Ring That Bell – What Could a Relationship with Scott Boras Change About How the Pirates (and Fans) Do Business?

I’ll jump right in. I’ve advocated for the Pirates extending Josh Bell, well, since I started writing about the Pirates. I’ve also kept firmly in the back of my mind he is a Scott Boras client and had more than likely already played himself out of town.

Here is where I could “report” all about how the Pirates are working with Mr. Boras and building on Ben Cherrington’s existing relationship with him to establish a new way of doing things in Pittsburgh. Instead, I’ll implore you to read what the original reporter wrote on the subject, Jason Mackey did a wonderful job here and deserves credit.

That said, the PG is a pay site now and just in case you’re past your number of free views available, allow me to summarize.

On day four after becoming the GM, Ben called Scott to talk about Josh Bell. Not to negotiate, just to talk, to lay out his plan and learn more about Josh and his story. He was leveraging his existing relationship built during his tenure with Boston. Scott was very complimentary and truly seems to believe they can get something done here if they choose to do so. He also has great respect for Travis Williams and Special Assistant Greg Smith.

Insert necessary safe walls and bet hedging here. Josh Bell is not going to come cheap, but perhaps this allows us to do something we haven’t here in Pittsburgh for some time however, dream.

There is a phenomenon that happens in this town, and I’m sure elsewhere but here for sure. I call it the “I Never Liked That Girl Anyway” plan. We see it all the time if you think about it. Gerrit Cole was never going to sign here so we start listing why we don’t want this absolute can’t miss stud pitcher. “He never had that much success here” “He had an attitude problem” “He didn’t try here, he just wanted out”. We’ve seen it with Starling Marte, “He was lazy and unfocused” “He never lived up to his potential” He was hurt ALL the time” “I never liked him after he got caught doing steroids”

There are elements of truth in there, but reality states, if either of those players would have happily stayed here, you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who’d tell them to hit the bricks.

It didn’t just start in this era; Barry Bonds was a prima donna and had a weak arm. John Smiley wasn’t good enough to be a top end starter in the rotation. Jason Bay peaked in his rookie year and they needed to get something for him. Freddie Sanchez was a judy hitter, this one went so far as to claim his batting title was tainted as if singles don’t count.

This fan base doesn’t, for the most part, do this to be miserable, they do it as a defense mechanism. Just like the girl that turned your invitation to the prom down, suddenly they have flaws where they were perfect leading up to the ask.

The major takeaway here is this, Ben is a different GM, and if he proves he is capable of keeping players like this it will immediately make building a roster easier. Rather than having to bet on near complete turnover of the roster window to window perhaps there is room for some holdovers that truly become a core. Even if he swings and misses on keeping Josh in town, the sentiment here shows a willingness and understanding that these are the types of moves that start to repair the damage done to the fan base over the years and at the same time keep key pieces in place that make the overall product better for longer stretches.

I know, I know, Josh is awful at defense and isn’t consistent and, well that’s it, not even Pittsburgh can pretend he’s a malcontent or doesn’t care. All I’m asking is you allow yourself to be ever so slightly less pessimistic, because its very possible the front office shakeup is truly different. And before you jump back to the fact, I haven’t mentioned Bob Nutting and he’s way too cheap to ever let this happen, here is one quote from Jason’s story as Scott Boras spoke to it. “I think Bob now has a platform of information that’s available to him that will allow him a new constitution for Pittsburgh,” Boras said. “He’s going to have to make major decisions that are based upon advisement, and he’ll have to determine if the information he’s given is reliable and trusted to where he’ll feel differently about it than he has in the past.

“But you have to have your bill of success. Each one of those bills that create the Pittsburgh constitution has to be created by men who have a trusted history. I think [Smith] is a person who has that history. And frankly, I think Ben does as well.”

Yeah, Scott could just be trying to be nice, or he could really believe things are changing here. I guess we’ll find out soon enough, but its good to know the end of arbitration won’t always have to mean parting ways.

The Pirates Top 5 Five Tool Players of All Time

Everyone that reads almost anything I write or listens to my podcast with my buddy Chris, Bucs in The Basement, knows that I am a prospect junkie. Today I am going to step out of my element a little bit, but I am going to take a part of my passion with me. In the prospect world a player is judged by their abilities or potential according to 5 specific tools; 1) Hitting 2) Power 3) Running/Speed 4) Fielding and 5) Throwing/Arm Strength. To be considered a “Five Tool Player” you would need to be assessed as above average to elite in each of these areas; scoring a 55 to 80 on the scouting scale.

In Major League Baseball there are probably 3 to 5 positions players at any given time that are considered Five Tool Players, which would mean that out of almost 400 players there are only a few guys that fit into this category and it could be the same players for years at a time. So taking that into consideration, in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, going back to 1882, how many players of this caliber existed within the organization? In the past 138 years there are probably a lot. However, I am going to attempt to narrow it down to just 5. This is an almost impossible challenge, which I am sure not everyone will agree upon, but that is the fun imbedded in a discussion such as this. Without further adieu, here are my top 5 Five Tool Players in Pittsburgh Pirates History.

