Vic Black might not be the Pirates closer of the future as this story suggests with with a 12.55 K/9 and a .169 BAA at Indianapolis, he figues to be in their bullpen in the near-future. Black discusses his craft with David Laurila of FanGraphs.
By David Laurila, FanGraphs.com
Vic Black is the heir apparent to the closer’s job in Pittsburgh. The 24-year-old right-hander won’t be replacing Jason Grilli in the near future, but he may be joining Grilli in the Pirates’ bullpen. Four years after being drafted 49th overall out of Dallas Baptist University, Black looks close to big-league ready.
Black cooks with gas: His fastball sits in the mid-to-high 90s and touches triple digits. His slider can be overpowering. Last season, at Double-A Altoona, he logged an Eastern League-best 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. This year, with Triple-A Indianapolis, his K-rate is 12.5 — and he has almost as many saves  as hits allowed .
Black talked about his power repertoire this past weekend on a visit to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I.
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The NHL rules makers seem content to do little to curb fighting. Maybe the judicial system can do more. The family of late NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard is suing the NHL in a case that could bring into sharper focus the dangers of fighting and the future costliness of it to the league. An amazing New York Times profile of Boogaard is linked at the bottom.
By John Branch, New York Times
The family of Derek Boogaard has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the National Hockey League.
It contends that the N.H.L. is responsible for the physical trauma and brain damage that Boogaard sustained during six seasons as one of the league’s top enforcers, and for the addiction to prescription painkillers that marked his final two years.
Boogaard was under contract to the Rangers when he was found dead of an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers and alcohol on May 13, 2011. He was 28. He was posthumously found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head.
“To distill this to one sentence,” said William Gibbs, a lawyer for the Boogaards, “you take a young man, you subject him to trauma, you give him pills for that trauma, he becomes addicted to those pills, you promise to treat him for that addiction, and you fail.”
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New York Times three-part series on Boogaard: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer
Part I: Learning to brawl
Part II: Blood on the ice
Part III: A brain going bad
With Chris Rainey gone and Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders likely too valuable, the Steelers will be auditioning kick returners at OTAs beginning this week. Among the leading candidates, and proven in the NFL at his craft, is kickoff returner LaRod Stephens-Howling, the former Pitt player.
By Jamison Hensley, ESPN.com
The Pittsburgh Steelers will have competition at running back and outside linebacker this year, although I believe rookies Le'Veon Bell and Jarvis Jones will win those jobs. The most wide-open battle in Pittsburgh is in the return game.
The release of Chris Rainey in January forces the Steelers to find another kickoff returner, and the promotion of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to the No. 1 and No. 2 wide receiver spots, respectively, likely means Pittsburgh will go with a new punt returner.
As the Steelers get ready to take the field for the first of three voluntary minicamps this week, you could make the case for around 10 players to compete over bringing back kicks and punts. But, when looking closely at the candidates, I see four as serious contenders to become the new returners.
On kickoff returns, running back and free-agent addition LaRod Stephens-Howling has to be considered the favorite. His role as a returner decreased the past two seasons in Arizona, but he averaged 25.7 yards and scored three touchdowns on kickoffs in his first two seasons in the NFL.
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My five-player, first-quarter Pirates MVP ballot is presented below and does not include Andrew McCutchen. Who would have expected that with the Pirates eight games over .500? Lots of people, myself included, would have figured McCutchen to be on pace for another MVP-caliber season for the Pirates to be so lifted.
He’s been good, but others have been better and more important to the success of the team.
The list is pitcher-heavy, as well it should be. Pirates pitchers are near the top of the class -- second in ERA, first in BAA and fourth in WHIP. Pirates batters are in the middle of the class -- eighth in runs, ninth in OPS, 11th in batting average. It's also reliever-heavy because that part of the team is most responsible for the success thus far.
In inverse order:
5. A.J. Burnett: Fears his performance, at 36, might slip were unfounded and/or grossly overstated. He’s been better this year -- .257 ERA (10th in the league), a 1.10 WHIP (12), .204 BAA (6th) and 79 strikeouts (1st). His K/9 of 11.29 leads all starters by a wide margin and is up from 8.01 from last year. He reeled off four straight strong seven-inning starts this month and is a primary reason, along with the other members of the rotation, why the Pirates are 11-6 in May.
4. Mark Melancon: Much skepticism greeted the news that he had been acquired from Boston in the Joel Hanrahan trade. A 6.20 ERA has been known to do that. Overlooked were the 20 saves Melancon had with Houston in 2011 and that the Red Sox were willing to part with Jed Lowrie to get him. He has been spectacular in handling the eighth inning. It wasn’t until his 22nd appearance that he gave up more than two hits in an inning. His ERA and WHIP are sensational matches: Both 0.78.
3. Starling Marte: What hasn’t he done very well? There were concerns, and justifiable ones, that he was ill-suited to bat first because he doesn’t draw walks. Well, he hasn’t mastered working the count, but his on-base percentage of .372 is fifth among NL players with more than 100 at bats in the No. 1 spot. Leading off a game, he is 18-for-36 (.500) and, clearly, has been a castalyst for the Pirates offense. His 10 stolen bases lead the Pirates are are fourth best in the league. He has five home runs, an .836 OPS and looks to be an outstanding defensive player.
