Pittsburgh Pirates’ Psychedelic Lineup: Playing Manager, and DJ.


My landline phone rang. I hesitated to answer because THAT blasted phone only rings if a telemarketer, or a recording of a politician soliciting my vote, is on the other end. (During the ’12 presidential election I picked up only to be shamed by a rambling vitriolic Clint Eastwood audio bite, aiming to strong-arm me into voting Romney.) I answered anyway. “Hi. I’m calling from the office of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Are you interested in a ticket plan for the upcoming 2014 season?” the voiced asked. At least it wasn’t Dirty Harry asking me if I felt lucky, punk. I expressed an interest, which launched the PR rep’s sales pitch. When his spiel ended he asked if I had any questions. “Yes,” I said. “What would it take to forever end the maddening scourge of batter walk-up music?”

Footnote: Baseball should be an organ-music-only sport, with the notable exception of Take Me Out To The Ball Game, of course. I despise batter walk-up music, which is just another in-game spectacle — like The Great Pittsburgh Pierogi Race and Mark Melancon’s AC/DC video montage — that distracts aloof fans from the intensity and intricacy of the baseball game. Do I really need a seat-rattling Drake hit, or Kenny Chesney sing-along, to remind me a bench player in a mop-up situation is approaching the batter’s box? Gaps in action are opportunities to strategize with a seat neighbor, pencil-in a box score, or simply absorb the scene. You want spectacle? The WWE will be at the Console Energy Center soon, I’m sure.

The Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Opening Day lineup card — handwritten in black Sharpie by Clint Hurdle — posted on the dugout wall should be fairly potent. Sure, the loss of Russell Martin will hurt, but a resurgent Pedro Alvarez, for instance, will help deaden the pain. Josh Harrison may regress, but Gregory Polanco may near his sky-high ceiling. Andrew McCutchen may not continue to terrify the NL Central…hah! Andrew McCutchen will always terrify the NL Central.

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I’m going to play both fantasy manager, and fantasy DJ. I arranged the Pirates’ batting order to what I hope is posted on Opening Day. Also, I have chosen new walk-up songs I believe suit each batter. However, due to my limited knowledge of music — modern or classic, popular or deep-cuts — I limited my selections to the Beatles’ catalog. Hey, we all know Beatles’s song, right? RIGHT?

1. Josh Harrison/3B     Song: With A Little Help From My Friends. “Yes, I get (home) with a little help from my friends.”

Far more than any other spot in the batting order, the leadoff hitter depends on the sluggers behind him. Harrison needs to find ways to consistently reach base, draw the attention of a jittery opposing pitcher, and then count on the 2-3-4 hitters to knock him home. In 2014, in 550 plate appearances, Harrison was 4th on the team with a .347 on base percentage, 3rd with 18 stolen bases, but 22nd with 18 bases on balls (a below average 4.0 BB%). Although he’s due to regress overall, Harrison needs to be a selective hitter and utilize his speed to be disruptive on the base paths. A few more David Blaine acts during run-downs would be welcome too.

2. Neil Walker/2B     Song: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. “Bang! Bang! (Walker’s) silver hammer. Came down upon (the ball).”

Walker won the NL Silver Slugger Award for second baseman in 2014. Offensively, he boasted a big-time year while manning a defensive-minded position. His slash line of .271/.342/.467, with 23 home runs and 76 RBI tells the tale.  Historically, the second spot in the batting order is reserved for a contact hitter. Walker was 5th on the team in strike outs with 88 in 571 plate appearances (15.4 K%). If he can replicate his ’14 numbers across-the-board — and with McCutchen protecting him — the 2 spot looks secure.

3. Andrew McCutchen/CF     Song: Carry That Weight. “Boy, you’re gonna carry that (offense). Carry that (offense) a long time.”

The face of the franchise. McCutheon won the MVP in 2013, boasts two more MVP-caliber campaigns, and is a 4-time All Star. His slash line in 2014 was .314/.410./.352 with 25 home runs and 83 RBI — and 2014 was arguably his third best offensive year in a six-year career. When he proposed to his fiancé on daytime TV, he proclaimed his love with a voice “as loud as a lion’s roar, times a billion.” I don’t know much about love, but that’s an apt description of the sound his bat produces when the ball is hit squarely. Simply put, McCutchen is THE MAN in the Pirates’ lineup, regardless of the cast surrounding him. He’s the one fans pray to when the rest of the offense is lagging. He’s the one expected to win games by himself, on occasion. He’s truly carried the weight of the offense in years past. Sure, he only had 18 stolen bases last year — his lowest seasonal total — but his speed and presence on the base paths adds another dimension to his prowess. Who would be surprised if he’s an MVP candidate again in 2015?

4. Pedro Alvarez/1B     Song: Hello, Goodbye. “Hello (baseball), Goodbye (baseball).” and/or Don’t Let Me Down. (See song title)

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Sometimes, Alvarez switches between Superman and Clark Kent so often one wonders if he keeps a phone booth in the dugout. Unfortunately, in 2014, he was much more mild-mannered reporter and much less Man of Steel. Alvarez is an all-or-nothing type of offensive player — whacking the occasional king-hell lunar bomb sandwiched between 11 mostly exasperating whiffs or impotent grounders. Hey, maybe one-out-of-twelve ain’t bad. Since he harbors such awe-inspiring power and sometimes unleashes it in majestic three-game bursts, El Toro has shown flashes of laying claim to the clean-up spot. Historically, he’s been more productive when he bats lower in the lineup, but the Pirates’ will be a far more dynamic team if Alvarez can replicate his 2013 Silver Slugger campaign batting in the four-spot. Don’t let us down, Pedro. (But we probably won’t be surprised if you do.)