5) Andrew McCutchen

Hit: A career .291 hitter with the Pirates, McCutchen led the NL in hits with 194 in 2012 and had an average over .314 three years in a row between 2012 and 2014; winning the NL MVP in 2013. Power: A career .480 slugger (.487 with the Pirates) and 7 straight years of 20+ Homers, topping out at 31 in 2012, Cutch also hit 292 Doubles in 9 years. He was a 4 time Silver Slugger Award Winner as well. Run/Speed: The first time I saw McCutchen run the bases at PNC Park it was almost like he was effortlessly floating from home to third. Compiling 20+ Stolen Bases for the first 5 years of his career (187 Total), he always had the green and could have had more of if he took advantage of every opportunity. Field: The active leader in MLB in both errors committed (37) and putouts (2,954) as a centerfielder, he boasts a career .988 fielding percentage. Throw/Arm: The active leader in career outfield assists (63) and in the top 10 in double plays (16) from center, I believe that this was a sometimes overlooked strength in his time with the Pirates.

4) Ralph Kiner

Hit: In his 8 years as a Pittsburgh Pirates, Kiner was a .280 hitter, with three years over .300. He led the NL in RBIs (127) in 1949 and was in the top 5 six years in a row between 1946 and 1951. Power: Kiner led the NL in Homers for 7 consecutive years, totaling over 40 five times and over 50 twice. He would hit 301 in his time in a Pirates uniform. Run/Speed: When you hit as many homers as Kiner, you rarely have the opportunity to show off your potential speed. He did have the opportunity/ability to leg out 32 triples and led the NL in range factor/game twice, landing in the top 5 six times as a left fielder. Field: He led the NL twice in putouts as a left fielder and is 30th overall in the history of the game with 2,546. His fielding percentage for the time was one of the best in the NL, as he finished in the top 5 seven years in a row, coming in first in 1948. Throw/Arm: His 73 career assists as a left fielder has him listed as 64th all-time. He also ranked first in the NL in outfield double plays twice in 1949 and 1950.

3) Honus Wagner

Hit: A career .328 hitter, Wagner led the NL in batting average a total of 8 times, topping out at .381 in 1900. He is also 8th all-time in hits with 3,420 and led the league in RBIs 4 times. Power: Homers were not really a big part of the game during his time, but doubles sure were. He led the NL in doubles on 7 occasions, producing 30 or more in 14 seasons. He holds a career .467 slugging percentage, leading the NL 6 times. /Run/Speed: Wagner is 10th on the career rankings for stolen bases (723). He led the NL in 5 seasons, having his best year in 1907; swiping 61 bases. Field: One of the best shortstops in the game at the time, he had a career .940 fielding percentage (#1 in the NL 4 years in a row) and was a part of an astonishing 766 double plays. Throw/Arm: 6,041 total assists as a shortstop, which is 23rd on the list. If I threw the ball that many times I am pretty sure my arm would fall off, but Honus’ just kept on getting stronger.

2) Barry Bonds

Hit: After his first 4 years in the league Bonds started to hit his stride in 1990, on his way to becoming one of the most formidable batters in baseball history. From 1990 to 1992 he had 100+ RBIs, batted around .300 and got on base at league leading rates (.410, .456 and .458). Power: Even prior to his years in San Francisco his power was evident by him hitting an average of 25 homers a year, leading the NL in slugging percentage twice in 1990 (.565) and 1992 (.624) and 3 straight Silver Slugger Awards. Bonds also hit 220 doubles in his time with the Pirates. Run/Speed: Barry totaled 251 stolen bases in 7 seasons, peaking at 52 stolen bases in 1990. He also tallied 36 triples, hitting no less than 3 in a single year. Field: 8 straight Gold Gloves, including his last 3 three years in Pittsburgh. The most career putouts of all time (5,226) by a left fielder is more than impressive. Add in the fact that he had less than 6 errors a year in his time with the Pirates and a .984 fielding percentage and he was the total package as a fielder. Throw/Arm: He led the NL in assists as a left fielder in 1989 (14), 1990 (14) and 1991 (13). He has also turned a total of 22 double plays from the outfield.

1) Roberto Clemente

Hit: Clemente had a career .317 average and 3,000 hits, including a league leading 211 hits (1964) and 209 (1967). He also won the batting title 4 times in 1961, 1964, 1965 and 1967. Power: A lifetime .475 slugger, his power was exhibited in different ways throughout his career. He hit double digit homers the last 13 years of his career; 29 in 1966 being the highest yearly total. He also hit an average of 29 doubles a year over 18 years. Run/Speed: He did not steal many bases, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t; he just didn’t really try that often. He was in the top 10 in triples 14 times, leading the league in 1969 (12). He is in the top 30 all-time with a total of 166. Field: 12 Straight Gold Glove Awards, #3 on the all-time errors list with 131 and a lifetime .973 fielding percentage. Nothing else needs to be said. Throw/Arm: If you hit a sharp single to right field, you better run it out or Clemente would come up firing. He is #2 in the history of the game with 255 career assists and #10 with 40 double plays as a right fielder.

