Mar 21, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Edinson Volquez (36) talks with pitching coach Ray Searage (54) and left fielder Felix Pie (26) on the mound during the first inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, Mark Madden: Where're the Holes??

Is it just me, or do the Pirates look like a pretty solid team?

I can’t tell, really… but do we still have a great lineup?  MVP Cutch.  All-star caliber 2nd baseman, left fielder?  NL Home Run champ? Top shelf rotation? Outstanding bullpen? You know… those folks?

We still have those people, right?

Hmm..  Funny,  if you listen to Mark Madden and/or Cook and Poni – or, as I like to refer to them whenever they try to talk baseball, Mark Sadden and Crock and Phoni – you would think those players don’t exist?

Sadden claims we have too many holes and still harps on Burnett.  Phoni said he is close to “hating the line up”. Crock says we don’t have a 5 hitter and still cries about 1st base and right field.  Blah, blah, blah.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a Pittsburgh sports radio talk show host would actually be right about the Pirates for once?  Is that too much to ask?  Just, you know, have some meaningful insight based on concrete fact that is accurate every once in a while?  Is it just me? Is that an unreasonable request?

Seems like it.

But fear not, Pirate Apologists!  I will be keeping track of the facts all year.  Somebody has to…

This is the part where Mark Sadden, Crock and Phoni, and everyone else who continues to claim we are doomed to a season of inequity should read on.   If they listen, it might actually make them sound like they know something about baseball.

Let’s talk about the “holes”.


First and foremost.  Just keeping score.  AJ Burnett 0-  Edinson Volquez 1

Do you remember this garbage?:

WE DIDN’T SIGN AJ BURNETT!?!?  WE’RE DOOMED! WE SHOULD FORFEIT EVERY GAME THIS YEAR!  WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?  (weeping, tears, crying, kicking, screaming, etc)

I certainly do.  I will be keeping track of how the mighty, mighty, batman does this year.

For those who listen to the Big Tuna Show and read the columns, you’d know I predicted AJ Burnett will have a 4+ ERA and spend ample time on the DL.  As I’ve said many times, he needed Pittsburgh more than Pittsburgh needed him.  And this season will prove it.

His last outing saw him walk 6 batters and give up 5 earned in only 5 innings of work to the Cubs.

I know, I know, Charlie just got roughed up a bit by the Cubs as well, but two different games.  Take away a few bloop hits, a couple seeing eye ground ball singles, and a mistake pitch to Starling Castro and he has a good outing.  Burnett imploded.

I will be watching his progress eagerly.  You should as well.  But enough about him.  Let’s talk VOLQUEZ.

Yes, Edinson Volquez. The forgotten one.  #volquezpower  What did he do in his first start as a member of one of the best rotations in baseball?

He only came in and defied ALL the critics who said a Volquez/Wainwright matchup would be a laugher.  (Not me, of course, as I predicted a Pirate victory on my show)

But as an answer to the critics who said he would be a no-good, washed-up, has-been, waste of $5 million, Edinson pitched 5.2 nearly flawless innings against the perennial NL Central bullies to shock everyone and cement himself as the 5 for the foreseeable future.   What’s that mean for the rest of the season??

Uhh…not much, unfortunately.

Burnett will have great games like he did in his first outing and Volquez will have bad games like he did last year.  But bottom line, for right now, the score is Volquez 1- Burnett- 0!!

And that makes me feel wonderful..


If I had a dollar for every time I heard the so-called experts complain about our first base situation, I would be as rich as Nutting.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing the argument.  For one, if you don’t like the first base situation, then at least make a suggestion on who you would go get to make it better!  And if you say Kendrys Morales, slap yourself.

Let me ask you a question.  Would you give up Gerrit Cole and pay $15m to a guy who hit .275 last year?  Because getting Kendrys Morales would require giving up a first round draft pick on top of a ridiculous salary.  A first round draft pick is invaluable.  A first round draft pick is Gerrit Cole.  It’s not even worth discussing Kendrys Morales for at least two more months.  At that point we don’t forfeit a draft pick if we sign him.  So, if he’s still around in June, go get him.  If he’s gone by then?  Oh, well.

