If you've been on twitter or facebook the past few days you've probably noticed the new trending hashtag, #MLB13Cutch. The hashtag has been trending in the Pittsburgh area since yesterday and will hopefully continue to do so for the rest of the week, until the voting ends. If you still have no idea what I'm talking about let me explain.

MLB 13 The Show every year obviously selects one player to be on the cover of  their video game every year and this year they decided to select the player through a fan vote. The Show nominated seven players for the title honors including Miguel Cabrera, Matt Kemp, C.C. Sabathia, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun and of course Andrew McCutchen. As of the time of this post McCutchen has a surprising lead in the pools with around 30,000 votes at this point.

If you want to vote for McCutchen you can do so either though twitter or facebook, with on twitter its as easy as just hashtaging MLB13Cutch inside your tweets. Even though it probably makes no difference towards anything at all it would still be really cool to a Pirate on the cover of a video game like this, so go vote.

Optimal Opening Day Batting Order

As a stat oriented guy there are some things I like to do every once in awhile to try to see how someone who thinks strictly the "scientific" way of baseball would do something. One of the more interesting things you can do this with is setting the batting order. Every year there are debates on who should hit where in the batting order, and very rarely are they even close to coming up with the optimal batting order for that particular team.

So what I did is figured out going off of last years stats what the absolute best batting order would be for the Pirates on Opening Day 2013, and the results were defiantly surprising. All I had to do was type in the batting order I projected the Pirates to have on opening day and a few key stats about each player to go along with it and once I did that it gave me what they thought would be the best batting order in 2013.

Probable Order
1.Starling Marte
2.Neil Walker
3.Andrew McCutchen
4.Garrett Jones
5.Pedro Alvarez
6.Russell Martin
7.Travis Snider
8.Clint Barmes
9. Pitcher

Baseball Musings.com Optimal Order
1. Andrew McCutchen
2. Starling Marte
3. Travis Snider
4. Garrett Jones
5. Neil Walker
6. Pedro Alvarez
7. Russell Martin
8. Pitcher
9. Clint Barmes

As you can tell with just a quick look the two lineups are extremely different. The first thing that stands out to me on baseball musings order is that the pitcher is hitting eighth on all of its optimal lineups, we have seen managers do this before in the past and most of the time they were torn apart for doing so. Another thing that stands out to me is the fact that McCutchen is hitting first. McCutchen led the team in home-runs last year and also hits for a good average, which had me thinking he would be the three hitter but with his extremely high OBP baseball musings had him hitting first. Travis Snider is also hitting third Baseball Musings lineup which I found extremely interesting considering Snider didn't have really that great of a season at all last year.

So how big of a difference would this lineup make you ask? Well a pretty large one, for the lineup that the Pirates will probably start the season with they are projected to score 3.794 runs per game while with Baseball Musings lineup they are projected to score 4.175 runs per game, that's a difference of .381 runs per game. With a 162 game season that's nearly 62 runs per per season, if you take my theory that about 15 runs equals one win then the Pirates will be wasting about four wins in 2013! Four wins is huge, four wins last year would of been the difference between a breaking the streak and extending it to two full centuries. Four wins is about worth about 20 million on the free agent market, which to a small market team like the Pirates is huge.

The fact of the matter is the Pirates are never going to start the lineup that the sabermetric junkie thinks they should, so they're going to have to win with the lineup they have. It sure would be interesting to see how the Pirates would do though if they did start the sabermetric lineup.

Projected 25 Man Roster

So I haven't written on the blog in awhile partly because I got so frustrated towards the end of the season last year with the whole collapse thing and all but finally the true baseball fan is starting to come back out of me and I can't resist but to start writing again, I need to get my thoughts and opinions out there somehow. Starting now until hopefully the end of next season I'm going to try to write as much as I can on the site, hopefully I can get a few of those old readers back.
 I figured a good way to get back into the blog considering its January and there's not a whole lot going on is to put out my projected opening day 25 man roster. The way this is going to work is I'm going to go through all the aspects of the team starting with the starting pitching going all the way down to my projected bench. One thing to remember when reading this is that obviously none of this is even close to official, through spring training and injuries to some many players could make the roster that would not even come to mind when I'm writing this post. For example I don't think there are to many people that would of picked Matt Hague to make the opening day roster at this point last year, but sure of enough he had his name called just like everyone else.

