Monday morning mop-up duty: is Marte already a superstar?


HIGH ATOP MT. LEBO – Howdy, folks. Included below in this missive are some thoughts and observations from the week that was…. (A shameless, truncated borrowing from Peter King’s MMQB column).


Yes, back-to-back series loses for the Buccos is not a great way to begin May. But the good news is the Mariners are coming to town – although King Felix is pitching Wednesday – and the Pirates have only three road series in May after holding their head above water on a daunting 10-game road trip. The Pirates need a big month.


But first, about last week …



9. Is Starling Marte already a superstar?


OK, maybe such proclamations are premature. But he did just homer off of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in back-to-back days. He has about every tool you could dream up for a player. We documented earlier this week how he’s maturing as a hitter. He crushes fastballs and he’s improved dramatically against offspeed pitches. He has already produced 2.1 Wins Above Replacement, which ties him for seventh in baseball.


Even if you don’t believe in WAR. You still have to like many of the names on the WAR leaderboard:

1. Buchholz (BOS) 2.6
2. Gomez (MIL) 2.4
3. Kinsler (TEX) 2.4
4. Kershaw (LAD) 2.3
5. Verlander (DET) 2.2
6. Hernandez (SEA) 2.2
7. Harvey (NYM) 2.1
8. Marte (PIT) 2.1
9. Machado (BAL) 2.0
10. Upton (ATL) 2.0

The traditional numbers are eye-grabbing, too: 5 HRs, 10 SBs, .325 batting. .528 slugging.


The best news? He’s not a free agent until 2019.


 8. I know some of you were calling for Mark Melancon to come on in relief earlier in some games over the last week, and I agree with the idea that you shouldn’t always save your best relief pitchers for the final innings. Still, manager Clint Hurdle has other factors to consider like workload. Melancon and Jason Grilli have been overworked and he was trying to get them some rest. Melancon is on pace for something like 90 innings. They need him fresh in August.


7. The Pirates are off to a compelling start, but again I question whether this is sustainable because of this number: 5.0. That’s the number of innings Pirates starters are averaging per start, lowest in the National League. The bullpen has been great but its pitching too often.


6. But there also a few reasons to believe the Pirates  have some upside remaining to go along with a winning record entering May 7: Andrew McCutchen still really hasn’t found his stride, neither has Neil Walker. Charlie Morton’s touching 96 mph and his shoulder is thought to be a minor setback. Francisco Liriano might have learned how to throw strikes, and in June, Gerrit Cole lurks.


And if the bullpen needs some help Pirates AAA closer Vic Black has a 42.7 swing-and-miss rate, per Hardball Times analyst Brian Cartwright, which is other-worldly. He’s also throwing 66 percent of his pitches for strikes. Sounds like a future  MLB closer.


5Pedro Alvarez has played in 347 career games. He’s a .232 career hitter. Is this who he is?


4. Getting back to Marte, I still think his future is as a middle-of-the-order bat. Do the Pirate have an ideal leadoff man on the roster to replace him? No. (Perhaps Alen Hanson in two years). But I think Travis Snider could be a fit there. OBP and patience are more important than speed at the top of the lineup.


3. Jeff Locke has put together a couple weeks of interesting starts. A lefty who can touch 92 with command has a chance. I was curious to see how he would have done if he stayed in Saturday’s game. He only threw 75 pitches. He’s still not generating enough swing-and-misses (6.5 percent) but he’s nearly doubled his groundball rate since 2011.


2. The next five months are a key audition for Jordy Mercer, whether be in Pittsburgh or Indy. The Pirates need a shortstop in 2014. At the very least, Mercer has a chance to become a super utlility guy. He played second and third in the spring.


1. I found it very interesting that Davey Johnson said, unsolicited, that one of the worst things to happen to Stephen Strasburg was his 2010 debut against the Pirates, when he struck out 14 batters. Johnson felt that caused Strasburg to fall in love with the strikeout. He’s been electric, but he’s also been inefficient. He’s never pitched into the eighth inning of any game in his career.




Never give up on a toolsy athlete.


Remember when Carlos Gomez was the centerpiece of the Johan Santana trade? He struggled with the Twins, who eventually grew frustrated and gave up on him. Well, he’s now an early-season NL MVP candidate and had three home runs and five steals this week, some of the damage coming against the Pirates. … The Nats could have given up on shortstop Ian Desmond, who struggled early in his career. But he’s developed into a sure-handed shortstop with 20+ home run power and 20 + steals speed, who has always has the rocket arm. Sometimes skills lag behind tools, the question is does the player have the resolve to make it happen?




It took the Cardinals 30 games this year to have a starter allow five or more runs in a game. Think about that. It’s one reason the Cards – and the Reds – are going to be tough to catch.




Bryce Harper does not wear batting gloves while he takes batting practice. He does wear them in game.




One thing I bring from the Carolinas is this: a fondness for Band of Horses. Southern rock/bluegrass artists. Very good. Give them a try.