Hello, all. Welcome to my 3rd edition of “The State of the Pittsburgh Pirates”. Since we are more than halfway through this 2016 season, let’s talk about the best, and worst of our beloved ball club so far.
Team MVP: Gregory Polanco
Stats: .291 BA, .863 OPS, 13 homers, 54 RBI, 55 runs scored
If the Pittsburgh Pirates gave out a team MVP award, it would be a heated race between outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Both players are pretty even, but I give Polanco the edge due to his advantage over Marte in most offensive categories. If somebody wanted to counter, they would likely use Marte’s league leading 32 stolen bases as one of their top points. This is true, but what good is taking a base if you don’t score a run? Polanco and Marte are both dead even with 54 runs scored. Marte is a better defender than Polanco and hits for a higher batting average, but that’s about it. Polanco has been the key cog in this Pirates offense, and should the Pirates make the postseason; there better be a few NL MVP votes for “El Coffee”.
Team Cy Young: Mark Melancon
Stats: 30 Saves, 1.51 ERA, 0.960 WHIP
The only thing the Pittsburgh Pirates have the resembles an ace in the starting rotation is Gerrit Cole, and he’s spent a good bit of 2016 on the shelf. So, in my opinion, the most valuable pitcher that the Pirates have is their closer. Melancon has established himself as the best in Pirates history for his role as a 9th inning specialist. Even when the bullpen was stinking up the joint in April and early May, Melancon was always reliable. Part of me even wanted to give Melancon the team MVP award, because his importance to this club is impossible to overstate.
It’s amazing that Neil Walker can get more popularity from this fan base playing in Queens than Melancon gets playing here, especially when Melancon is far better at his position than Walker ever was at his for the Pirates. Enjoy the shark while you have him, and be ready to embrace Tony Watson or Neftali Feliz if and when you don’t. As Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli have proved in the past, even the best of closers are replaceable when you have a plan. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a plan, and they have the horses to carry on if Mark should leave as a unrestricted free agent this winter.
But just because Mark will be replaceable in 2017 does not diminish his value to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, and certainly does not mean the Pirates should deal him at the deadline. Enjoy Mark while you have him, and use his talents to help you make a run at the postseason. The Pirates are a good team. Good teams don’t sell. Melancon has been more dominant that Gerrit Cole or any other Pirates pitcher this year, and it’s not close.
Breakout Star: Sean Rodriguez
Stats: .825 OPS, 10 HR, 32 RBI, 117 OPS+
How awesome as Serpico been this year? I loved Sean Rod in 2015. Even though he couldn’t hit, he was a freak in the field who could not only play anywhere on the field: he could dazzle anywhere. In 2016, he can still do all of that defensively, AND he can hit. I’d love to award everybody on the Pirates bench because they are the best in baseball, but Sean Rod and Matt Joyce shine above the rest. Sean-Rod is more valuable to the Pittsburgh Pirates because of his defensive versatility, so he gets the nod here. Here’s hoping Serpico’s 440+ foot bombs aren’t too good to be true if you catch my drift.
Biggest Bust: Jared Hughes
Okay, okay. Andrew McCutchen deserves this dishonor. But I know we are all tired of:
A. Watching Cutch
B. Hearing about Cutch,
Picking Cutch would have been too easy. So let’s talk about Jared Hughes. Hughes has been a solid rock for the Pirates middle relief ever since his debut in 2011. However, 2016 has not been the best of times for #48. The numbers speak for themselves. A relief pitcher’s carrer is more up and down than any other player is, so Hughes very well could bounce back. But, his season has been poor, and it’s time somebody said so.
Biggest Myth: Jim Benedict was pulling all the strings
Here’s an incredible thought, are you ready? The Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff has struggled this year because they aren’t very good. I can easily wrap my mind around that notion. But others are not able to. When something doesn’t go the way we want it to, there always has to be a particular reason. In the eyes of many, the cause that the Pirates starting rotation has been a train wreck for a good portion of 2016 is the loss of Jim Benedict.
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Benedict, who worked closely with pitching coach Ray Serage before leaving for Miami last winter, was hardly the first name mentioned by fans regarding who got the credit for the Pirates turnaround. But the second it was apparent that the pitching staff wasn’t what it used to be, Benedict’s absence was the reason why.
I’m not trying to discount Benedict’s work ethic. I’m sure he played a significant role in the success of the Pirates pitchers over the past few years. But how is in evident that his absence has been such a blow when his new team, the Marlins, are pitching about as well this year with Jose Fernandez as they were last year without him (and Benedict)? To make things real simple, does the fact that Locke, Niese, and Nicasio aren’t able to perform like Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz need a scientific explanation? No, it doesn’t. Not everybody is cut out to be a great big league starting pitcher.
If Benedict was such a genius, why wasn’t he able to resurrect Jonathon Sanchez? Why wasn’t be able to keep Kevin Correia from falling off a cliff after 2011? Why wasn’t Eric Bedard able to last a full season with the club? You see my point here.
Best teammate: Juan Nicasio
I will end this post on good vibes. Juan Nicasio had a rough go of it during his time in the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation, and you could imagine he wasn’t thrilled about being moved to the bullpen. But unlike Kevin Corriea in 2012, Nicasio sucked it up, accepted the demotion, and has been a valuable asset in the Pirates middle relief. Juan could have easily snapped and caused a clubhouse distraction, but he chose to be a professional, and for that, he deserves respect.
So, at 52-51, the Pirates are by no means out of it in the NL playoff race. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played. Let’s see what happens at the trade deadline, kick back, and enjoy the rest of the season. Baseball is fun, dammit.