Coffee and paper

Sunday Morning: Vance Worley, Instant Replay, and Brandon Cumpton

You certainly haven’t forgotten the great Edinson Volquez Debates of the Winter of 2014, in which the value of spending $5 million on what was almost certainly a broken pitcher was debated and debated and debated some more. I’m not sure where everyone else ended up (I dunno, there was a lot of yelling about AJ Burnett at the time), but my basic final conclusion on the Volquez front was that while Volquez would almost certainly be worth $5 million, it’s actually a lot more difficult than you’d expect to be worth less than that, and that the gamble that the Pirates were making was that Volquez would be worth a whole lot more than that, because pitchers that could potentially amount to a value of one win over replacement can often be found for much cheaper than $5 million, market value be damned.

You probably see where this is going. The Pirates purchased Vance Worley from the Twins this spring for some unknown (and presumably paltry) amount of cash, sent him to extended spring training, worked him through his issues, and now he’s in the Pirates rotation and giving them solid starts. I’m not trying to make more out of Worley’s two starts than they’re really worth and it’s obvious that he’s got his flaws as a pitcher, but the point is that Volquez has those flaws, too, and it’s possible that the Pirates could end up with multiple years of Worley for the same price as one year of Volquez. Now, obviously Volquez’s ceiling is a little higher and that’s what the Pirates paid for (in fact, I seriously doubt that the Pirates foresaw any scenario in which Worley would be arguably the team’s second or third best starter on June 22nd back when they acquired him in March), but in terms of the wisdom of that signing, well, Worley is the best counter-argument.

Before we get into today’s matchup, I wanted to get into a quick little rant about baseball’s replay system. The system by which replay is implemented in baseball is dumb and it’s broken. I don’t like watching Rick Renteria run his pedometer up to his daily 10,000 steps by wearing a beaten path between his dugout and the home plate ump for any play that he thinks might be closer than Pittsburgh and Philadelphia any more than you do. I think limiting the manager’s challenges and just generally putting more power into the hands of the managers is self-defeating when it comes to the purposes of replay. I think that baseball did a terrible job defining what “definitive” proof is and they obviously didn’t anticipate some of the longer-reaching implications of breaking baseball plays down for frame-by-frame analysis. They didn’t even upgrade the camera systems, and so we’ve seen a few plays this year at first base that should have been overturned, except that baseball didn’t properly implement the technology needed to monitor what should be a routine play for replay to monitor (namely, bang-bang plays at first base).

And now that I’ve laid all of the problems and gripes with the system out, what I really need to say is this: last night’s game was a perfect example of why some form of replay review is necessary in baseball. If you weren’t watching late last night, what you missed was a perfect demonstration of the utility of replay. With two outs in the seventh inning, Gregory Polanco came up and smoked a one-hopper to Starlin Castro. Castro made a really nice play and then took his time on the throw, not realizing that for all the awkwardness of his long stride, Gregory Polanco is really fast. Castro then hurried and bounce a throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base. Polanco was safe, but he was called out at first. This is maybe the toughest call for a first base umpire to make. In general, the umps at first make their calls on bang-bang plays by sound. You know what a ball hitting the glove sounds like, and you know what a foot hitting the base looks like. You can’t actually watch the ball, the glove, and the base all at once, but if you watch the ball and the glove and listen for the base, you almost always get the call right. If the first baseman has to scoop the ball on a close play, though? Well, that’s pretty much a crapshoot. Now you’ve got maybe three “thumps” to listen for and now maybe the ball doesn’t make the same noise in the glove because the bounce has slowed it down and now the lack of angle is a problem. I’m not being critical of umps here; that sort of call at first base is flat-out hard to make.

When the play happened, everyone that was on Twitter and was still watching the game joked that Hurdle was challenging the play to get Polanco his 11-game hitting streak. That was obviously short-sighted, though, because what the challenge accomplished was putting a runner on base at the top of the Pirates’ lineup, and then Josh Harrison immediately followed the over-turned call with the home run that put the game out of reach. The outcome of the game quite possibly turned on that call, since the Pirates ended up winning by two runs. The way replay is implemented is awful, but that doesn’t make replay less necessary. Baseball needs to fix the system, but scrapping replay entirely would be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Alright. Now that we’ve hit Worley and instant replay, let’s talk about today’s upcoming game against the Cubs. Brandon Cumpton makes what could be his next-to-last start for the Pirates before Gerrit Cole comes back. Given that Jeff Locke and Vance Worley have looked excellent lately, that also means it could be Cumpton’s next-to-last start with the Pirates for a while. I’ve been pretty critical of Cumpton, but the reality is that Cumpton’s job was to take Wandy Rodriguez’s spot in the rotation and give the Pirates a chance to win a game every time through the rotation that they didn’t previously have a chance to win. Besides his disastrous start against the Dodgers, that’s what Cumpton’s done. His starts tend to be on the the short side and he almost always gives up a few runs here or there, but the Pirates have either won or been in seven of his eight starts. That’s not exactly the strongest praise, particularly from a sabermetric standpoint, but the point is that while Cumpton may be losing his rotation spot relatively soon, it’s not really fair to say he’s been a disappointment. He’s come up and been above replacement value for the Pirates, and that’s an important thing for a sixth or seventh starter.

If you go back to my write-up after Friday’s loss, I wrote that I wanted to see the Pirates go 11-5 in this 16-game stretch against bad teams. The math on that was probably obvious: it’s a series win in each of the next five series. More than 11 wins would be great, but I think anything less than that will be trouble for the Pirates. As follows from there, the Pirates need a win to stay on the proper pace for this important stretch of baseball. Jason Hammel starts for the Cubs. The Pirates just saw Hammel ten days ago, and they dinged him for 11 hits and four runs in his five innings of work. The Marlins also touched him up in his only start in the interim (eight hits, four runs, and a homer in six innings, though he did strike out nine hitters), so it’s possible that he’s coming back to earth some after his fantastic start to the season.

A win gets the Pirates back to within a game of .500. Starling Marte is still out of the country on his personal matters. First pitch today is at 2:20.

Image: Liz West, Flickr

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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