) and now as my son or daughter holds a bat or ball signed by one their favorite players, I realize how much joy baseball and especially the Pittsburgh Pirates have brought to my life.

It was been a long and winding journey thus far, filled with laughter and tears, but I am happy when I say it is far from over. I now talk baseball on weekly basis with my good friend Chris on Bucs in the Basement, I write for this amazing site with my Brother from another Mother, Gary and I am anxious to get back to the ballpark(s) when baseball resumes again; with my family and with my friends new and old because for me the Pittsburgh Pirates have always been my “escape”, but lucky for me I never have to do it alone.

Who is the Best Pirates One Hit Wonder?

The Pirates haven’t often been a team to go get rental players in their history and that is not likely to change. That doesn’t mean the Bucs haven’t had some players who spent a short period of time in black and gold who had impact.

Let’s look at some of my picks and see who you got too! For this exercise the criteria is simple, I don’t care how the player got here, or why they were short term players, the only rule will be less than 2 seasons and they have to have been good in Pittsburgh. I don’t want to for instance say Jose Bautista, yes, the Bucs missed on him, yes, he turned out great, but we in Pittsburgh saw none of it.

J. A. Happ – Happ was acquired from Seattle in 2015 at the trade deadline. He was struggling in Seattle and the move was widely panned as another unsuccessful reclamation project. All he did was come to Pittsburgh in the middle of the most competitive pennant race the NL Central had seen in quite some time and Start 11 games. A 7-2 record with a 1.85 ERA. His WHIP was 1.026. He was arguably the very best deadline acquisition any team made that season. He also turned into the ultimate sign of Bob Nutting’s unwillingness to spend as he walked away to Toronto the following season and put up 20 wins.

Reggie Sanders – Reggie played his first 8 seasons for the Reds then embarked on a tour of National league teams on one-year deals. In 2003 he landed in Pittsburgh and hit 31 homeruns and had a .285 BA in the heart of the order. He was a consummate pro and led the young Bucs offense. He would continue his tour the next season heading off to St. Louis and ultimately finish his career in the Junior circuit with KC.

Edinson Volquez – When Edinson was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason before 2014 many were disgusted. He was no star to say the least and drew comparisons to the signing of Jonathan Sanchez the year prior. Good thing Volquez didn’t listen, he became a steadying force in the rotation and went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA. He also was Clint Hurdle’s choice to start the Wild Card game rather than Gerrit Cole, which as we all know turned out to be a very bad choice. That should not shade the fact that without his contributions throughout the season, the Bucs wouldn’t have been there to begin with.

Matt Joyce – Matt was brought to Pittsburgh to bolster the outfield depth for the Pirates in the 2016 season and he did just that. In limited playing time Matt put up 13 homeruns and became quite possibly the biggest bench threat in baseball. When a free agent leaves your camp and signs with Oakland, good chance you’ve screwed up.

Jeff Suppan – In 2003 the Pirates signed Jeff Suppan to provide leadership and talent to their Starting rotation. In half a season he went 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA. There have been points in Pirates history when the club tried to participate in Free Agency, 2003 is arguably the biggest example as Suppan and Sanders were both brought in. He was traded to Boston who had originally drafted him for Mike Gonzalez and Freddie Sanchez.

I’m sure there are others, in fact, I know there are, but I’ want to leave room for your thoughts and candidates. Let’s talk!

MLB and the Players Union Strike a Deal to Resume the Season – What Does it Mean?

This deal had to happen one way or another, plain and simple. If the season starts late, that causes a set of questions. If the season is cancelled, yet another set. Play 80, yup, you guessed it another set still.

The two sides did their very best to plan for all scenarios and create the possibility of returning to play, here are the major takeaways.