And if you hate first base THAT bad… make a rational suggestion.  A suggestion that actually makes sense.  That’s what real baseball analysts do.  If you don’t have one…save yourself the embarrassment and don’t discuss it.

Look at the numbers.

Garrett Jones

.207 BA, .324 OBP, .565 OPS  (not to mention 11 strikeouts with only 6 hits)

Travis Ishikawa

.294 BA, .350 OBP, .938 OPS (only 3 strikeouts)

Justin Morneau

.345 BA, .387 OBP, .766 OPS (10 hits, 9 of which are singles and he plays in Colorado.  Not fair)

Overall, T.I. stacks up quite nicely, wouldn’t you say?  It’s early, but expect him to continue giving the Pirates good at bats every time up.  The numbers will decline.  But not as far as you think.  He is a professional ball player and he can hit.  Can we stop now?

Trust in Travis, friends.

Right Field

Ah yes, the bane of so many Pirate fan’s existence.  The reason so many umm….”experts?” predicted the Pirates to not contend this year.  Let’s look.

Marlon Byrd

.233 BA, .281 OBP, .615 OPS

Travis Snider

.250 BA, .333 OBP, .538 OPS

Jose Tabata

.250 BA, .367 OBP, .690 OPS

Wow… Marlon Byrd is really killing it in Philly, huh, guys?  Yeah, we really should have signed him for two years and not played Gregory Polanco until 2016.  That makes sense.

As for Tabata/Snider, we could probably expect this type of production all year.  Tabata should hit in the .270 range.  Snider in the .240-260 range.  Not a whole lot of power from either.  But hey.  Improvement from last year and help is on the way come July.

Marlon Byrd was a good fill in player in September but is he really good enough that you would have signed him to a multi-year deal and not played Gregory Polanco???

If you said yes, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the room so the grownups can speak.  There’s no decision there.  Polanco over Byrd.  Period.  THE END.  Can we stop complaining about right field now?  The argument is stupid.  Right field is locked up.  Polanco is the future.

For those of you who said we are doomed, Pirate fans will be holding you accountable all year; and for those of you who continue to say the Pirates are dead in the water because of the “holes” in our lineup?  Do yourself a favor, wait until the numbers drastically change, THEN at least you could sound quasi-intelligent about making the argument those positions will hurt us.

I do expect Travis Ishikawa’s numbers to decline slightly.  And the right field production will actually stay about the same if not slightly improve.   But overall, both positions will produce more then they did last year.  And if I remember correctly, we did okay in 2013.

As for now, Pirate fans…. So far, so good.  Keep the faith.  Raise the Jolly Roger.  5 wins 2 losses. Go Bucs.

Follow me on twitter for real Pirate insight @TheBigTuna and tune into the The Big Tuna show every Sunday an hour before first pitch on H4TV.

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Tags: AJ Burnett Edinson Volquez Featured Image Mark Madden Pittsburgh Pirates

  • DJ Johnny Johnson Jackson

    Can I get a witness!? Now, while the Big Tuna speaks the truth backed up by meticulous statistical research, it is still early. I am quite happy with how the Bucco’s started the year. Listen, there will always be nay-sayers in this town in particular certain members of the media that have yet to let go of past grudges or still have a bone to pick with the Pirates. With that said, I could understand their initial worries about our situation at 1st base and R field. But, one angle that is overlooked here is that Clint Hurdle usually gets the most out of his players. Furthermore, I feel that the players at 1B and RF are fully aware that they are part of something very special here. So, sometimes when great leadership intersects with opportunity, players play at or above their potential. We are seeing this early on and I feel that is what we will continue to see out of 1B and RF from our Bucco’s.

    • Tony Canella

      Well said DJJJ. Thanks for the post.

    • Andrew

      What kind of loser uses statistics to make a point 8 games into the season. Ishikawa is batting .200 now you loser.

