Pittsburgh Pirates: three surprises from Opening Day


The Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day tilt against the Cincinnati Reds was perhaps the most hotly anticipated opener in recent memory.  Despite the result, Pirate fandom is still bullish on the team.  And why wouldn’t they be, as the opening game was quite fluky in its own way.  When you look at this game, there are three surprises that led the Pirates directly to the loss:

1.  Prior to Opening Day, Jay Bruce was anemic vs Francisco Liriano

In 21 career at-bats against the Pittsburgh Pirates’ southpaw ace, Bruce has collected only two hits, one of them a home run, while compiling a .095/.136/.238 slashline.  The struggle was real for Bruce against Frankie, yet there Bruce was, doing his best Joey Votto impression, as the solo shot came in addition to drawing a walk.  It was a clear cut case of a mistake pitch being taken advantage of, or perhaps even a good power hitter being due.

Speaking of home runs, the next surprise that jumped out at me is perhaps not a surprise at all.

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2.  Tony Watson gave up a home run when tied on a count

Please understand, dear reader, that this “surprise” comes with a heavy dose of sarcasm.  As Watson has transformed himself into the all-star caliber pitcher that Clint Hurdle depends upon, he has done so in no small part thanks to a steady hand in preventing the longball, or rather, not giving up more as he pitches more and more innings.  Watson has given up the same amount of home runs (five) in each of the past three years.  As I started to digest how Frazier got such a good eye on the ball that he sent into the ether, I looked up Watson’s home run log from 2014, pictured below:

1Ryan BraunMILbehind 5-7t 713,(1-1) BSX
2Devin MesoracoCINbehind 3-5b 824,(1-2) SBSX
3Scott Van SlykeLADbehind 6-8t 817,(3-2) .FBFFBBX
4Nolan ArenadoCOLbehind 4-5b 711,(0-0) X
5Adam LaRocheWSNbehind 1-3b 822,(1-0) BX
1Todd FrazierCINtied 2-2b 813,(1-1) B>C.X

(Please note the top of the table is 2014 stats while the bottom is Frazier’s home run)

The struggle was real for Bruce against Frankie, yet there Bruce was, doing his best Joey Votto impression, as the solo shot came in addition to drawing a walk.

I noticed immediately that the vast majority of Watson’s home runs were given up when he was either tied in the count, or ahead.  Frazier’s home run came on a 1-1 count.  Not pictured are his 2013 results, which had the same ratio (80%).  Perhaps we could credit good scouting on the part of the Reds, as Watson could conceivably take more chances when ahead in counts.  If Frazier knew he might get a good pitch to hit at that count, his eyes probably lit up like the Vegas strip when he saw that belt-high fastball coming his way.  I, like most Pirates fans, still have complete faith in Watson, but this might be a trend to keep an eye on.

3.  Starling Marte struck out three times

For all of the talk this offseason about Pedro Alvarez lowering his strikeout rate, it was Marte who looked the most lost at the plate for the Bucs.  That may not mean as much when all Pirate hitters were struggling to solve Johnny Cueto, but taken in a vaccum, I was really surprised by it.  Marte is coming off of an excellent spring, locked into the fifth spot in the batting order, and is counted on to produce runs.  Marte looked particularly bad on two of the strikeouts, falling for the same breaking ball twice in consecutive at-bats.  Chalk it up to Cueto being absolutely locked in, but I was still surprised to see Marte struggle to make contact.

This season is sure to be full of surprises, for the Pirates and their opponents.  Let’s hope that the bulk of the surprises this year are of the pleasant variety.

Next: Are the Pirates the top dog in the NL Central?