  1. Players will all be credited service time based on a full 162 game season no matter the length of the 2020 season. If it’s cancelled entirely, players will receive the same level they earned in 2019. I’m sure there are some instances where that won’t work quite so well but it is what it is.
    This would mean players like Mookie Betts would never have to play one game for LA. Keone Kela would leave Pittsburgh with the Pirates getting no return at all for him. I do wonder how the league would handle Arbitration numbers heading into 2021 should the season be cancelled but that wasn’t touched on.
  2. Players on the 40-man roster will be paid and here is how it will work. A lump of 170 million will be put up and based on a scale of service time players will get a cut. The first installment will be paid on April 15th and should the season resume, their salaries will pick up on a pro-rated bases depending on the number of games played.
  3. There will be a draft, but in no way is it normal. Rather than the 40 rounds, it will be reduced to five rounds, the only source I can find for this information is The Athletic. I like to have two before I put something out there but at this point several outlets are running with it so we’ll take it as gospel. The players won’t get a signing bonus up front, it will be 10% and 45% the following two years. This is odd to say the least. I wonder how they came to the five round number and I also wonder who if anyone was fighting for these future players if I’m honest.

Does this answer all our burning questions, no. Does this tell us when the season starts, again, no. It tells us a few things though; the two sides have little will to play less than 100 games and the ramifications could really set back the efforts of teams looking to build by moving contracts for prospects could be dire.

I wonder what happens to the players that would have been selected in the other 35 rounds, do they just go to college? Are they free agents like the NHL does for undrafted players?

The Pirates in particular will face a series of new questions, not many pleasant. On top of losing the ability to stockpile in the draft losing the precious ability to get return for players like Jarrod Dyson, Keone Kela, Chris Archer among others could really set things back. Cody Ponce is a great example on what a renal can return, and while you haven’t seen much of him, I promise the Bucs did well to receive him as a return for Jordan Lyles.

If the season is cancelled the Pirates will be forced to bring back Chris Archer with his last option. His value would be no better than it is today, and they’d have little choice but to have him start the season as a Pirate anyway.

Listen, this isn’t a story about how the Pirates will suffer and everyone else will thrive, but the Yankees and Dodgers can and will buy their way out of it.

The best thing that could happen is obviously the season starting in June and all of us returning to some semblance of normalcy. If not, we head straight from the disappointment of losing a season, to the uncertainty of labor peace. But that’s a story for another column and another day.

One Magical Night: The Pirates 2013 Wild Card Game

A lot has been written about this particular game over the past few days; especially after AT&T Sports Net’s airing of the game for all to see on Tuesday Night and the subsequent showing of the game on MLB’s #OpeningDayAtHome Thursday Morning on @MLB Las Mayores and Twitter. Hell, the Pirates even have a link to the full game on YouTube on their Twitter feed if you want to go watch it again; I have! Each time I watch it I am transported back to my apartment in Moon Township. Pacing the living room, drinking way too many IC Lights and having a few nervous smoke breaks on my patio; watching the game through the sliding glass doors, not wanting to miss a minute. I still get goosebumps with every Cueto chant from the “black-out” crowd at PNC Park. Then with a drop of the baseball, the crowd is in hysterics. Russell Martin sends them even further into a state of pure pandemonium as he crushes Cueto’s next pitch into a sea of Left Field Loonies! Ok, I just got chills again. The rest of the game is a mix of joy, disbelief, elation, satisfaction and pride. This was my team! My Pittsburgh Pirates, on the National Stage had sent the rival Reds packing and we were on to St. Louis!

This game is one of my most cherished memories in Pittsburgh Sports Fandom, if not the most. However, as I got to thinking about this one game, this one moment in time, I started remembering the rest of the season; all 162 games that proceeded this One Magical Night. It was much different than the offensive exhibition that Russell Martin and company put on that night. It was a season of defense and good pitching, which as we all know Liriano put on full display that night. It was a season of shifting and the Sinker. For the most part it was “small ball” at its finest.

Now granted the Pirates did combine for 161 Home Runs that season. However, this was only one of a couple major batting categories that they were above league average in; 14th to be exact and only 6 Homer Runs above the median. The other was OPS+, which is a stretch as a major category; and they finished 11th and a fraction higher (3) ahead of the middle of the pack. In any other category they were ranked near or in the bottom third; including runs (20th/634), batting average (22nd/.245) and on base percentage (19th/.313). The were a league average slugging team with a percentage of .396. The Pirates also struck out more than all but 5 other teams during the 2013 season. And to top it all off one of the heroes of this game Russell Martin had a total of 15 other Home Runs throughout the entire season and batted .226. Martin and many others contributed in other ways during the Pirates 94-68 campaign; especially defensively.

