The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Ten Facts You Need to Know about the First-Place Pirates

When I glanced at the N.L. standings this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Pittsburgh Pirates sat atop the N.L. Central division.  With the Orioles and the Mets also making legitimate runs towards a spot in the playoffs, this has truly been a surprising year in Major League baseball.

English: Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirat...

English: Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates playing third base in his third MLB game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then it occurred to me that I knew next to nothing about the actual players on this season’s Pirate roster.  Here are some things I learned today, which I decided to share with you.

1)  Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has 15 home runs and 48 RBI to go along with an OPS+ of 118.  Despite having been written off as a failed prospect by many after last seasons dismal first trip to Pittsburgh, Alvarez has a chance to become the first Pirate since Jason Bay in 2006 to top 30 home runs and 100 RBI in a season.

2)  Closer Joel Hanrahan, with 21 saves and a 1.09 WHIP, is on pace to come close to matching last season’s 40 saves and 1.04 WHIP.  His ERA+ this season, 152, is excellent, though not quite as amazing as last year’s Pedro Martinez-like mark of 203.

3)  Staff ace James McDonald, who won just nine of 31 starts last season, already has eight wins in sixteen starts this year.  Part of his success is because he’s been pitching deeper into games.  He’s on pace for his first 200-innings pitched year in his career.

4)  54-year old manager Clint Hurdle has been managing for ten seasons.  He managed the Rockies for eight seasons, leading them to the N.L. Pennant in 2007, and is now in his second year as the Pirates manager.

As a player, Hurdle was considered a major Phenom back in 1977 when he first came up with the Royals at age 19.  But in his 515 game Major League career, he posted a triple slash line of .259 / .341 / .403, with an OPS+ of 106.

PNC Park

PNC Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One has to wonder if Hurdle’s disappointing career has made him the perfect leader for a squad of players who clearly need to be patiently nurtured to succeed? So far, the answer seems to be in the affirmative.

5)  Despite the success of the Pirates to date, they still have the second-lowest average attendance (24,218) per game in the N.L. this year.  Only the Astros have drawn worse.  It would be nice to see the sports fans of Pittsburgh embrace the Pirates as much as they do their beloved Steelers.

Neil Walker

Neil Walker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Pirates second baseman, 26-year old Neil Walker, was actually born in Pittsburgh.  A remarkably consistent player, Walker posted a .992 fielding percentage last season, exactly the same as his current fielding percentage this year.  A switch-hitter, Walker is batting .275 this year along with a .338 on-base percentage.  His career numbers in those two categories are .279 and .338, respectively.

Hall of Fame infielder Bobby Wallace was also born in Pittsburgh (though he never played for the Pirates.)  His career batting average was .268 (to Walker’s .279) and his career on-base percentage was .332 (to Walker’s .338.)  His career OPS+ was 105 (to Walker’s 108.)  What am I getting at?  Nothing.  I just think those are some interesting facts.

7)  In addition to his .412 on-base percentage and .610 slugging average, All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen currently leads the N.L. with a .360 batting average.  With 16 homers and 14 steals, he is on-track for his first 30-30 season.  His OPS+ this year is a tremendous 181.  If McCutchen played his home games in New York or Boston, far more people would be aware that this 25-year old star is already one of the top ten players in the game.

Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  PNC is one of the few ballparks in the country that lets you bring in outside food and water (no alcohol, of course.)  Retired Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen sometimes signs autographs for fans waiting in line at his restaurant, Manny’s Barbecue.  There are 6,500 seats at PNC that cost just nine dollars.  With just 38,127 seats, PNC is the second smallest park in Major League baseball.

9)  G. Ogden Nutting is the patriarch of the clan that has majority ownership in the Pirates, and in the Ogden Newspaper chain.  He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican politicians for many years.  The editorials in his newspapers often rail against the evils of socialism.  That’s all well and good — it’s his money and those are his newspapers — but it raises two pertinent questions:

Question 1 – If socialism is so awful, why, then, does Nutting accept millions of dollars in revenue sharing annually so that his “less-fortunate” small market franchise can compete with the wealthier franchises in New York and Boston?  Shouldn’t the invisible hand of the free market be allowed to determine winners and losers among the MLB franchises?

