Pirates GM: Pitchers' quick start will slow
The numbers say the Pirates' pitching ranks as the best in the major leagues.
The numbers also say that might soon change.
Going into Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Reds, the Pirates had a team ERA of 3.42. Overall, they were allowing 3.70 runs per game. Both figures ranked first in the majors.
That success is a nod to the pitchers, of course, but also a big credit to the defense. The Pirates' have the best defensive efficiency rating (.731) in the majors.
The Pirates had better be good with their gloves — the pitching staff averages only 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings, third-lowest in the majors.
"There's one big indicator that shows we've benefitted from good fortune, which is batting average (on) balls in play," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We're markedly variant from the average, which means we're going to have a lot more hits fall in there pretty soon."
BABIP measures the percentage of plate appearances ending in a batted ball in play in which the batter gets a hit. Home runs are not included in the equation, since it's not possible to field a ball that is hit over the fence.
The Pirates went into the game with a .267 BABIP — tops in the majors and about 30 points better than average.
There will be days, though, when the defense is not quite as sharp. It's more likely to happen with shortstop Jack Wilson (finger) on the disabled list and Gold Glove center fielder Nate McLouth bouncing back from an strained oblique.
Catcher Jason Jaramillo is defensively superior to injured starter Ryan Doumit, yet Jaramillo sometimes may succumb to rookie mistakes.
In the fifth inning yesterday, Jaramillo's passed ball advanced Joey Votto, who scored when Brandon Phillips two-out single squirted past shortstop Brian Bixler.
Yet, even if the Pirates' stats tail off, Huntington is optimistic the end results will be better than a year ago.
"We feel like our pitchers are better," Huntington said. "Our defense is better from a personnel standpoint and a positioning standpoint. (Coaches) Perry Hill and Gary Varsho have been very aggressive in positioning our fielders. We feel like we're in the right spot more often than we were a year ago.
"Are we going to have (rough) stretches• We probably will. But we do think our guys are better, and as a result we're better than we were a year ago. I don't know if we're going to hold in the top five all year, but it certainly won't be a reason to panic if we have an outing or two when we give up some runs."
Pitches in play
Batting average on balls in play for Pirates pitchers (through Saturday):
Zach Duke: .291
Paul Maholm: .267
Ross Ohlendorf: .260
Ian Snell: .289
Jeff Karstens: .190
John Grabow: .343
Sean Burnett: .136
Jesse Chavez: .208
Tyler Yates: .286
Matt Capps: .375
Craig Hansen: .263
Donnie Veal: .167
Evan Meek: .000