For the year the Pirates ranked 3rd in all of Major League Baseball in Defensive Runs Saved (45), lead by Martin with 21 and and Starling Marte with 18. Even the oft defensive challenged Pedro Alvarez stayed in the black with a 2 DRS. As a team the Pirates also ranked 8th in Double Plays with 154; which means anytime opposing teams got players on the base paths, Clint Barnes and Neil Walker quickly erased them. The only area they struggled in defensively was errors committed. Their 106 miscues ranked 9th amongst big league clubs, but the made up for this by ranking first in assists with 1924; almost 100 better than the closest team and nearly 600 better than the worst. Each of these strengths led to many more wins than any stroke of the bat or trip around the bases.

The other area in which the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates excelled in was Pitching. As a staff they ranked 3rd in the league with a 3.26 team ERA (not one regular starter had an ERA over 3.59), 9th in Strike Outs with 1261, 7th in WHIP to the tune of 1.233 average and stranded 1158 runners, good enough for 5th in the league. As far as the relief pitchers were concerned, the nailed down almost every single close game the Pirates were in that year. Jason Grilli, Mark “The Shark” Melancon and company combined for 52 saves and in the process accounting for over half of the team’s victories that year. As a staff, they all pitched clean and consistent innings on a regular basis and when any did get on they were more than likely stranded.

Now I know that none of these numbers are as sexy as the National League leading 36 Home Runs that Pedro had that year; because we all know that “chicks dig the long ball”. And they aren’t as exciting as the 3 Home Runs hit that night; including the 2 by Martin. However, they tell a truer story of how the Pittsburgh Pirates got to that point and were put in a position to compete for a World Series Title for the first time in forever. They are the reason we as Pittsburgh Pirates Fans got to stand up and cheer for our team on the One Magical Night in 2013.

Friday Focus – The Year We Missed Opening Day

Everything was there yesterday, the smell in the air, the sunshine. A crisp breeze gusting past you just enough to remind you Winter is leaving begrudgingly. Everything was there but the game, baseball has punched our ticket out of Winter’s darkness for well over a century as Americans, and many of us have taken it for granted.

I missed it dearly, and I’d love to tell you some flowery story about my Dad taking me to every opening day or something similar, but that’s not my baseball story, that’s not why opening day is special to me. Why I became so very interested in baseball and its incomparable history is very much my Father’s doing.

I’m going to date myself a bit here but, can’t be helped, I actually hope this brings some of you back a bit. Others will be sent scrambling to Google to find out what I’m talking about. When I was 9 or 10 my Dad decided we needed one of those new-fangled home computers. So, we headed down to the Bes…. Um, ok it was Radio Shack and he bought a Tandy 2000. Now, if you know my Dad at all, he wants you to be just as excited as he is when he makes a purchase like that so of course I got a game. Earl Weaver Baseball, and man it was everything. It had in its database every Hall of Fame player to ever play the game even a few from the Negro Leagues. Names like Three Finger Brown and George Sisler entered my consciousness. It had manager modes where you set the lineup and made all the decisions, but the play was simmed, a ton like Strat-O-Matic actually. I clearly remember the first time I subbed Sisler for Gehrig who was in a huge slump. I already liked baseball but now I could see all the numbers behind it, all the scenarios that go into decision making.

I took my 1987 Topps complete set and entered every single player in the set as a custom player. If they had 9 years of stats, I entered 9 years of stats, that’s how you created players, no rating, just the entered numbers based on years of playing baseball. Bo Jackson was an absolute beast.

For Rookies who had no numbers, I subscribed to The Sporting News and Baseball magazine using my grass cutting money. It helped that the computer was in my room, thanks Dad.

I followed trades and made the corrections to every team. If a player was called up, I added them. I laid on the living room floor with a notepad and wrote an entire 162 game schedule and set forth to manage every game of that season.

