Who Makes the Grade for the Pittsburgh Pirates?
The Pirates sit at 40-31, seven games behind the Cardinals who have the best record in MLB at 47-24. In the first part of a two part series, I will grade the performance of the Pirates hitters to this point of the season, so without further ado..
Catcher: Francisco Cervelli – A
Russell who? Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but Francisco Cervelli has been outstanding. Cervelli is third among starting catchers in On-Base Percentage and ranks 6th in Wins Above Replacement. He also is one of the best pitch framers in baseball. The defense has always been legit with Cervelli and in small samples he showed the ability to hit. One of the biggest knocks against him during his time with the Yankees was his inability to stay healthy. So far, so good. Now, where is a piece of wood?
First Base: Pedro Alvarez – D+
Is there a player more polarizing in Pittsburgh than Pedro Alvarez? We all know about his struggles at third base last season which forced a move to first base. Unfortunately, the errors followed him across the diamond. Pedro has been a dumpster fire at first base defensively, to the point that Clint Hurdle is forced to replace him late in games. Pedro’s deficiencies in the field could be overlooked if he were hitting, but he’s not. His .740 OPS puts him in the bottom half of major league first baseman. Pedro is one of the few players on the roster who can carry an offense when hot, and if he does the Pirates will be very dangerous.
Second Base: Neil Walker – C
The “Hometown Kid” had a career year last season. 2015 hasn’t been as kind. After a hot start in April, Walker has cooled down significantly. His walk rate is at a career low and his power has disappeared putting his OPS at a mediocre .687. Walker will turn 30 before the end of the season and the Pirates only have one more season of control, possibly making 2015 his last in a Pirate uniform.
Third Base: Josh Harrison – C+
This grade would be much lower had I written this article at the end of April, a month that he looked more like pre-2014 Harrison. He has started to resemble last year’s J-Hay in May and June hitting .314. These two months have raised Harrison to a league average third baseman. He probably won’t ever have another season like last year, but if he stabilizes as an average hitter with above average defense he’ll be valuable.
Shortstop: Jordy Mercer/Jung-Ho Kang – B
Jordy Mercer started the season as the incumbent shortstop. The beginning of 2015 looked similar to 2014 for him. Awful. Luckily, plan B worked out well. Jung-Ho Kang has been a revelation since coming over from Korea. He has cooled off in June after a white hot May, but his 1.2 WAR puts him 3rd among Pirates hitters. Kang has played more at the hot corner than shortstop this season and it’s still questionable whether he can stick to shortstop, but at the very least he has allowed the Pirates to be more flexible with Josh Harrison.
Left Field: Starling Marte – B
Marte is oftentimes maddening. His mental lapses in the field and some of his at bats will leave you scratching your head, but my goodness is he talented. Not too many players can hit 20 home runs and steal 30 bags – in fact, only one player did it last season – but Marte could do just that. When he is locked in at the plate he’s one of the elite players in baseball.
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen – B+
Full disclosure, McCutchen is graded differently. Any other Pirate would be given an A with numbers like his, but he is a little different. After an atrocious April, likely hindered by a bum knee, he’s looked like the ‘Cutch of seasons past. It takes a pretty stellar month and a half to raise an OPS from .636 to .839. With another month like May, he will be near his career averages.
Right Field: Gregory Polanco – C-
The Pirates hoped Gregory Polanco would fill their longstanding hole in right field. Not quite yet. I still have high hopes for Polanco. He has shown flashes of brilliance that remind us why he was a top prospect in baseball, but things haven’t clicked. Some routine plays are an adventure with him in right field and the power has yet to develop. Polanco’s slugging percentage of .344 through 509 major league at bats leaves much to be desired. He came into this season as an X factor on this team and if things click the Pirates will have the best outfield in baseball.
The bench is in need of an upgrade, either coming internally or externally. Corey Hart is more than a shell of his former self. I can’t see many scenarios where he is still with the team at the trade deadline. Jaff Decker could be called up to replace Hart if the Pirates decide they’ve seen enough. Beyond Hart, Chris Stewart has been great as Cervelli’s backup, Jose Tabata has looked like, well, Jose Tabata, and Sean Rodriguez has been a valuable defensive replacement for Alvarez late in games. He also hasn’t been terrible at the plate.
In part two, we will grade the Pirates pitchers nearing the midpoint of the season.
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