It is undeniable that each of these Pirates were 5 Tool Players. However, there could be some debate as to the order they fall in or if another Pirates Legend could supplant one (or two) of the players on my list. That’s half the fun in writing articles such as these; the debates that always follow.

Identifying Talent in The Draft: The Job of a MLB GM

In one of my first articles on our new site I discussed the unique nature of the MLB June Amateur Draft. In a period of 12 years following the turn of this century there were 17,925 players selected in the MLB Draft. Of those almost 18,000 players, approximately 66% percent of them signed with a major league club. Of the 66% percent that signed approximately 11% of them ever made it to the majors. Not were successful in the majors or became everyday players; MADE it to Major League Baseball.

Each year 30 different MLB GM’s are tasked with the responsibility of identifying as many players that will fit into this 11% as possible. In previous years they had the ability to potentially take more risks and/or possibly miss on some picks as they would be drafting players over 40 rounds. Based on this draft model and the previously mentioned findings, on average 4 to 5 players selected should make it onto their respective big league squads. Now say the draft is constricted to Rob Manfred’s proposal of 5 to 10 rounds this season and 20 rounds next year; that would mean that on average 1 to 2 player(s) per team from each of the next two drafts would make it to Major League Baseball.

Rob Manfred relied on former Astros GM, Jeff Luhnow, for the “Houston Plan” to contract the MiLB and then had to suspend him for cheating.

Now Rob Manfred and a few genius GMs (Jeff Luhnow, David Stearns and Mike Elias) would have you believe that analytics have progressed to the point where players can safely be identified as being major league talents or minor league lifers without the use of the a formal system to help make these decisions and weed out the less talented players. This coming from the brain trust in Houston that has been accused of not properly calibrating their TrackMan data throughout the entire organization, especially in the minor league levels, which could result in faulty findings as it pertains to pitcher’s spin rates. This misinformation can easily be used to overrate a player in the trade market to the benefit of the team that is attempting to acquire more legitimate talent. Also if a team is going to these lengths to disguise the talent level of their pitchers, what could they be doing to make their hitters look better or worse? It’s a slippery slope once you start to go down that route.

I will agree that now, more than ever, there is an abundance of information from analytics, advanced scouting, expert assessments and amateur evaluations (including the ones I do myself) that can be utilized in the decision making process of choosing one player over another. However, does any of this actually improve the probability of making the correct decisions as to what players will successfully make it to the majors? I would ultimately have to say no. It is fun to look at and discuss the players that could productive major leaguers in the draft, but there are way too many other factors that go into a player reaching his full potential and/or projected future value. That is why it is always beneficial to play out actual games, at as many different levels as possible, to help make these determinations. A kid (and that’s what these players being drafted are, KIDS) could be a work out warrior, a big fish in a little pond or an injury waiting to happen because of overuse or just plain bad luck. No one knows for sure exactly what is going to happen with a player after they are drafted. So, it would be nice if some GM’s and the owners that they represent stopped pretending like they have some secret formula and admit that they are human just like the rest of us and that this actually all about one thing and one thing only…money.

Mitch Keller – One Player with the Franchise Timeline on his Right Arm

I love baseball. Every part of it. I appreciate the game going on at any given time but much of what makes baseball the deepest sport in the country. Everything affects the timeline, player development, drafts, trades, injuries, management changes, and even assumptions can change where your franchise is in the projected progression.

Mitch Keller is one of those players who has an unhealthy amount of expectation and importance placed on his shoulders and his success or even stunted growth could create a delay that stops everything from lining up properly.

You can call it wishful thinking, most best-case scenario situations are, but let’s draw up what the hope was for Mitch moving forward. 2019 was a proving ground for Keller, and he didn’t prove much more than the fact he wouldn’t fall to pieces if he struggled. He put together a 1 and 5 record with a 7.13 ERA in 11 games. In 48 innings pitched he gave up 72 hits, walked 16 and allowed 6 bombs. He also did this in late September against the Mariners.

He showed steady improvement over those 11 games and struck out 65 in the process. This is less about what I think Mitch will become, and a whole lot more what his success or failure does to the timeline the club is working with for the rotation.

Projections are insane for a player like this, for one thing they’re based on a set of stats you’d never allow to progress. Let’s say 2020 started as normal, if the Pirates get to June or early July and Mitch is still putting up numbers that look like that, chances are he is sent back down, talent or no, to work on his craft. If he shows improvement, in other words, puts together a decent rookie campaign they probably let him fight through it, in the hopes it makes him more polished and ready to contribute in 2021 as a counted-on commodity.

Of course, we can’t go forward with the what if scenario of 2020 being normal. This is where reality starts to creep back in, the season will be short if it happens at all (I do believe some facsimile of a season will happen) and the preparation will at the very least be weird. The obstacles in his way for normal progression are stacked, but he will still be expected to take a step forward.