OK, nerd fest over. Sure, I played baseball too, I watched it, I listened but nothing forced me to look at everything that went into baseball more than that game. I launched my first of these “seasons” on opening day and followed the season straight through.

I never looked at baseball the same, it was so much more than a game at that point. There were real probabilities, matchups that were bad for the best players in the game and above all I started to see why John Cangelosi needed to start a couple times a week.

As deep as the game is on the field, it’s a drop in the bucket of this game’s history and tradition. That’s where opening day really gives you a charge. From the first pitch in Cincinnati, and the first kayaker fishing a ball out of the river. The bunting, the opening day painted on the field, the underlying knowledge that right now everyone is 0-0. The day is special, it should be a national holiday and so should the Super Bowl, c’mon America!

We missed this one, but we will have one. When it comes, appreciate it all, soak it in and put the business side of this game aside if only for an inning. Sing out load as the Eat n’ Park Smiley Cookie bounces along to Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Enjoy it, because as Baseball always signifies that the season is about to change, we learned after 911 that baseball also means this; America is back in business.

Ten Pirates Questions Still Unanswered

As we have arrived at the date many of us looked forward to for the best part of 6 months it seems like a good time to see what the Pirates biggest unanswered questions are at this point, whether caused by the pandemic or not.

Today as I’m sure you’re aware was going to be Opening Day for the Buccos. They were set to face the Tampa Bay Rays on the road and the club was sure to have answered at least a few of these questions. Maybe the extra time or how MLB and the Player’s Union handles some of the league wide questions will help solve them.

These are my top ten burning issues, I’d love to more from you or answers you feel are already there.

10. Chad Kuhl, Jameson Taillon, Edgar Santana – All three are recovering from TJ surgery and this process is closely monitored by training staff. I wonder if this stunts that progress. Chad was starting to throw in games, so was Edgar. Taillon was long tossing. I’m no doctor, but this would seem a bad time for progress to be interrupted.

9. What Do You Do with Chris Archer? – The easy answer is trade him for prospects right? Well, play with me here a bit. Right now, he will net you very little in return and he’s cheap enough that a salary dump (not to mention the already critically low payroll) wouldn’t make sense. So you hold on to him, what if he’s good? Let’s say he’s real good, ok, his trade value goes up, but his salary is a bargain. If you head into 2021 with Jamo, Joe, Archer (good), Williams, Keller and you still have Bell, do you keep him? Archer in general is a huge question and I didn’t even mention his haircut!

8. Will Craig – We weren’t treated to a full Spring so maybe this isn’t fair, but Craig looked awful in his limited exposure this camp. He is blocked at first base, drafted as a third baseman, started playing corner outfield in an effort to find him a place to land. That part of his journey sounds a whole lot like Neil Walker, here’s the difference though, Craig has yet to put it all together. He has crazy power honestly, if you’ve ever seen the guy get into one he has a sweet swing. Will his day ever come?


7. What Exactly Is Ben Cherington’s Vision? – Everyone at this point has heard Ben repeat the mantra that we just want to improve the players we have here right now. Going further he has repeatedly said this is not a rebuild. That’s all fine and I get the rebuild word being overblown, but what are we doing here actually? Coaching can certainly have an impact, but in order for it to be a philosophy for turning this club around, are we to assume Clint and Ray in particular were the worst coaches in the history of baseball and the players on the roster have underachieved due to their incompetence by such a length that there is room to produce a winner? That’s a bridge too far for me.

6. Jarrod Dyson – I get signing Dyson. I don’t get signing Dyson and Heredia and Riddle. When you don’t know how to solve a problem, one way to approach it is to throw as much crap as you can against the wall and see what sticks. I’m not calling any of these players crap, but I am saying if that’s your philosophy, why doesn’t it apply to starting pitching? In a normal year I like the signing if only to have someone to flip at the deadline, who knows if we’ll have that now.

