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An unofficial Pittsburgh Pirates blog

Updated: 2017-03-24T10:44:14-04:00


Jung Ho Kang reportedly denied visa, putting season in doubt


According to a report from Naver Sports in Korea, the US government has denied Jung Ho Kang a work visa. The link is in Korean, and the Google translation isn't entirely clear, but it evidently says Kang's chances of playing for the Pirates in 2017 are now in doubt. Another report in Korea evidently indicates Kang's appeal of his DUI punishment in Korea could positively affect his visa status, although more won't be known about that for awhile. Clint Hurdle told MLB Network Radio today that he's unsure of the chances Kang will play this season. This is big news for the Pirates, who might now have to play 2017 with David Freese and others at third base and be without Kang, one of their best offensive players. Kang's potential inability to play in the US for the foreseeable future would likely dramatically affect how the Pirates think about him as an asset, although, as Wilbur points out in the comments, Kang's presence on the restricted list will prevent the Bucs from having to pay him in the meantime. Obviously, Kang's availability would also appear to significantly impact the Bucs' chances of competing this season. The difference between a full season of Kang and Freese (and the domino effect on the Pirates' bench that will result) is likely around a couple of wins, dampening the outlook of a Pirates' team that probably figured to end up somewhere near the fringes of the playoff race. Kang, of course, left the scene of a DUI crash in Korea during the offseason, and it subsequently emerged that he had had two prior DUI incidents in Korea that the Pirates weren't aware of. He has remained in South Korea throughout spring training so far dealing with legal and visa issues stemming from the crash. He was convicted there and sentenced to eight months in jail, although that sentence was suspended. Kang was also accused of, but not charged with, sexual assault last summer in the US, although the visa decision appears to have more to do with the DUI issues. [...]

Pirates cut nine players



The Pirates have cut nine players from major league camp. They optioned catcher Elias Diaz and infielder Max Moroff to AAA. Re-assigned to minor league camp were first baseman/outfielder Joey Terdoslavich, infielder Eric Wood, outfielder Eury Perez, right-handers Edgar Santana, Brandon Cumpton, and Jason Stoffel, and left-hander Dan Runzler. In addition, general manager Neil Huntington acknowledged that third baseman Jung-Ho Kang will miss the start of the season, although Huntington also stated on the radio that the team is still hoping to get Kang back sooner rather than later.

Of the players cut, the closest thing to a surprise would be Diaz or Santana. Diaz figured all along to be the team’s #3 catcher so with nearly two weeks left it seems a little early. Of course, he may still catch games at Pirate City where, for instance, Gerrit Cole is slated to pitch tomorrow. Santana has pitched well this spring. With Jared Hughes having a terrible spring, you’d think Santana would have gotten a longer look, but Hughes’ permanent presence in the Pirates’ bullpen appears to be the single biggest lock on the team for the next forty years or so.

Of the others, Moroff struggled in the exhibitions, going 3-for-26. Stoffel, a minor league free agent signing, has been out all spring with right shoulder discomfort. Perez got extended playing time — nearly as much as Austin Meadows, bizarrely — with Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in the WBC. Terdoslavich also got a good deal of time, despite coming off a weak season in AA. Cumpton continues to rehab from elbow and shoulder surgeries. Wood saw a lot of action between the Pirates and Team Canada. Runzler is a hard-throwing, former major leaguer trying to recover from control issues. He pitched respectably in limited chances.

Spring training thread: Polanco and Marte return



The Pirates head to Fort Myers to take on the Red Sox at 1:05 PM. Drew Hutchison will start. The lineup is starting to look more like the Pirates:

  1. Jordy Mercer, SS
  2. Starling Marte, CF
  3. Gregory Polanco, LF
  4. David Freese, 3B
  5. Francisco Cervelli, C
  6. Jose Osuna, RF
  7. Josh Bell, 1B
  8. Alen Hanson, 2B
  9. Drew Hutchison, P

Tyler Webb and Jared Hughes are also slated to pitch.

Polanco, by the way, was named to the WBC All-Star team.

Pirates release eight minor leaguers, three others retire



There was probably some more important news today, but the Pirates have released (sub. req’d) eight minor league players, all of them right-handed pitchers. The eight are Neil Kozikowski, Jake Burnette, Chris Plitt, Nick Hutchings, Nick Neumann, Henry Hirsch, Jose Regalado and Julio Vivas. For the most part, these were pitchers whose stuff needed to take a step forward and didn’t, or who were old for the levels they’d progressed to, or both.

