Andrew McCutchen

Running down the rosters: Pittsburgh Pirates

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While it was a 19th straight sub-.500 season, the Pirates did finish with their best record since 2004 by going 72-90 last year. They’ve since added two starters to an already much-improved pitching staff. As for the offense, well, they’re just going to have to hope that the incumbents get better.

Rotation
A.J. Burnett – R
Jeff Karstens – R
Erik Bedard – L
James McDonald – R
Kevin Correia – R

Bullpen
Joel Hanrahan – R
Evan Meek – R
Jason Grilli – R
Chris Resop – R
Daniel McCutchen – R
Daniel Moskos – L
Chris Leroux – R

Disabled list: Charlie Morton (R)
SP next in line: Brad Lincoln (R), Jo-Jo Reyes (L), Jeff Locke (L)
RP next in line: Juan Cruz (R), Doug Slaten (L), Tony Watson (L), Reyes (L), Ryota Igarashi (R), Tim Wood (R)

I’m far from a big believer in Karstens, but that’s a pretty legitimate rotation, particularly if Morton can return from hip surgery in April and push Correia to the pen. I have Burnett, McDonald and Morton all projected with ERAs in the low-4.00s, and Bedard should be able to beat that for however long that he’s healthy.

The bullpen lacks an obvious setup guy for Hanrahan, but Meek could be the answer if he bounces back from last year’s arm woes. There’s also plenty of depth. Grilli, Resop, Leroux and Watson all had really nice strikeout rates in their time with the Pirates last season.

Lineup
RF Jose Tabata – R
LF Alex Presley – L
CF Andrew McCutchen – R
2B Neil Walker – S
1B Garrett Jones – L
3B Casey McGehee – R
SS Clint Barmes – R
C Rod Barajas – R

Bench
C Michael McKenry – R
1B-OF Nick Evans – R
INF Josh Harrison – R
INF Yamaico Navarro – R
OF Nate McLouth – L

Next in line: C Jose Morales (S), C Tony Sanchez (R), C-1B Jake Fox (R), 1B Matt Hague (R), 1B Jeff Clement (L), 3B Pedro Alvarez (L), SS Chase d’Arnaud (R), INF Jordy Mercer (R), OF Gorkys Hernandez (R), OF Starling Marte (R), OF Brandon Boggs (S)

The plan is still for Alvarez to play third base, with McGehee serving at a backup at both corner infield spots. They need to make Alvarez earn it, though, and I’m far from convinced he will. The former No. 2 overall pick hit .191/.272/.289 in 235 at-bats last season, and it’s not like he makes up for it with his glove.

If Alvarez does solidify his job, then the offense would be pretty much set, with only the two utility infield jobs up for grabs.

It was surprising the Pirates limited their outfield additions to McLouth given the injury histories of Tabata and Presley. Of course, they do have the option of moving Jones back to the outfield and going with McGehee at first base.

The offense hinges on the outfield, not only on the health of Tabata and Presley, but in McCutchen playing like he did in the first half of last season, not in the second half. An Alvarez rebound would surely be nice, too, but it’s hard to imagine him being a difference maker this year.

The defense will be improved, but then, that’s what the Pirates were paying for in bringing in likely offensively sinkholes Barmes and Barajas. The outfield should be great. The infield aside from Barmes will remain a problem regardless of whether Alvarez or McGehee starts at third.

This is a Pirates team that could finally crack .500 if some things break right. 160 innings from Bedard and 420 starts from the three primary outfielders would be a good place to start. There isn’t a whole lot of upside beyond that, but the team should be decent for now and there’s a lot of pitching in the pipeline for 2013-14.

Willie Mays gets a cable car named after him

Major League Baseball hall of famer  Willie Mays, who spent the majority of his career as a center fielder with the New York and San Francisco Giants, smiles as President Barack Obama honors the 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants baseball team, Monday, July 29, 2013, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. The team beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series, their second championship since the franchise moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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This is not exactly stunning news, but it’s Willie Mays’ 85th birthday today and any excuse to talk about Willie Mays is a good one. Happy Birthday, Willie!

The pretext is a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about how The Greatest Baseball Player of All Time (my view anyway) is getting an iconic cable car named after him. An icon named after an icon, I guess. The cable car is, appropriately, number 24.

Next month I’m taking my kids on vacation to California and we’re spending a few days in San Francisco. It’ll be a shame when I tell them we have to cancel half of a day’s plans while I make them wait for one particular cable car to come by so they can take my picture with it, but that’s just what they have to deal with given that I’m their dad.

Carlos Gomez calls out a hit piece-writing columnist

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Yesterday I wrote about a column written by Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. It was about Astros outfielder Carlos Gomez, who has had a poor start to the year.

