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Mound Visit: Living and dying on the edge


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Adam Frazier comes to the plate Sunday at PNC Park. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A minor-league pitching coach from another organization I used to cover once shared with me a tidbit that has stayed with me ever since: "The battle between a pitcher and hitter is usually won or lost on the edges. Unless the [expletive deleted] umpire gets involved."

If his words ring true, then the Pirates' hitters are losing more than their fair share of battles.

First let's answer the obvious question: What the heck do we mean by the edges?

The simple answer is the fringes of the strike zone, in all directions. Statcast has expressed the idea of these nebulous regions in various, iterating ways throughout the past few seasons, including the current expanded detail:

[caption id="attachment_819821" align="aligncenter" width="809"] A history of Statcast's zone visualization over the past three seasons.[/caption]

Through all of these iterations, the numbering has remained consistent right up until version 3, which is the current model. Edges had previously been defined as zones 11 through 19, until the latest map added waste pitches.

Some might call this information overload. To rebut that criticism, one would point to the wealth of data this opens up. Perhaps the presence of an expanded look at all areas can tell us how Chris Archer's slider plays if it lands on these edges, or if Trevor Williams' fastball simply flies in the face of conventional wisdom, gaining effectiveness when his control allows him to dot those same lines. (Hint: It does.)

From this humble perch, there is no such thing as too much data. Yet, certainly not all data is created equally. Newfound information is only as useful as its application. Luckily for us, we can use these "new" areas of the strike zone to explain away why Pirates hitters have had such a tough go of things in 2019.

wRC+, or weighted runs created-plus, aims to serve as an all-in-one metric for gauging run production. 100 is considered league average. Overall, regardless of zone, location and count, the Pirates currently carry a scarlet-letter like 79 as a team. That's 25th among the 30 MLB clubs. If a roll-up metric isn't your style, then I'll be happy to point you towards more widely accepted fare such as Runs Per Game (3.47, 27th), batting average (.234, 23rd) or OPS (.669, 27th), with all metrics here coming prior to the team splurging for 5 runs yesterday -- though it took 13 innings to get there.

We can cut the numbers several dozen ways, but we don't really have to. We know that the Pirates are not great at run production. Despite Josh Bell's heroics, Bryan Reynolds' surprising start at the dish and Melky Cabrera's overall solid play, the PBC simply cannot scratch across enough runs to support their intriguing pitching staff.

With every great deficit comes great opportunity. No, it was not Spider-Man with that actually is not a famous quote at all, that I know of. But, it fits. Here's a better one, from Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption:

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."

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