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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.



  1. francis smith says:

    Yeah, and u probably though Ricky Henderson was a “middle of the order” guy too? FLASH!! The Pirates need a SS in 2013–NOW. Play Mercer there NOW and see if his hitting remains anywhere consistent with this past week. What the h _ _ can ya lose? Besides a $5 million dollar SS, that is, that can’t hit .200. Hurdle will never do this becuz NH signed Barmes to this huge contract thru 2013 and Hurdle does what Huntington wants. Leyland would say “screw u” and play the best player!

  2. francis smith says:

    If Gerrit Cole can pitch as good as he talks, he s/b something. But, as Harry Truman (from Missouri) would say, “Show me!” So far, his mouth much further advanced than his mechanics. Needs some humility. . .and more seasoning.

  3. Brett says:

    It’s much more likely that Barmes is playing over Mercer due to HURDLE’s influence, not Huntington. Hurdle has had ties to Barmes since his days in Colorado and clearly prefers veterans over younger players.

  4. Clemson Travis,

    I have come to enjoy your writings immensely, and I have vowed not to be as critical of your hyperbole when you go wacko with numbers.
    That being said, please refrain from anointing anyone like Carlos Gomez NL MVP when only one sixth of the season has been played. Rather, discuss him as an All Star first. Baseball is a lon-on-ong season! MVP talk is so premature! (I doubt he makes the All Star Team.)

    Please post this motto above your computer: Mark Twain said, “There are lies, darned lies, and statistics!”
    Since you are so # conscious, what is the average innings per start of all the Pirate starters minus Sanchez? Now Bucs aren’t so feeble, are they? Since Jonathan Sanchez has already been removed from the rotation and since Francisco Liriano is already astride his white horse to rescue the Starters, that “5 inning” discussion is a non-issue.
    What has Gerrit Cole done thus far to lead you to say he lurks in June? Why not May? Why not July/August? You seem to just be reacting to more #’s——Super Two arbitration dates. Let’s see him prove himself first; Cole has not even been the best pitcher on Indy’s team.
    How many errors it it up to now that Pedro projects for 2013?!?! Average fielder, my Duke Blue foot!!
    Well, I’m glad I vowed not to be critical, or I really would have told you some stuff!!
    I rather enjoy your writing, especially your 9 points!
    Keep it up and we’ll make you a Northerner/Yankee yet.

  5. Jandy says:

    Just popped in to say, Hi, Groat :)

  6. JohninOshkosh says:

    Matt Harvey (2010 draft) is off to a good start and pitching every 5 days for the Metropolitans.

    Jose Fernandez (2011 draft out of high school) is pitching every 5 days for the Marlins and pitched a gem shut out the other night).

    Get Gerrit Cole up here and with major league coaching now! Before he pulls a Dylan Bundy and needs PRP treatment because of minor league work.

    If he is who they say his-he will pitch fine at the ML level. And if he is who they say he his, they won’t be able to afford him anyway when he becomes eligible for negotiating his lottery winning contract.

    Quit being so cautious to a fault and quit worrying so much about 4-5 years from now. I’m not getting any younger!

  7. JohninOshkosh says:

    Sorry, I had to vent. Still mad they didn’t break camp with him.

  8. Bizrow says:

    + 1

  9. Nate83 says:

    Tiger fans complain all the time about Leyland playing veterans over young guys which is the exact thing you are talking about. I think Clint values defense over offense at that position. In my opinion it is completely his decision. Plus Huntington drafted Mercer and gets hammered for not having major league talent from the draft. If anything it would be the opposite and NH making Hurdle play Mercer.

  10. Chuck H says:

    I think the Pirates biggest need is a new manager. Hurdle doesn’t know when a pitcher has lost his effectiveness and needs to come out of the game. Also, in Saturday’s game, he let Watson in the game when a couple of righthand batters were coming up during that 9th inning. He had both Melancon and Grilli in the pen and didn’t have enough sense to use them. Result was another loss. Really, GO BUCS!!!

  11. Nate83 says:

    Great recap of the month of April.

    I don’t understand the Melancon thing on Saturday. Not only should he have pitched but he should have been called upon for 4 out. They had an off day on Thursday and one coming up on Monday. You can’t manage for what is going to happen. You have to manage to win as many games as possible now. We have lost for 20 years straight. Now we have two back end guys who have pitched 1 game in 5 days and maybe more if we get blown out or win easily. Not to mention he pitched one of them in a game we where up 6 runs.

    I say worry about August when we get there because if you are 6 out instead of 3 because you lost 3 games because of managing this way who cares. Especially if Black comes up later in the year and can contribute.

    Band of Horsed I already listen to and like. Good call.

  12. NMR says:

    Travis, my man. You were so close.

    The southern roack/bluegrass band from the Carolinas you should be recommending is the Avett Brothers!

    BoH are nothing to sneeze at, though. Loved them opening for My Morning Jacket for the past two tours.

  13. NMR says:

    Completely agree with your observation on Locke.

    Much has been written about the starters not giving enough innings, but Hurdle has been short with them several questionable times as well.

