First-Quarter Grades for Pittsburgh Pirates

Ryan GauleCorrespondent IMay 13, 2014

First-Quarter Grades for Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Pirates have failed to live up to expectations so far in 2014, owning an overall record of 16-21.  

    However, the team has won four of its last five games, as its batters begin to heat up.  

    Let's take a look at each player on the active roster and the grades they've earned after the first quarter of the 2014 regular season.  

    This list of grades includes only players on the active 25-man roster.  

    All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference.  

Russell Martin, Catcher: B

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Russell Martin has made a living calling great games behind the plate with his all-around baseball knowledge.  

    The 31-year-old catcher finished 24th in the National League Most Valuable Player voting in 2013 after he batted .226 with 15 home runs in 127 games.  

    This season, he is batting .242 with two home runs in 16 games for the Pirates. His .333 batting average with runners in scoring position has helped the Pirates win games this season.  

    However, Martin is just 1-6 with runners in scoring position when there are two outs in the inning. That shortcoming drops his grade from an A to a B.

    Still, the Pirates would love to have Martin continue to hit as he has been so far this season. He has been one of the main reasons for the Pirates success during his time in Pittsburgh.

Ike Davis, First Baseman: B+

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Sometimes a change of scenery is all a player needs to revitalize his career, and for Ike Davis, that seems to have been the case.  

    On the heels of a disappointing 2013 season with the New York Mets, Davis was traded to the Pirates after just 12 games this season.  

    Since his arrival in Pittsburgh, Davis has batted .286 with a home run and 12 runs scored in 20 games played.  

    While it is a small sample size, fans in Pittsburgh have to be excited about Davis' performance so far with his new team. He has been one of the top performers for the Pirates so far in 2014.

Neil Walker, Second Baseman: B

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Second baseman Neil Walker has been one of the faces of the Pirates franchise since his first full regular season in 2010.  

    Walker's seven home runs so far in 2014 put him on pace to hit just over 30 home runs this season, which would nearly double his previous season-high of 16 in 2013.  

    If Walker continues to blast home runs at this pace, he could find himself in the running for the Most Valuable Player award in 2014.  

    The Pirates have won four of their last five games, and if they want to continue to climb to the .500 mark, Walker has to continue to perform for them.  

Jordy Mercer, Shortstop: C

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    Gene Puskar/Associated Press

    Jordy Mercer's breakout season was in 2013 when he played 103 games and batted .285 with the Pirates. 

    This season, Mercer has not done much to contribute to the Pirates' offensive production, batting just .202 in 99 at bats.  

    In addition, Mercer has been largely ineffective when batting with runners in scoring position, owning an average of .182 in that situation.  

    His slow start at the plate has been part of the reason the Pirates are under .500, and for that he's only earned an average grade.

Pedro Alvarez, Third Baseman: B-

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Pedro Alvarez had a spectacular season with the Pirates in 2013, blasting 36 home runs with 100 runs batted in.  

    This season, he has picked up right where he left off as far as power goes, already blasting eight home runs. He is on track to hit 35 home runs on the season, which hardly qualifies as a drop-off in production. 

    While his power is still there, Alvarez has had trouble staying consistent, batting just .214 on the season.

    Still, his on-base percentage is at a respectable .313 thanks to a more disciplined approach at the plate. With 19 walks on the season, Alvarez is currently on pace to get 83 free passes in 2014. He only had 48 walks last season.

    Although it was something that he had worked on in spring training, Alvarez has actually looked worse in the field than he did in 2013, when he owned a fielding percentage of .941. In 2014, Alvarez has already made nine errors, dropping his fielding percentage to just .927.  

    Due to the decline in both batting average and fielding percentage so far in 2014, Alvarez has only earned a B-, as he is capable of much better.

Starling Marte, Left Fielder: B-

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    Starling Marte was one of the main contributors to Pittsburgh's postseason push in 2013, batting .280 with 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases. His 138 strikeouts would have been cause for concern, but the high batting average was still there. 

    Now, Marte is batting just .255 in 36 games played, which is a pretty large decrease for a player who has shown his potential over a full season. His 45 strikeouts put him on pace to strike out a whopping 202 times in 2014.

    The bright side is Marte's speed on the basepaths, as he is currently on pace to swipe 49 bases in 2014.  

    His ability to steal bases puts him slightly above average through the first quarter of the season.  