2. Jason Grilli: He leads MLB with 17 saves, one more than the great Mariano Rivera. He also has a lower ERA (0.92 to 1.56) and a lower WHIP (0.66 to 0.92) than Rivera. Not bad company to keep. His save percentage is the same as Rivera’s -- 100. He has a 14.2 K/9 and a 7.8 K/B -- both spectacular. Opponents are batting .134 against him. The Pirates have 26 wins and he’s closed 17 of them, which speaks more plainly than anything to his value. Based on stats, he’s the best closer in MLB. More importantly, based on performance he’s the best closer in MLB.
1. Russell Martin: Hard to imagine anyone would come up with another name. What a difference one player can make. He’s taken one of the most important positions on the team and upgraded it immensely. Teams no longer romp at will on the bases against the Pirates. They proceed with great caution when thinking about stealing. He has thrown out 12 of 28 runners who attempted to steal, an excellent 43 percent rate which is third best in the National League and more than triple the team's rate of success from 2012. If that were not enough, he leads the Pirates in OPS (.881) and slugging (.517) and is second in doubles (10) and home runs (6) and third in on-base percentage (.364).
Beyond the glory, there’s often a lifetime of pain. The Washington Post details the physical hardship many former players must live with after their NFL career conclude.
By Sally Jenkins, Rick Maese, Scott Clement, Washington Post
They remember the hard hits – most of them, at least. The brain-rattlers that left them blank-eyed and disoriented, they have no recollection of at all. But the ones that snapped ligaments, rendered bones the consistency of crushed ice or bent joints in ways they ought not to bend are still felt every morning years later.
A career in the National Football League creates echoes good and bad. Some reverberate in medical records, others in luxuries from rich contracts. But the most vivid ones for many former players come when they get out of bed each day and put their feet on the floor. If the NFL confers wealth – a rookie’s base pay next season will be $405,000 – it exacts a heavy price: lifelong hurt.
A Washington Post survey of retired NFL players found that nearly nine in 10 report suffering from aches and pains on a daily basis, and they overwhelmingly – 91 percent – connect nearly all their pains to football.
“I hurt like hell every morning when I wake up,” says former linebacker Darryl Talley, 52.
“I can’t run anymore,” says former offensive lineman Pete Kendall, 39. “I can’t play basketball with my kids, can’t walk for any extended distance.”
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After his performance at the NBA Combine, this is what one scout said about former Pitt center Steven Adams: ``I can say I was honestly stunned. Where did that come from? That’s not something you develop with a few weeks with a trainer. He was way more skilled than we thought. That makes a huge difference in our evaluation of him.”
Adams is on the rise in the NBA draft, could well be a lottery pick. ProBasketballTalk.com has this detailed report on Adams.
By Kurt Helin, ProBasketballTalk.com
In today’s NBA player development matters a lot — draft a guy and for a few years bring him along slowly, develop his skills and mold him into a player that fits your system, all at an affordable price compared to the free agent market. Look at the teams left in the playoffs such as Indiana, Memphis and the Spurs — they are all masters of this.
If your team can develop players Steven Adams out of Pittsburgh is a guy to consider.
And he is a guy on the rise — he was a solid first round pick who may have moved up to late lottery with his showing at the NBA Draft Combine last week (especially if he keeps that up in workouts for teams). First, he measured big — 7’0” in shoes, 255 pounds. That’s legit NBA center size. But what really turned heads was
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Allan Muir dissects the Penguins loss last night to Ottawa and makes a couple of good points beyond the obvious: The Senators were finally able to stop the Penguins power play, which had been dominant in the playoffs; this was the first postseason game in which the Penguins did not score at least three goals.
By Allan Muir, SI.com
The Ottawa Senators have it all wrong. They call themselves “The Pesky Sens,” swiping a catchphrase from the Dallas Stars and using it as a hashtag on Twitter. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so misleading.
The Senators aren’t pesky. They’re resolute. Resilient. They proved it again tonight, piecing together their biggest win of the postseason just when everyone was ready to write them off.
We’ve all made that mistake before. This is the same team that seemed destined for the draft lottery after losing Jason Spezza, then Craig Anderson, then Erik Karlsson in rapid succession. But they proved everyone wrong, not just earning a playoff berth, but knocking off the second-seed Montreal Canadiens with ease.
So maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised to see them send what looked like a sure loss into overtime with a shorthanded beauty in the final minute off the stick of captain Daniel Alfredsson.
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The case could be made that the Pirates have the best bullpen in the National League.
Pirates relievers are first in the following categories: saves, save percentage, batting-average against, slugging-against, K/9. They are second in ERA, OPS-against and WHIP.
But there’s something else the Pirates bullpen is first in, and it’s not so good: Innings.
