Is Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati turning into a turf war, on a global scale? We'd rather hear both sides of the tale.
Wednesday night, while Max Scherzer was striking out 20 Tigers, the Reds and Pirates were striking each other. There were six hit batters in the game, four Pirates and two Reds. Reds’ reliever Ross Ohlendorf was ejected after the last of them, when he hit David Freese with a runner on second after the Pirates had taken a 5-4 lead.
This is not something new for these teams. Since the start of the 2012 season, there have been 94 players hit in 56 games between the Reds and Pirates. (Across the majors, there are, on average, .66 batters hit per game—.33 per side.) The six hit batters Wednesday represents an apex, but the teams combined for five hit batters on June 2, 2013, four on April 8 this year, and three on seven other occasions. In fairness, some of this is probably personnel-related. When you employ batters for whom getting hit by pitches is part of their on-base toolkit, like Shin-Soo Choo (hit seven times in Reds-Pirates games in 2013 alone) and Starling Marte (hit 14 times in Reds-Pirates games dating back to August 2012), it’s reasonable to expect things to get plunky. And Pirates games, in particular, feature a lot of HBPs in the box score. Since the start of the 2012 season, Pirates batters have been hit 328 times, the most in the majors and 15 percent more than the second-place Cardinals. Pirates pitchers have hit 293 batters, also the most in the majors, and 9 percent more than the second place White Sox. (The Reds are third at hitting batters and 14th at getting hit.) But six in one game is an awful lot, as is 94 since the start of the 2012.
This has led to discussion of what might be done about this sort of thing. A hard ball, thrown at high speeds, can cause damage to the human body. Per Brooks Baseball, the pitches that hit the six batters on Wednesday night were thrown at 91.7 (Alfredo Simon in the fourth), 94.8 (Juan Nicasio in the fourth), 80.9 (Simon in the sixth), 86.4 (Steve Delabar in the seventh), 92.5 (Jared Hughes in the seventh), and 95.0 (Ohlendorf in the ninth) miles per hour. Nobody appeared to get hurt in the game, but of course, batters aren’t always that lucky. So what can be done?
That’s the reality to which many big-league GMs woke up Tuesday morning, now that Strasburg appears to have agreed to a seven-year deal worth $175 million (or more) with the Nationals. For those among that group who hadn’t gotten their free-agent pitching spending out of the way by now, this is very bad news. Billy Eppler, Brian Cashman, Dan Duquette, Dayton Moore, Neal Huntington, A.J. Preller, and Jerry Dipoto all would have liked the chance to bid on Strasburg this winter, even if most of them run teams unable to realistically meet the asking price he would have been able to set on the open market. Now, they face the unpleasant prospect of improving their pitching staffs for 2017 without having a single ace to chase. It’s perfectly possible that Rich Hill will get the biggest free-agent deal handed out to any starting pitcher in the coming winter.
Or maybe he just ran into the Braves at the right time. Plus: Yay Rich Hill, Yay Andrew McCutchen, yay Billy Hamilton.
The Tuesday Takeaway David Price’s first few games in a Red Sox uniform have been rather up-and-down—and after the distinct “down” of eight runs in less than four innings in his last start, Tuesday was a definite “up.” It didn’t look that way at first, as Price kicked off the game by giving up a run on three quick singles. But with the bases loaded, he struck out Drew Stubbs to end the inning, and from there, the Ks kept coming.
The Juan Nicasio bubble popped, for one day at least. Meanwhile, Noah Syndergaard keeps getting better, and the Red Sox blow another lead.
The Tuesday Takeaway
What was once a minor miracle is now something of a trope: The broken pitcher comes to Pittsburgh for one more chance and he is saved, his career revived. But strong as the narrative may seem, the reality is far from a guarantee—as Juan Nicasio reminded everyone Tuesday afternoon.
After a strong spring and an impressive first outing, Nicasio looked more like his old self yesterday. It started with a Justin Upton solo shot in the first (his debut home run as a Tiger, and a 451-foot one at that), and it didn’t get any better from there. Nicasio took 94 pitches to make it through an ugly three innings, giving up four runs and setting the Pirates up for an 8-2 loss to Detroit.
The newest Pittsburgh starter had a tremendous first start, but Ray Searage and the Pirates can't declare victory yet.
Juan Nicasio was the story of the Pirates’ spring, the latest (and maybe greatest!) reclamation project to come to Pittsburgh with his career hanging by a thread and immediately assert himself as a potential star. While the Ray Searage hype that encircles this team remains overblown, there’s nothing fake about the phenomenon that is Pittsburgh’s run prevention machine, and one cog in that machine is responsible for selecting, acquiring and rehabilitating pitchers who have considerable talent that the market has underestimated, or overlooked altogether. Nicasio, whom the Dodgers non-tendered this winter for roster-crunch reasons, is a perfect fit for the mold, and it’s no surprise that he thrived upon arrival.
Now that spring and its meaningless chatter has given way to the regular season, and now that we have one start (a whole start! Truly a rich cornucopia of information) of Nicasio to consider more seriously, let’s test the idea that something new is happening—that Nicasio is really a reinvented stud. All of this pitch data is drawn from the inimitable, invaluable Brooks Baseball.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
No, really: The Pirates' roster turnover won't change what they do.
The Pirates’ Opening Day lineup in 2015 had Pedro Alvarez at first, Neil Walker at second, Jordy Mercer at shortstop, and Josh Harrison at third. Two of those players, Alvarez and Walker, are gone, and Harrison will move to second base after starting there 67 times in his major-league career (57 last season). Only Mercer at short will be a holdover. Yet despite 75 percent positional turnover, there’ll be a constant: The Pirates infielders will shift a lot.
Anticipating the disasters that will befall this year's rotations.
Each of the past two seasons, Sam Miller or I have done this fun bit of analysis that looks at which teams would fare best if they had to resort to their sixth and seventh starters (2014, 2015). Obviously, every GM needs to fill out the top five slots in his rotation, but that’s just the bare minimum. Over the course of the season, nearly two-thirds of teams will have two starters injured at the same time, meaning fans will get acquainted with sixth, seventh, and possibly even eighth and ninth starters.
As spring training ramps up, injuries are inevitable. So it makes sense for teams to assess their options now, just in case something goes awry before the real games start.
The Pirates' pitching guru is a free agent next winter, while an AL East team wants to ship Andrew Cashner across the country.
Ray Searage wants to stay with Pirates beyond 2016
Next offseason’s free agent pitching market might pale in comparison to the bonanza that teams were treated to over the past couple of months, but the market for pitching coaches could feature a marquee name.
Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote Sunday about the value of the Bucs’ pitching coach, Ray Searage, who is widely regarded as one of the game’s best teachers, able to extract maximum value out of arms who come to the Steel City with middling reputations. General manager Neal Huntington is able to rummage through the bargain bin, confident that every pitcher he finds will exceed expectations because, as Cook put it, “Ray will make him better.” But Huntington is only guaranteed that comfort for one more year, because Searage’s contract expires at the end of the 2016 season.