Starting pitching is where I'll start, when you look at the rotation coming into this year you see four out of the five spots pretty much locked up. First you see A.J. Burnett who had a fantastic come back season in 2012, making a strong impression on Pirate fans his first year in Pittsburgh. Secondly you see James McDonald who started the season as strong as anyone last year but quickly took a rapid left turn for the worse the second half of the season. The Pirates are also fortunate enough to have two quality left handed starters that are also pretty much guaranteed spots in the rotation in 2013. Wandy Rodriguez who was acquired from the Astros at the deadline last year is back for his second year in Pittsburgh. The second left hander the Pirates have this year came as much of a surprise when the Pirates announced that they would sign Francisco Liriano for 12.75 million over two years. I personally really like this sign as Liriano has some good stuff and high strikeout numbers, if he can learn to have a little more control he can be a really valuable piece to the Pirates this year. This leaves the Pirates with one open spot left in the rotation, the two it looks like it will come down to is Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson, with possibly someone like Vin Mazzaro in the mix as well. It will probably be whoever pitches better in spring training will win the spot, but the Pirates might already have a favorite for the spot in mind. Another thing to remember is that Charlie Morton who missed most of the season last year with Tommy John surgery will probably be healthy and ready to pitch about two months or 60 games into the season, it will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle this situation when they get to that point.

My guess is the Pirates will probably go with a seven man bullpen to start the year with five locks at this point. The five locks are Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, and Bryan Morris. Grilli we know was signed to be the closer and although we don't know how the Pirates intend to use their bullpen I would tend to guess that Melancon who was acquired from the Red Sox in return for Joel Hanrahan will be used as some type of set up man. Jared Hughes and Bryan Morris are also strong right handers who will be used as mid to late inning guys. At this point it looks as if the only lefty in the bullpen will be Tony Watson and can be used as either a match up guy or for a full inning when needed. The last two spots are up for grabs and could go to either Chris Leroux, Justin Wilson, Rick van den Hurk Zach Stewart, or even Andrew Oliver. Both Oliver and Wilson are left handers and could make a difference if either one was added to be the second lefty in the pen. With two spots to give, at this point I would guess they would go to Leroux and Wilson, that assuming that the loser between Locke and McPherson for the fifth spot goes to AAA

Next we go to the outfielders with at least two spots locked for sure. The Pirates obviously have Andrew McCutchen who will try to continue what he did last year in center-field although that will not be easy to do. In left the Pirates have Starling Marte who will enter his second season and try to justify his title as one of the Pirates best prospects coming up through the system. In right is where we have a very sticky situation with four players who could win the spot with Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, and the newly acquired Jerry Sands. The Pirates can probably choose two of these guys to put on the roster and my opinion it will be Travis Snider and Jose Tabata. I think Travis Snider will be the starter in right, I think the Pirates still have high hopes for Snider because if they didn't I don't think they would of traded Brad Lincoln for him straight up at the deadline last year I think Tabata will be the fourth outfielder because honestly Hurdle doesn't really seem to like Presley and the Pirates still probably want to develop Jerry Sands more before they put him on the big club. There always is the possibility that the Pirates keep both Tabata and Presley on the 25 man but I personally am very opposed to have 5 outfielders on the team especially when you already have someone like Garret Jones who could play right field with the drop of a hat.

In the infield it seems like the Pirates plan on using some kind of platoon at first base with Garret Jones and Gaby Sanchez even if it's not 100% right vs left or left vs right. At second the Pirates obviously have Neil Walker coming back for another season. At shortstop as much as many people hate to hear it Clint Barmes will be back again, even though he doesn't have a huge bat he does have a very nice glove which is first priority for a shortstop. At third base Pedro Alvarez will be looking to keep up his power numbers but cut down on his strikeouts, if he can do this it will be another big step for Alvarez. The Pirates in my opinion should have two back up infielders one being pretty much a lock with Josh Harrison who can play just about any position on the field, although he doesn't really play any of them to well. I'm not 100% sure who should be the second back up but I'm leaning towards Jordy Mercer, Mercer can play short and second and some potential at the plate.