The column, as I noted, was a hatchet job, blaming Gomez for the Astros’ problems despite the fact that Gomez is by far from the biggest of the Astros’ problems. It was particularly bad in that it presented an unedited bit of broken English from Gomez which seemed calculated to cast Gomez in a bad light. Many journalists were critical of Smith in this regard, noting that he could’ve used a translator, could have paraphrased or could’ve done some mild correction via brackets, as is often done with quotes from non-native English speakers.

Last night Gomez took to Twitter to call out Smith himself:

It’s possible to write a column about how a player hasn’t lived up to expectations without being an insensitive jackass. It’s possible to do so even in the sharpest of ways. Smith didn’t do that, however, and didn’t make an effort to try, it seems. Gomez is right to take issue with it. And I suspect that Gomez’s teammates and organization take issue with it too. Which likely doesn’t bode well for Smith getting cooperation from others in the Astros family.

Reminder: athletes are not heroes

Zack Greinke
Associated Press
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This is something of a “greatest hits” piece and it’s topic I’ve talked about here before, but I’m reminded of it again because of Facebook’s memories thing which tells me I wrote about it seven years ago today back when I was still doing stuff at my old Shysterball blog at the Hardball Times.

The topic: ballplayers as heroes. The subject of the 2009 post on the matter was Zack Greinke, who was then beginning his breakout year with the Kansas City Royals. A columnist talked about how uplifting Greinke’s story was, what with him having overcome some struggles with anxiety disorder which had caused him to leave the game for a brief period. In early 2009 he was back, baby, and better than ever and many wanted to turn him into something larger than just a ballplayer excelling at his craft.

In the post I wrote about how, while such an impulse was understandable, it was a dangerous one as athletes have been made into heroes for years and years and, so often, they end up disappointing. Because we built them up so high, however, we don’t see such instances as the mere exhibition of human fallibility. We see them as some greater failure or even a betrayal, which is both ridiculous and unfair to these men and women, even if they have failed in certain ways. They have worked hard all of their lives to be good at a particular sport. They did not promise us glory or inspiration, yet we assume that they owe us those things. Their failures, however they are manifested, are matched by our failures at expectation management.

But it’s even more pernicious than that. Because, as I wrote at the time, when we create heroes, we necessarily create the need for villains and we will go out of our way to find those too, justified or otherwise:

“Hero” is too strong and baggage-laden a word anyway. As [Bill] James notes, it places a heavy burden on young men, and these guys are under such scrutiny day-in and day-out that they really don’t need it. What’s more, the term hero it necessarily assumes its opposite — villain — and demands that we search them out too. You know, to restore balance to the universe and everything. Often — as in the case of A-Rod and Gooden and Bonds and all of the others — they’re the same people, just older . . . Hero creation, worship, and subsequently, destruction has long been a part of baseball. But it’s not an essential part, and in my mind not a desirable part.

Seven years later we’re still doing this. As Bill James noted in his “Historical Baseball Abstract,” “When a young player comes to the major leagues and has success right away, writers will almost always write about what a fine young man he is as well as a supreme talent.” Many of them, like Zack Greinke, will prove to continue to be fine older men, just as they were fine young men. Some will not. Would it not be better if we didn’t get so invested in how fine a young man any one of them is? Or, short of that, if we didn’t act so betrayed and victimized if they turn out not to be such a fine young man?

I like to hear a good story about a baseball player who, by all outward appearances, seems like a good person. But I’m content to give such a story a smile and leave it at that. If we require heroism, there are people who do truly heroic things in the world beyond throw baseballs.

Andrew McCutchen apologies to an official scorer he said should be fired

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) watches from the dugout during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Pittsburgh. Detroit won 7-3.(AP Photo/Don Wright)
Associated Press
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Andrew McCutchen made an error on Wednesday night. He thought he shouldn’t have been charged with one on the play, however, and afterward said “whoever scored that an error should be fired. That’s unbelievable. I did everything I could to catch it.”

It was a dumb comment for two reasons. First, a player “doing everything he can” on a play doesn’t make a misplay not a misplay. The “e” ain’t about effort, man. I realize scoring has gotten somewhat lax in recent years and players are routinely not given errors if it looks like they really, really tried, but there is not an intent element to the crime of making errors on the playing field. If you muff one, you muff one.

It was a dumb comment for another reason, and that’s that it was just not very nice. As we noted when David Ortiz or some others have made publicly disparaging comments about official scorers, it’s the ultimate punching down. These are people who have other jobs, aren’t public figures, don’t get paid a lot and really, really don’t have it in for anyone. Publicly criticizing them is bad enough, publicly demanding their jobs is pretty low.

Thankfully, with a day’s worth of reflection, McCutchen realized that this was the case and apologized. There aren’t public words from McCutchen available, but the club said that he reached out to the scorer and personally apologized. As he should’ve.