Wainwright's curve presents special challenge
The Pirates struggled against the curveball last season. According to Fangraphs' pitch type linear weights, the Bucs were the third worst team in Major League Baseball against the curve, costing them 13.6 runs. On Friday, Hurdle said that improving the approach against the breaking ball was one of the main areas of emphasis this Spring Training. "We lit up those (pitching) machines," he said. "More reps than we've ever done before; more swings than we've ever done before (against the curveball)."
This afternoon the Pirates will face one of, if not the, toughest curveballs in Major League Baseball. Adam Wainwright's breaking pitch ranked second among qualified starters in 2013, saving him 17 runs.
"It's the tilt," that makes Wainwright's curveball so special, Hurdle said. "You're talking about 16 inches of tilt. Measuring it is one thing, having to see it and try to hit is a completely different thing. The number doesn't have any correlation to how difficult it is to hit," he added.
On first blush, it seems a little strange that Sanchez and Tabata would start against one of the toughest right-handed pitchers in baseball. However, on Friday Hurdle hinted that both would start today because he liked the matchup. Perhaps he was alluding to the fact that both have performed relatively well against the curve. For his career, Sanchez has gained 2.7 runs against the pitch. (Including 2010, when he gained seven runs, seventh best in the MLB.) Similarly, Jose Tabata has shown success, scoring the second highest linear weight on the team last season (2.3), and gaining 7.7 for his career.
On the other hand, Jordy Mercer, who led the team with four runs gained against the curveball last season will get the day off, while Clint Barmes, who was second worst, -3.2 (ahead of only Pedro Alvarez), will start at shortstop.
Volquez vs. Wainwright
On paper, today's pitching matchup does not look like a good one for the Pirates. However, as you would expect, Clint Hurdle sees things a little differently: "I do understand that that could be the general perception. But not my perception. I expect us to go out there and beat him," he said.
Hurdle also said that he likes what he has seen from Volquez since the beginning of spring training: "For those that have watched every outing, there's been visible improvement. There's been tangible evidence of improvement. And there's been a lot of things that have gotten better that you can't measure."