That’s the difference between need and want. Of course, everyone wants Mitch to become an anchor in the rotation, but the Pirates NEED him to reach his potential. He has something else in his favor, the Pirates recent mistake of giving up on Tyler Glasnow. The Bucs will hopefully have learned a bit of a lesson watching one of their top pitching prospects struggle to get his footing only to see him blossom for another squad.

We’ve written since last season that 2020 was not going to be a banner year for the Pirates, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Every season is another year of progression, and the hope was that Mitch would show some, because heading into 2021 those wants and wishes will start to turn into need.

Jameson Taillon should be back, Chad Kuhl will have also completely rehabbed and should contribute. Keller fits right in here if everything goes right along with Joe Musgrove and I’ll not even play the game of who the fifth is. Point is, if the Pirates truly believe they are in a position to take what they have now and build on it to create a competitor, as Ben Cherrington has repeatedly told us, it can’t and won’t happen without Mitch Keller being a big part of it. His top end talent is higher than any one other pitcher in the system not named Quinn or Tanaj, and better still, he’s already here. There is no telling what a season like this will do to his progression, maybe we’ll see a longer period of hitters struggling to catch up to pitching. Maybe the Pitchers won’t get stretched out correctly and their will be more injuries or less innings. No matter how it plays out, Mitch Keller progressing has to happen, or Mr. Cherrington’s dream of building on this, is out the window.

Top Ten Pirates Utility Players

Over the years the Pirates have had a number of players who bounced around the diamond. Contributing where they were needed most before ultimately landing in the place we think of them playing. Here are my top 10.

1. Josh Harrison – JHay was the epitome of Super utility man before becoming the everyday 2B. Bluntly put, his transition to one position devalued him as a contributor.

2. John Cangelosi – John played all over the diamond for the Bucs. He was so versatile there were weeks he himself started 5 games bouncing around resting others.

3. Bobby Bonilla – Many people remember Bobby as a fixture at 3B or RF, but in his career he played all three outfield positions, 3B and 1B. He even caught an inning once. If that’s not utility of the super variety, I don’t know what is.

4. Sean Rodriguez – He was a nice little spark plug and locker room glue, Clint Hurdle used him too damn much and he became a lightning rod. SeanRod was a classic case of failure due to over exposure. When he was used as an actual spot starter or defensive replacement, he did his job well, when he became a player starting 4 or 5 games a week the warts started to show. Legendary flow on this dude though, and Serpico was always a heart and soul guy.

5. R.J. Reynolds – R.J. was never the best player on the field but he played all three outfield positions, and did it well. Being a switch hitter only increased his versatility and being part of a return package from the Dodgers along with Sid Bream for Bill Madlock was always going to make it harder to become a fan favorite. Sweet mustache too!

6. Turner Ward – For the best part of 3 seasons including the famous freak show of 1997, Turner patrolled all three outfield positions. He provided enough power off the bench to make him one of the best pinch hitters in the game, plus, who could forget this…

7. Gary Redus – The definition of “wherever you need me coach”. Gary played all three outfield positions and first base for the Buccos from 1988 through 1992. If you remember those clubs, Redus was the best option to lead off. The formula of Redus getting on base and Jay Bell bunting him over was a living example of the Leyland Doctrine. He never played more than 98 games in a season during his Pirates tenure but was every bit an important part of the run.

8. Omar Moreno – Everywhere. That’s where Omar played no matter where you put him in the outfield, everywhere. Omar makes this list for one reason, his position versatility. Some players can play center field if pressed into action, but Moreno was going to bring his sure handed fielding to all three. In his career he would steal 487 bases and played every game in the 1979 World Series season.

9. Willie Stargell – In his career, Pops played all three outfield positions and first base for the Pirates. Nobody would ever call him a utility man, but he certainly fits the bill. Can you imagine a player of his stature being willing to bounce around filling holes in today’s game? OK, this one is a stretch but when I think of what Pops meant to this team, he can make every list I ever make and it won’t be enough acknowledgement.

10. Raphiael Belliard – During his Pirates tenure he filled in admirably at 2B, 3B, and SS, and did so with a lifetime .977 fielding percentage. He hit 2 homeruns. TWO. In his career with a lifetime .227 batting average. Imagine how good you have to be in the field to play 17 years in the majors with that batting line.

Who did I miss? Fill me in on your picks.

Through The Prospect PortHole: Braeden Ogle

I often hear Pittsburgh Pirates fans talk about a void that exists in the Farm System as it pertains to quality pitching prospects, especially left handed pitchers. They make it seem like there are absolutely zero left handed hurlers, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I am not going to pretend like it wouldn’t be beneficial to have more, but to act like there are none is completely absurd. A quick trip between Greensboro and Bradenton was all that was needed to find one such player.

