PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Only this year’s Pirates’ club could take a 6-game homestand that seems ripe for plucking at least 4, if not 5 wins, off the vine and instead find a way to harvest instead 4 losses, including a sweep at the hands of arguably the most disappointing team in all of baseball, the San Francisco Giants.
How bad is the Pirates’ bullpen? So bad that last week I somehow ranked Tony Watson both 23rd and 24th, and forgot to include Edgar Santana in the rankings at all. The continued struggles of the worst relief corps in the Clint Hurdle era are reflected in this week’s rankings, which have relievers occupying 6 of the 8 bottom spots:
OUT: Jacob Stallings (optioned back to Indianapolis)
IN: Antonio Bastardo (activated from disabled list)
25) Max Moroff (-2) – Somehow it got worse. Moroff was placed in the starting lineup twice this week, and shocked the Pirates twitterverse by actually A) making contact with a baseball, and B) sending it forward in positive manner. It only happened once in 13 plate appearances though, and his average is now under.100.
24) Antonio Bastardo (activated from DL) – If I’m ever looking to stop time, I’m going to ask Bastardo to pitch. His delivery is slow, his time in between pitches is slow, hell even his entrance from the bullpen and warm-up pitches are slow. In a world where time travel is thought to be impossible, Bastardo has found the wormhole to another dimension; it lies right under the PNC Park mound when he pitches.
23) Tony Watson (no change) – Earlier in the week, some were pointing to Watson’s four consecutive ‘scoreless’ appearances as a positive, choosing to ignore the inherited runners he’d allowed to score. Watson decided to do a little bit of both on Sunday, allowing the two runners he inherited form Trevor Williams to score, ending any hope the starter had at a decision, while also giving up the go-ahead run all on his own. Watson has become the poster boy for the futility of the Bucco bullpen.
22) Chris Stewart (no change) – For those of us complaining that Stewart continues to start over Elias Diaz, it’s time to give up the ghost. The manager and his staff much prefer Stew behind the plate, even if he can’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag. The starting pitching ERA with Stewart behind the plate is at least a run-and-a-half lower than it is with Diaz catching, and some found fault with Diaz’s inability to get in front of Daniel Hudson’s wild offering that cost the team a game Saturday night. Stew will continue to get the bulk of the reps until Francisco Cervelli returns.
21) Jhan Marinez (no change) – In his only outing of the week, Marinez took Gerrit Cole’s awful start Friday night and threw 93 octane on the fire by putting the first three men he faced and 7 out of 10 on base.
20) Wade LeBlanc (no change) – LeBlanc also played firestarter in his only outing of the week Friday night, allowing 5 of the 10 batters he faced to reach base, including a Brandon Belt home run, expanding the San Francisco lead to balloon from 11-5 to 13-5.
19) Daniel Hudson (no change) – Somehow Hudson got away without being charged for an earned run this week. After two nice outings in the Tampa Bay series, he was called on to mop up the final pair of outs Friday night, giving up a Sac Fly to Belt for run #13 (charged to LeBlanc) and then fell apart against the top half of the Giants’ order Saturday, literally throwing away the game in the process on a wild pitch.
18) Edgar Santana (no change) – Complain if you want that the 2-run HR he surrendered to Belt on Sunday afternoon ended up being the difference in the game. It was. It also sandwiched, along with a leadoff double by Joe Panik, who scored on Belt’s homer, two of the filthiest looking strikeouts I’ve seen this season not pitched by Felipe Rivero. First there was the wipeout slider that evoked an ugly kind of swing from Hunter Pence usually reserved for knuckleballs. Then Santana froze MLB’s leading hitter, Buster Posey, with another slider. The kid has good stuff, but he’s going to take some lumps before finding his back end role.
17) Chad Kuhl (no change) – Kuhl jumped 3 spots last week just by virtue of the ‘pen being awful, and his lack of movement in this week’s rankings similarly aren’t reflective of the work he did. Saturday’s start was his best at the Major League level, no-hitting San Francisco through 5 innings. He could’ve worked into the 7th, and given his efficiency that day, possibly into the 8th if not for his team’s inability to drive in runs.
16) Jose Osuna (no change) – Osuna continues to provide pop when he’s in the lineup, as his .477 SLG is 3rd on the team behind just Andrew McCutchen and … are you ready for this?… John Jaso. We saw his struggles in left field on Saturday serve as some evidence for why Clint Hurdle may not trust him in the starting lineup more than once or twice a week.
15) Adam Frazier (-3) – Frazier had looked in Milwaukee and St. Louis as if he was coming back around, but a 3-for-18 week with just a single walk dropped Frazier’s YTD slash line to .275/.348/.381/.729. For much of the season, Frazier avoided strikeouts, which is key at the top of the order, but he hasn’t been drawing walks at the same rate. When Starling Marte returns in two weeks, his struggles may start to reflect on his playing time.
