Must-click link: how the Pirates got better

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A great story by Travis Sawchik at Triblive.com about the Pirates. Specifically, how they got better. More specifically, how it was largely a function of improving the defense. Not by merely getting good defensive players, but through strategy, research and hard work:

The Pirates experimented with a comprehensive defensive philosophy the past several seasons, but this was different.

• Position players had to change. They had to shift from areas of the field where they had been stationed their entire careers and trust the pitching staff’s ability to locate pitches.

• Pitchers had to change. The staff had to rely on a new primary pitch and trust the radical defensive alignments behind them.

• Old-school coaches had to change. Coaches trained in 20th century baseball orthodoxy had to trust 21st century concepts.

The club’s improvement would not come through adding Gold Glove-caliber fielders or pricey free agent pitchers but rather improving the sum of its defensive parts.

The plan has been a success.

Go read the article and check out the plan. It’s a great explanatory piece in and of itself and it’s a great example of how defense likely will never be reduced to a single or even a couple of overarching stats. So many moving parts. Watching the moving is pretty fantastic.

Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson to table extension talks

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Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson are tabling extension talks as the two sides weren’t able to build any momentum towards agreement on a new contract.

Donaldson said, “We’re not quite there. That, to me, right now is not the major focus and I’m turning the page.” He added, “I want to play this season and really focus on winning games because, ultimately, our goal is to win a World Series and I don’t want to hinder that at all.” Donaldson also said he expects to hit free agency.

The 32-year-old avoided arbitration with the Blue Jays last month, agreeing on a $23 million salary for the 2018 season. He’s a free agent at season’s end. Last year, the three-time All-Star hit .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs, 78 RBI, and 65 runs scored in 496 plate appearances. Donaldson missed six weeks in the first half with a calf injury, but was able to return and post terrific numbers, so his health — at least that aspect of it — shouldn’t be a concern going into spring training.

If Donaldson does reach free agency, he’ll join a star-studded group that will likely also include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, and A.J. Pollock.