Braeden Ogle was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 4th Round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft from Jensen Beach High School in Florida. Immediately after being picked by the Pirates the 6’2” 170 lb left handed pitcher was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Pirates where he had a solid start to his professional career. At over two years younger than the rest of the competition, Ogle posted a 2.60 ERA, a 1.048 WHIP and a lowly .210 BABIP in 8 starts and 27.2 innings. He did struggle at times with a walk rate of 3.58 BB/9 and didn’t produce much of a swing and miss to the tune of 6.51 K/9. However, I consider this production a result of youth and need for further development, so I wouldn’t look to deep into it.

After an entire offseason to prepare for his first full year of professional ball, Ogle was ultimately promoted to the Bristol Pirates (Pittsburgh’s Advanced Rookie League Affiliate) of the Appalachian League. He continued to grow as far as command and control by increasing his K/9 to 7.33 and slightly reducing his BB/9 to 3.35. However, he fell victim to an ever rising BABIP, which soared from .210 to .300 resulting in a less than optimal 1.302 in his 10 starts and 43 innings. As I took a deeper dive into Ogle’s performance and production throughout the year I was pleasantly surprised by a drop in his FIP from 4.13 to 3.83 over the course of the year; a sign of improvement, as well as an explanation for his unlucky BABIP. It’s is also possible that a lingering knee injury was responsible for a decline in production, as his season was cut short by surgery due a right knee meniscus tear.

After an intense rehab and plenty of hard work Ogle started 2018 with the West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh’s Low-A Affiliate through 2018), a clear promotion, rather than being assigned to the Short Season-A, West Virginia Black Bears. His first start was a struggle. He fought through 3 innings, giving up 3 runs while walking 4 batters and striking out 4. The next two games he hit his stride pitching 6 innings each game striking out 12 and allowing 2 runs. The fourth game of season he struck out 5 batters in 2 innings, only to be removed with shoulder inflammation. He did not return the remainder of the the season.

Due to concerns about his ability to maintain health as well as the fact that he was able to increase his K/9 to 11.12 the Pirates made the decision to move him to the bullpen. In an attempt to adjust Ogle to a reliever role he began the season with the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pittsburgh’s Low-A Affiliate) for the second season in a row, appearing in 20 games and starting 2. In those 20 appearances Ogle was able to live up to his potential, increasing his command and reduced his BB/9 to a career low 2.84. He also maintained a K/9 above 1 per inning. This resulted in Ogle being promoted midsession to the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh’s High A-Advanced Affiliate) of the Florida State League. In 11 innings, a small sample size, he reduced his WHIP from 1.200 to .971, his ERA from 3.69 to 3.18 and continued his decline in BB/9, landing at 2.4.

Prior to the delay in this current season I was curious as to whether or not the new regime would give Ogle another shot at being a starter due to the high K/9 (11.12) during his last chance in a rotation or would choose to transition his 96 mph fastball and his 84-86 mph slider into the bullpen for good. There is no doubt he would have started his season back in Bradenton, but depending on his path he could have quickly climbed the ladder; taking the mound at PNC Park as early as 2022. The only real question at this point is will he be a starter or will he be summoned from the bullpen by Derek Shelton in the later innings to preserve a lead and Pirates victory? Only time will tell.

Communication is the Fuel That Fires the Engine – A Conversation with Eric Minshall and Scott Seabol

On Friday, Craig and I had a unique opportunity. We were able to get two coaches together to discuss how they help, compete, and prepare players from two very different sides of the baseball coaching spectrum.

Scott Seabol, currently a hitting instructor for the Marlins system and Eric Minshall a pitching instructor for Southern Illinois. Those of you who have read our work or listened to the Bucs In the Basement Podcast are no doubt familiar with Eric, but he is more that just a pitching coach. He has a unique gift of making the game accessible. I’ve had one great conversation with Scott in the past and knew he had the same in him. Together they opened our eyes to exactly how a pitching coach and hitting coach interact and help each other without stunting the growth of their own players.

This column is going to focus on that aspect of the conversation, but there will be much more on the podcast, do plan to listen, it will premier Monday night on the live show at 9:00!

Eric has coached for over 20 years and last year latched on with the Bristol club in the Pirate’s system, this year he will be with Southern Illinois.

Scott was born and bred in Western Pennsylvania, and has played baseball all over the place, in college alone he played in Southern Florida, Allegheny Maryland, and WVU. He was the latest drafted player to ever make it to MLB when he accomplished the feat with the Yankees. He would experience more twists and turns in his career as it took him to St. Louis and ultimately Japan, all of these experiences helped make him the coach he is today. “Didn’t seem fun at the time, but experiencing D2, D1 made me appreciate the different levels of collegiate baseball”, Scott said.

Scott then touched on his post playing career, which started with opening a baseball facility for training players typically 6 to 12-year-old kids. He ultimately realized this was not his path as he wanted to focus on the development, while parents tended to want to see wins. He started with the Yankees, and he and Eric actually crossed paths, “Eric, I think we crossed paths in 2019, I was with Pulaski and you were in Bristol I believe.” Eric quickly agreed and Scott continued showing off the memory it seems so many of these coaches have “I think we faced [Tanaj] Thomas like seven times that year!”, To which Eric gleefully pointed out was “A little bit by design.”

