Who are you most concerned about in the rotation in the final two months? Wandy Rodriguez (11%) Jeff Karstens (0%)
Erik Bedard (33%) James McDonald (56%)
Bill Brink: Keep the questions coming, and here we go...
JAL: Open spot on the 40--is Leroux most likely to fill it?
Bill Brink: I think they will keep that open in case they have a chance to trade for/claim someone off waivers and may need the spot. If that doesn't happen, then Leroux and Jeff Clement are candidates.
atkpitt12: Do you see the team playing McKenry more down the stretch? Or do the pitchers love Barajas just too much?
Bill Brink: I think McKenry will play more down the stretch, partly to reward his offense and partly to keep Barajas healthy and rested. The pitchers do love Rod, and Hurdle loves his experience and savvy, but he can't ignore what McKenry has done.
Hunter: Bill, any explanation for Bedard's drastic differences in his home/road splits? I'm sure PNC helps him but I don't think it could possibly help him that much.
Bill Brink: He's so tough on lefties that opposing teams send all their righties against him, and that plays well for him in PNC Park. Ten home runs allowed came on the road, only one at home.
Part of it is inflated stats from a few bad outings: Seven runs at Camden Yards, nine runs at Wrigley.
pghfaninstl: Hey, Bill. Is 9/1, the official day that rosters can be expanded?
Bill Brink: That's the day that active rosters expand, yes. Expect four or five call-ups, at least at first.
Jeff: Any indication that Jordy Mercer gets more playing time over Barmes down the stretch?
Bill Brink: We've been wondering since Mercer came up as Barmes continues to struggle and it hasn't happened yet, so there's nothing that I see that indicates he will.
JAL: Nunez, the Rule 5 pick, has been on the DL all season. My understanding is that means they have to put him on the 25 at least 90 days next season. That would make it very unlikely they would take another Rule 5 player next draft so what are they most liklely do with Nunez?
Bill Brink: At this point, they will probably release him after the season. They knew they took a risk on him drafting him while hurt.
Matt_Newport_Beach: Do you expect Cruz back on the 25 man roster or released/traded? Qualls has been fine in his few appearances so far.
Bill Brink: I expect Cruz back on the 25-man roster. They were encouraged by Qualls, but his body of work has not been good this season. The idea is, likely, that Cruz can return to the form he showed in May and June after some time down.
Hunter: Any idea what the Pirates plans are for Tabata if he continues to hit in AAA? Any chance he gets called up this year or do they want him to stay down for an extended stretch no matter the immediate results?
Bill Brink: My guess is he's a September call-up. He has improved recently but the sample size is still small, and right now with Snider in right and Marte in left there's no room for him.
Adam in Boulder: McDonald was not sharp the first few innings the other night, but it turned out to be his best start since the Giants game, with only one walk. Do you think he'll be able to glean something from those few innings of success and stick with it, or is he still prone to fall apart mentally during a shaky inning?
Bill Brink: I think the biggest difference with McDonald this season is his mentality. He will still make mistakes, speed up his delivery and walk people, but he will no longer self-destruct. I don't think we will see the first-half production from him, but I think we see an upswing.
JAL: AJ has 14 wins and 10 or 11 starts left. Odds he will win 20 at, above, or below 50%?
Bill Brink: Quick and dirty math says you're right, about 11 starts. No reason, based on past performance, that he can't win six of them. Above 50 percent.
Hunter: Were you surprised the Alvarez sat two days in a row even if they were against lefties?
Bill Brink: Nothing truly surprises me with this organization any more, but yes, I found it odd that he sat twice in a row. I don't have the lefties' splits off-hand -- Hurdle will sometimes do that against LHPs that are particularly tough against lefties -- but I thought they were past that with him.
Matt Tobin: My biggest concern with the team is the lack of patience at the top and the ability to steal bases. They need to utilize their speed more on the bases. Can they turn that around at all?
Bill Brink: McCutchen has the ability to steal 30 bases if he fully utilizes his speed. That can be turned around. Once Marte gets more refined, he will steal as well.
Patience will come to Marte with time. He's going to swing a lot and strike out a log.
TheShoes: Why does Marte seemingly burn a strike on every single at-bat with a bunt attempt? I've seen him pull it off maybe once, but if he continues to do it, I would think the element of surprise would start to fade...