    You let him get through 6 on Saturday and in his second outing of the year against Cinci(5 IP, I ER) and he’s given you at least 6 in all but one start.

    He’ll get better, too. He’s still averaging more than a walk per nine over his minor league numbers.

  14. Nate83 says:

    All good band. Other bands that are similar but not exactly bluegrass that I enjoy are The National and Manchester Orchestra.

  15. Nate83 says:

    This made me laugh. To sum it up. I promised not to be critical so here are 5 things I disagree with that you said. I enjoy your writing especially these 9 points that I completely disagree with.

    I like it Groat and want you to critique all blog entries this exact same way.

  16. Patrick(RI) says:

    let me show my age and add “Seldom Scene” as an A1 bluegrass group (I am not certain they still perform, but they have an extensive CD list.

  17. Skip says:

    Re: Your question on #5 (Alvarez): YES, because he shows no consistent willingness to hit the ball the other way.

    Also, Cutch is heading down that same road – does he have to pull EVERYTHING???

  18. Wise observation, Skipper!!
    When McCutch tries to hit for power he pulls EVERYTHING! When he pulls everything, he hits .250.
    When McCutch uses the whole field——and hits the pitch rather than “hitting the pitch to a place”——he bats .350.

  19. Chuckie Baby,

    Watson is NOT just a LOOGY. He has a “lower batting average against” with righthanders than lefties.
    Hurdle cannot pitch the same two guys every night or their arms will fall off by July.
    Watson just messed up. However, almost every other outing he has had, including 2 inning stints, he has been quality. Sometimes managers make good decisions and players just mess up. Who would pitch in extra innings?

  20. Oshkosh b’gosh,

    I feel your pain!

    He should have been brought up April 14! Bucs gained his extra year of service time on that day.

  21. Travis Sawchik says:

    Patrick, I’ll give them a search. Thanks for the tip

  22. Travis Sawchik says:


    On my Clemson sendoff a few buddies and I went to see Avett Brothers on April 11 at Littlejohn Coliseum. Great times. So, yeah, they’re on my short list, too

  23. Travis Sawchik says:


    I hear you. On one hand, Melancon is on pace to pitch an awful lot. On the other hand, did Mariano Rivera ever show signs of fatigue in October?

    I wonder if when we talk about exhausted bullpens if we’re really just talking about too many innings taken on by middle relievers, because starters are pitching too few innigns

  24. Travis Sawchik says:


    I wish MLBPA and owners would revisit their service times rules because it seems silly to hold talented players back because of arbitrary service-time benchmarks.

    But with the rules in place, it makes financial and long-term competitive sense for the Pirates to hold back Cole at least until June. And honestly, Cole needs to become a more efficient pitcher.

    It was shocking to see Fernandez called up by the non-competitive Marlins. But they’ll probably trade him before he hits arbitration. Fernandez is an unreal talent. Great scouting by Marlins.

  25. Travis Sawchik says:


    I’m actually a native Northeast Ohioian. But I’ll give myself Southern citizenship, too, after spending nearly 10 years in the Carolinas.

    I say Cole sits in Triple-A until June because of service time. Is that fair to Cole or fans? No. But with the service time rules being what they are, it’s smart business.

    As far as Mark Twain’s line, statistics can be distorted at times, but they can also be used for illumination in the hands of the right user. You have to be able to find a signal in the noise and that’s what I try to do.

  26. JandyGirl,
    Nice to “hear” your smiling face!!!
    Pens are up 2-1 in games——still on track to take the series in 5!
    Don’t let those folks over there start whining about Bylsma being fired or changing strategies. It’s the Blueliners who have not been showing up!!!
    What’s Bylsma to do: strap on skates and play defense himself? He did the coachly thing and benched Engelland after he played bad; then sat Despres for most of last game after his two turnovers led to 2 goals.
    Need Orpik back badly, plus Paul Martin to begin playing again like 2013 Paul Martin.

  27. Cleveland Travis,

    Gerrit Cole has already achieved the necessary void of service time to give Bucs the extra year. Read the “Service Time” articles on MLB Rumors. If Cole were to come up tomorrow, Pirates would still get 6 full seasons AFTER this year.
    June 15 or later ONLY applies to Super Two Arbitration status. So, Cole is in AAA NOT because of Service Time——he’s not there to gain years but to save $$$$$$$$!

  28. Travis Sawchik says:

    I’m considering Super Two to be part of service time. Arbitration prices are growing at an insane rate. Growing so fast small markets are struggling to afford to pay certain $20 million per year arbitration rates (if a player becomes a star)

  29. francis smith says:

    There are “veteran” players and then there are veteran “players.” Ours are “veteran” and they smell. . .esp at SS. Barmes’ bat is riddled with holes and termites whereas Mercer’s glove has quality English leather. Exactly what we said: Huntington’s generous contract (probably w/Hurdle’s endorsement) to another guy named “Clint” now dictates who our SS will be for ’13. . .Clint Barmes. CH will go with CB as long as .500 looks attainable or his and Huntington’s guy throws a shoe. . .or a hoof. Mercer will have to bat .275 to “win” the job from the “annointed” one. Good luck, Jordy!

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