Pirates pregame: 'You can't say it's early anymore'

Mitchell Layton

-P- Clint Hurdle said that Jose Tabata should be available off the bench tonight. He went through strength tests yesterday, and there does not seem to be a larger issue.

-P- Starling Marte was seen by the team's training staff yesterday and he feels "pretty good," according to Hurdle. "We feel pretty confident, at this point in time, that he is able to start."

-P- Jason Grilli and Russell Martin participated in a simulated game this afternoon.

Hurdle said that Grilli felt "good and healthy" afterwards. He is scheduled for another simulated game tomorrow afternoon.

Hurdle said that Russell Martin is feeling "very, very good," and he will add-in defensive work tomorrow afternoon.

-P- Everybody but Tony Watson is available out of the bullpen for tonight's game.

-P- Since losing both ends of that miserable doubleheader in Baltimore, the Pirates have only gained one game on .500. With their record at 18-25, the Bucs will have to finish the season 72-47 (.605 win percentage) to reach 90 wins. In 2013, the Pirates accomplished the feat, going 72-47 between April 8th and August 20th.

Asked today if the upcoming homestand had added significance, given where the team finds itself in the standings, Hurdle said that it did.

"You can't say it's early anymore. We've got to find a way to start executing at a championship level and it starts tonight," Hurdle said. "It's not like were more urgent now than we were at the beginning of the season, but we do have to start playing better."

More walks, less slugging

Since the beginning of the season, Hurdle has talked about the Pirates' hitting approach. Over the weekend, Neal Huntington said that the team needed show more "maturity" at the plate. Part of the overall approach emphasized by the Pirates, and every other team in baseball, is being more patient at the plate and drawing more walks.

To a not-insignificant degree, the Pirates have displayed improved patience. Their walk percentage is up from 7.6 percent in 2013 to 8.3 percent this season. The Pirates are swinging at fewer first pitches (25.8 percent versus 26.7 percent in 2013), and they are working into more 3-and-1 counts (8.8 percent versus 8.2 percent, 2013).

The improved team numbers are largely attributable to five core contributors to the Pirates' offense - Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Ike Davis, Travis Snider, and Pedro Alvarez - drawing walks at career-high rates.

However, there is another side to the story, which may not be completely unrelated.

The same players who are walking at high rates are also posting career, or near career, low isolated slugging percentages:

Walk Rate (percentages) - Isolated Slugging

McCutchen: 17.6 - .167 (second lowest of career)

Marte: 6.3 - .145 (career low)

Davis: 16.7 - .130 (second lowest of career)

Snider: 11.3 - .118 (career low)

Alvarez: 12.2 - .165 (second lowest of career)

Team: 8.3 (7.6, 2013) - .135 (.151, 2013)

On the other hand, both Neil Walker and Gaby Sanchez are walking at career low rates, but posting the highest isolated slugging percentages of their careers.

Whether there is a significant statistical relationship between players gaining (losing) walks and losing (gaining) slugging is not something I have studied. But, it is an interesting offensive story line for the Pirates so far this season, as seven Pirates are posting near career highs and lows.

This afternoon, Hurdle spoke to the relationship between patience and power, observing that a patient approach can get a hitter a in hitter's count, but then it comes down to what a player does with that count.

"Are you just putting a good swing on a pitch? Or, are you trying to add some juice?" Hurdle said. "One of the things we were challenged with earlier was that we were getting into offensive counts, but we also had the largest chase rate in offensive counts, so there needs to be growth there."

While the Pirates are above league average at getting into offensive counts, 33.4 percent (32.7 league average), they are have a 92 OPS+ (12th in NL) and .436 slugging percentage (12th in NL) when ahead.

-P- Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez has not posted a ground-ball percentage higher than 39 percent in his three years in the majors (37.2 percent this season). His HR/FB percentage is up to 13.2 percent this season (versus a league average of 10.1 percent), the highest of his career.

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