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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Andrew McCutchen leads the Pirates in everything (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)
- Scorching first-place Pittsburgh Pirates subdue Houston Astros (pennlive.com)
- MLB Notebook: McCutchen has shot at historic line (mlb.mlb.com)