PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 5: Jeff Karstens #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Houston Astros during the game on July 5, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Pirates come into Coors Field second in the NL Central with a 49-39 record. They had been in sole possession of first place for the previous week until losing two out of three in Milwaukee over the weekend. Pittsburgh has been able to get it done with a good pitching staff (107 ERA+ as a team) that is mostly anchored by the bullpen, as well as the efforts of a guy who has arguably been the best player in baseball this year.
#22 / Center Field / Pittsburgh Pirates
Oct 10, 1986
|2012 - Andrew McCutchen||.371||.423||.651|
McCutchen has had an unbelievable 2012 in the Steel City. After racking up three more hits yesterday (and seven total over the weekend), Cutch leads the NL with a .371 batting average. He also leads the league in slugging percentage (.651), OPS (1.074), OPS+ (195), and total bases (209). He's doing this in a league that features players such as Joey Votto, David Wright, Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, et cetera et cetera. He has 43 extra-base hits on the season as well, 21 of which have traveled over the wall. His home/road splits are insignificant, and he hits lefties at a .462/.500/.795 - much better than his pedestrian .342/.399/.605 line against righties. Pffft. Defense matters, too, and while Fangraphs' UZR/150 doesn't like him (-11.2), BB-Ref's total zone is okay with him (8). Sounds like a wash to me.
McCutchen hasn't done everything by himself, although if you've watched the Bucs lately, you might disagree. While nobody on the team is on the same planet as him in terms of OPS+, there are a few above-average hitters. Among full-time players, Neil Walker tops the list as Cutch's main sidekick, as he has posted a 118 OPS+ while leading the team in plate appearances with 360. Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez are similar high-power/low-OBP guys, as both have sub-.300 OBPs and near-.500 slugging percentages. Jones has 12 homers and a 113 OPS+, while Alvarez's 17 bombs have helped him to a 112 OPS+. Casey McGehee (103 OPS+) just climbed over the average mark recently, while Drew Sutton (119 OPS) has been good in limited playing time. Then there's former Rockie Michael McKenry, who has used his giant quads to help him jack seven homers in 124 plate apperances. He is second on the team in slugging percentage to McCutchen (.505), and has a 127 OPS+.
James McDonald has been the one real bright spot in Pittsburgh's rotation this season. The former Dodger, who was inexplicably traded for Octavio Dotel a couple of years ago, has used a K/BB ratio of almost 3 (including 8 K/9) and a 2.59 ERA to post a team-leading 146 ERA+. The only other full-time starter on the club that is even average in terms of ERA+ is A.J. Burnett (an even 100). Kevin Correia and Erik Bedard have regressed quite a bit since the start of the season, but the Pirates got a temporary boost from Brad Lincoln during his short time in the rotation, as he has posted a 125 ERA+/3.04 ERA in five starts and 18 bullpen appearances. Jeff Karstens also gives their rotation and HAR a significant boost, as he has been good since his return from the DL despite having a couple of poor outings before landing there.
The bullpen is anchored by closer Joel Hanrahan, who has 24 saves and a 2.31 ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning. One-time Rockie Jason Grilli has arguably been their best reliever overall, though, as he has a 1.82 ERA/209 ERA+ while posting a K/9 rate of 14.3.
Pitching matchups (including tonight's, which features two pitchers with elite-level DERPitude) and more after the jump.
Tonight at 6:40 PM MT (ROOT Sports)
Jeff Karstens (2-2, 3.94) vs. Jeff Francis (2-2, 5.19)
Tomorrow at 6:40 PM MT (ROOT Sports)
Erik Bedard (4-10, 4.80) vs. Christian Friedrich (5-6, 5.60)
Wednesday at 1:10 PM MT (ROOT Sports/MLB Network)
James McDonald (9-3, 2.59) vs. TBA
Pittsburgh Pirates Injuries