  • Brotherhood of the Reeeedus

    Thank you….Madden is unlistenable when he’s talking pirates (or pretty much any other time for that matter). Poni usually makes an attempt to bring it back around, I just feel like he is overly emotional about certain unimportant details. He’s a smart guy. Hopefully he doesn’t end up picking up the Pirate fan demographic the way Madden does (by simply infuriating them) for his entire career.

    • Dom

      Madden did predict a winning record for the pirates.

      I don’t understand the criticism against him.

      Are we a better or worse team for NOT obtaining a first baseman at the beginning of the season?

    • Tony Canella

      Thanks for the posts. Madden has criticized nearly every move the Pirates have made for the last 5 years under Huntington. With the reality that those moves have turned around this franchise and created a playoff caliber team, his credibility is shot when it comes to discussing baseball. He clearly does not understand the sport, yet continues to make statements critical of the team without backing them up with any sort of fact or statistic. The Pirate tried and are still trying to acquire a first basemen that would make sense. The market is thin and James Loney turned down the offer they made to him. There aren’t many legitimate 1st base candidates out there unfortunately to try and bring in. I’d be happy to hear some suggestions however on who you like?

    • Dom

      I touched on this above but over the summer, Stan Savern said on Madden’s show that he wished we would have made some offer for Morneau. Madden agreed with these sentiments.

      Morneau is only obtaining $6.75 this year and $9 million next year. It’s hard to imagine we couldn’t have made him an offer that would have surpassed that.

    • leowalter

      Stan Savern has no freaking idea of what he sees on a baseball field. He would be better off not even discussing the Pirates and stick to football and hockey.

    • Tony Canella

      I struggle to listen to those two. They just never bring anything to the table. I had someone comment on another article that they were having a serious discussion around whether or not the Pirates should bring back Russel Martin to serve as a backup/mentor to Tony Sanchez. If that conversation indeed took place, then they really need to stop talking Pirates. Or baseball for that matter. If they think Martin, who very well may be the most coveted free agent catcher next year, would serve as a backup to anyone, let alone Tony Sanchez, then that is just pathetic.

  • Dom

    I don’t believe Madden said the Buccos had a meager roster.

    His argument is that could have been a better team had they resigned AJ and/or made a play for a first basemen.

    I agree with his sentiments. If we have a string of injuries to our rotation, we will be livid the Buccos didn’t put together a better offer for AJ.

    • Tony Canella

      Our depth at starting pitcher is depleted that is for sure. But AJ made his choice to leave. The Pirates offered him $12+ million and he said no. Again, if he has an answer for first base, he should share it. But he doesn’t. So his argument amounts to nothing but stating the obvious and he continues to add no value whatsoever to the conversation. Listening to him talk Pirates is a waste of time because he doesn’t watch them, follow them, or even like them. He’s a mental midget when it comes to the sport and he embarrasses himself every time he tries to talk about it.

    • Dom

      Madden said we should have offered AJ the $14.1 million qualifying offer that he was due. I think he would have been more likely to stay if we paid him the amount he was due. Sure, he still might have left but then we would have at least have gotten a draft pick when we went somewhere else. I see no reason why we couldn’t have raised our stakes by just two million.

      In regards to first base, I don’t see why we couldn’t have made an offer for Morneau. I know he didn’t play up to the level we had hoped when we obtained him last year but we could have offered him more than the two year $12.5 million he signed with the Rockies. I’d sure feel a lot better with Morneau at first than a platoon of Ishikawa/Sanchez.

      I feel Madden’s real beef with Bucco management is their inability to bring in anyone significant when we obtained $25 million in TV revenues this offseason.

      May I ask why you choose to listen to Madden if he aggravates you?

    • Tony Canella

      Good post. And at the most, I’ll catch a ten minute segment of Madden on the way home from work strictly by default. Normally, I don’t get out early enough to hear the show anyways. Most of the time it’s word of mouth that gets to me regarding his Pirate statements. To his credit, he does know hockey, and I’m a Penguin fan so he is worth something in that regards.