So, I asked both about the interaction between the two types of coaches when they coach together, its so hard for me to envision how they help each other while training players to beat each other.

Eric started, and he focused on the collaboration of scouting reports from his time with Bristol pointing out how he would listen in during Spirng training to all the hitting coaches including the Eckstein brothers, who he pointed out Scott had played with (David) in 2005. “I did want to hear about how they were going about their job, what pitches they were trying to dial in on, how they were teaching these guys to be patient, and you can learn so much literally from the other side.” He continued “So, once we got the season started, and you could kinda take a breath and we got to Bristol, our hitting coach JP Prieto, did a really good job of preparing his guys We did really good as a hitting club, in fact I think it was Pulaski and us at the top.”

Eric continued “I would get all my reports on the hitters and then JP would take a look at it, and he would get all the reports on the Yankees pitchers and I would take a look at it, then we’d basically get together in our managers meeting before the series and really break down what we were seeing via true media, any reports we had from scouts that had been through, we would actually collaborate quite a bit pre-series and what we were seeing. The collaboration piece really helped out! One thing I couldn’t identify very easily as a pitching coach was during a game, guys are making adjustments, it was far easier for our hitting coach or manager to say hey this guy is far closer to the plat than we thought he was going to be or whatever.”

At this point Scott agreed with Eric then put his own knowledge into the conversation “During Spring training you’re usually overloaded with 25-30 players and the pitching coaches are as well, so there isn’t really a lot of collaboration going on.” “Once we do break and get to our cities, the number one thing for me on any good staff is, including the manager or anybody is communication. I’ve been very fortunate to have  been on the staffs I’ve been, I’ve only been coaching for four years now but all the coaches I’ve been with we always checked our ego at the door and we understood that even though you’re a pitching coach, you’re a baseball guy, you see things as well, you see hitters, as a hitting coach we’re baseball people, we see pitchers, we see defenders and that’s the one thing the coaches I’ve been with we all see everybody knows baseball, so there’s nothing wrong with me asking a pitching coach what they see in a hitter.”

Scott brought a real world example to the table here and it really drove the point home “We had a nice player, Madison Santos, this kid’s about 5’ 6” but had as much power as anybody, at times he would scuffle and I remember the pitching coach telling me in Spring Training Listen he’s going to struggle with fastballs in when the season starts. And this kid was hitting .320 in Spring Training, I was like alright, I know he’s gonna struggle with something but it wasn’t evident to me at the time, but he had already pinpointed it at the time, if he was going to pitch to him [his] plan would be to speed him up inside and go soft away, so we were able to tailor his work, without even him knowing to be honest with you, to what his weakness would be, you have to respect the pitching coach and what they know.”

It comes down to trust. That’s what I learned most from listening to what they had to say. Understanding that baseball is a universal language and being willing to absorb the expertise that others bring to the table.

The interview was wide ranging and I truly hope you listen to all of it, but this part to me is absolutely key. A great coach understands he or she is better as part of a staff, than as an individual on an island. Both of these men focused on communication being of utmost importance in the development process and it should be no surprise they are so capable of communicating how these two areas interact in such a succinct way.

Something Scott touched on that struck me and I know will mean a lot to many of you, was the actual percentage of work that goes into simply helping these young adjust to professional ball. Scott said, “As far as the lower level coaching goes, lower level as you get to Rookie ball, and even Low A ball, for me its maybe harder than the upper levels you’re trying to basically earn the trust of these players and I know Eric can attest to this for a lot of first year players especially right out of high school, is 80% of your job is not really baseball related, basically teaching these guys how to be professionals. Young kids first time away from high school they might have a little bit of money, keeping them focused on why they’re there, one thing nobody talks about is Rookie ball especially the Appalachian league, we have a lot of Latino players, and Latino players get to a place like Bristol or Elizabethton or Pulaski, its not easy to eat, making sure the players are eating, making sure the players are sleeping or staying in touch with their families, making sure they’re staying strong, then after all of those things you gotta make sure their performing at baseball.”

We all know this somewhere in the back of our heads, but to hear it like that, so plain and straightforward, wow. We all see the finished product on our favorite teams, talking to people like Scott and Eric you really get a feel for just how daunting making it is, simply from understanding the very beginning of the journey for some.

Much appreciation to these two gentlemen for taking the time to give us a window into the interaction they have with opposing coaches and the early stage development of ball players. It’s invaluable for fans to see and we wish them both success when baseball gets started again.

Inside The Replay Room: The Tale of the Nefarious J.T. Watkins

On October 28, 2018 as the Boston Red Sox hoisted their 9th World Series Title in Los Angeles, hero Alex Cora with his hands on the trophy, there was a man in the shadows. Unbeknownst to anyone, replay room staffer and advanced scouting assistant J.T. Watkins was either giving high fives to all of his compatriots or sitting in the corner by himself with a grin on his face, so proud of what he had accomplished; singlehandedly of course. He is the real evil that existed within the Red Sox organization. Thank God they identified him and were able to punish him to the extent he deserved.

