Hey all, thanks for your questions, and feel free to keep them coming. Here's the first round of answers.
Garrett122: In recent years, there’s been a lot of focus on the possible value of getting away from traditional bullpen roles (e.g., most people now acknowledge that only using your best reliever in save situations is not ideal.) So if you were the manager/pitching coach of an MLB team, and the GM gave you free reign to be creative and disregard tradition, are there any changes would you try to implement, or at least experiment with? Six-man rotation? Piggybacking starters? Focusing on a certain type of arm?
Garrett wrote that this question would be an interesting way to start discussion, and I agree -- if you have any thoughts on this, leave them in the comments.
Most of the changes I'd make wouldn't be too radical. The Astros' minor-league piggybacking system hasn't been an unqualified success, but I might use it at the lower levels of the minors. Then again, the Pirates are already sort of doing that with the West Virginia Power this year, using relievers like Yeudy Garcia and Sam Street to pitch several innings per outing. I might also occasionally implement piggybacking at the big-league level. Doing that with Vance Worley and Jeff Locke once Charlie Morton returns might be a good way to make sure the Bucs' spare starter stays stretched out, and piggybacking Worley and Locke would likely result in those two guys accounting for as many innings, or perhaps even more, than if one of them were simply a conventional bullpen pitcher.
As I've mentioned here repeatedly, though, the big change would be that I'd approach the bullpen more flexibly. The closer role as it currently exists in the big leagues doesn't make sense. A one-run game in the ninth is a high-leverage situation, whereas a three-run game in the ninth isn't, so teams shouldn't have the same pitcher consistently enter in both situations. In the Pirates' case, Mark Melancon shouldn't close in high-leverage situations. But, for example, I have no problem with him pitching when the Bucs have a three-run lead in the ninth, because that's a situation that a lower-leverage pitcher should be taking anyway. I'd like to ditch prescribed bullpen roles and use a system based primarily on leverage.
SkyVolcanoes: Who will be the NL team that wins quite a bit more than the consensus was going into the year?
The best candidate appears to be the Mets, although I can't bring myself to believe in them. Maybe actually the Diamondbacks, who have a +13 run differential, although the outlook was so bad for them heading into the season that they could be quite a bit better and still go mostly unnoticed. Beyond that, I don't see a lot of great choices -- the best teams so far have been the Cardinals and Dodgers, who everyone already knew were good.
IAPHDBuccosFan: Do you see the Pirates going after any of the high-profile potential trade candidates already in the rumor mill this year, and if so which ones?
Well, first they have to prove they're contenders, which I'm not sure they've done. I'm tempted to say Troy Tulowitzki or Cole Hamels would make sense, with the left side of the infield currently unsettled and the back of the rotation an area they could potentially upgrade. (If the Pirates were to acquire a top starting pitcher, they could deal with their surplus by including Locke in the trade package.) But there isn't much precedent for the Pirates taking on as much salary as they would with those players. They'd likely prefer someone with significantly less money remaining on his contract. Johnny Cueto would be perfect, but it's hard to see the Reds and Pirates making a big trade within the division. Scott Kazmir, maybe? Or Jeff Samardzija, if the White Sox fall out of the race? If the Padres were to fall apart, Tyson Ross would be a really interesting name -- he's good and gets tons of ground balls, and A.J. Preller has shown absolutely no attachment to players he didn't acquire.
Skyvolcanoes: Which player not on the current 25-man will help the team the most the rest of the way?
Charlie Morton is the obvious answer. Someone not currently in the organization is also a possibility. The players to watch at Indianapolis, at least in terms of their ability to help this year, are Deibinson Romero, Casey Sadler, Adrian Sampson, Clayton Richard and Blake Wood. It would probably take a pretty significant injury for Romero to see much big-league playing time, though, and all three of the starters are back-end types. That leaves Wood, who seems to be pitching his way into consideration. When I saw him in Columbus, it didn't look like he had fixed the control problems he's had for most of his career. But his numbers this season are undeniable (21 whiffs and four walks in 14.1 innings!), and he throws very, very hard.