Pirates notebook: Clutch matchup could await Locke, Craig
By Travis Sawchik
Published: Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 6:27 p.m.
Some believe the two luckiest men in baseball will meet Wednesday at PNC Park.
Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig led baseball in batting average with runners in scoring position (.480), entering Tuesday's doubleheader. Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke enters his start Wednesday with baseball's highest percentage of runners stranded (84.3).
If Craig should meet Locke with a runner in scoring position Wednesday, it will present the immovable object meeting irresistible force.
Some believe, including many in the sabermetric community, that stranding runners as a pitcher and hitting with men in scoring position are simply chance statistics that can be inflated with small sample sizes. They don't believe clutch hitting or clutch pitching, the ability of a player to increase performance in critical situations, exists as a performance trait.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has a different opinion. Hurdle believes there's too much focus on measuring the game today with new-age stats and analytics and not enough attention paid to the human element.
“If you've ever had a bat in your hand and stood on the box with a runner on second and a closer on the mound, I think you might argue the point,” Hurdle said. “I know from an athletic standpoint, there's times in this game, whether you like it or not, you might feel a little more pressure or excitement than at other points.”
Hurdle thinks Locke is a better pitcher in tough spots because his “heartbeat slows” and he better executes pitches. Locke said his success in key moments is rooted in trust, including trust of gameplans that have included more defensive shifts that have helped the Pirates convert more batted balls into outs than any team in baseball.
“It's trusting those guys behind me and (catcher) Russ (Martin),” Locke said. “We all work together. They know I can make pitches, and I know they can make plays.”
Craig, who is third in the NL with 79 RBI, thinks clutch performance is a characteristic of certain hitters.
“There is definitely some type of clutch component to baseball,” Craig said. “If you look back to the run we had in 2011, all the clutch hitting we had in the postseason, (it existed). The sabermetric people want to say it's just a matter of odds but for David Freese to hit that walk-off home run … there's definitely a human element to the game.”
Liriano's red flag?
Francisco Liriano is in the midst of an outstanding bounce-back season, the owner of an 11-4 record and a 2.16 ERA. But there is one potential concern regarding Liriano: his slider usage.
The slider is thought to be a stressful pitch on the elbow, and Liriano is throwing sliders at a 37.5 percent rate, the highest since his 37.6 percent rate in 2006, the season he required Tommy John surgery.
“Sparky Lyle threw a slider every pitch for as long as he was in the big leagues,” Hurdle said. “I don't think it's problematic at all.”
No update on Wandy
Hurdle said he was not sure if Wandy Rodriguez threw Monday and did not have an update on the next step for the left-hander, who has been out for two months with a sore elbow. Rodriguez told reporters in Miami that much of the discomfort is gone from the elbow, but there was some lingering pain when throwing from flat ground in Miami.
One of the most common keywords associated with the Pirates this season has been “regression.”
But the Pirates do not have the market cornered on the question of potential regression. The Cardinals entered the series with a .338 batting average with runners in scoring position, 48 points better than the next closest team in baseball, Detroit. The Pirates entered with a .222 average with runners in scoring position, last in baseball.
“When they are (50) points higher than the next best team, that speaks to a level of consistency that has not been seen in a long time,” Hurdle said. “Hopefully, we have a chance to bring that down.”
Biogenesis a trade factor?
With Major League Baseball close to announcing suspensions related to the Biogenesis scandal, according to reports, some contenders are thought to be looking for depth before the trade deadline in case one their players is suspended. Do teams have any idea if their players are in the crosshairs?
“I can't answer that,” Hurdle said. “I have no idea.”
Snider: Injury feels like turf toe
Travis Snider was placed on the 15-day Monday with a condition he said is similar to turf toe, an injury more common in football.
Snider said he recently had a platelet-rich plasma injection and hopes that, along with rest, will provide a cure. He said the injury is in a bad spot, as the back left toe is critical in transferring power during a left-handed hitter's swing.
“It's in that area. It feels like turf toe,” the Pirate outfielder said. “It's one of things when you put pressure on your big toe, you can feel it. It's been something that's been off and on for the last few months. ... It developed at the end of the season last year. We had success in early parts of the year dealing with it. At this point, with rest and an injection, hopefully, we are looking at a clean slate to close out the year.”
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