Felipe Rivero

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The Pirates just made a really weird move with Juan Nicasio

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have placed reliever Juan Nicasio on irrevocable outright waivers. These are not the trade waivers you hear about so much in August, from which a player can be pulled back if claimed. On this sort of waiver move, once a team claims Nicasio, he’s theirs, for nothing but his current salary, which is a prorated $600,00o or just above the league minimum.

While outrighting someone who stinks is fairly common, Nicasio does not stink. Indeed, he’s been a pretty darn good reliever this year,  posting 2.85 ERA and 60/18 K/BB ratio through 60 innings. Closer Felipe Rivero is the only reliever on the Pirates who has had a better season, in fact.

Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that it’s an odd move and asked the Pirates for comment. This is what he got:

“The waiver process — if enacted — is supposed to be a confidential process until it reaches conclusion,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in a text message. “If there is something to report at that time — it will be reported.”

The mystery deepens. Until told otherwise, I’m gonna assume that Nicasio was asked to house sit for Huntington on the condition that he have NO WILD PARTIES. He threw a kegger, though, and Huntington’s prize Faberge egg was destroyed. Now he’s gone. Yep, that’s probably it.

Rich Hill took a no-hitter into the bottom of the 10th . . . and lost it on a walkoff homer

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Los Angeles Dodgers starter Rich Hill took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Pirates tonight. He’d make it through nine with the no-hitter intact and come out to pitch the tenth. He’d leave the game the loser. Sometimes baseball isn’t fair.

Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison hit a leadoff walkoff homer in the bottom of the 10th inning on Hill’s 99th pitch of the night. Up until that point the only blemish on the box score was a Logan Forsythe error that allowed a runner to reach in the bottom of the ninth. Hill worked around that, however, and came out for the 10th. In so doing he was the first pitcher to take a no-hitter into extra-innings since Pedro Martinez did it on June 3, 1995.

On that day Martinez allowed a leadoff double in the bottom of the 10th inning and left without a perfect game, or even a no-hitter, but he still got the win as the Expos beat the Padres 1-0. Tonight Hill got neither the perfecto, the no-no or the win. He would strike out ten batters, however, finishing with nine innings pitched, one hit, one earned run and the loss. A tough, tough break.

But it was not just bad luck that handed him the loss. Pirates pitchers weren’t perfect — not by a longshot — allowing eight hits and walking four. But for all of that bending, neither starter Trevor Williams (8 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 4 BB,  5K) nor relievers Felipe Rivero nor Juan Nicasio broke, shutting out the Dodgers.

The last Dodgers pitcher to toss a no-hitter: Clayton Kershaw on June 18, 2014 against the Rockies. The last Dodgers perfect game: Sandy Koufax on September 9, 1965 against the Cubs.

But hey, at least Hill did something no Dodgers pitcher had ever done before: an extra-inning complete game one-hitter loss. In fact, no one has done that since Harvey Haddix famously lost his perfect game in the 12th inning in 1959. Bobo Newsom did it in 1934 too. So: a pretty exclusive club. Even if Hill likely didn’t want to be in it.

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.