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Stats Geek: Have injuries helped the Pirates?

By Brian O'Neill 11 months ago

No team likes to see a player hit the disabled list, but the Pirates might not be as good as they are if they hadn‘‍t reshaped the team as various players pulled up lame.

Maybe that’‍s whistling past the graveyard. The latest injury, to Gerrit Cole, comes at a bad time as he‘‍ll miss a start against the Cardinals. But Francisco Liriano just pitched six shutout innings in his rehab start for Indianapolis, striking out eight and allowing only three hits. If Cole misses only one start and Brandon Cumpton can slide in for Cole with his usual good work as the Pirates‘‍ go-to understudy, even this might not be much of a glitch.

If anything, as Bob Smizik pointed out yesterday, the Pirates now have a surplus of worthy starters. Not to mention a pretty strong bench. That’‍s largely due to the DL dictating changes.  Let’‍s look at the team‘‍s major injuries chronologically.

• On March 29, catcher Chris Stewart was put on the disabled list and Tony Sanchez began the season with the team. Sanchez stuck until April 19 when Stewart returned, but Sanchez‘‍s stay at Indianapolis would last only a week. When Russell Martin strained his hamstring and went on the DL April 26, Sanchez was back and stayed until Martin’‍s return on May 22.

Verdict: Martin‘‍s loss hurt the Pirates, so this series of injuries was not a plus. But it did throw Sanchez into the fire and he responded fairly well with the bat if not the mitt. He hit .278 with a .315 on-base average and .375 slugging average, acceptable if not spectacular numbers for a catcher. The problem was that Sanchez would throw out only three of 21 base stealers, leaving the opposition with an 86 percent caught stealing rate. 

The Pirates were 10-10 in Sanchez’‍s starts and have been 28-21 when Martin starts. Nobody can say his injury helped the team, but it added to the argument that the Pirates should attempt to open their wallets and sign Martin to a two- or three-year deal. As the founder of Faber College once put it, knowledge is good.

• On April 21, Wandy Rodriguez was put on the DL retroactive to the day before. The Pirates recalled Jared Hughes. Three days later, Hughes was sent down and Brandon Cumpton was brought up for a spot start. Two days after that, Jason Grilli had a strained oblique and Hughes was right back up.

Rodriguez was reactivated on May 15 and the results were painful. Grilli was activated on May 23 and would lose his job as closer before being traded. Meantime, Hughes and “Yo-Yo‘‍’‍ Cumpton have done well. To compare:

Rodriguez, 0-2 in six starts with 6.75 ERA, hence his release on May 30.

Cumpton, 3-2 in nine starts and 52 ⅔ IP with a 3.11 ERA.

Grilli, a 4.87 ERA a WHIP of 1.623 in 20 ⅓ IP across 22 appearances.

Hughes, 4-2 with a 2.02 ERA and a WHIP of 1.121 in 32 games. The batting average against him is .246 with a .304 on-base average and minuscule .320 slugging average, compared to .275/.370/.463 against Grilli.

Verdict: In the game of musical chairs that has been the Pirates pitching staff, deciding who replaced whom is a somewhat arbitrary exercise. Clearly, though, “losing‘‍’‍ Rodriguez and Grilli, at least in their 2014 versions, was no loss. Cumpton and Hughes strengthened the staff.

• On June 8, Gerrit Cole went on the DL and the Pirates recalled Jeff Locke for the second time. Three days later, Francisco Liriano went on the DL and four days after that the Pirates selected Vance Worley from Indianapolis. 

Nobody wanted to see Cole miss a turn but Liriano was struggling. Worley and Lock, meantime, have ranged from good to terrific.

Worley has made four quality starts in five tries, is 2-1 with a WHIP of 1.07 a batting average against of .244 and ERA of 3.03.

Locke, in seven starts, is 2-1 with a WHIP of 0.93 a BAA of .222 and an ERA of 3.08.

Maybe neither can keep that up, but they‘‍ve been improvements on what the injured pitchers had done. Liriano, in 14 starts, was 1-6 with a WHIP of 1.45 a BAA of .245 and ERA of 4.60. Cole, in his 14 starts, is 7-4 with a WHIP of 1.31 a BAA of .255 and an ERA of 3.78.

Verdict: Adding Locke and Worley to the mix have made the Pirates a stronger team.

There’‍s one more injury to mention: Neil Walker. He was having an All-Star caliber season when he hit the DL on June 9 but that allowed the Pirates to finally call up Gregory Polanco and keep playing Josh Harrison, who wound up making the All-Star team. Since June 9, Polanco has hit .299/.385/.402 and Harrison has hit .293/.340/.391.

When Walker returned June 24, the Pirates sent Jose Tabata to Indianapolis. You could say Polanco is Tabata‘‍s replacement, but who knows when Polanco would have come up or how Harrison would have found ABs if Walker hadn’‍t gotten hurt.

Verdict: Be glad Walker was gone only a short time but, as in so many other cases this season, the Pirates came out of that injury a stronger team. It‘‍s not nearly as dramatic as Lou Gehrig replacing Wally Pipp at first base after Pipp‘‍s legendary headache on June 2,1925, but it’‍s hard to recall another Pirates team that has been so undaunted after so many trips to the DL. 

That original rotation of Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Charlie Morton, Rodriguez and Cole had only five full turns before it was abandoned, but now there‘‍s enough depth that it’‍s hard to say what the ideal Pirates rotation should be.

Now, if the Pirates bullpen can just break its habit of giving up ninth-inning homers, this team should stay in the playoff hunt through the summer.