At Catcher its pretty simple with Russell Martin another big signing for the Pirates this offseason is set to be the starter. The back up is once again "the fort" a.k.a. Michael McKenry who had a much better then expected season last year. I just think most people are going to be happy they don't have to watch Rod Barajas day in day out this season.

Sooo with all that it leaves my final 25 man roster looking something like this

Starting Rotation
  A.J. Burnett
  James McDonald
  Wandy Rodriguez
  Francisco Liriano
  Jeff Locke

  Jason Grilli
  Mark Melancon
  Jared Hughes
  Tony Watson
  Bryan Morris
  Chris Leroux
  Justin Wilson

  Andrew McCutchen
  Starling Marte
  Travis Snider

  Garret Jones
  Neil Walker
  Clint Barmes
  Pedro Alvarez

Russell Martin

  Josh Harrison
  Jordy Mercer
  Michael Mckenry
  Jose Tabata
  Gaby Sanchez

I think I should say this one more time, none of this means anything at all it's just kind of the way I think things will play out, but what do I know? I do know one thing for sure though, I can't wait for opening day to see how the roster really turns out.

The Quality Of The Pirates Bench

An important part of every contender especially in the National League are the guys that they have available to come up off the bench in an import part of any game. The Pirates made some additions at the deadline to try to improve their bench such as acquiring Gaby Sanchez and even Travis Snider even though he's a starter it still improves because now we have an old starter now available off the bench. The Pirates still don't have the best bench in the league but it's improved and I'm trying to figure how just how good it is.

The Pirates right now only have four bench position players on their roster but will probably add another one soon as either a pitcher will be placed on the DL or Jeff Locke will be sent back down. I know not many of you want to hear this but if I had to guess I would say that Jose Tabata is close to a call up even though he has it for absolutely zero power since being sent to AAA but he does have a good batting average of .313 almost a hundred points higher then his batting average earlier this year in the majors.

Josh Harrison- Harrison well he's not that great no matter how hard you try to find something to make him look that way. Harrison has hit .237 average this year in just over 150 at bats and really doesn't add much power to the mix either as he has only hit three home-runs this year and a slugging percentage of .385. The nice thing about Harrison and frankly the only reason he's still in the majors is because he can play just about anywhere on the field. Harrison is listed as an infielder and plays short or third most of the time but can also play right field if you need him to and has done so this year. Harrison's fine to play every once in a while to give a guy a break but he's not the bat I want coming off the bench in a big situation.

Michael McKenry- As much as I don't like to admit that McKenry is a bench bat it seems with the way that Hurdle is handling the catching situation its looks like its going to end up being that way. Unlike Harrison I would feel pretty good if McKenry was hitting with two outs and the winnings run on second, as good as I could feel that is. McKenry has hit 11 home-runs this year and carries a strong .281 average as well. I wrote a post last week about Mckenry's unbelievable at-bat to home-run ratio if you want to check it out, the guy has shown amazing pop this year and I don't see if falling off to much especially with the limited playing time that he already gets.

Gaby Sanchez- If you follow the team much at all you would know that Gaby Sanchez is the first-baseman the Pirates just acquired from the Florida Marlins in exchange for Gorkys Hernandez and the 33 overall pick in this upcoming draft. Sanchez has not been great this year but has improved since being shipped to Pittsburgh at the deadline. A lot of guys aren't quite has high on Sanchez as I am partly because I value long at-bats more then most and Sanchez always seems to be good for one of those. Sanchez always works long counts and in turn raises pitchers pitch counts, which we know is under constant watch now a days, but working these long counts also forces the pitcher to throw a good pitch eventually and Sanchez gets a lot of hits that way. In a big pinch hit spot Sanchez might not be the best but he's not going to be terrible either, he's always going to give himself a chance which is about all I can ask for.

Jordy Mercer- The last bench bat the Pirates have to throw out there right now is the primarily shortstop playing Jordy Mercer. Mercer hit his first career home-run the other night but is not really known for his power but instead his steady defense in the field. Mercer doesn't see the field very much but should probably see it a little more, but in 18 game this season Mercer has hit for a .191/.234/.452 line but lets remember this is just 31 at-bats were talking about so we really can't judge Mercer off of this much at all. To the question if Mercer would be good in a clutch situation, I really don't think we have to worry about that much at all as Mercer would probably be the worst option at this point.

