PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Welcome to the second installment of Pirates Power Rankings, where we’ll take the 25 active players on the Pirates’ Major League roster and rank them, 1 down through 25.
Almost a third of the way through the season, the Pirates are 24-28, somehow just 4 games under .500 yet still just 3 ½ games back of the N.L. Central lead . Take that for what it’s worth as we count them down, from 25 to 1.
T-25) Jhan Marinez (no change) – Marinez put twice as many people on base this week as innings pitched. And these were low-leverage, we’re-already out-of-it innings. Except for Sunday night, when he allowed the Mets to expand a 4-run lead into a 6-run lead, thus making the ineptitude of the Bucs’ offense in the last three innings slightly less infuriating. Thanks, Jhan. At east you have company at the bottom this week.
T-25) Alen Hanson (-3) – “The Alen Hanson Experiment” sounds like a late-80s sketch comedy show that may or may not have had a 4- or 5-week run on FOX before they found Keenan Ivory Wayans, Jim Carrey, and Jaimee Foxx. It also sounds like something that needs to end ASAP. 2-for-11 on the week and 11-for-57 on the season, Hanson continues to provide less-than-replacement level production and little hope. So replace him, already.
23) Chad Kuhl (-8) – Of the Pirates three young righty starters, Kuhl is most rapidly approaching the brink of ‘bout-to-be-sent-to-Indy-so-Steven Brault-can-bring-a-lefty arm-to-the-rotation. Since April 24th, whether it is line drives off the knee, weather, or just plain old poor performance, Kuhl hasn’t pitched more than 5 innings in any of his 7 starts, and even that’s only happened twice. With an ERA of 8.67, WHIP of 1.93, and opponent BA of .350 during that timeframe, Kuhl may find himself getting swapped out with Brault, a southpaw who’s putting things together in AAA.
T-21) John Jaso (+3) – Saturday night’s hero, Jaso is hitting .306 over the last two weeks, including the game-tying and walk-off hits that night, the first Pirate to provide such a feat in the 9th and 10th innings respectively since Al Oliver did it 40 years ago. As an everyday player, Jaso doesn’t make sense anymore. As a veteran left-handed bat off the bench, he works.
T-21) Daniel Hudson (+2) – Congratulations to Daniel Hudson, who now as a low-leverage middle reliever, has stopped giving up runs. A 0.00 ERA and 0.75 WHIP with a 39% K rate over the last two weeks, Hudson may again be allowed to pitch in an important situation… someday. Although Clint Hurdle offered some effusive praise over the weekend indicating he’ll be back in the 8th inning role soon. Until then, he’s this team’s right-handed Antonio Bastardo.
T-19) Jose Osuna (+1) – 4-for-10 on the week with the game-tying 2-RBI single in the 9th inning Wednesday night and the middle shot of back-to-back-to-back homers in a 7-run 10th, Osuna continues to be exactly what any team would want in a 4th outfielder. The fact he’s sticking at the Major League level despite not getting a ton of work could present issues down the road, but for the time being, just enjoy one of the few legitimate bench pieces the Pirates have.
T-19) Johnny Barbato (-1) – Barbato shows flashes of promise at times because he’s capable of getting swings and misses, but for the most part just looks like a less-expensive Jared Hughes without the previous getting-out-of-other peoples’ jams experience.