Andrew McCutchen, Center Fielder: A-

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Reigning National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen is at it again in 2014, batting .321 with 19 runs batted in for the Pirates.  

    He is truly great all-around, but his slow start to the season drops his first-quarter grade down from an A to an A-, as it was one of the reasons the Pirates had trouble scoring runs in April.  

    After going 0-6 in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 20, McCutchen had an uncharacteristically low batting average of just .243. He has been on fire since then, hitting safely in 15 out of his last 17 games.

    The Pirates are starting to come around as a team, and it is thanks in large part to McCutchen's hot streak.  

    By the end of the regular season, McCutchen will have likely have earned a higher final grade, and the Pirates may find themselves back in the postseason for the second straight year.

Travis Snider, Right Fielder: C-

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Travis Snider has never been the type of player who hits for a high average, but he has seen his average plummet over the last two seasons.

    After batting a career-low .215 in 2013, Snider is batting just .222 in 33 games played this season.  

    The Pirates probably weren't expecting Snider to have an outstanding season, but his lack of production over the last year could be a sign that he is in decline as a player. For that, he's earned a below average grade. 

Jose Tabata, Right Fielder: C

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Jose Tabata has shared playing time in 2014 with Travis Snider, and his season has only been average as well.  

    In 34 games, Tabata is batting .247 with no home runs. Over his five-year career, he is a .272 hitter. So, his numbers have dropped off so far in 2014.  

    For a player who finished eighth in the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year voting, Tabata has turned into a pretty average player at the major league level.

Gaby Sanchez, First Baseman: B+

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    In the playing time he has been given, Gaby Sanchez has done his job for the Pirates in 2014.  

    In only 63 at bats, Sanchez is batting .286 with three home runs and eight runs batted in.  

    You cannot ask much more from a guy who hasn't been given the opportunity to start every game for the Pirates.  

Tony Sanchez, Catcher: B

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    Tony Sanchez is doing a fine job as a backup catcher for the Pirates in 2014, batting .273 in 55 at bats.  

    Sanchez has been impressive with the bat, hitting safely in 13 of his first 16 games played for the Pirates this season.  

    Needless to say, he has done a fine job filling in for Russell Martin on days when Martin needs to rest.  

Josh Harrison, Utility: B

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    Josh Harrison has played five different positions this season, giving the Pirates flexibility in the field.  

    The 26-year-old excels at the plate when he is in the lineup as the Pirates' right fielder, batting .350 in seven games played. In the seven games he has been in the starting lineup, Harrison has batted .367 with four extra-base hits.  

    On the other hand, Harrison has been horrible when coming off the bench to hit, owning a batting average of just .118.  

    Perhaps the Pirates should give Harrison more starts, since he's played impressively when given the opportunity.  

Clint Barmes, Infielder: D

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Clint Barmes has been ineffective with the bat in 2014, batting just .189 in 16 games played for the Pirates.  

    To make matters worse, that average drops to just .125 with runners in scoring position.  

    This really wasn't a tough call, as Barmes deserves a grade well below average.

Chris Stewart, Catcher: B-

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    Scott Kane/Associated Press

    Chris Stewart played in just four games in April due to injury, but he looks healthy and comfortable in his role as the backup catcher.  

    Stewart owns a .259 batting average in eight games played in 2014. Last season he batted just .211 with the New York Yankees.  

    While the sample size is extremely small, Stewart has done a fine job in the games he has played.  

Jaff Decker, Left Fielder: N/A

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Jaff Decker has played in only one game for the Pirates in 2014, failing to get a hit in one at bat.  

Gerrit Cole, Pitcher: B

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    Gerrit Cole is having a solid season, but he hasn't been quite as dominant as he was in 2013.  

    Cole's earned run average sits at a respectable 3.64 through seven starts, as he has gone 3-2 to start the season.  

    However, he has given up 46 hits and 13 walks in just 47.0 innings pitched.  

    On the bright side, Cole has gone six innings or more in six of his seven starts in 2014, so he has maintained his great stamina, but he will have to gain more control and make smarter pitches to win more ballgames.  

Charlie Morton, Pitcher: B-

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    Gene Puskar/Associated Press

    After eight starts in 2014, Charlie Morton is winless with a record of 0-5.  

    So, why does he deserve a B-? That's simple. Over those eight starts, Morton owns a 3.22 earned run average.

    Still, Morton has been inconsistent on the mound, allowing five earned runs in two separate starts. Over his last three starts, however, he has allowed only three runs total.