Of the eight, the most notable were Kozikowski and Burnette. Both signed for above-slot amounts out of high school. Kozikowski hadn’t made it to full season ball after four years. Burnette had gotten only to low A in six years, and had struggled both with injuries and control problems. Hutchings was the last remaining Australian player in the system.

Three other players retired. The most notable was Danny Beddes, drafted in the 15th round out of college last year. He put up impressive numbers as a starter at Morgantown last summer, but doesn’t have overwhelming stuff. Shortstop Daniel Cucjen, signed as an undrafted free agent last summer to serve as a utility player, also retired. Another shortstop, Tyler Leffler, didn’t exactly retire but instead just left camp. He was a 27th round pick last year and struggled to hit in limited playing time at Morgantown.

Thank you, Bucs Dugout


13 years is a long time. I’ve written about the Pirates since 2004, and I’ve run Bucs Dugout since its inception in 2005. I’ve been covering this team for more than a third of my life, and Bucs Dugout is one of the most fulfilling projects I’ve ever been involved with. So it feels strange to write that, within a few weeks, I’ll be resigning as Bucs Dugout’s editor. This was a hard decision, but it’s time for something new. I’ve been considering stepping down for awhile, but thought I might change my mind as the season approached. I haven’t, unfortunately. One of the bigger reasons I’m leaving is a boring one: The site’s workload (or at least the site’s workload during the season) was increasingly keeping me from accepting more lucrative work opportunities. But there were other reasons as well. Many of the best things I’ve done in my life (including a lot of pieces of music I’ve written, as well as my book about the Pirates, Dry Land), were longer-term projects, and the ephemerality of day-to-day coverage was getting to me — most of what’s written on a site like this is read today and forgotten tomorrow. There’s also often the nagging feeling that I should be writing something, even on days when I don’t write much or at all. I’m tired of needing to have opinions about everything, and I want to spend less time on the Internet so that I can think at a slower pace. I’ve been writing a book about music on and off for the past three years, and I want this to be the summer where I finally finish a draft. I also haven’t dedicated as much time as I’d like to the classical music I write, and I want more uninterrupted hours for that. It also feels increasingly strange to write so much about one baseball team. This will be the first year that everyone on the Pirates’ roster will be younger than I am, and it seems more and more awkward to, say, wander into a minor-league locker room to try to ask a 22-year-old how he feels about defensive shifts. Many better writers than I don’t seem to have this problem, so maybe I’m just having an early midlife crisis. But paying this much attention to the inner workings of one organization has seemed increasingly strange as I’ve gotten older. All that written, I’m proud of Bucs Dugout and deeply happy and honored to have met so many bright, accomplished and passionate people who read the site. I’m also incredibly proud to be associated with my fellow BD writers. Even before I started writing about the Pirates, I knew Wilbur Miller and Vlad as two of the most knowledgeable and articulate fans commenting about the team on the Internet. I was thrilled when they turned up here as commenters, and I was even more excited when they joined me on the front page. Wilbur’s minor league recaps have been a crucial part of what’s made Bucs Dugout what it is. David Manel started here writing sabermetric articles and ended up as a reporter, spending countless hours at PNC covering Pirates home games. He’s a brilliant and deeply thoughtful person who I’m honored to work with. David Todd began writing here many years ago and has remained associated with the site (co-hosting something like 65 podcast episodes) even as his profile as a sports commentator has grown both locally and nationally. Joshua Choudhury actually had to stop writing because he got hired by the Blue Jays. That’s amazing, even though one of his first orders of business was to help snatch Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez away from the Bucs. Eli Nellis, Bill Pollak and Dan Hopper have all been indispensable in their help with game writeups. Eli is an accomplished former newspaper reporter who I met randomly at PirateFest and who was one of the stars of Dry Land; his dedication to the site and his super-clean recaps have been a big help here. Bill, of course, has taken time out of his very busy career as a musician to write for the site. I’m a longtime admire[...]