      I do believe if NH had to do this offseason over, he would have gave Burnett the qualifying offer. He was hoping to use some of that money on other free agents, but obviously, that just didn’t pan out. Hindsight is 20/20.

      Morneau wouldn’t make sense as he would want to be an everyday player. He’s a career .250 hitter against LHP and Gaby Sanchez hit LHP better then every other first basemen in baseball less Miguel Cabrera last year. You can’t sit Gaby against LHP. Not with what he did against them last year. That fact excludes Morneau as a 1st base option. He wouldn’t want to play only 125 games.

      Pirates have invested more in draft picks in the 5 years then any team in baseball and they had another stellar draft this year. Payroll alone on the 40 man roster doesn’t accurately refect total spending. And they did try to spend additional money this offseason, unfortunately, people have to accept the offers in order for that to happen. They’ll spend more throughout the year and will bring another player or two in eventually.

    • Dom

      I don’t understand why we couldn’t sit Morneau against LHP if needed to? If Sanchez is one the best in the league against lefties then when couldn’t we develop some type of platoon among the two?

      If we obtained Morneau, we’d always have Sanchez on the roster as a solid backup. If Sanchez goes down to injury and Ishikawa regresses, as we expect him to, then we’d have nobody to start at first. It’s more than just not spending money. This was the offseason to go all in and we missed our opportunity.

    • Tony Canella

      I don’t think they missed the opportunity. This lineup was 22 games over .500 last year before Morneau and Byrd even got here. It’s a solid team right now. Plenty of time to add players before the trade deadline. Don’t believe that BS Madden is feeding you. It’s not the case.

      And maybe I’m wrong in assuming this, but Morneau was a league MVP in 2006 and never platooned a day in his life. I don’t believe he would be interested in such a role. I would severely doubt he’d agree to signing a contract if that is the caveat, and I also doubt the Pirates were interested in sitting Gaby against LHP. So there’s your impasse. It wouldn’t align. It just wasn’t a fit. Nothing to do with money.

    • Dom

      I meant we missed the opportunity to obtain talent over the offseason. Sure, we can still do so at the trade deadline.

      One would think Morneau would be interested in a platoon role if we paid him more than Colorado did or offered him more years. He’s only 32 and signed just a two year contract. I think we could have easily gone three or more years.

      I suppose the Buccos could have offered him a contract and it was never made public but I never heard a rumor claiming they did. I never heard anyone on the Buccos Management claim they made him an offer. Tim Williams wrote they were unlikely to do so on the last day of October. Even if we Morneau did make it clear he would never platoon, which was contradictory to what he seemed to imply, we could have dangled a three year contract in front of him and t would have given him something to think about.

      Plus, if you feel that Sanchez is the only option against lefties at first then you must feel there would have been no free agent worth obtaining, as no high profile first baseman would be interested in platooning.

    • Tony Canella

      Well, there really weren’t any high profile 1st base free agents other then Kendrys Morales, Morneau, and James Loney coming into this season. And I think Loney was the only logical choice between those three and they made a play for him. He chose to stay in Tampa.

      You don’t give up a draft pick for Morales (which is why no team is biting on him) and we can agree to disagree on whether Morneau would have been happy to platoon. Being that he’s been an everyday player his entire career, I seem to think he wouldn’t accept a platoon even if you did pay him more, and I don’t think you pay a guy $7-9m to platoon either. Especailly if you don’t have the money. Either way, they didn’t pursue him, which tells you something there.. And I don’t mind that decision one bit.

      Aside from those three, you were really only left with the likes of Corey Hart, Casey Kotchman, Mark Reynolds, all of which bat right handed. Or Carlos Pena (who is actually still available) to bat lefty. Those players don’t really knock your socks off. Ishikawa was the safest bet based on his history agaisnt LHP. What can you do. Thin market.

      Can you think of any other options?

