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Pirates' pitching paves way for surprising success

| Saturday, June 9, 2012, 5:52 p.m.
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Jose Tabata scores as Royals catcher Brayan Pena bobbles the ball during the fourth inning Saturday, June 9, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

It's fair to say the Pirates have exceeded expectations this season. One group of baseball researchers says it has the numbers to prove it.

The Pirates are the most efficient team in the majors — six victories better than they should be — according to a formula devised by stats wonk Bill James.

The Team Efficiency Rating System quantifies how well a team combines the hitting and pitching elements that lead to a win. It takes into account how many, or how few, runs are scored and allowed in relation to how many baserunners it gets and allows.

The Pirates are the lowest-scoring team in the majors. Using James' system, ACTA Sports computed the Pirates should have had 23 wins through Thursday. But because the Pirates have been extra efficient at scoring and preventing runs, they actually had 29 victories.

“Yeah, we're scoring runs,” bench coach Jeff Banister said. “But we need to get more guys on base, so we have more opportunities. Can we be as efficient with more guys on base? That's the question. We'd love to have more opportunities and see where it takes us.”

The Pirates' success so far underscores the value of pitching, both starters and relievers. And it in part explains their 20-12 record in games decided by either one or two runs.

“That's who we are,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Playing one-run games is kind of what we do.”

Jones rebounds

Garrett Jones went into last night's game riding a seven-game hitting streak. Over his previous nine games, he went 12 for 35 with three homers and eight RBI. A few mechanical tweaks — getting Jones to stand taller at the plate with only a slight bend in his knees — appears to have worked.

“He's 6-feet-4, 235 (pounds). We want him to hit like it,” Hurdle said. “He's getting his hands out in front of him consistently. That's been the challenge with him since I've been here. He's starting to understand he doesn't need to do 12 things at the plate. He needs to do a (few) things: stand tall, see the ball good and get the hands working out front. And he needs to realize he doesn't have to try to hit every ball in the river. I encourage these guys to be good hitters with power, not power hitters.”

The way we were

The Kansas City Royals made Hurdle the top overall draft pick in 1975, and he made his major league debut three years later. Hurdle played five seasons with the Royals and appeared in 14 playoff games with them, including four in the 1980 World Series.

“There are some special memories,” Hurdle said. “I still pull for them. They were my first organization, and I'm hoping they can get it right.”

Yet, Hurdle is not overwhelmed by nostalgia this weekend with the Royals in town for an interleague series at PNC Park.

“It's more unique when I'm back there (in Kansas City),” he said. “That's when it grabs me a little bit. It's nice to go back and see the transformation of the stadium, to walk the plaza and be around those surroundings.”

Top pick Appel hammered

Mark Appel's first appearance since becoming the Pirates' top draft pick didn't go as planned.

The Stanford right-hander allowed seven runs (five earned) and five hits in four innings of the Cardinal's 17-1 loss at Florida State in the NCAA tournament super regionals Friday. He walked four and struck out three while throwing 93 pitches.

“I just didn't get the job done,” he said. “You're always going to have a few bad outings every year, but you wish they aren't in the super regionals.”

Injury updates

Right-hander Jeff Karstens will stay off the mound for the next four to seven days to give his strained hip flexor a chance to heal, then will resume his rehab process. He went on the disabled list April 18 because of shoulder inflammation. ... Right-hander Charlie Morton (elbow inflammation) played catch and long toss on Saturday.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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