    Perhaps the more relevant question should be about why he hasn't gotten a win yet with those stats. 

Francisco Liriano, Pitcher: C-

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Whenever a team like the Pirates is have trouble scoring runs on offense, the pitching staff has to hold down the fort for that team to keep winning games.  

    Pittsburgh's ace last season was Francisco Liriano. He went 16-8 with a 3.02 earned run average and finished ninth in the National League Cy Young Award race.  

    This season, Liriano has not lived up to expectations, going 0-3 with a 4.64 earned run average in eight games started.  

    Liriano has to start performing better for the Pirates to make a run at the division title. He is still their ace, but he is not pitching like it.

Edinson Volquez, Pitcher: B-

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Edinson Volquez's hot start to the 2014 season was a pleasant surprise for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

    Through his first five appearances, four of which were starts, Volquez owned a 1.93 earned run average, throwing 7.0 innings in two of those four starts.  

    If he had continued to pitch this way, he would have earned a much higher grade, but Volquez has since seen his earned run average inflate to 4.36 after his last three starts.  

    In his last 15.1 innings pitched, Volquez has allowed 15 earned runs. This could be an indication that batters have figured him out again. 

    So, although he has been horrible in recent games, his stellar start to the 2014 season earns him a grade slightly above average.  

Mark Melancon, Pitcher: A

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Mark Melancon had a season to remember in 2013, with a 1.39 earned run average in 72 appearances with the Pirates.  

    Now, he's back at it again in 2014.  

    In 18 appearances, Melancon has allowed just three earned runs. He has pitched scoreless innings in 15 of his 18.0 innings pitched, and now he is the interim closer with Jason Grilli injured.  

    Melancon isn't just good, he is great, and he is showing that again in 2014.

Jeanmar Gomez, Pitcher: C-

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Jeanmar Gomez had a solid season with the Pirates in 2013, pitching for a 3.35 earned run average in 34 appearances.

    So far, he has been awful in 2014, allowing at least one earned run in seven of his first 11 appearances out of the bullpen.  

    With a starting rotation that is struggling right now, the Pirates cannot afford to let their bullpen get roughed up, and Gomez simply isn't doing his job right now.

Tony Watson, Pitcher: A-

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Tony Watson is becoming one of the best pitchers in Pittsburgh's bullpen in 2014.

    In 17.0 innings pitched, Watson has allowed just three earned runs, which is good for a 1.59 earned run average.  

    His numbers are almost identical to Melancon's, except for his walks and hits per inning pitched. Watson's walks plus hits per inning pitched is 1.118, which is still very impressive. However, it would be unfair to give him a grade on par with Melancon's due to the fact that he has allowed more runners to reach base.  

    Still, Watson has had a terrific first quarter in 2014.  

Bryan Morris, Pitcher: B

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Bryan Morris is doing a solid job out of the bullpen in 2014, going 3-0 with a 3.52 in 15.1 innings pitched.  

    In nine appearances in April, Morris owned an impressive 1.64 earned run average.  

    However, he has allowed at least one earned run in three of his first five appearances in May, raising his earned run average to 3.52 overall.  

    Morris was great over the first month of play, but we will have to wait and see if his recent struggles are just temporary.  

Justin Wilson, Pitcher: B-

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    Justin Wilson has looked decent out of the bullpen for the Pirates in 2014.  

    In 13.0 innings pitched, Wilson owns a 3.46 earned run average. He has pitched scoreless innings in 12 of his first 15 appearances this season.  

    However, his 1.692 WHIP indicates that he lets too many people on base, which has negatively affected his performance.  

Jared Hughes, Pitcher: A-

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    Jared Hughes had a rough season with the Pirates in 2013, allowing 17 earned runs in just 32.0 innings pitched.  

    This season, he has been very reliable, allowing just one earned run in 8.0 innings pitched. His WHIP sits at exactly 1.000, so he has kept runners off the bases.  

    Simply put, he has done is job so far, so it would be unreasonable to give him a grade lower than this at this point.

Vin Mazzaro, Pitcher: B

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    Vin Mazzaro was great for the Pirates in 2013, going 8-2 with a 2.81 earned run average out of the bullpen.  

    Mazzaro has made just three appearances so far in 2014, allowing one earned run in 3.0 innings pitched.  

    However, he must get his WHIP, which stands at 1.667, down if he wishes to be as successful as he was last season.