18) Tyler Glasnow (-1) – “Baby steps.” That’s what Glasnow should get tattooed on the inside of his eyelids, to go with the “No juice” tattoo on the inside of his lip and the ODB face tattooed on the bottom of his foot. Glasnow was in the position to get a 3rd Major League win last Tuesday in Atlanta before Wade LeBlanc & Felipe Rivero conspired to squander the lead, and finally started peppering opponents with first pitch strikes Sunday night against the Mets. However 4 of the 11 innings he threw still pegged at least 20 on the pitch counter, and two more were just shy of that at 19. Only 2 walks in 11 innings and nailing 16 of 23 first pitch strikes on Sunday are positive signs, but that’s where we’re at with Glasnow: Improvement is going to be measured incrementally, in very small steps. Next obstacle on the to-do list? Pitching from the stretch, where Glasnow is giving up a .294 average
17) Trevor Williams (+2) – Another young baby stepper, if Glasnow’s stock remains relatively flat this week while Kuhl’s has dropped, Williams is the riser. Over his last 2 starts he’s gone 11+ innings, while giving up just 10 hits and zero walks in the process. His Memorial Day start could have gone much longer, as he zipped through 6 IP on just 67 pitches, hitting on 20 of 25 first pitch strikes and moving efficiently after a choppy 1st inning. His next obstacle? Get through a 1st inning cleanly. Currently Williams is being hit at a .333 clip and averaging a run per inning in opening frames.
16) Tony Watson (-7) – You want to irritate fans? Especially hardcore fans? Get to 1:45am, after about seven episodes of “Inside Pirates Baseball,” and blow the lead and a save situation that had just been created minutes earlier due to a clutch, 2-out Jordy Mercer 2-RBI single. Then blow another save six days later but vulture the ‘W’ thanks to a walk-off home run from Andrew McCutchen. And continue to fool us by racking up saves while ultimately having just three clean innings all year. Watson is not long for the closer’s role, and if not for trying to extract every ounce of trade value they can in him come July, one would have to believe the Pirates would have handed the closer’s keys to Felipe Rivero by now.
15) Chris Stewart (-1) – Stewie hadn’t had a triple since the first Obama administration, when he legged out a pair that season with the Portland Beavers. Yet there he was on Memorial Day, laying at third base after his 2nd of the season. He’s the uncle that pulls a hammy during the family picnic because he’s giving 125% in a mean game of kickball. Here’s hoping he’s healthy after pulling up a bit lame Monday afternoon.
T-12) Gift Ngoepe (+1) – Ngoepe continues to strikeout at a Little League pace, but his .429 BABIP is 6th highest in MLB of any player with at least 60 Pas, and the 198-point spread between his BABIP and .231 BA is the 2nd highest in MLB of anyone meeting that 60 PA threshold, so we can come to one either/or conclusion: Gift Ngoepe is either the luckiest man alive, or simply has no use for striking the ball if not’s going to be a hit. I’ll choose to believe the latter.
T-12) Wade LeBlanc (-2) – Frenchy continues to limit action on the base paths – opponents are hitting just .207 against him on the season – but higher leverage experiments with him have not gone well. In particular, coming in after the rain delay in Atlanta Tuesday night meant he was walking into a 1-run lead in the 7th inning against a pinch-hitter and then the top of the Braves order. After an Emilio Bonifacio ground out, back-to-back singles from Ender Inciarte and Brandon Phillips chased LeBlanc. In middle innings, or a 3+ inning mop-up role, LeBlanc is at his best, which is why he’s still valuable to this ball club. You never know what kind of start you’re going to get from Glasnow, Williams, or Kuhl – or Cole lately, for that matter – so having a dependable long man is key.
T-12) Jordy Mercer (+4) – Mercer goes from Bruce Banner to Hulk mode when the calendar flips past Memorial Day. His slash line goes from .236/.291/.326/.617 in April & May to .287/.334/.416/.750 in June & July. His HR rate also jumps exponentially, going from one every 85 PAs to one every 53 PAs. With all that said, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that he started a week or two early this year. He’s slashed .484/.529/.839/1.368 with 6 XBH in his last 8 games. If this keeps up, I don’t think any of us will have a problem with him hitting 2nd against lefties.
11) David Freese (-4) – Freese continues to show signs of awakening following his DL stint, but his number of strikeouts is not slowing down after avoiding Ks was a strength of his before the hamstring injury, with his K rate rising from 12% pre-DL to 31% post-DL.
