Bob Smizik's Blog

Pirates-Padres: All eyes on A.J.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013 04:15 PM


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He’s been mostly a tower of strength, on the field and off it, since joining the Pirates before the start of last season, but today, as the Pirates find themselves in a classic dog-days-of-August pennant race, there are concerns about the pitching ability of A.J. Burnett. The one-time staff leader all of a sudden has become a questionable No. 2.


Based on just two poor starts -- 10 innings, 16 hits, 10 earned run -- on Aug. 10 and 15, that’s a harsh judgment. But the judgment is based more on Burnett’s history of awful Augusts than it is on his two most recent starts.


From 2009 through this month, Burnett has a 7.03 ERA in August. The rest of the time over those almost five seasons he ERA is 3.77.


There’s no accounting, other than history, for Burnett’s abrupt decline this month. In the three starts prior to his last two -- one of them in August -- he had a 1.17 ERA. Going back six starts, his ERA was 1.88. Based on common baseball sense there’s every reason to believe Burnett can pitch effectively the rest of the season. Based on his recent Augusts, maybe not.


For the season, Burnett is 5-8 with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. He leads National League starters with a 9.93 K/9.  This is the line to Burnett’s stats against San Diego batters.


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Marte scratched: Outfielder Starling Marte was in the original lineup but was scratched due to issues with his right ring finger. He should be ready to play tomorrow.


MVP-MVP-MVP: If performance in the heat of a pennant race is a factor in MVP voting -- and it certainly should be -- Andrew McCutchen is making an impressive case for himself. This is McCutchen’s August batting line: .431/.542/.603 -- 1.145. He is second in batting average, first in on-base percentage and fifth in OPS. This is his batting line since the All-Star Game: .363/.447/.619 -- .1066. He is fourth in batting, third in on-base percentage, fifth in slugging and third in OPS. I’m hearing people complain about McCutchen. I see nothing to complain about.


Short bench: With neither Alex Presley nor Andrew Lambo eligible for recall -- they have to spend 10 days in the minors -- it looks like the Pirates will go with a short bench tonight despite the fact the bullpen is in a more rested state. Russ Canzler, Chase d'Arnaud and Jerry Sands are the options available on the 40-man roster. Their respective batting averages at Indianapolis are .255, .234, .211.


Mixed bag: Pedro Alvarez leads the National League in home runs but he is not providing the Pirates the kind of offensive consistency they need from a No. 4 hitter. He has four home runs in the past 10 games, but during that stretch he’s batting .196 (9-for-46). For August, he’s batting .194 with a .664 OPS. Since the All-Star Game he’s batting .195 with a .652 OPS.


How’s the bullpen holding up? Fans have been concerned all season about how well the bullpen would hold up under the frequent but judicious use of Clint Hurdle:  Here are their ERA-WHIP-BAA comparisons from the first half to the second. Pre-All Star/Post-All-Star:  Mark Melancon: 0.81/0.79/.189 -- 1.29/0.93/.196;  Justin Wilson: 1.64/1.09/.172 -- 2.31/1.20/.227;  Vin Mazzaro: 2.70/1.15/.253 -- 1.84/1.30/.218;  Tony Watson: 3.35/0.94/.202 -- 1.26/0.91/.204;  Bryan Morris: 2.72/1.11//193 -- 4.40/1.53/.316.


Opposing pitcher: Right-hander Tyson Ross, 3-5, 2.62 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, opened the season as a starter, was shifted to the bullpen at the end of April and rejoined the rotation in late July. As a starter, he’s 3-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Since returning to the rotation, his ERA is 1.29 -- five earned runs and 17 hits in 34 innings. His BAA for the season is .218. Ross, who pitched for Oakland from 2010-12, has never faced the Pirates.


Pirates lineup, 10:10 game time:


1. Tabata, LF

2. Walker, 2B

3. McCutchen, CF

4. Alvarez, 3B

5. Martin, C

6. Jones, RF

7. Sanchez, 1B

8. Mercer, SS

9. Burnett, P


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New look, name starting tomorrow

Tuesday, 20 August 2013 02:30 PM


My commentary will take on a new look and a new address beginning tomorrow morning, although it should not affect readers much, if at all.


If you have been using a Post-Gazette link to get to the blog, you will automatically be redirected to the new site/address.


For those who want the new address, it is:


My articles no longer will be found in Community Voices, but on the homepage of, about a third of the way down the page.


One thing that will be fewer linked national articles.


As you can gather from the link above, it will no longer be Bob Smizik’s Blog, but Smizik on Sports. That is a subtle change, but a change nevertheless.

One thing that won’t change is my interaction with readers in the comment section. It’s one of the things I like best about my post-retirement ‘career.’


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Liriano gives Pirates playoff edge

Tuesday, 20 August 2013 01:00 PM


No contender wants to play in the best-of-one wild-card game. Winning the division is extremely important. But if the Pirates find themselves in a wild-card status, and there’s a good chance they will, Francisco Liriano is a good man to have on the mound.


By Scott Miller,


SAN DIEGO – He's been an All-Star, thrown a no-hitter and learned at the feet of the great master, Johan Santana, during Santana's 2006 Cy Young season.


But never has Francisco Liriano been this money over an entire season.


In equaling a career-high with his 14th victory with Monday night's 3-1 win over the Padres, Liriano lowered his ERA to 2.53, fifth in the NL.