5. Starling Marte/LF     Song: Ticket To Ride. “He’s got a ticket to (run).”

Marte is an egg about to crack in the basket of stardom. He offensive attributes nearly run the gamut. After a lousy star in 2014, he ended the season with a slash line of .291/.356/.453 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI in 495 plate appearances. His owned an oWAR of 4.7. His batting average average, home runs, and RBI’s have risen every season since his debut in 2012. Marte is not the most patient batter, as evidenced by the first half of 2014, but he tempered his free-swinging tendencies later in the year. If his baseball eye continues to sharpen, so will the sword these Pirates wield. A rise to the top of the lineup may eventually occur. Not to be forgotten is Marte’s unearthly speed. He was 30 out of 41 in steal attempts in 2014. Sure, he’s pulled a few noteworthy boners on the base paths before, but he retains the potential to be big-time a base stealing threat. Read a more thorough piece on Marte by Jason Rollison here.

6. Gregory Polanco/RF     Song: Flying. (Instrumental)

Much of what is written of Marte could be written of Polanco. Last June 10th, Polanco crowd-surfed into the major leagues on a veritable ocean of Pirates fans clamoring for his début. During his inaugural month, El Coffee (Spanish for “The Coffee”)  didn’t just live up to the hype, he lived above it. He exhibited pop, a natural hitter’s knack, and an ability to leeeeeg out infield grounders. And yes, the dude can fly. But then something happened…he looked like a rookie. Suddenly, Travis Snider upstaged him. Polanco certainly harbors boatloads of raw potential both in the batter’s box, and between the bases. More experience should help him make striiiiides. Expect El Coffee to be stronger, and more potent, in 2014.

7. Jordy Mercer/SS     Song: Revolution Number 9. (Now batting, the shortstop…) “Number (10). Number (10). Number (10).” 

I chose Revolution Number 9 as Mercer’s walk-up song for no reason other than I want to witness a batter mosey from the on-deck circle to the plate while a dizzying kaleidoscope of incoherent babble, warped diatribes, and cockeyed snippets of orchestra tunes reign down on a family-friendly PNC Park crowd on a Sunday afternoon. Beyond that, I want Mercer to continue on the offensive path he blazed during a productive mid-season stretch last year. In June he hit 5 home runs with 15 RBI, and posted a .824 OPS in July while batting .319. In all, he managed a 1.8 oWAR last year. Hopefully, his fruitless start at the plate wasn’t a harbinger of more to come in 2015. If so, Jeong-ho Kang is lurking. For a more sober and in-depth look at Mercer’s 2014 offense, see Jason Rollison’s piece here. Turn me on, Jory Mercer.

I want to witness a batter mosey from the on-deck circle to the plate while a dizzying kaleidoscope of incoherent babble, warped diatribes, and cockeyed snippets of orchestra tunes reign down on a family-friendly PNC Park crowd on a Sunday afternoon.

 8. Francisco Cervelli/C     Song: Fixing A Hole. “I’m fixing a hole (in the line-up) where the rain gets in.”

Who knows how — or if — Cervelli will produce offensively in 2014? The eight-spot in the lineup is typically a hole, reserved for the worst batter — bar the pitcher — but perhaps the Pirates’ new acquisition at catcher can prove more than a pop-less, Mendoza-line, AAA-level default player. There is some pedigree to suggest it’s possible. In 2014, the 28 year-old managed a slash line of .301/.370/.432, but in just 162 plate appearances. Injury-prone, Cervelli managed 317 plate appearance in 2010 — his most in a season to-date — and posted a slash line of .271/.359/.335, but with zero home runs and 38 RBI. His lifetime oWAR in parts of seven seasons is 4.1. Where have you gone, Russell Martin? Oh wait…Toronto.

Wildcard. Jeong-ho Kang/???     Song: Nowhere Man. “He’s a real Nowhere Man. Sitting in (the dugout).

Kang earns a spot on my lineup card as a wildcard since Huntington seems confidant Kang can play his way into becoming an everyday starter, perhaps at multiple infield positions. Sure, the gaudy offensive stats he compiled while playing in the KBO are the real-life baseball equivalent of Bo Jackson‘s stats in Tecmo Bowl, but they almost certainly won’t translate as such at the highest level of competition in the world.  Even if last year’s .356 BA and 40 home runs produced in the KBO translates to a .270 BA and 15 home runs in MLB, Kang will become a Somewhere Man in as a Pirate.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2015 lineup comes loaded with potential, and looks like one of the most well-oiled offensive machines in the National League. Forget the silly Billboard Top Hits pumping through the speakers whenever a Pirates batter makes his way to the plate. The most satisfying music to Pirates fans will be produced by the pop of a well-struck ball, the huffing-and-puffing of players legging-out extra bases, and the sweet sound of cleats greeting home plate.

Play it again.