New metric affirms Pirates’ decision to move Andrew McCutchen to right


With the Dominican Republic eliminated from the World Baseball Classic on Saturday, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are set to return to Grapefruit League action this week. Each of them played just five spring training games before leaving the team, so this will be our first chance at an extended look of the team’s new outfield alignment. Of course, Andrew McCutchen, the third member of the Bucs’ trio, remains with Team USA for the semifinal against Japan this evening, but considering the final game is scheduled for Wednesday, he’ll be rejoining Marte and Polanco before too long. He’s recently been vocal about his displeasure with management for shifting him away from center, but it’s hard to side with Cutch when he fails the eye test and the analytics scream that he no longer has any business playing there. In fact, Statcast unveiled a new defensive metric, Catch Probability, earlier this month that underlines quite clearly that, in the absence of a trade, the move to a corner outfield spot was the only logical move for the Pirates to make. “Catch Probability” statistics do precisely what their title suggests; they express the statistical likelihood of a ball hit to the outfield being caught, and they do so by answering the following two questions: “How far did the fielder have to go?” and, “How much time did he have to get there?” In other words, they utilize the minimum distance (or most direct route) an outfielder must travel to make the play and the opportunity time he has to cover that distance. The first part is straightforward enough, but it is important to understand that the opportunity time is calculated from the moment a ball leaves the pitcher’s hand instead of the moment of contact because it seeks to recognize skilled fielders’ ability to excel from first step as they read the catcher and pitcher prior to throw. To simplify things, Statcast converts the catch probability statistics into a 1-5 star scale similar to the “Insider Edge” field ratings on Fangraphs as is depicted below: Center fielders will generally have more opportunities for four- and five-star plays, but other than that, this metric is designed to indicate who made the more difficult plays, who was more consistent in converting opportunities, and who played better regardless of outfield position. (Statcast is working on a modified version that incorporates direction into the equation, but that isn’t available publicly at this point.) Pirates’ “Catch Probability” Starling Marte Obviously, Marte displayed more consistency in 2015 than 2016, but the key takeaway is that he is only one year removed from displaying above-average ability across the board, which is more than McCutchen can boast. That doesn’t prove Marte is a perfect fit for center field, especially given he’s only played 443 innings there, but it does reveal that his range and conversion rate numbers are comparable to average center fielders. Regardless, his ARM (outfield arm runs) trails only Leonys Martin over the past two seasons, so there’s plenty of room for optimism that Marte can make a smooth transition. That isn’t to say he’s going to be able to stick at center over Austin Meadows when an outfield spot opens, but as long as he’s not expected to look like Kevin Kiermaier or Billy Hamilton out there, he should be capable of manning center in a more palatable manner than McCutchen did last season. Gregory Polanco Polanco has committed more errors than the team would like to see, but he’s still displayed the range and arm to make him a top-five fielder over in right. Unsurprisingly, his Catch Probability statistics from 2015 support that as they reveal he missed only 2 of his opportunities for the routine one- and two-star plays. He also flirted with league average when it came to three- and four-star plays in both 2015 and 2016 in addition to five-star plays[...]

Spring training thread: Kuhl looks to nail down #4 spot



The Pirates and Rays move to McKechnie Field for a 1:05 PM start. Chad Kuhl takes the mound. The Pirates are being coy, saying Kuhl doesn’t have a rotation spot locked up, but it’s hard to see how that doesn’t happen. He’ll be followed by A.J. Schugel, who should have been in the running for a bullpen spot but isn’t having a good spring, and Josh Lindblom, who shouldn’t have been in the running but is pitching well. Ivan Nova is scheduled to throw 100 pitches in a minor league game.

The lineup isn’t available and I’m not going to have a chance to post it later.

Pirates send Pat Light, 3 others to minors



This morning, the Pirates announced that they’ve cut four pitchers from big-league spring training, optioning righty Pat Light to Indianapolis and reassigning lefty Jared Lakind and righties Casey Sadler and Angel Sanchez to minor-league camp. The move left the Pirates with 47 players still on the big-league squad, including 13 non-roster invitees.

None of the Pirates’ moves come as a surprise. Lakind pitched at Double-A last year and still has relatively limited mound experience after converting to pitching prior to the 2013 season. Sadler and Sanchez are both battling back after having Tommy John surgery.

Of the four, Light probably had the best chance of making the team, and even he was a long shot — it would have taken a spectacular spring for the Pirates to seriously consider giving him a spot in their crowded bullpen, and even then it was probably unlikely. He’ll light up radar guns in Indianapolis.