Bill Brink: It's an interesting question, one that gets at a larger idea behind the bunt. It's a little bit of game theory: You have to square to bunt occasionally to plant the idea in the third baseman's head, then catch him too far in and rip a grounder past him. But if you do it too often they'll wise up, you'll fall behind in the count and it won't work. There's an equilibrium to be found and he hasn't found it yet.
For more on this, if you enjoy stats and analysis, I recommend "The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball," by Tom Tango. It's math-heavy, but the takeaways are interesting.
Adam in Boulder: Ownership said last year that payroll will go up if attendance goes up, and this year is poised to set not just a PNC Park attendance record but PBC record. How high do you see payroll going next year, and do you think a winning season will stop guys like Edwin Jackson from spurning FA offers?
Bill Brink: The reported pursuit of Justin Upton showed the Pirates' willingness to increase payroll by as much as $10 million for 2013 and 2014. I could see it getting as high as $55-$60 million if they make moves in free agency (that's not counting the money the Yankees and Astros are kicking in).
If they keep winning, especially if they make the playoffs, it'll be hard for free agents to say no based on location and team. They may say no on money.
JAL: Can Marte become a good a lead off hitter or are his skills more suited to hitting 5th or 6th?
Bill Brink: He can become a good leadoff hitter if he improves his patience and learns to take walks. It's too early in his major league career to assume he can't do that. His speed and power make him an ideal leadoff guy but the OBP has to stay high.
Adam in Boulder: .306, 14 HR, 54 RBI. Should Pirates have been more serious about signing Yoenis Cespedes? Looks like Billy Beane made a great, aggressive move to get him.
Bill Brink: It looks great now, but coming out of Cuba teams had no idea what he could be. They knew he had power and speed, but the quality of pitching he faced is so different -- and hard to quantify-- from the majors that it was tough to evaluate his stats.
They did see the power and speed, though, and at the contract he signed it would have been a solid move.
Hunter: It may be a little early for this one but with McKenry's performance this year do you think the Pirates view him as a starting candidate for next season? If so do they then decline Barajas' option or use him as a $3M backup?
Bill Brink: I think that may be why Hurdle is giving him more run. To paraphrase Hurdle: "I'm going to see if there's more to this, and see if he can run with it." I still think they pick up Barajas' option, unless they think he's totally done, because of how hard it is to find a good catcher on the free agent market and the development Tony Sanchez still has in front of him. You may see more of an even split next season though.
LeeFoo: If they DO bring Cruz back, then what of Qualls? Trade? Release? Do we wait until Sept for Leroux?
Bill Brink: I would imagine wait until September for Leroux unless something happens where Correia is no longer in the bullpen. I think Qualls could be traded via waivers, but it would be tough to get much for him.
Adam in Boulder: How amazing is it that Neil Walker is Pirates property until at least 2017? He's arbitration-eligible, but do you see them trying to sign him to a long-term deal or just betting on good arbitration decisions every year until '17?
Bill Brink: Walker will also be 31 when he hits free agency. Unlike Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates don't have to worry about him hitting free agency in his peak years. If they can agree on a reasonable contract, they will, but I think they play out at least a few arbitration cases. Walker is preparing to be a Super 2 player after this season.
LeeFoo: Why are they wasting Mercer on the bench? It's like he is a Rule 5 pick they're trying to stash away. Why not bring up d'Arnaud and have him PR? I know they said d'Arnaud needs more work than Mercer, but aren't they damaging him by keeping Jordy on the bench....ALL THE TIME?
Bill Brink: Keeping him on the bench is not helping Mercer. According to Hurdle, it's helping Hurdle use Josh Harrison elsewhere so that Hurdle has a true defensive shortstop on the bench if need be.
D'Arnaud would not provide that same safety net.
Biz: WIth Bedards success last night with an extra day of rest, do you forsee this strategy becoming more frequently used?
Bill Brink: Maybe with Bedard, if they can. It seems to have worked well this season. It'll be tough in the final month with limited days off, though the roster expansion will help.
Bill Brink: Lightning round time. Quick ones. Fire away.
Gillen4: Most overrated band/music act in the history of music?
Bill Brink: Bieber?
JAL: Shaken or stirred?
Bill Brink: Shaken.
Jeff: Yes or no. Gerrit Cole is in the bullpen in September?
Bill Brink: I don't think so, no.
Adam in Boulder: Bull Durham or Field of Dreams?
Bill Brink: Bull Durham.
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