As anyone who’s ever been a student knows, report cards are issued quarterly. As the Pirates pass the 40-game mark, it’s time to issue their first grades of the year.
This is not the type of report that Mom will be sticking up on the refrigerator with an OBX magnet. This class has had its share of problems so far. Jung Ho Kang is facing a possible expulsion, while Starling Marte has an 80-day suspension. Jameson Taillon looked great until his recent testicular-cancer diagnosis (he’s had surgery and has already returned to light workouts). The good news is that no one is running away with the division like the smug Chicago Cubs did last season. The Pirates did welcome some new foreign students to the class. Donyda Neverauskas became the first MLB player to hail from Lithuania, and Gift Ngoepe was the first big-leaguer born on the continent of Africa. Neverauskas quickly became the first Lithuanian to be demoted to Triple A after pitching just two innings. Ngoepe started off hot, but has cooled as he adjusts to Pittsburgh and 100-mph fastballs.
High Honor Roll (Grade A)
Gerrit Cole gets less support than a single mother who married a deadbeat dad. Cole is still the ace of the staff as he does what an ace does — end losing streaks and start winning ones. Ivan Nova has been simply outstanding. While Cole gets the least amount of run support in the majors, Nova gets the third least. Nova has walked only seven batters in his 119 innings as a Bucco (dating to last year). At one point this season, he had more complete games than walks. Half the bullpen gets an A. Tony Watson is getting hit, but still remains an elite arm. Felipe Rivero has fans checking the radar gun and hitters shaking their head at his WHIP (walks plus hits per innning) of 0.77. Juan Nicasio and Wade LeBlanc get good marks as well. The bullpen has been the strength of the team. Adam Frazier is the only offensive player on this list. Despite a stint on the disabled list, the forced-into-a-starting-job Frazier has responded by being the only Pirate hitting over .300.
Honor Roll (Grade B)
Josh Harrison barely slipped to a B student and remains the team’s most consistent everyday player. A few base-running blunders and some ill-advised throwing errors kept J-Hay off the A list. Josh Bell gets a B despite an average average (.248), but he leads the team in home runs and seems to be developing into a power hitter. The Pirates have used more than 50 players at first base since 2004, so maybe it’s time they settle down with a steady player. David Freese has been a blessing at third base. Freese (when not injured) has provided a professional bat in the lineup that the team desperately needs. Johnny Barbato sneaks onto the list with a respectable ERA of 3.00. That’s 11 players who get pretty good marks, which leaves us with the ones who have room for improvement.
Not living up to your potential (Grade C)
Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Cervelli know they can do better than average. And to be honest, these two are getting Cs thanks only to the extra credit they get for not causing problems, and for the potential they have to be great. Both seem to be breaking out of their seven-week slumps. Gregory Polanco gets a C- due to his dearth of power and RBI. He’s currently on the disabled list. Jose Osuna got a chance to get some at-bats but has around the same numbers as everyone else in this group.
Just doing enough to get by (Grade D)
Pitchers Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl and Daniel Hudson all have ERAs over 6.00. Glasnow has actually lowered his ERA and is showing signs of improving. Kuhl is just having a bad year so far. He got knocked around brutally by the Cubs and took a line drive off his kneecap in the next game. Kuhl, who finally had a strong outing May 21 against Philadelphia, and Glasnow will get some more looks, as the staff at the Indianapolis Triple A club doesn’t have anybody ready. Williams and Hudson have been getting shelled in clean-up work and with Taillon out, Williams is the new fifth starter. Jordy Mercer and Gift Ngoepe have almost identical stats and both are hovering slightly above the Mendoza Line.
Are you even applying yourself? (Grade F)
If you ever wondered what you might look like trying to play outfield in the majors, just watch John Jaso in right. To his credit, he’s doing what is asked of him to help a team with less depth than a Toby Keith lyric. A .165 batting average is tough to put a positive spin on. But here’s one: He’s hitting better than Phil Gosselin (.136) and Alen Hanson (.138), who also obviously receive failing grades. The bench of last year (Freese, Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce) has been replaced by Hanson, Ngoepe and Gosselin.
Overall the Pittsburgh Pirates get a C, but if they can hang within five or six games of the division leaders until the All-Star break, there’s still time to turn it around.