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Pittsburgh Pirates should take a chance on Mauricio Cabrera

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It was not that long ago that Mauricio Cabrera looked like a key part of the Atlanta Braves future bullpen. Armed with a 102 MPH fastball, Cabrera had a solid 2016 campaign, posting a 2.82 ERA and notching six saves. Even though he issued 19 walks with only 32 strikeouts in his 39.1 innings, there was hope that the then 22 year old could emerge as a dominant setup man at the very minimum.

However, Cabrera never progressed as the Braves had expected. He was sent back to the minors to start 2017, where everything fell apart. Cabrera lost his command, and then his velocity. Demoted all the way down to the Florida State League this season, he continued to be pummeled. Given that lack of production, the Braves released the once promising righty.
But one teams trash could be another team’s treasure. Enter the Pittsburgh Pirates. Over the past few years, the Pirates have developed a reputation as a team that can rebuild the shattered value of once promising pitchers. Not only has pitching coach Ray Searage turned into this generation’s Leo Mazzone, but the Pirates have done a solid job developing pitchers in the minors.

They would have their work cut out for them with Cabrera. In three minor league stops in 2017, he posted a 6.20 ERA and a 1.800 WHiP, striking out 39 batters, but issuing 46 walks in his 45 innings. Those numbers were even worse before he was released, as Cabrera had an 11.03 ERA and a 2.710 WHiP. In his 31 innings, Cabrera managed 27 batters, but he also issued 41 walks.

It is possible that Cabrera never gets back to his previous form, turning into another Daniel Bard, or Rick Ankiel before his transformation into an outfielder. Yet, his brief time in the Dominican Winter League, when he struck out six batters in his three innings, gives hope. He may have had three walks in that time, but he showed swing and miss stuff. If a team took a chance, and could figure out a way to fix his command, Cabrera would be quite a bargain.




A Look At The Pittsburgh Pirates Base Running

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Last Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies, third base coach Joey Cora sent Colin Moran on a single to right. He was thrown out without ever reaching the plate and was tagged out before reaching the right-handed batters box.

Without calculating the break-even, that one seemed like a bad send (Harrison is a projected .269 hitter and a single scores Moran from third).  Considering how far Colin Moran was out by, the send seemingly was well below the break-even point.
The Pirates have had three third base coaches under Clint Hurdle: Nick Leyva (2011-13), Rick Sofield (2014-16), and Joey Cora (2017-present).  I was curious on how the league did in extra base taken percentage compared to the Pirates, ie how much better or worse are the Pirates at taking the extra base compared to the league.  That really boils down to how much better or worse are the Pirates third base coaches at sending runners.

Baseball-Reference has base running data for all batters on first when a single is hit and how often a runner goes to third, when a double is hit how often they score, and so on.  An extra base is defined as taking two bases more than where you started; runner goes first to third on a single, scores from first on a double, and scores from second on a single.  An opportunity is how many times a runner is on first and a single or double occurs or when the runner is on second and a single is hit.

Below are the total league numbers and taken percentage each year (2018 data is as of games completed July 7th):
In Sofield’s last year as the Pirates third base coach the Pirates ran into outs and weren’t really successful in attempts, prompting the change to Cora, who has been around where the league has been in taken percentage.

To calculate outs, I subtracted off extra bases taken and station to station (single moving first to second, double moving first to third, and single going second to third) from the opportunities.  Looking at the league average amount of outs and league average number of opportunities along with the Pirates shows:
This year the Pirates have had more outs trying to take the extra base than the league while having fewer opportunities; showing just the taken percentage doesn’t tell us anything more than when the extra base is taken, the coach can always hold the runner.  And look at 2016, the Pirates ran into 29 outs trying to take an extra base on a ball in play.

But because of the unequal amounts of opportunities, here’s a breakdown of outs per opportunity:
Under Leyva, while the Pirates were just around the league in terms of aggressiveness (taken percentage), they ran into less outs than than the average team, save Leyva’s first season.  Much of the same in Sofield’s first year, but the rate kept climbing all the way up to 4.7 percent in his last year, or two percentage points higher than the league.

In Cora’s first year they ran into outs at the same rate as the league, and they’re just a tad above the league, putting up two extra stop signs, two extra runners being safe, or one of each puts them at the league number, which consistently hovers around 2.5 percent.




Pittsburgh Pirates: Travis MacGregor Turning Into a Top Prospect

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When the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Braxton Ashcraft in the second round, it resembled a pick they made in 2016.  Ashcraft, of course, was the team’s top pitching prospect who they drafted and signed in this year’s draft class. Entering the draft, Ashcraft was rated around 60-70 in terms of available prospects.  However, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him at number 51 overall.   He is a high school righty who has all the things teams look for in projectable prep pitchers.  This pick was very similar to when the team took high school righty Travis MacGregor in the second round of the 2016 draft.

MacGregor, of course, was a raw high school righty who the team “reached” on when they took him. However, reports were that he was a rising prospect as the draft approached, and he is now showing why the Pittsburgh Pirates thought so highly of him.  Through his first two seasons, he only pitched in 73 innings as the Bucs always proceed with caution when it comes to prep arms for their first few years in the organization.  He had up and down results through 2016 and 2017 pitching to 3.13 ERA in ’16, but a 7.84 ERA in ’17.  However, in the lower minors, especially with pitchers, they are working on certain aspects of their game, which could explain his struggles last season.
2018 Season
Now MacGregor is in his first full season and is already putting together everything he has worked on the last two seasons. The righty is pitching for the Low-A West Virginia Power. He came out the gate like an ace throwing to a 2.08 ERA in his three April starts.  Also, he struck out 28 batters in just 17.1 innings during the first month.  He started off May hot as well.  His first two starts were effective, throwing back to back five inning appearances and yielding two runs in both.  However, in his last May start, he only lasted 1.2 innings and gave up two earned runs on six hits.  This obviously raised a red flag, and MacGregor headed to the disabled list for nearly a month.

While MacGregor missed nearly a month, it did not affect his performance on the mound when he came off the shelf.  Since then he has made four starts for the Power.   His first start was abbreviated to three innings as the team did not want to push him his first start back.  He only gave up one earned run and struck out two.  The next start he went up to four innings and punched out four batters while giving up just one run again.

Those two starts came in the last week of June.  His first start in July he threw five innings and struck out six batters while only walking one.  Once again, MacGregor gave up one earned run.  His best start since returning from the DL came last night. He threw five shutout innings against Hagerstown (Nationals).  The Suns registered just three hits against MacGregor and struck out six times.  However, they scored two unearned runs and MacGregor received the loss in the game.





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