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These Pittsburgh Pirates Are Sinking

Brett Barnett

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The Pittsburgh Pirates got off to a quick start, which got fans excited and anti-fans disgruntled. The Buccos were hitting the ball well, and after the first week calamity that was the bullpen, things were looking bright. That’s since changed.

There are a few players that will be the main points of focus throughout this piece. I’m going to focus on players that looked like they might be catalysts for any kind of overachieving the Pirates were to accomplish this season, but have since come back down to earth.

Trevor Williams

Over his first six starts, Trevor Williams didn’t give up more than two runs in any start, which resulted in four team wins and an individual record of 4-1 for Williams. He left those first six games with an ERA of 2.29, which far exceeded any expectations that were had about Williams. Since then, he’s raised that ERA up to 3.84, giving up five earned runs in his most recent start in St. Louis.

Those privy to other metrics, and aware of trends in baseball, though, probably understood this regression was coming. Williams had a very solid month of April. He only gave up one home run, and allowed opposing batters to post a wOBA of only .261. The problem is that other indicators, like xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching), were posted at 5.05. What this means is that Williams was overachieving through that first month, and was due to regress.

Moreover, although he’s increased his usage in his secondary pitches, like his changeup, he’s still relying on his fastball nearly 50% of the time.

Because his fastball isn’t overpowering, and he relies so much on location, it’s more important that Williams mixes in his off-speed pitches more frequently.

Gregory Polanco

Gregory Polanco didn’t maintain his success throughout the first month of the season, but he got out of the gates blazing hot. It looked like he might have the kind of season the Pirates expected him to have ever since signing him. In his first 70 plate appearances (between March 29 and April 16), Polanco was hitting much for average, but it didn’t seem to matter much. He was only a .207 hitter during that time, but he had five home runs, an .853 OPS, and a wRC+ of 126. He also had a wOBA of .364. So he was getting on base and hitting the ball hard.

Since then he’s struggled. Polanco’s average has actually come up, but all of those other numbers have suffered. Since April 16, Polanco has only hit three home runs, while producing a .301 wOBA and a 90 wRC+. His long swing has proven to be ineffective and full of holes more often than not this year. It was no secret to opposing teams that Polanco struggled on pitches on the inner third of the plate, but he wasn’t even able to handle fastballs middle-middle, which often means there’s some kind of mechanical hitch that needs adjusted, or perhaps a mental block that needs attention.

Polanco had a better series in St. Louis than what we’d seen from him in the weeks leading up to it. He hit .400 in 11 plate appearances, with four hits, including three doubles, and a walk, resulting in a .484 wOBA and 214 wRC+.

Although the rest of the season is still yet to play out, Baseball Savant indicates that Polanco is barreling more balls this season than he has in the past, which is a good sign. Thus far, Polanco has barreled 10.7% of the baseballs he’s struck. His highest total prior to 2018 was 6.3% in 2016. He’s also upped his FB% to 30%, up nearly seven percentage points from a year ago.

Felipe Vazquez

Felipe Vazquez has been an oddity this year. Of everyone on the roster, he was probably the shoe-in to have a great year, but it hasn’t panned out that way. He began the year by giving up four runs in 0.2 innings on Opening Day in Detroit. It was easy to disregard that outing because it was his first appearance of the year, and a strange game to boot. That, coupled with the fact that he made seven straight scoreless appearances between then (March 30) and his April 21 outing in Philadelphia, it seemed, at least in most regards, that Vazquez was back.

Lately, though, Vazquez has been, well, a lot like Cleveland’s bullpen. Since May 20, he’s posted a 17.18 ERA, giving up seven runs in only 3.2 innings. It’s a seemingly small sample size, but it hasn’t been a case of bad luck. His velocity is down and he’s been fairly wild in those appearances. It was no more evident than when he entered a game in St. Louis where the Pirates were leading by three. In mere minutes, the game was over. Vazquez was issued the blown save and loss after giving up five runs without recording an out. It was the worst Vazquez has looked as a Pirate.

His Hard Hit percentage is 43.7% as opposed to 26.6% last year. Moreover, Vazquez’s fastball velocity averaged 98.4 MPH last year versus nearly two MPH slower this year at 96.9 MPH. He should probably also be throwing his slider more frequently, but he’s only throwing it 2.4% of the time, but threw it nearly 10% of the time last season.

The fact that Vazquez’s velocity is down, he’s been somewhat wild, combined with the fact he’s seldom opting for the slider, and that hitters are likely guessing fastball, he’s been easy to figure out for opposing hitters. Something needs to change, otherwise the Pirates won’t have an effective backend of the bullpen.

Conclusion

The Pittsburgh Pirates were receiving contributions from everyone when they were winning baseball games. Since then, some players have regressed to expectation, while others have seemingly fallen off the wagon and have been far underperforming their projections. If the Pirates are going to begin winning again, they’ll need those flailing players to begin to stabilize, while the players that are playing far under their expected billing begin to figure out what’s going wrong.

I am from Columbus, OH, and am a fan of Ohio State. I attended East Tennessee State University and majored in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in Marketing and Journalism. I run a Pirates website called Pirates Review. I am also a reporter at The Cardinal Nation, covering the Rookie affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Johnson City Cardinals. I also work on providing players analysis at The Collegiate Baseball Network. I am a lifelong Pirates fan, and make the six hour drive to Pittsburgh as often as I can.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

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On the latest episode of Locked on Pirates, host Jason Rollison explains how to parse GM Speak, how to live with Gregory Polanco and wonders out loud if the Washington Nationals just opened the floodgates.

All that and more on the latest episode of Locked on Pirates, live for your listening pleasure:

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the links below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

Using something other than these three? Just search for “Locked on Pirates” in your podcast app of choice.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

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On this episode of Locked on Pirates, host Jason Rollison brings in Josh Taylor of 93.7 The Fan to help answer your burning Pittsburgh Pirates questions and more.

The latest episode of Locked on Pirates is available for your listening pleasure. Each off day, we open up our mailbag to your various gripes, salient points and even more gripes (understandable) to help us get through the off day.

Josh is always a great guest, and together we talk Jung Ho Kang, Gregory Polanco and so much more. It’s an engaging bout of Pirates talk without the BS. We hope you enjoy, and if you do please consider subscribing at the links below!

NOTE: Had some audio issues a the beginning which level out at around the 1:00 minute mark. 

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the links below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

Using something other than these three? Just search for “Locked on Pirates” in your podcast app of choice.

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The Locked on Interview – Adam McInturff from 2080 Baseball

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In the return of Locked on Pirates and the Locked on Pirates interview, Alex Stumpf talks the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates draft with 2080 Baseball’s Adam McInturff. Together the duo go through the 2018 Pirates draft and talk about some of the lesser-known prospects for the West Virginia Power.

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Beginning with Opening Day, Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the buttons below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

 

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