I hope you all know I am totally joking and that MLB’s investigation of this situation was a sham. At the end of March Rob Manfred promised there would be a resolution to the Red Sox cheating scandal by May and/or before baseball resumed play. He at least held true to that statement, but in the process made a mockery of the sport that I love. As a punishment for cheating their way to the 2018 World Championship the Boston Red Sox were stripped of a second draft pick and were not held accountable in any other way. Former Manager Alex Cora was suspended for the 2020 season, but not for what happened in Boston. He was a stone cold cheater in Houston, but once he arrived in Boston he had become a changed man and was totally oblivious to the dastardly deeds that were occurring within the prestigious Boston Red Sox Organization.

Does anyone actually believe that this is really what happened? Is this conceivable to anyone that has been following this situation? The ruling laid down by Rob Manfred and MLB states that Watkins was the mastermind in revising sign sequence information that he provided to players and was a key player in the Apple Watch Scheme in 2017. Let me state with absolutely certainty that I am not absolving Watkins of any wrongdoing, but to pin him as the only guilty party within the Red Sox organization is absolutely asinine. Are we meant to believe that Watkins was the sole participant in this entire scheme as as well as the only one left from the previous year’s indiscretions? Such disrespect for our intelligence.

So this is what we are left with, as the almighty Rob Manfred has spoken. No one believes a word of this entire investigation and not even the most passionate Red Sox fan can accept this as the truth. However, we need to come to the realization that nothing we think or believe as baseball fans matters anymore. This game is not ours and I am starting to wonder if it ever was in the first place. Two of the last three World Series Champions are bona fide cheaters. There is no denying this, but we are being told to forget or even worse, ignore this fact.

Thinking about all of this has started to open a Pandora’s Box of Baseball History in my mind. Rob Manfred is not the first figure associated with the game to openly state that cheating is OK. Honestly there have been very few to express the opposite; most famously among the select minority is Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Some of us are just as guilty as Manfred by the way that we hold many of baseball’s most notorious cheaters up on a pedestal; Ty Cobb, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and A-Rod. Other names and faces may have popped into your mind as I was listing off these famous players. Does this make us as bad or as culpable as the man we are accusing of ruining the game, at least as it pertains to this issue? Maybe, maybe not, but it is definitely something to think about.

Top O’The Metric To Yinz: Avoiding The Swing and Miss

In my first article in this series I dove deep into the exciting stat of BB% for hitters. The clear positives of a high BB% are obviously, getting on base and potentially allowing yourself to be able to receive more hittable pitches. The precise benefits of a low K% are not always as apparent. Strikeouts are sometimes no worse than any other out, unless you are trying to move a runner over or bring them in from third on a sacrifice fly. A high K% can also be counteracted simply by having a high walk rate, getting hits regularly or especially being a proficient at the long ball. However, just as it was with a low or high BB%, a high or low K% can be used to predict long term patterns of success or failure for hitters. And just as it was with BB%, K% is just as easy to calculate. Strikeout Rate or Percentage is the number of strikeouts that a batter falls victim to on per plate appearance basis; calculated by dividing the number of walks but the number of plate appearances.

This past season in Major League Baseball the player with the lowest K% was also one of the players with the lowest BB%. Hanser Alberto had a K% of 9.1% and a BB% of 2.9%. I am curious to see what other categories Alberto shows up in moving forward, as he seems to be a player that puts the ball in play pretty often. The other two players with a low K% were David Fletcher of the LA Angels (9.8%) and Michael Brantley (10.4%) of the Houston Astros. On the other side of the coin power hitters Domingo Santana (32.3%), Rougned Odor (30.6%) and Ryan McMahon (29.7%) had the highest/worst K%. With these hitters it is hard to tell how these poor stats effected them overall, but they sure don’t look very promising on the surface.

As previously stated strikeouts may not not always totally negative, with the exception of attempting to bringing in a runner on a sacrifice fly. The Pirates seemed to suffer this fate more than any other team this past season as I have a hard time remembering any sacrifice fly they successfully completed. But I digress. In studying the Pirates players K% some interesting facts came to light that started to give me some perspective as their hitters as a whole. As it was was with BB%, for the purpose of this being a prediction of future performance I will not be addressing player who are not longer on the Pirates roster.

Top 3 Pirates-K%

1) Kevin Newman (11.7%)

It was no surprise to me that Newman was patient at the plate in an attempt to avoid striking out. Newman showed discipline on a consistent basement, earning the leadoff position in the batting order for the majority of the season. However, as it was with Hanser Alberto, Newman also had a very low walk rate (5.3%), which could be telling when looking at the rest of his stats.

2) Adam Frazier (12.3%)

Frazier is one of the Pirates most underrated hitters and fielders if we are being honest, but that last part is for a future article. Frazier is a notorious first pitch hitter, so it’s no surprise to me that that his K% was this low. It is also no surprise that he was such a big trade target for other teams this off-season.