10) Andrew McCutchen (+2) – After his walk-off winner on Memorial Day, it’s hard not to wonder if McCutchen is finally breaking out of one of the more horrid slumps of any MVP’s career. Over a 257 game stretch from August 1st, 2015 through May 24th, 2017, Cutch hit just .253/.346/.426/.772 with a 21% K rate . Compare that to his career up to that point and the .298/.386/.498/.884 with 17% K rate numbers, and you can start to delineate where the fall-off began. Does a 4-game stretch of productivity in the 6th spot of the order, including a walk-off HR, cure all? Certainly not. But when that homer goes the other way over the Clemente Wall and a couple of other extra base hits are driven hard to dead center, we can agree that if nothing else, the very early signs are positive.
9) Francisco Cervelli (+2) – A .474 week means that we’re beyond Memorial Day and somehow Cervelli is 3rd on the team in RBIs. His work with the staff continues to draw positive reviews from almost all of his teammates, but he and those pitchers need to improve their work with runners on base, as his 17.6 Caught Stealing percentage is 3rd worst among the 30 MLB catchers with at least 200 innings worked.
8) Gregory Polanco (off the DL) – Polanco was hot coming off the disabled list, going 6-for-15 with a pair of homers before awkwardly twisting an ankle against the short wall in foul territory down the right field line on Monday. If he can stay off the DL, he still needs to add more power into his game, as his Isolated Power sits at just .180 for the season. Truly impactful middle-of-the-order bats have to sit in at least the mid-.200s in ISO.
7) Josh Bell (-2) – .182 since last week’s rankings with just 2 extra base hits, Bell is also just 2-for-21 with 6 Ks since being plugged in to the 3rd spot in the lineup, which begins to build a strong case that the 3rd spot in the Pirate order is just cursed right now.
6) Adam Frazier (no change) – A weird week for Frazier, as he hit under .200 but also added a pair of HRs. A cool-off was inevitably in the offing at some point, so now the question will be how long the cool-off lasts.
5) Juan Nicasio (+3) – Nicasio’s only bump in the road this week was allowing the two base runners he inherited from Trevor Williams to score on Wednesday night in Atlanta. Nicasio continues to handle tough spots almost as well (7 inherited runners stranded) as Felipe Rivero (9 stranded).
4) Gerrit Cole (-3) – Cole didn’t just have his two worst starts of the season this past week, he had two of the three worst starts of his career according to Bill James’ Game Score v.2.0. A total of 22 base runners (20 H/2 BB) in just 9.2 IP and 6 of the 9 runs he gave up came on 5 home runs. The 12 long balls Cole has given up already this season is a new career-high for him, and we’re just now flipping the calendar to June.
3) Josh Harrison (+1) – His 10-game hitting streak ended on Memorial Day, as he went 14-for-33 since last week’s rankings, continuing to provide a top-of-the-order spark despite Frazier’s slump.
2) Felipe Rivero (+1) – Rivero had another 4 appearance week, which would put him on pace for 95-100 appearances in 2017, and may also require either a left arm transplant in the offseason. (Dodgers’ reliever Mike Marshall is the only pitcher to ever appear in at least 100 games in a single season, when he went 15-12 with 21 saves in 106 appearances while winning the 1974 N.L. Cy Young Award.) Clint Hurdle has said anything more than 70 appearances would make him uncomfortable, but the catch is that Rivero continues to be effective and will in all likelihood be closing for this team post-trade deadline. How do you NOT use him in late-game, high-leverage situations right now?
1) Ivan Nova (+1) – Nova continues to be the stopper the Pirates need with Jameson Taillon out and Gerrit Cole’s slider going missing. He scattered 10 hits and a walk over 8.1 innings against the Braves on Thursday when the team desperately need to leave Atlanta with a split. He’s still leading the world in both walk rate (0.64 per 9) and pitch efficiency (13.0 per inning), and is Pittsburgh’s #1 All-Star candidate.