Question 2 – Does Nutting have a responsibility to the people of Pittsburgh in general, and Pirates fans in particular, to hold up his end of the bargain in creating and maintaining a competitive franchise, given that the City of Pittsburgh publicly financed his stadium to the tune of over $260 million dollars?  It’s nice that the Pirates are currently in first place, and they did sign Andrew McCutchen to a long-term deal several months ago, but are they really committed to building a successful franchise for the long-term?  Time will tell.

10)  The old man of the pitching staff, 35-year old A.J. Burnett, has averaged 8.2 strikeouts / 9 innings in his career.  He is one of just 36 pitchers in the history of baseball to average over 8 K’s per 9 innings pitched.  His record currently stands at 9-2, and his ERA is the lowest it’s been in five years.  He is on pace to tie his career high 18 wins with the Blue Jays in 2008.  Along with staff ace, James McDonald, this is the first time that the Pirates have a chance to have at least two starters reach at least 15 wins in the same season since 1991.

So there you have it, ten facts about the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates.

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26 thoughts on “Ten Facts You Need to Know about the First-Place Pirates

  1. Everyone I know, including hard-core Pirates fans, are surprised by how well they’re doing this year. It’s nice to see them out of the cellar. But as a Yankee fan, I’m pissed that AJ Burnett has only now decided to start pitching well again.

    • I guess the Pirates manager, Clint Hurdle, has to get a lot of the credit for making these young guys believe they can win. It helps that they’re not in a very strong division. As for Burnett, it just goes to show what a meat-grinder pitching in the tough A.L. East can be. I appreciate your reading my blog.
      Thank you,
      Bill

    • I ran into an old friend of mine who is a Yankee fan; he was almost frothing at the mouth over the way Burnett has pitched this year.

      • Well, he should know that the A.L. East is much tougher than the N.L. Central. Actually, Burnett’s ERA+ this year is a pedestrian 103, virtually matching his career mark of 104, meaning he’s been very fortunate to have a 10-2 record in the first half of this season. He may already have accumulated 2/3 of the wins he’ll earn all year.

  2. Bill, excellent work. I had a vague knowledge of the Pirates this season, only because, well they’re the Pirates. Just like the Rays of the recent past, it’s sad when the fans don’t really show their support. Maybe the fans should be encouraged to bring their Steeler towels to Pirate games? Bring your towel, get a free hot dog. Just a thought. However, ownership needs to do more with this team especially with the new park and public dollars.

    Now, as you know I proclaim myself to be a Yankee fan. So of course, I have one thing to say. Where the heck was this from Burnett when he was in New York? I digress.

    A Pirate team in the playoffs would do wonders for baseball. MLB needs these smaller market teams to start producing. We all could go on about revenue-sharing.

    Cheers,
    Vince

    • Vince, Thanks so much for the comment. Yes, it would be great for baseball if the so-called small market teams reached the playoffs once again. It would also be nice to see the owners of these teams start to commit some real dollars towards making their teams competitive. As for Burnett, the A.L. East is much tougher than the N.L. Central. Also, I like your idea about Pirates fans bringing their Steelers towels to baseball games.
      Take care,
      Bill

  3. Attendance will pick up if the Pirates keep doing all right in August and September. In ’95 the Mariners took a long time to draw big crowds, but by the end of the season they were there. It’d be grand if Burnett matched up vs. the Yankees in the Series, but fans shouldn’t be drawing out those sorts of scenarios yet.

    • Arne, I think you’re probably correct. They aren’t quite ready to believe in the Pirates just yet. Too many bad seasons in a row. And, yes, definitely too early to be thinking of World Series match-ups.
      Thanks for the comment,
      Bill

  4. PNC is a beautiful ballpark, and as a life-long Pirate fan (I actually attended a game at Forbes Field) I can’t tell you how borderline giddy this season has made me.

    • I’d love to go see PNC Park. I was in Pittsburgh and went to Three Rivers Stadium in its final season. We could see the beginnings of the skeletal framework of PNC just across the way, and I wondered how nice it would be. Three Rivers was a typical ’60’s-’70’s cookie-cutter park, but at least the Pirates had some great teams and players in those days.
      Nice to finally meet an actual Pirates fan. I think you’re my first.
      Cheers,
      Bill

    • I saw the Pirates play in Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia in August of 1957. That was my first time to see a major league game. Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski were in the game. Maz homered onto the left field tin roof over us that night. Three years later he hit the walkoff home run to beat the Yankees in the World Series.