3) Jose Osuna (16.8%)

Osuna took a big step forward this past season in spite of rehabbing from an injury for the first part of the season. As a power hitter it is nice to see that he has an above average K%, which is one of the reasons myself and others hand advocated for increased playing time for him. Hopefully this continues and was not a part of a small same size.

Bottom 3 Pirates-K%

1) Colin Moran (23.3%)

Unfortunately this does not provide any support to the Moran supporters in the Pirates fan base. Along with other factors this could lead some to completely turn their backs on Moran. For me this is more about the concerns against left handed pitchers. Maybe at some people point I will dive into this a little deeper.

2) Bryan Reynolds (22.2%)

I didn’t think it was possible, but I finally found a chink in Bryan Reynold’s armor; not that I am happy about it or even noticed it before. This is something that can be improved upon with experience. However, this a little concerning seeing as pitchers did not have time to adjust to him in the beginning, so once again I will have to look closer to find the deviation as the season progressed.

3) Josh Bell (19.2%)

No real surprise here and not in a bad way, as this lower than the MLB average. Bell struggled for a couple of months with the low and away pitch, but for the most part improved upon his approach at the plate so I am not overly concerned. Also take into account the 12.1% Walk Rate and there is definitely more to this last season than I originally thought.

There have been a lot of eye opening stats that have been brought up during the past two articles. I have even more to think about than I originally thought. I am excited to see where we go next as we look at the Pirates BABIPs compared to the rest of the league as well as against each other.

Pirates Players Who Were Best in MLB for at Least a Season

Every week we like to put together a list that gets us talking baseball. It’s good and therapeutic for all of us right now and hearing the stories and memories everyone has reminds us all just how deeply we care about baseball.

Today, let’s look at players who for a time were arguably the best of the best at their position MLB wide.

  1. Barry Bonds (LF)- For a stretch of time Barry was the best. He’s one of the few who can say he achieved this moniker in Pittsburgh and another city too. Some will criticize his arm strength but it’s pretty nit picky and you still have to find me a better all around player at the position.
  2. Roberto Clemente (RF) – Having no personal experience of watching Roberto do his thing live, I have to trust my elders a bit here. My Dad might smack me when I’m allowed to see him again if I don’t put Clemente on this list. His arm was uncanny, that I can tell from highlights. His range was like having a second Center Fielder in the game. and in the batters box he was one of the most feared offensive talents of his era.
  3. Dave Parker (RF) – OK, so We’ve been lucky here with Right Field. He too, much like Clemente, had an absolute cannon of an arm. Highlights of his strike to Gary Carter in the All Star game should be on everyone’s watch list. On top of that he was arguably the biggest offensive threat in the lineup for the Lumber Company.
  4. Freddy Sanchez (2B) – Believing that there is a list where Freddy belongs among present company is going to be hard for many of you to swallow, I’m sure, but the man won a batting title, here, in Pittsburgh, with little in the lineup to protect him. He also played a slick second base. No, for one season Sanchez was the cream of the crop at 2B with Jeff Kent close behind.
  5. Doug Drabek (SP) – The Cy Young award is given to one pitcher in each league every season, there are times when it is more of a reputation award. Doug was ON all season long. His curveball fell out of the sky and landed in hitter’s back pocket. His fastball hit the glove no matter where Spanky or Slaught put it. He actually got better when there were stressful situations. For one season, Doug was the best there was.
  6. Mark Melancon (RP) – For a few seasons, Mark was as close to a lock to close out a game as we’ve ever seen. When he was traded to Washington in exchange for (He who shan’t be named) who also probably belongs on this list if I could bring myself to do it, we all knew we were losing a really big part of the success enjoyed in the middle of last decade. His cutter, might have been called a slider it had so much movement, and both righties and lefties couldn’t pick it up to save their lives. Having that much movement and still being able to place it is not a common skill set.
  7. Ralph Kiner (LF) – Kiner was a prolific homerun hitter on a terrible team. He brought star power to a grey mill town and was THE reason to pay the price of admission most nights. Towering blasts were his calling card and he did it while being pitched around at every opportunity.
  8. Tony Watson (RP) – Every bullpen needs a lefty to come in and get out those sluggers most teams possess. Watson was more than that, he could get outs no matter what side you hit from. Most of his Pirates career was spent in a set-up role and for a stretch, there wasn’t a better one in the game. Paired with Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, they shortened games to 6 or 7 innings and reminded many of the Cincinnati Reds Nasty Boys. If you were down a couple runs against the Pirates heading into the 6th, you better have scored.
  9. Willie Stargell (LF) – Now, I understand he played 1B too, but his 1971 season was spend primarily in LF, and he was simply dominant. Mashing 48 homeruns with a .295 Batting average, Pops was a frightening figure for any opposing pitcher.
  10. Vern Law (SP) – In 1959 and 1960 Vern was at the top of his game, and the league. In those two seasons he put up 38 wins, 38 complete games, and an ERA of 3.02. For good measure he went ahead and hit a homer in each season too.

Now, I’m sure I left some off, Honus Wagner comes to mind, the Waner’s enter the arena too. Let me know who you remember, but be prepared to defend your pick!