Pirates relievers have pitched 157 innings in the team’s 44 games. That’s close 11 outs, on average, every game.
The bullpen is on pace to pitch 578 innings. Last year, the bullpen pitched 498. The National League average was 487.
Closer Jason Grilli is pace to pitch in 81 games. Joel Hanrahan pitched in 63 last year.
Eighth-inning setup man Mark Melancon is on pace to pitch in 85 games. In a similar role last year, Grilli pitched in 64 games.
A lot of people were angry with the Pirates for not including prize prospect Gerrit Cole in their season-opening rotation and some, not surprisingly, played the cheap card.
The fact is that it would have been incredibly stupid, for any number of reasons, for the Pirates to open the season with Cole in their rotation and that had nothing to do with his 10-innings-eight-hit-3.60-ERA-spring-training performance.
With only two Class AAA games behind him, and one of them incredibly bad, Cole wasn’t ready.
The conventional wisdom was that he’d go to Indianapolis, dominate and be a June callup, which would push his free agency and arbitration clocks both back a year.
Now it’s looking like that prediction might have been overly optimistic. In his past couple of starts Cole has gone from being good but not dominant to not so good and not dominant. In a start yesterday against Pawtucket, Cole gave up eight runs in 5 2/3 innings. He allowed six hits and three walks and struck out four.
Cole allowed one hit and struck out two in the first three innings but was charged with three runs in the fourth, one in the fifth and four in the sixth.
He is 3-2 with a 3.75 ERA and a .214 BAA. In 48 innings, he has walked 23 and struck out 35. That comes out to a 1.39 K/B and a 6.56 K/9, neither of which is very good. In 126 innings in Class A and Class AA last season, Cole’s K/B was 2.93 and his K/9 was 9.21. He might not have been expected to equal those numbers in Class AAA, but nor was such a decline expected.
New York Mets ace Matt Harvey had a pedestrian 3.68 ERA in Class AAA last year, but his K/B was 2.33 and his K/9 was 9.00.
With the Pirates rotation looking strong and with Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens pitching minor-league rehab assignments, there’s no pressure to promote Cole. He’s still on track to arrive in Pittsburgh this season, although next month seems a bit out of the question. The Tampa Bay Rays used David Price in relief as a September callup in 2008. It’s possible, Cole could serve the same role with the Pirates.
The question in the email yesterday morning concerned Pedro Alvarez.
``It seems to me that the Pirates - without any official announcement - have begun platooning Alvarez and sitting him against lefties on a more regular basis. I personally think this is LONG overdue, as I simply have never considered Alvarez to be an every day MLB player.’’
I wrote back asking if he thought the same thing about Neil Walker. We exchanged several more emails but he never answered that question.
Everyone wants to pick on Alvarez. No one wants to pick on Walker.
The Pirates very soon are going to have to address the situation with Walker, who had no problem hitting left-handers in his rookie season of 2010. But he has done nothing approaching that 2010 season since and his production continues to dwindle against left-handers.
Beginning with the 2011 season, Walker, a switch-hitter, is batting .218 (67-for-308) against lefties. He has one home run in those 308 at bats (in 2011) and a slugging percentage of .308
Over the same time frame, Alvarez, a left-handed hitter, is batting .202 (42-for-208) against lefties. He has eight home runs in those 208 at bats and a slugging percentage of .356.
You tell me: Which of the two players most deserves to be platooned?
If you’re having trouble making up your mind, these are their 2013 batting lines vs. lefties:
Walker: .167/.219/.167 -- .386
Alvarez: .219/.242/.313 -- .555
These are their 2012 batting lines against lefties:
So what do the Pirates do?
No teams wants to label a core talent as a platoon player. Garrett Jones has that designation, and at 31 he’ll probably never lose it. Gaby Sanchez is falling into that same category and has himself -- his sharp decline with the Marlins -- to blame. But Walker, at 27, and Alvarez, at 26, are too young for such labeling.
In the case of Alvarez, he has way too few at bats vs. lefties to be labeled a platoon player. In Walker’s case, his .808 OPS against lefties in 2010 offers hope that he can be salvaged.
But as the Pirates find themselves in a contending position, they can’t merely allow these players to learn as they go along, and that’s particularly true of Walker whose annual decline is significant.
One of the reasons the Pirates signed Brandon Inge, a right-handed hitter, was to occasionally fill in for Alvarez and he is doing that. But Inge has a .524 OPS against lefties in a small sample (21 at bats) It’s not much better against right-handers (.618 in 34 at bats). Combine that with his rehab performance at Indianapolis -- .150/.320/.283 -- .603 -- and Inge is looking less than ideal as a utility player.
Jordy Mercer is 5-for-13 with three home runs against lefties this season, but was 1-for-10 last season. Still, the Pirates should be taking a look at Mercer as an occasional alternative to both Walker and Alvarez.
If Alvarez and Walker continue to underperform against lefties and if Inge and/or Mercer fail to be a solid alternative, the Pirates need to look elsewhere for help. They have two players, Walker, in particular, who don’t measure up against left-handed pitching.