Orioles Plan To Call Up Manny Machado

If you are wondering how the Orioles calling up minor league third-baseman/shortstop in anyway relates to the Pirates I can explain I swear.

 Manny Machado was the third overall pick back in 2010 by the Orioles, the same year that the Pirates had the number two overall pick in the draft. The Pirates ended up taking the Rice commit in Jameson Taillon who is currently playing for high-A Bradenton and ranks as the Pirates number one or two prospect depending on who you talk to. The decision the Pirates made was seen by most as a pure toss up as they could of just as easily taken Machado, the high school shortstop from Miami.

This move comes as a huge surprise to just about everyone from all around baseball because as of Wednesday night Machado has never seen a pitch above the AA level, and no I did not forget to put an extra A at the end. Machado has only played 108 games in AA this season and has hit for a line of .266/.350/.431 with ten home runs he is only twenty years old. This line is not bad by any means but it is not exactly major league quality. This is an extremely aggressive move by the Orioles and honestly in my opinion probably a little stupid as now the Orioles are going to use their top prospects service time when he is by no means ready. Machado could easily fail to hit .200 in his major league time this year where he will most likely play third base according to Kevin Goldstein.

Oh and one last thing, just because Machado is going to reach the majors before Taillon does not in any way mean that he is the better player, that is just stupid and still undetermined.

A.J. Burnett Named Player Of The Week

Every week the MLB awards one player from both the National and American League with the honor of player of the week, and for the week of July 30 to August 5 the best player in the National League was your own A.J. Burnett.

This past week Burnett made two starts one of which he was just four outs away from no hitting the Cubs and was honestly one of the best pitching performances I have seen this year in all of baseball even if it was the cubs. He went on to finish that game as a one hit shutout. The next game against the Reds he wasn't much worse although he allowed two two runs he went 8 2/3 before he allowed a few base-runners and basically forced Hurdle to pull him.

Overall over the past week Burnett finished with 17 2/3 innings pitches 4 hits an ERA of 0.50 and he also added 15 strikeouts to the mix. This was not a real tough decision for the MLB as Burnett's performance was just so dominate that he could not be denied this award. I for one would like to take this moment to personally thank the Yankees for not wanting this man because I can tell you that we sure do.

Watch Out For The Cardinals

The Pirates currently sit at top of the National League wild card standings but that spot is anything but a guarantee for the Pirates. There are several teams who could take that postseason bid from the Pirates including the Diamondbacks who the Pirates start a four game set with tonight, but I think a team that Pittsburgh fans are really under estimating are the St. Louis Cardinals.

I can't tell you why but it seems to me that people from around Pittsburgh are just writing off the Cardinals, instead looking just at the Reds acting as if the chance that the Cardinals could go on a run possibly even for the division let alone the wild card is an unreasonable thought. Let me tell you something that thought is not by any means unreasonable in-fact I would say that it's probably likely, not likely that the Cardinals will win the division but rather that they will go on a run putting themselves back in the hunt (not that they aren't in it already).

If your one of those people that disagree with me and think that the Cardinals don't stand a chance, keep reading I might change your mind. In my opinion the second most telling stat of a quality of team in all of baseball besides record is a teams run differential and the Cardinals are not exactly failing in that category. Through 108 games this year the Cardinals have a run differential of +110 the best in all of baseball, 18 runs better then the next closest team in the New York Yankees. Don't value run differential as much as I do? You should because in the last ten years the team with the highest run differential in the league has made the playoffs 100 percent of the time and 9 out of 10 of those same times that team had won their division. Also far all I know this trend might have been continued for another ten years but I can't tell you for sure because I  honestly just didn't feel like looking that much further.

There's no guarantee that the Cardinals will end the season with the highest run differential in the majors but a this point their the top pick and it would be pretty amazing if the team leading the entire majors in that category would miss the playoffs. The Cardinals are just two and a half games of the Pirates in the wild card, really not that much considering there's close to a full two months of baseball left. Luckily for the Pirates they still have six games left against the Cardinals so they still have their chance to hold them off along with the rest of the wildcard teams. Oh yeah and there's one thing that I didn't even mention earlier and that's that the Cardinals and defending World Series Champs!!! If the Cardinals don't have a chance to win the division then I don't know who does.