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September 9, 2013

Painting the Black

The Pirates' Untold Tales

by R.J. Anderson


In last Wednesday's What You Need to Know, Daniel Rathman wrote of the Pirates, "It finally happened." Rathman wasn't talking about James McDonald being designated for assignment, but, rather, the Pirates ensuring their first non-losing season since 1992. This is the big story in Pittsburgh, of course, but all big stories comprise smaller stories, some of which are likely to go unnoticed if/when the Pirates clinch a postseason berth. Before the Steel City is overwhelmed with joy, let's give those finer details the attention they deserve.

Story No. 1: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Put simply, the best teams tend to have the best luck. Whether fortune manifests itself through one-run wins, late-inning comebacks, or good health depends on the situation. Often, as Patrick Sullivan, formerly of Baseball Analysts, noted last week, the surest way to pick postseason teams is by taking the preseason favorites and assume those with the healthiest rotations will advance to October. The Pirates are an exception. They trail only the Orioles in starters used this season (12 to 14), and could finish the year with just two pitchers having started 30-plus games.

Injuries have hit the Pirates' rotation hard throughout the year; if they desired they could fill a rotation with pitchers who spent time on the disabled list. A.J. Burnett missed a few weeks with a strained calf while Francisco Liriano (broken arm), Charlie Morton (Tommy John surgery rehab), Wandy Rodriguez (strained forearm), and James McDonald (strained shoulder) all were sidelined for at least a month—and that's without including Jeff Karstens, whose bum shoulder prevented him from appearing in more than two minor-league games. The Pirates rotation is close to 100 percent heading into the final weeks, but that was not the case all season.

As a result the Pirates tapped into their organizational depth. Some of the extra starters were top prospects, though a few weren't even surefire big leaguers—who can forget Jonathan Sanchez's time in the rotation, and what advice can he give the rest of us? That reality intensifies what the Pirates have accomplished; they haven't benefited from perfect health, yet they've made it anyway.

Story No. 2: The Roustabouts
Pittsburgh survived the injury bug in part due to the work of two dogsbody relievers: Vin Mazzaro and Jeanmar Gomez.

No one batted an eye when the Pirates acquired Mazzaro last November; the move failed to make a Transaction Analysis piece, and Mazzaro's comment in the annual concluded that the trade "should tell you all you need to know about how teams view him." The Gomez acquisition, which took place in January, was more of the same: No TA entry and an annual comment sparse in praise. So how should we react knowing Mazzaro and Gomez combine for 144 innings, a 3.06 run average, and a 1.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

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Related Content:  Pittsburgh Pirates

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (09/09)
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Pebble Hunting: The Je... (09/09)

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