5. MiLB Players – Ton of questions have come up about these players pay and that was even before this shutdown started. My question today is about actual baseball. I wonder if a shortened season would cause moving players you expect to reach the next level up, in that level rather than partial seasons in the lower level. Adjusting to the move is half the battle and it could be all the more difficult in a shortened season.

4. What if Polanco is Good? – Many of us have questions about what to expect from Gregory Polanco this season. What if he is a legit power threat this season? A 3-4-5 of Reynolds, Bell and Polanco could be a tough stretch for any pitching staff to face game in and out. He’s a game changer if he’s a 25+ guy.

3. Did COVID-19 cost Derek Holland a Shot in the Rotation? – He’s had a decent Spring and at the very least could eat some innings. Steven Brault’s injury took a cracked open door and swung it wide. With the delay to the start of the season, I wonder if that opportunity will all but evaporate.

2. Maybe Jacob Stallings is the Catcher? – Surely this season there is no other answer, but many of us spent much of the off season preaching the need to acquire a starting catcher. Jacob could very well be that starter. When the Pirates say they like his game, I think they mean it. 2020 will be the proving ground, his defense is already up there, so is his game calling and framing, if the bat plays the way it did in 2019, we may be watching the Pirates starting catcher for years to come.

1. Will This Shutdown Could Be the Ultimate Excuse? – This is not only a Pirates topic, all across MLB, teams will have this in their back pocket to pull out and excuse under performing, or lack of moves, or whatever it may fit. Others will use it to point out their superior and innovative training methods during the shutdown to explain outperforming expectations. I’d have to imagine an entire new management team would use it in some form or fashion as well. Before they do it too, they’ll all say “We can’t make any excuses” followed by but this was not a normal camp or something to that effect.

Baseball is quite possibly the most intricate game in the world. So many variables create much of what we love about the game and certainly create ample opportunities to examine the game from different angles. This season will be no different but it will have some added caveats from outside the game.

Through the Prospect Porthole: Bear Bellomy

In my article yesterday I discussed the disparity that can often exist between natural talent and mental toughness, especially as it pertains to pitching prospects within the Pittsburgh Pirates Farm System. Former Bristol Pirates Pitching Coach Eric Minshall talked about the fact that many times players with natural talent have their growth stunted or their potential left out of reach because of what’s going on “between the ears”. A player that he talked about as a person that did not suffer this fate and actually outplayed his potential due to his mental fortitude and approach to the game was Pirates Prospect, Bear Bellomy. During the recent Bucs in the Basement Live Podcast, Minshall told a story about Bellomy giving up a double and then vowing to the runner on second that he wasn’t going to score. As Minshall recalled, Bellomy then said mowed down the next batter like he wasn’t even standing there. As the runner on second returned to the dugout, he was reminded by Bellomy of the promise he had made to not let him score. At this time, Chris Lanuti from the Podcast stated that he wanted 26 players on the MLB roster just like Bellomy and I tend to agree.

John “Bear” Bellomy was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 28th Round of the MLB June Amateur Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Immediately after being drafted, the 6’4” 205lb Bellomy was assigned to the Bristol Pirates, where he crossed paths with Minshall. In his short time in the Appalachian League, Bear pitched 11 scoreless innings, while striking out 17 and only walking 1; all in relief appearances. Bellomy had been a relief pitcher the majority of his college career for the Raiders, but had started 15 games in his final year, resulting in a 9-3 record, a 3.57 ERA and a 1.192 WHIP.

When Bear was ultimately promoted to the West Virginia Black Bears of the Short Season-A New York-Pennsylvania League, he was utilized in both roles. He did not experience the same success as he had at the lower level, while transitioning back into a starter five times in his final six appearances to end the season. In his one relief appearance he earned a 4 inning save. As the year came to a close Bear had fought his way to a 3.86 ERA and a 1.319 WHIP, with 23 Strike Outs (8 as a reliever) in 31 innings.

Now I know that you won’t find Bear Bellomy on any Top Pirates Prospect Lists; he doesn’t have the “stuff”. His fastball only touches around 93 MPH and his secondary pitches are listed as below average. However he has something many other pitches don’t have. He has the mental toughness “between the ears”; exhibited by the ability to overlook giving up a solid hit, only to sit down the next batter with seemingly no effort.

