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Kovacevic: McCutchen All-Star snub is inexplicable

| Monday, July 4, 2011

WASHINGTON — You could see it in Joel Hanrahan's hey-mom-I-did-it smile Sunday morning. He had just heard he was an All-Star, and, better yet, he knew he deserved it. This was no sigh-of-relief smile, nor should it have been: The Pirates' closer is 24 for 24 in save opportunities with a 1.41 ERA, a 98-mph fastball, an equally unfair slider and a snarly mound presence to match the stuff.

So much for the "obligatory Pirate," as had become the annual vernacular for Pittsburgh's All-Star.

But, really, just one this year?

Making a case for multiple Pirates in the past was as laughable as discussing their playoff prospects. But this year is different: They're 43-41 after the 10-2 wipeout of Washington on a steamy afternoon at Nationals Park, they're 1 1/2 games out of first place, and the pitching is some of the best around.

Oh, and they've got the third-best position player in the game.

You probably know that Andrew McCutchen is batting .294 with 12 home runs, 45 RBI and 15 steals, all among the top 10 for National League outfielders. You also might have noticed that, after a .219 April, he has soared back to peak form, including his 3-for-5 Sunday and 9-for-16 series. And, for sure, you've seen his glovework on the PNC Park grass all summer long.

But this is less known: McCutchen has a 4.6 WAR rating. That's a complex formula that takes into account an array of data and computes the number of wins a player helps his team get compared to a typical replacement player. Hence, the acronym WAR, for Wins Above Replacement. People inside the game, including those in the Pirates' front office, love citing it.

Only two players in Major League Baseball rate higher than McCutchen: Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays has a 5.6 WAR rating; Jose Reyes of the New York Mets is at 4.6. Both will be starters next week in Phoenix.

McCutchen will be on his couch.

"I was hopeful," he said. "But I know how it is."

It was lousy enough that McCutchen was not among the 33 players selected by San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy and by player ballots. But McCutchen wasn't even one of the five players on the online fan ballot that will decide the 34th and final member of the roster over the next few days.

That means the baseball fraternity believes McCutchen is no better than the 39th player in the league, or they simply haven't been paying attention to baseball in Pittsburgh for so long that they've forgotten how.

The latter was the feeling of many of those fuming here in the visitors' clubhouse. As second baseman Neil Walker said, "Cutch deserves it, but there are a lot of politics in this. If you're the Yankees or Red Sox or those teams, you're always going to have a better chance."

"We don't have that recognition as much as other teams," McCutchen said. "A lot of people don't look at us that way. We want to change that."

That's a fair point, but that makes this even more mystifying. McCutchen never has received more national attention than in 2011, beginning with spring forecasts for a breakout season and culminating with his picture on the cover of USA Today's Sports Weekly this week. This isn't some unknown brand.

"Honestly, I don't know if people are watching me or not," McCutchen said. "I'm not going to get upset over it. I did that last year. Not this time. Besides, think about what that says for our team that we're talking about this many guys. That's what's important to me"

That's another fair point, and one Hanrahan raised similarly: "It's not just me and Cutch. It's Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens. ... It means that times are changing for the Pirates."

Word from the Giants was that Correia, who tallied his major league-tying 11th victory yesterday, likely will replace any pitcher who bows out of the All-Star Game.

Just for fun, before the announcement yesterday, I asked 10 players -- not Hanrahan or McCutchen -- to list, in order, their top three All-Star picks off the Pirates. Hanrahan won easily, with eight first-place votes. McCutchen was a firm second, Correia third, Maholm fourth. Karstens drew one third-place vote.

That last vote best supports Hanrahan's the-times-they-are-a-changin' point: Karstens has a 2.65 ERA to rank 12th in the majors among all starters, ahead of Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia. And the guy can barely get a mention in his own clubhouse.

Karstens didn't hesitate when asked if he'd gotten national attention of late.

"Well, Nyjer Morgan called to tell me I was pitching well," Karstens deadpanned, referring to his still-close friend with the Brewers. "Does that count?"

Not really, but all this put together still counts as progress.

Additional Information:

Other viewpoints

National baseball observers expressed dismay on Twitter over Andrew McCutchen's All-Star snub.

'Wait, McCutchen didn't make it• Did they pick the team with darts?' • Keith Law of ESPN

'Medal stand for All-Star snubs: Gold - McCutchen; Silver - Konerko; Bronze - Sabathia.' • Joe Lemire,

'Pirates' McCutchen leads the All-Snub team' • C. Trent Rosecrans,

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