    • Dom

      Using your argument, regardless if we obtained Morales, Morneau, or Loney, Gaby would have to be our first baseman against lefties as he is superior than every single one of them in that respect. Even if we would have won the Loney sweepstakes, Sanchez would still have to be the man against lefties, right? Comparing Morneau to Loney is apples to apples in that respect. From the information that I found online, Morneau was superior against lefties, compared to Loney last year.

      If you would be okay with Loney starting against the lefties, then you should have no problem with Morneau doing so as well. Therefore, there was no reason for them to missing out on Morneau when he signed for so little and for so few years.

    • Tony Canella

      Nah, I wouldn’t be ok with acquiring Loney to start against lefty’s and I don’t think the Pirates would have been either.

      Which honestly could have very well been the main reasons he decided to stay in Tampa Bay. I read that the Pirates offered a higher salary then TB, but with the caveat he would have to assume a 70/30 platoon with Gaby. Being that he said no, I’m guessing he was only interested in being an everyday player some where. Can’t blame him.

      I would have thought between the two (Morneau and Toney), he would be the more likely candidate that would be willing to bend on playing time because he hasn’t had nearly the success that Morneau has in the past. But apparently not.

      Should Gaby not do well against LHP’s this year, then that would have been a miscalculation by NH to strictly search for a platoon. But based on Gaby’s success last season, you have to give him the opportunity to repeat the performance in my opinion.

    • Dom

      Well, again, I never heard of a rumor that we made Morneau an offer. He seemed to imply that he was willing to come back but it was never report that we made him an offer. Again, the contract he signed with Colorado was very meager in my opinion and there is little doubt we could have done better. We simply chose not to.

      It’s hard to find this info online but how many starting pitchers are left handed anyways? I think 30% is a liberal guess. If this is accurate, we’re sacrificing 70% of the games for the 30% by going with Sanchez and denying Morneau a contract. Plus, Sanchez could have started against a lefty when Morneau needed a day off.

      It’s fine by me that in your opinion Gaby is the man at first but Madden’s issue goes beyond first base. The problem is that they brought in NOBODY this offseason when this season looks like it could be our best chance to go deep in the playoffs. Maybe you’re right about Morneau and Loney but I have a hard time believing that they couldn’t bring in anyone. They obtained an extra $25 million from TV revenues and raised ticket prices. Why couldn’t they use that to increase the offer they gave AJ by two million?

    • Tony Canella

      No offer to Morneau, I was talking about the offer to Loney.

      Last year the AB split for the Pirates LHP vs RHP was 25/75. So yes, 30/70 is a bit liberal.

      And I don’t think Ishikawa is necessarily a total sacrifice. He will perform well this year and wil be an upgrade from Garrett Jones. Believe it or not, we did improve at that position. Look at the career numbers Ishikawa vs. Jones. Just wasn’t a huge, high profile upgrade. But was an upgrade nonetheless. Offensively and defensively.

      I think they should have given Burnett the qualifying offer, but NH didn’t want to do it. When he realized he wasn’t getting Loney he tried to use that money to get Burnett, but it was too late at that point. Again, possibly another miscalculation on his part. He had a bad offseason. No doubt.

    • leowalter

      Are you Morneau’s agent or long lost brother ?

    • leowalter

      Morneau can’t catch up to the fastball anymore,that should have been apparent to you or any one else in September. All he can do is slap the ball to left center,and they didn’t want to pay at least $ 6 million a year for that. Remember 0 HRs, and 3 RBI in a month and a half ? If you don’t,a lot of the rest of us do.

  • Jimbo

    Decent post and you make some good points, but it’s hard to take you seriously when you can’t spell “Gerrit Cole” and start calling out the media, who have credentials, when you have none.

    • Tony Canella

      Thanks for the post. I don’t need credentials to be more insightful then those three. That’s easy and the facts will speak for themselves. But point taken on the typo. Honest mistake. Hate when that happens.

  • Dom

    I guess now the question isn’t, “Where’s the holes?” it’s “Where’s the lineup.”