With all that being said, look for Bellomy to put his talents on display in Greensboro for the Grasshoppers to begin the season (whenever that may be), hopefully back in the reliever role he found so much success in last year. If he begins the season like he did back in Bristol I would predict a quick promotion to Bradenton, where he will most likely end the year. I am not sure what the future will hold for Bear after that, but I do agree with Chris; I would love to have 26 guys just like him in a Pirates Uniform, telling guys that they aren’t going to score and making it happen.

The Inner Workings of Your Pittsburgh Pirates

In any good relationship there is a lot of give and take, talking through problems and many compromises along the way. Solid partnerships are very much the same. You play off of one another’s strengths, back each other’s play, celebrate when you profit and makes plans to pick up the pieces and rebuild if you happen to fail. As I was listening to my co-host on Bucs in the Basement, Chris Lanuti, speak with former Bristol Pirates Pitching Coach, Eric Minshall, many of these thoughts and others like them began to fill my mind, when thinking about the rapport that is developed between a coach and a player; especially considering the experience, insight, ability, skills, tools and knowledge that each of them bring to the table.

The underlying element to any of these relationships, partnerships and friendships, whether work related or personal is trust. Trust in another person’s motivations, knowledge, abilities, assessments of certain situations and the information that is gathered through experience. Now what happens when an outside source takes away any of these positive attributes that you often utilize in an attempt to be successful? Or either person involved starts to doubt their own abilities? In any organization, especially one as large as the Pittsburgh Pirates, these and many other components can cause success to be much more difficult to achieve.

During the interview that I was a part of, I heard Eric speak about the technology that he attempted to institute during his time with the Bristol Pirates, the mental toughness that is needed to allow players with natural ability to reach their full potential, the confidence that can turn an above average pitcher into more than their natural abilities would otherwise allow and the effect that positive relationships and trust can have on one’s performance. This made me all the more impressed by the success that many of the pitchers under Eric and his fellow coaches tutelage were able to have, in spite of the constraints that they had to deal with; both organizationally and personally. Not to mention the unforeseen hurdles of injury, illness and any other setbacks that they had to overcome.

I understand that plans change and adaptations are necessary, but how can you bring a man into your organization because of his abilities to utilize technology in order to convey his message to the players he is working with and then take it away before the method is fully implemented? How can anyone judge or project the potential of a player without knowing the exact process that he and his coaches are using to bring about the best results? I am a self proclaimed prospect junkie that puts a lot of stock on projections and scouting reports. It was extremely eye opening to hear about the fact that a player like Tahnaj Thomas has a “lights out” change-up that makes players look “silly”, but could be underrated due to the fact that he only used it in the last three or so games of the year because that was the plan he and his coaches had come up with together. This is listed as a pitch that he is still “working on”, which could be seen as true because pitchers are technically still working on their craft at all times in order to develop, grow, improve and ultimately perfect. However, this somewhat ignores all of the work that was put in during countless bullpens involving the pitcher, his coaches and teammates to ensure that this pitch and others are “major league ready”.

Many things were put into perspective for me, while Eric and Chris talked and even when Eric answered a few of my questions; most of all my own perceptions. As much effort as I put into my “scouting”, analyzing, making projections and writing about players; I am not fully invested in the day to day workings that go into making a player who they will become, so my insight will always have its limitations. I may be correct in my assessment, like I believe I am concerning a player like Santiago Florez, but I don’t have nearly the amount of information that Eric has, from working directly with him day in and day out or know exactly what Florez is thinking when he is on the mound. No one does!

As it exists in every organization, the same can be said for the Pittsburgh Pirates; maybe more at times, that there needs to be a balance between technology and feel or the good old eye test in determining what is best for a player. I am a numbers guy/a stats nerd/an analytics junkie. I take in every bit of information possible about a player, but that is only a part of the overall equation. The other parts are relationships, partnerships, rapport, mental toughness, natural abilities, work ethic, preparation and so much more; and we can’t take any of the for granted. The success of the Pittsburgh Pirates now and in the future depends on all of it.

