A full plate from this afternoon's press scrum with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle:
* A.J. Burnett is scheduled for a bullpen session tomorrow at 10:00. Hurdle said that A.J. "feels that (the bullpen session) could put him back in a position to pitch." The Pirates manager added that Burnett has his own "personal views" as to what he needs to do in order to return. These views appear not to include a rehabilitation assignment and Hurdle seems to fine with that: "The challenge is always when these guys return back from injury is how sharp they are going to be? I haven' had many players that have gone out on rehab and come back sharp and you add in his experience, so we'll talk, we'll communicate."
* Jose Tabata returned to the team and is back in the starting lineup tonight. Hurdle said that he talked to the Pirates' right fielder this afternoon and told him that he wanted him "go out there and get after it, we're playing with a lot of passion and a lot of pride, he needs to be part of that." Hurdle added that he is not "caught up in the numbers" but that he needs to see "fire and the energy" from Tabata.
In what may be a telling comment about the future of Travis Snider, when Hurdle was asked whether Tabata will get a chance to become the Pirates regular right fielder, perhaps playing every day, Hurdle responded:
We're getting to the point where we're looking to put the most competitive team we can out there. Travis has had some at bats. Whether we go Sanchez or Jones at times, that could still play in. Sanchez plays first and Jones moves to right field. That could still play at times. Jose has the ability to be an everyday player in the Major Leagues.
* Jeff Locke's pitch count will not be affected by throwing a hard bullpen session during Sunday's game.
* The Pirates' starting pitchers have the second best cumulative ERA in Major League Baseball, but the largest negative difference between ERA and FIP, 3.31 - 3.78 = -.47. The FIP is still good, but using the traditional indicators captured by the FIP v. ERA comparison, one would expect some regression.
However, the Pirates superb defense, which may be sustainable, plus their league leading ground ball rate, which also may be sustainable, could be a formula that will sustain success. At least that's what the Pirates' manager hopes. When asked whether the defense + ground ball formula represents a path towards sustainability the Pirates manager said following: (I am going to quote in full because I found the answer very interesting.)
Question: Clint, your starting pitching has been an important story this year. They have posted the second best ERA in the league, so far. When you look at traditional metrics they don't necessarily line up with the ERA. However, you've mentioned the importance of defensive creativity (i.e. the increasing use and sophistication of shifts) and something that sticks out from your staff's numbers is the ground ball rate (highest in the league). Is that combination, defensive creativity and high ground ball rate, is that a formula for sustainability?
It's something we're (chuckle), yeah, we're trying to prove it can be.
The one thing that as I try to manage and continue to learn things is: the value of a strikeout vs.the value of a ground ball and where they play out and have the most value. Obviously in the later leverage situations, you'd like the punch- out, the ball not in play.
And we were scratching the surface of that, I think it was 30 or 40 games into the season, and I took all the numbers I could take and I said, "you know we need to really focus on three pitches to get outs from our starting pitchers." Because we were borderline striking out a lot of guys, but pitch counts were getting ramped up and we were not getting the depth and innings we wanted.
Along those lines, I think there is a formula in place. At least something that makes sense to set up and follow through. We're doing it at the minor league level as well, to see where that information gets us.