Clint Hurdle provides insight on Pirates’ use of stats

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The Pirates aren’t known as one of the more Sabermetrically-savvy teams like the Rays and Athletics, but they do have Dan Fox (formerly of Baseball Prospectus) as the director of baseball systems development. Thanks to Fox and others, the Pirates are able to use stat reports to prepare lineups and pitching match-ups with greater specificity. SB Nation Pirates blog Bucs Dugout talked to manager Clint Hurdle, who provided more details about the way he utilizes the tools at his disposal despite not being a number-cruncher himself.

We have a system analysis that is so unique that what we do is, we have player batting averages, swing and miss rates, on base percentage, OPS, it is all laid out for that pitcher and 15 comparables. So truth be told, at times you can get a player that is 10-for-20 off a guy in real time and he doesn’t rank maybe in the top of your batting order if you were constructing one sabermetrically over the long haul. But also you can get a pretty good feel on what that kind of guy can do against those kinds of pitchers. It’s tool. It’s a useful tool. I’ll say that.

I’ve grown in the time I’ve been here by being open-minded, knowing I have some people upstairs that are really, really smart. But you have to mesh the two.

Many statistically-oriented writers have criticized managers’ tendency to give — to use an example — a bench player a start because he is 4-for-9 against the opposing starter. The reasoning behind that is nine at-bats is a terribly small sample size, making any information gathered from those nine at-bats largely meaningless. However, the Pirates’ method of grouping similar pitches together is quite interesting and makes sense. Grabbing, say, Andrew McCutchen’s performance against Cole Hamels won’t tell you much since it’s only 17 plate appearances. But grouping together left-handed starters with a 91-93 MPH fastball and an 82-84 MPH change-up would expand your sample size to a level where you can start to make conclusions about a player’s performance level.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.

Colby Rasmus could start 2017 on the disabled list

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Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.

Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.

The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.