14) David Freese (-4) – Freese was given three of the final four days of the week off, and Hurdle admitted that he’d mismanaged the veteran’s playing time to this point in the season. Since coming off the disabled list May 22nd, while Freese continued to work at the plate – for a long stretch of time he was leading the team in OBP and walk rate – he was hitting at a .220 clip. That’s fine if you’re not an everyday third baseman camped out in the middle of the order, but not sufficient for where’s being used in the lineup.
13) Gregory Polanco (+1) – An enigma wrapped in a riddle, Polanco shows us just enough in small stretches to give us hope that he can be productive at the plate on a more consistent basis. His swing is a thing of beauty – when it actually barrels a ball. His 2.5% barrel rate however, is 3rd lowest on the team, behind only Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison. To provide some frame of reference, Josh Bell leads the team with an 8.4% barrel rate, and Aaron Judge leads MLB with an otherworldly 25%(!!) barrel rate. Until Polanco can start to make more consistent hard contact, he won’t provide the kind of power numbers we’re all expecting from him.
12) John Jaso (+4) – A lot was justifiably made about McCutchen’s June, but the guy who had the second best month offensively for the Bucs continues to quietly play to the level of his contract now that he’s not playing every day. Jaso’s 1.109 OPS over the last 30 days was punctuated by a 6-for-14 week that included 2 doubles and 2 home runs. The kicker with Jaso’s power numbers? 5 of his 7 HRs and 9 of his 22 XBHs have come in the 7th inning or later. He’s become the clutch ‘power’ bat off the bench the Pirates were searching for after Sean Rodriguez’s surprising 2016.
11) Elias Diaz (-1) – As noted earlier, Diaz’s defense and handling of the pitching staff are not what Bucco brass wish they were. Clint Hurdle said in the middle of June that Diaz is the kind of guy they’d like catching four times a week in order to help him gain experience, but I’m still not clear on how catching Tyler Glasnow and Clay Holmes and Tyler Eppler in Indianapolis is going to help Diaz’s pitch-calling, which was specifically noted as an area of improvement by Hurdle last week. His offense slipped this week as well, as he went 2-for-14 with 4 Ks, including an 0-fer in two bases loaded opportunities Saturday.
10) Trevor Williams (+3) – Some of his numbers were outlined in last week’s column encouraging the organization to fully embrace the successful youngsters on the roster. The numbers point to him being one of a handful rookie starting pitchers who have already provided at least 1 Win Above Replacement for their team this season, according to Fangraphs. His First Pitch Strike % has been the key, and his 2-seam fastball control is feeding into that. He’s become, at least in the short-term, more reliable than Gerrit Cole.
9) Juan Nicasio (no change) – Nicasio’s missteps have been few and far between, but the level of confidence in him has been shaken since a huge blown save against the Cubs several weeks ago, and that lack of confidence was amplified after being knocked around by the Cardinals last week. Despite solid numbers in 4 outings during the most recent homestand, it will continue to be a work in progress for Nicasio to get back to where he was earlier in the season.
8) Jordy Mercer (no change) – Mercer’s certainly cooled off a bit from where he was a month ago, but he continues to provide big this, such as the 2-run homer that had the Pirates ahead of the Giants for a fleeting few moments on Sunday.
7) Gerrit Cole (-3) – If 2017 ends up being Cole’s final full season in Pittsburgh, it’s a shame that one of the last few things remembered about him here will be his inability to control his emotions and his penchant for unraveling at the first signs of adversity. It hasn’t happened every time he’s been touched up, but the fact that it still happens the way it did this past Friday should embarrass a guy who once viewed as this team’s ace-in-the-making.
6) Josh Bell (no change) – Bell’s average continues to drop even as he leads the team in home runs. He’ll have to stabilize that before he ends up being – albeit, unfairly – compared to Pedro Alvarez.
5) Jameson Taillon (+2) – Taillon’s Thursday night start against Tampa was just what the doctor ordered for a team that needed to stack consecutive series wins for the first time in over a month. As Ivan Nova starts to regress and Cole’s inconsistency continues, Taillon is – just over a month removed from surgery to treat testicular cancer – the most dependable thing going for the Bucs’ rotation.
4) Ivan Nova (-1) – 6 runs on 14 hits and a pair of walks in just 11 innings over his past two starts are not very Nova-like numbers given the run he’s been on since arriving in Pittsburgh last August. Moreover, he’s getting even fewer swings & misses and hitters are timing his stuff, turning on more balls than at any other point in the season.
3) Josh Harrison (+2) – J-Hay has gotten a bit free-swing’y again lately, but he gets a bump in this week’s rankings as the team’s lone All-Star representative.
2) Felipe Rivero (-1) – Rivero is still lights out, and continues to show every sign that he will be for the foreseeable future. With that said, how many teams with struggling bullpens do you think will be in Neal Huntington’s voicemail wanting to discuss Rivero? They sure as heck won’t be calling to talk about Hudson or Watson.
1) Andrew McCutchen (+1) – The best month Cutch has had in about 5 years was punctuated by the best week of that month, as he went 9-for-19 with 6 walks and a 1.247 OPS. He’s back to being the best player on the team, but there are two questions regarding that fact: How much longer will he be on this team? And does it matter how good he is if one of the best months of his career is wasted by the bullpen?