Link to the full interview with Eric Minshall, Former Pitching Coach for the Bristol Pirates/Current Pitching Coach for the Southern Illinois Miners below.


The MLB Trade Deadline in 2020 May Not Matter or Happen – How Does That Affect the Pirates?

Nothing official has come from MLB about when exactly they are eying a restart of the season not to mention what it might look like, nor should it honestly. Nobody really can begin to guess. That said, it feels like we’re headed for a shortened season to me and I’ve already written about some of the ways they could tackle that eventuality.

One of the most interesting things that could come from shortening the season is either the actual, or perceived elimination of the MLB Trade Deadline.

By perceived I mean this, say the season is shortened by oh, 40 games. Now you’re down to 120 or so, and winning a division has always been a marathon, not a sprint. Gaining separation doesn’t really get started until teams have played a solid 60-80 games. Say you put the trade deadline in anyway, put it in the halfway point and have some faux All-Star event too, now you’re sitting on between 40 to 60 games.

Now ask yourself, how much would you pay for 25 to 35 Keone Kella appearances? How about 8-10 starts from Chris Archer?

So, trade them before the season starts you say? Maybe, but I suspect that will be a tough ask. Teams are going to be scrambling to make sense of whatever world they’ve woken to, with little time to consider drastically altering a roster they were just starting to get a handle on before all this happened.

So, yeah, there may be a trade deadline, but man, it won’t be a real one to say the least. It’s not just about the time of service you’d receive in a move, it’s the price you’d be willing to pay. The return for those starts I mentioned Archer tossing for a competitor down the stretch, it might just underwhelm to the point that it makes no sense.

On top of all that you have the increased possibility that 75% of the league feels they’re “in it” which could really make quite an impact here. Last season the Pirates were seemingly in it after 82 games, surely it didn’t turn out that way but man alive, if they’re 2  or 3 games out and trade Archer who was surely involved in that type of success, which with the wildcards in play could actually be under .500, the city would explode, even if long term it was a wise move.

Of course, the league could decide to not have a deadline at all. Like straight up shut that off, you have what you have, go play. What would that create in the league? Part of me would say a few teams will have a before opening day fire sale, some might hold on for the very reason I just spoke about, contention is much more in play for teams. Baseball isn’t being played obviously as we speak, but don’t ever think we are out of things to discuss. When something as big as MLB shuts down for any period of time, questions pile up, understanding the cause and effect of everything that goes into these decisions can arm you with the ability to think critically about moves that are made by the league and the team itself.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

Hi Buccos Fans, Here are my thoughts today at five.

  1. One of Pittsburgh’s most often referenced moment from Pirates lore is Jim Leyland blowing up on Barry Bonds during Spring Training. I wonder how much that one moment has helped the fan base by in large disown Bonds as part of our history, if not our very best player.
  2. Last night on a Live installment of Bucs in the Basement, Eric Minshall gave all of us a unique perspective on not only the Pirates system but the critical role a pitching coach can play. I didn’t think of the question last night but I wonder if its better to have every pitching coaches at all levels teaching from the same play book or if individuality would lend more room to hit on the “right” message.
  3. I’ve been thinking, could a short season open a door for some teams that may have had no chance this year? For instance, if a sub par team starts hot, there will be less time for oil to find it’s level. Additionally, a six week back injury could essentially destroy an entire season for a player. Short season the great equalizer?
  4. When I hear people say that Kevin Newman is going to regress this season, I certainly see why, the numbers absolutely show that possibility. I’ll remind everyone however, if probability was equal to fact there would be many more rich gamblers. If the numbers show us he is primed for regression, perhaps the team has seen that too and will work to help him avoid it, no?
  5. What if Chris Archer has a great season? Now, that could very well mean a great half season by the time we start playing games, but in general, what do the Pirates do if he does? I would suggest he’d be a great candidate for a deadline move, but who knows if we’ll have one.

As always, I’d love your thoughts on any of these topics. Have a great day Pirates Nation!