      • Great memories, Andrew. I would love to have seen those guys play. I go back to around the mid-70’s myself. Saw Seaver, McCovey, Stargell, and several other players from that era. Good times, for sure.
        Thanks for sharing,
        Bill

      • I never got to see the players you mentioned in person, since I have seen 11 major league games in my 67 years. Not living in a major league city makes it tough to see many games. Am planning on seeing the Astros-Reds game in Houston in a couple of weeks, since Houston is about 125 miles from where we live.

        I saw some games in Kansas City when KC was still the Athletics and even got to see Charley O the team mascot donkey or was it a mule? Was exciting to see Maris the year after hitting 61 home runs.

        Maris and Mantle both homered in a doubleheader that night and Whitey Ford pitched a 16 hitter complete game to lose one game. Those days are long gone, no telling what his pitch count was that game.

      • It’s always great to hear first-hand accounts of games from years ago. Ford must have been up past 150 pitches, at least, in that game. I don’t think I’ve seen more than perhaps 20 live MLB games in my life. Many more Minor league games, though.
        Thanks for sharing,
        Bill

      • I have seen a lot of minor league games over the years. Our hometown Alexandria Aces (Louisiana) in the Texas League sent 12 players to the majors from just one year’s roster in the 70’s, including Cy Young Award winner Randy Jones, when the Aces were a Padres farm club.

      • Minor League ball is great fun. It’s relatively inexpensive, usually family-friendly, the players are more accessible, and it’s great to watch the young guys develop into potential Major Leaguers. I saw Vlad Guerrerro play at AA-Portland (Eastern League) many years ago. He hit the hardest ball I’ve ever seen hit in any park. I also saw Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Edgar Renteria, Nomar Garciaparra and many others while in the Minors. I’ve never had a bad experience in a Minor League park.

  5. Excellent article. This could be the first season that a Barry Bonds-less Pirates team plays .500 baseball since 1992. It is even possible we could have a Pirates-Nationals NL championship series.

    • Pirates-Nats, wouldn’t that be something! Thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated,
      Bill

      • Pirates have had some good starts since 1992, but don’t think they have been this good at the All-Star break. McCutchen unlike some players, who have crashed and burned after signing large contracts has stepped it up a notch and came out of nowherer to take over the NL batting lead. Nationals are 16 games over .500 have to be taken seriously.

        It would be fantastic to see Pirates or Nationals in the World Series.

      • I agree that the Nats are for real. The only thing that could stop them or slow them down is if ownership decides (for the sake of their futures) to sit some of the kids, especially Strasburg, in September. The N.L. Central is not the A.L. East, so I can see the Pirates hanging in their, and maybe keeping their necks above .500 this year. In the end, though, I think they fall back to (a still respectable) 3rd place in their division. Still, that’s something to build on.
        Thanks again, Bill

  6. Wow! I had no idea the Pirates were in first! Have they been in that position this late in the season since the Bonds days? If so, I can’t recall. Maybe in ’94 when things were so screwy (dominant Expos!).
    It’s disappointing that their attendance remains so low. Fans should watch the winning while they have the chance. As fun as it would be to see them take the division (I don’t really have a favorite in the NL Central), I think it highly unlikely.

    • I think Bryce Harper and Starlin Castro were still in training pants the last time the Pirates won more than they lost. I find it hard to understand why more Pirates fans haven’t come out to see their team, and their beautiful park, more often. BTW, I continue to enjoy your web-site as well.
      Bill

  7. Nifty Work, Mr. Bill.
    The “Thus Far” Was Very Necessary, And You Just Know It hahahahaha
    -BRAD

    • Certainly, there’s no way to know how things will play out from here, but at least they’re competitive. I still think your Cardinals will come back and win the Central Division.

  8. Reblogged this on "You Jivin' Me, Turkey?" and commented:
    Yep. Pittsburgh. Gotta Hand It To’em… …Thus Far. 😉

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