And maybe most impressively as the Pirates charge toward what they hope will be their first division title since 1992, there's this: In his past four outings following a Pirates' loss, Liriano now has thrown a combined 30 innings while allowing only two runs.


Read the rest of the story.



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Steelers fans ranked only ninth best

Tuesday, 20 August 2013 11:00 AM


Steelers fans are not going to like this. They perceive themselves as the best in the world. Research done by the Emory University business school, based on a complicated formula, has come up with findings that show the Steelers fans are not even the best in the NFL. In fact, they’re not the best in the AFC North.  For what it’s worth.

By Mike Lewis and Manish Tripathi, Emory University


The NFL is America’s favorite professional sports league, but which of its teams has the most loyal and supportive fan base?  This is not a straightforward question.  A ranking based on attendance would be skewed toward teams that play in more populated metropolitan areas, and a ranking based on profitability or revenues would be biased in favor of teams that are currently enjoying more on-field success.


In our series of fan base analyses across leagues, we adjust for these complicating factors using a revenue premium model of fan equity.  The key idea is that we look at team box office revenues relative to team on-field success, market population, stadium capacity, median income and other factors.  


The first step in our procedure involves the creation of a statistical model that predicts box office revenue as a function of the aforementioned variables.  We then compare actual revenues to the revenues predicted by the model.  Teams with relatively stronger fan support will have revenues that exceed the predicted values, and teams that under perform have relatively less supportive fan bases. We provide more details on the methodhere andhere.

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Francisco the Great!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013 02:30 AM


Nobody asked me, but . . .


* Another spectacular performance by Francisco Liriano last night against San Diego -- seven innings no runs, four hits, two walks, 13 strikeouts. Liriano won't win the Cy Young because of the otherworldly season of Clayton Kershaw. But he'll get some votes and at the same time he has to be in the talk, unusual for a pitcher, as Pirates MVP.


* The one thing you absolutely and positively do not want to see in the first quarter of an exhibition game: Ben Roethlisberger being tackled -- twice.


* Jon Gruden has a bad word to say about almost no one. So when he spent some time badmouthing the play of Maurkice Pouncey last night it kind of makes you take notice. The well-regarded has long held Pouncey in much lower esteem than other sources.


* Imagine the uproar is this happened in MLB. The Washington Redskins have had eight drug suspensions since 2011. If that happened in baseball, it would be leading SportsCenter every hour. When it happens in the NFL, it barely gets mentioned.


* Liriano had a pitcher’s dream come true in the fourth inning last night and I’m not talking about getting nine of the first 11 outs on strikeouts. I’m talking about bases loaded, two out and Ronny Cedeno coming to the plate.


* If Le’Veon Bell doesn’t watch himself, he’s going to have a new first name: Injury-Prone Le’Veon Bell. He left the game last night with his third injury in two weeks. This time it is mid-foot.


* When I first saw Starling Marte was out of the lineup last night, I figured he was injured. But I was kinda hoping he was being disciplined for the outrageously stupid decision to try to steal third base against Arizona Sunday.


* ESPN is counting down the top 100 players -- offense and defense -- in the NFL. The rankings thus far are 91-100 and two Steelers are mentioned on offense -- Heath Miller, 91, and Antonio Brown, 95.  No. 99 on defense is the Cincinnati Bengals James Harrison.


* Pat Bostick, the former Pitt quarterback and now Pitt color analyst, should know better. He said on The Fan yesterday that Pitt’s close games with Notre Dame and Louisville should be taken into consideration when viewing the Panthers’ 6-7 record last year. As should Pitt’s loss to Youngstown State. 6-7 is 6-7.


* I hear a ton of criticism about third-base coaches in general and Nick Leyva in particular. Question: Of the 1,129 runs scored in the past two seasons by the Pirates, how many times has anyone been heard to utter, `Nice job by the third-base coach?’


* WAR should not be an issue in the American League MVP race this season, although I see it being raised in some circles. Yes, Mike Trout is the best player in the AL. But he certainly is not the most valuable. To paraphrase Branch Rickey, the Angels could be 16 games out of first place without Trout. The Detroit Tigers would not seven games in first place without Miguel Cabrera.


* What a tremendously athletic play by Washington’s linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to leap and catch, while he was rushing the passer, a ball thrown by Roethlisberger and rumble in for a touchdown.


* The performance of Pirates top prospect Gregory Polanco, 21, at Class AA is highly encouraging. After struggling just a bit, which was to be expected, Polanco is batting .286 with an OPS over .800. I was dubious about Polanco being able to help the Pirates next season, but it’s not out of the question.


* How does MLB put itself into the position where umpires have to approve any changes in the replay rule?


* Jonathan Dwyer ran like a running back trying to make the team, which he is, against the Redskins last night. The slimmed-down Dwyer looked nimble and roster-worthy, but I’m guessing Mike Tomlin didn’t like that second-quarter fumble.


* In addition to a power bat at right field or first base, the Pirates also could use a right-handed hitting utility infielder, preferably one with a bit of power -- what Brandon Inge was supposed to be -- who could spell Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker.


* Interesting bit of information from Jay Jaffe at Noting the batting average of balls in play for the Pirates pitching staff has gone from .277 to .334 since the All-Star game, he wrote, ``that has something to do with the offense/defense tradeoff of playing Jordy Mercer (.277/.331/.402, −1 Defensive Runs Saved) instead of Clint Barmes (.226/.269/.318, +9 DRS) at shortstop.’’



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