The Pirates appear primed to play baseball in October. The open question seems to be to be how many games they’ll play.
If they sneak into the Wild Card spot behind Cincinnati (likely) or St. Louis (less likely), the Buccos are assured only a single game; if they manage to win the NL Central clean, a guarantee of at least three days of October baseball will be in order.
|Goodbye, dejected looking Wandy. (US Presswire)|
To aid them in their quest for uncharted success, Neil Huntington & Co. bit the Wandy Rodriguez contract pill (as he’s now under expensive team control through 2014) and got an able-bodied and relatively sturdy third or fourth starter (behind James McDonald, A.J. Burnett and perhaps Erik Bedard). He’s certainly better than Kevin Correia or Jeff Karstens in the game of baseball, but in the fantasy sphere, all that matters is how he’ll perform individually. Will the move to PNC Park help Wandy be Wandy better than Minute Maid could?
Angle One: Parks, generally
Score one for PNC Park. The scenic wonder in Pittsburgh has a Park Factor of 0.673 in the runs department this year, according to ESPN. Minute Maid, meanwhile, has a 0.915 mark, which means that both are pitchers parks, but the difference is hardly negligible: it exceeds the difference, for example, between scoring runs at Nationals Park (1.044) and the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (1.162).
Home runs, which have long been an enemy of Wandy’s, are much harder to come by in Pittsburgh, which has a Park Factor of 0.584. Minute Maid Park has a mark of 1.086, which favors the hitters. And, for what it’s worth, we can pretty well rule out any suggestions of aberration: In 2011, PNC had a much more respectable 0.799 Park Factor in the home run department, while Minute Maid had a 1.160 Park Factor. Suffice it to say that the main difference between the two parks is in home runs allowed, and in that, PNC Park comes out way ahead.
Angle Two: Parks, Wandy-specific
Rodriguez has pitched in the same division for his entire career, and in his 114 Minute Maid Park starts since 2005, he’s surrendered 69 home runs in 688+ innings, or roughly one per every 9.98 innings. Despite his NL Central loyalty, he’s managed only 10 starts at PNC Park in his career. Small sample size aside, he surrendered only three homers in 60+ innings, which amounts to one per every 20 innings. No one will complain if Wandy’s 10.3 percent home run to fly ball rate dips closer to nine.
Angle Three: Team defense, this year
Both the Astros and Pirates are unimpressive on defense, but the Pirates are a little more capable. The Pirates have made 83 errors to the Astros’ 103, but both teams sport negative Defensive Runs Saved (though the Pirates have lost roughly 30 fewer runs; high praise, I know). Meanwhile, the Pirates rate much better on UZR (where they actually have a positive mark) while the Astros are in the red (though only slightly at -2.9). It’s not a shocking change in scenery, but a little more run prevention (or rather, a little less run allowance) and fewer errors should help Wandy improve his ratio stats.
Angle Four: Team offense, this year
Both teams, over the larger sample, are horrid on offense. Altogether, the Astros rate as a team 14 percent below league average on offense while the Pirates are only 2 percent better, but perhaps the Extra 2% can make a difference?
In July, the Pirates have woken from their collective, yearlong slumber, and have managed a month of above-average offensive ball. They rated as 16 percent above league average, while the Astros have tumbled the wrong way, clocking in at 34 percent below league average. Rodriguez will surely welcome more run support.
In Wandy’s five July starts, the Astros have chipped in merely 14 runs of offensive support, and only eight of those have come when he was still in the game. He should benefit from a suddenly bat-hot support squad that might land an impact offensive player (perhaps Chase Headley, for one) in the next week.
Angle Five: Intangibles and conclusion
Who knows what kind of a gamer Wandy Rodriguez is, as he hasn’t pitched in a playoff game—or anything close, really—since his rookie campaign in 2005. But he does leapfrog from playing for a last place team to a franchise on the cusp of an exciting and monumental playoff berth. I could see motivation and newfound optimism benefitting Wandy.
That aside, he should function well in one of the friendliest pitching parks in America, one that’s turned James McDonald into a probable Cy Young vote getter (1.69 ERA at home, accompanied by a 0.89 WHIP and a 2.81 FIP before Tuesday’s unkind start). Anything would be considered an upgrade from the anemic ‘Stros and the unforgiving Minute Maid Park, but Wandy Rodriguez struck gold, it seems.