Tag Archives: baseball

Pirates 2014 — Take Your Finger Off The Panic Button

Pirates Panic Button


The Pirates did really, really well last year. They won 94 games, the NLWCG, and took the Cardinals to 5 games in the NLDS. Expectations for right or wrong reasons have been raised for the following year. With April coming to a close the Pirates are looking at a 9-15 record. I’ve seen a lot of criticism about the offense, Jason Grilli blowing saves, and Gregory Polanco not being called up. I’m not an expert on talent development, so I can’t fully address the pros and cons about calling up Polanco. I can say that just like all the criticisms at trade deadlines, one player can’t save a team. Let’s say Polanco helped them win 2 games in April beyond what Tabata/Snider could do. The Pirates would be sitting at a 11-13 record. Now what? You are still sitting in 3rd place in the NL Central. Now, here’s the other side, what if he doesn’t help much? You mess with player development and long term plans because you panicked over a month of baseball. I’m fine with Polanco getting 2+ months in AAA before being called up. McCutchen got a year and two months.

Now about those Pirates. How bad are they? They have pretty much the same team coming back this year from the team that won 94 games last year. They lost Burnett, who was stellar last season, and they had Marlon Byrd down the stretch who made a big impact in September. Other than those losses, the Pirates have the exact same team.

The basis of my analysis is boiled down to this: the Pirates weren’t really as good as you thought they were last year, and they aren’t nearly as bad you thought they are now. Why do I think this? Numbers! I used the current 2014 numbers compared to 2013 overall, and the first two months of the 2013 season. June, July, August, and September numbers are really good for the Pirates. I’m going to point out that bad months can happen.

Pirates Year to Year 2014

Compared to last year, this offense right now is not as good no matter what sample of 2013 you look at. But here’s the take away…the Pirates had a very mediocre offense all year in 2013. They have a below average offense right now. Based on past performances, the Pirates will regress upward toward where they were in 2013. So the bigger problem for the organization as a whole is that they have a mediocre offense. This is a long term problem, not a short term aberration happening right now. Long term problems require better solutions than knee jerk reactions.

My assessment of the Pirates is that their poor April performance, is part luck, part poor hitting, and mostly regressed pitching. The pitchers pitched out of their mind last year. Jeff Locke went to the All-Star game. Things were crazy. Grilli isn’t going to Mariano Rivera every year. (Especially because he didn’t touch Rivera-type numbers till his 12th year in MLB.) Even AJ Burnett isn’t pitching as well for the Phillies as he did for the Pirates in 2012/2013. The Pirates’ FIP has been below average instead of a stellar like it was for most of 2013.

Everyone keep their fingers off the panic buttons, things are going to be alright.





Data is pulled from Fangraphs.com

Morton PitchFX April 2014

Charlie Morton — PitchFX

I’m in a predictive modeling class for my grad program at NU, and we are learning a statistical programming language called SAS. One of the things we are trying early on is cluster analysis to determine if variables are related. I decided to play around with data that’s a little more interesting than housing prices. Charlie Morton has been on of my favorite pitchers to watch pitch. His curveball is just sexy. Cluster analysis can help us separate Morton’s pitches into different pitch types using PitchFX data I’ve been scraping.

I’ve plotted two charts, one is the vertical movement vs. the release speed. The second is the vertical movement vs the horizontal movement. [The movement parameters are calculated from the deviation of the ball from a straight path with no spin. And the horizontal movement is from the perspective of the catcher/batter. So imagine that Morton is throwing toward you.] So fastballs with backspin will have a positive vertical movement. Curveballs with top spin will have negative vertical movement. I used SAS to look at the speed, vertical, and horizontal movement and cluster similar pitches together. Without much tweaking, I was able to identify Morton’s fastballs and curveballs. He also has a third group which is a splitter according to brooksbaseball.net

Morton PitchFX April 2014

Morton PitchFX April 2014

Morton is famous for his sinker, which is a two-seam fastball that ‘sinks’ relative to a four-seam fastball thrown at the same angle. I’ve annotated the sinker on the vertical movement to release speed chart below. Morton’s sinker is hard to differentiate because it’s almost as fast as his four-seamer. (low-90s) It doesn’t stay as high due to the different spin compared to the four-seam fastball. The advantage here is that a batter will swing as to hit the four-seam fastball, but the sinker will be an inch or two lower than what the batter adjusted for. Since the bat is round, the ball will come off the bat at a low angle, and bam! Ground ball.

Morton PitchFX April 2014 Annotated

Brooksbaseball.net has updated and historical PitchFX data presented very nicely. I suggest checking them out if you want to see visualizations like this for other games or pitchers. Their visualization tools are easy to use and updated right after games end.