Grading the Infield


Sep 29, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer (10) is congratulated by team mates after hitting an inside the park home run during the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates’ pitching staff put up some of the best numbers in the NL this year, and it was in no small part due to a stellar defensive infield behind them. The offensive production wasn’t great, but it was good. We break down every infielder and their performance over the entire 162 game season:

Pedro Alvarez, 3B

The poster-man-child of the infield, Alvarez embodies the “boom-or-bust” player. A hero one day and scapegoat the next,

Pedro Alvarez. The Force.

fans usually take the “what have you done for me lately (today)?” approach with Pedro. He does lead the team with 27 errors, but his .941 fielding percentage is the best of his career and he consistently makes spectacular plans look easy. And whatever he lacks in defense, he makes up for with one of the purest power swings currently in baseball. 36 HR and 100 RBI is an impressive feat that isn’t to be overlooked. Boy is it fun to watch this guy swing the bat. McCutchen will and deservedly should get MVP considerations for the season Pittsburgh had, but Alvarez gets the infield MVP award on this Pirates team. He quietly (or loudly, depending on the way you look at it) put up some gaudy numbers this year. Love him or hate him, this team wouldn’t have even sniffed the wild card game without him. One swing of his bat can change a game.

2013 Overall Grade: A-

Neil Walker

Walker’s season hit a speed bump in June, missing a good portion of the summer schedule. Walker’s offensive production isn’t anything flashy, but he does get on base and occasionally dazzles with the power he was touted for coming through the minors. Most Pirates fans expect Neil to put up 80+ RBI in a season if he can stay

Since the end of May, Pirates 2B Neil Walker is hitting over .300

healthy for 162 games, and it’s probably a realistic expectation. His bat is starting to really heat up at exactly the right time, which is a really encouraging sign. His switch-hitting ability also brings an added dimension to his game and gives Hurdle options.

Don’t forget Walker’s defense is superb. He isn’t flashy or attention-grabbing in the way he operates; he is fundamentally solid and routinely makes all kinds of plays. Walker may be one of if not the best relay throwers in the game. His .989 fielding percentage is the second best of

his career (2011), and his ability to link up with both Mercer and Barmes to turn 88 double plays this season was invaluable.

Overall Grade: B

Clint Barmes

Pirates fans know what they are getting with Barmes. Yes, he is overpaid. No, he isn’t as bad as most people may think. His “run and gun” charge the ball style of play is truly one of a kind. Barmes charges ground balls that some shortstops

end up fielding deep in the hole. This style of plays cuts down on errors and long throws. His offensive production was predictably paltry, but he did have some timely home runs and clutch RBI hits. All in all, not much to say here. At this point, we know what we are getting with Barmes.

Overall Grade: C-

Jordy Mercer

Mercer is by far the most intriguing member of this infield. His emergence as a legitimate bat in the lineup and an above average, serviceable defensive presence in the middle infield added another dimension to the lineup. The biggest sign that Hurdle and co. trust Mercer as a permanent solution in the infield? Mercer ended the season with 333 at-bats compared to Barmes’ (who started the season as the everyday starter) 304. Mercer produced in those 333 at-bats, hittig .285 with 8 homers and 27 RBI. His .336 OBP was far from stellar, but still way better than Barmes’ disgusting .249 mark. His offensive emergence allowed Hurdle to use Barmes as a late-inning defensive replacement, the perfect one-two punch at shortstop.

Unlike Barmes, fans don’t know what they will get from Mercer. His defense obviously isn’t as good as Barmes’, but he is learning from one of the best. This was Jordy’s first full season where he got the chance to really get in to a groove offensively, and he had some big hits. He won’t ever hit as many home runs as Pedro, or hit for a high average like Andrew, but he can be a key cog in the offense in the bottom part of the lineup going forward.

Overall Grade: C+

Justin Morneau

There still isn’t a whole lot to evaluate Morneau on as a Bucco, and fans will mostly remember him for what he does in the next month or so anyway. Morneau hasn’t hit for power like management brought him in to do, but he hasn’t needed to. He is a definite upgrade over Martin or Sanchez batting cleanup against lefties, and still probably a better option that Pedro because of his much higher OBP. His addition allowed Hurdle to move Pedro down in the lineup to a spot where he is far more comfortable. Morneau’s ability to come up with some clutch hits was

Sep 18, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau (66) in the dugout before playing the San Diego Padres at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

also huge. They may not have been bases clearing doubles, or walk-off home runs, but he kept rallies going with some big singles and walks.

The most underrated part of Morneau’s game is his glove work. That’s probably because he plays first base where there isn’t a lot of opportunity for flashy or spectacular plays, so Morneau does the dirty work. He is solid, reliable, and a good clubhouse guy. Kudos to Huntington and staff for finding the right guy. So many people wanted the front office to go big and get a guy like Rios or Soriano, but Morneau was clearly the right choice. They got their production and power guy in Byrd, they didn’t need another huge bat.

Overall Grade: B

Gaby Sanchez

Gaby’s season was nothing short of a disaster. Coming into the season as Hurdle’s favorite option at first against lefties, he completely lost any trust Hurdle, the front office, and the fans had for him. He started the season off alright, coming up with a few big doubles and homers. But as the season progressed, Hurdle and staff knew he wasn’t the answer. Jones is too inconsistent and cannot hit lefties at all, and Gaby simply wasn’t the guy to carry the load. Huntington was hoping former-all-star Gaby would emerge at some point, but it never panned out. His excellent glove-work at first doesn’t come close to making up for the colossal disappointment he was at the plate. The sooner the team severs ties with him, the better. Unfortunately, they won’t. Morneau and Jones are hapless against lefties. Gaby is the only option at first against a south paw. Can you imagine Sanchez in a playoff at-bat against someone like Kershaw though? The thought alone scares me. If he didn’t have a somewhat respectable April and May, I would be tempted to give him a straight F.

Overall Grade: D

Garret Jones

Things don’t get much better with Jones. His numbers certainly don’t validate his $4.5 million/year contract, and he is arbitration eligible next season. He is worthless against lefties, meaning he has to be stellar against righties. He wasn’t. His .233 average is far below his career average of .254 (it was even higher than that before this season obviously). 15 homers for a platooner isn’t that bad, but it certainly seemed like his production and homers were mostly meaningless. Besides his huge 5 RBI game against St. Louis in late August, he really didn’t do much for this team. He is a liability defensively.

Overall Grade: D+

Josh Harrison

Harrison probably doesn’t even deserve to be in this, but oh well. He did do this. Harrison actually made a few bad base-running errors throughout the season, but besides that didn’t really do anything to hurt the team too much. He only registered 95 plate appearances all year. Not really a threat at the plate, but his versatility does provide Hurdle some flexibility with his lineup card.

Overall Grade: C

As a whole, the infield did what they are supposed to do. Generally, production from your infield is a plus. They are there for their defense. Usually one productive player, either at 1B or 3B, is enough as long as your outfielders are producing. The Pirates have three productive players in their infield who they can count on each and every day. That’s not a luxury most teams have.