Five biggest negatives from the Pirates at the all-star break
Being .500 (or one game off of it) comes some good and some bad. In the first installment, the focus was on the positives. Now, it’s on the disappointments for the 2018 Pirates through the all-star break:
1. That whole losing 31 of 45 thing
Yeah, that would be considered a negative. Playing that way over an 162-game season would mean 112 losses. It’s over and done with and in the past, and there’s no in-depth analysis or advanced analytics as to the “why” the awful seven weeks happened. But it’s not a stretch to say it single-handedly sank the Pirates season. Don’t think so? Let’s just say that instead of .311 ball during their seven-week swoon the Pirates instead played at the level of what is now the NL’s worst team (San Diego): a .404 winning percentage. Over those 45 games, that would them four more wins — as many (52) as the Atlanta Braves have. The Braves hold the NL’s second wild-card position.
2. Josh Bell has regressed in Year 2
The Pirates rank 29th in MLB in OPS from the cleanup spot in the order (.658) and 25th in OPS from first basemen. Guess who’s played the vast majority of the season in each position? Josh Bell. While he has picked things up in July (.326 average, .885 OPS), he has only one home run since May 31. It’s not a coincidence that during the Pirates’ 14-31 swoon, Bell had a .229 average with 12 extra-base hits in 45 games. There are 34 major league first basemen who have more home runs than Bell; he has more at-bats than 26 of them. Making matters worse, the advanced defensive metrics suggest Bell is one of the worst fielding first basemen in the game.
At 25, blessed with impeccable intangibles, good athleticism and coming off a rookie season in which he hit 26 home runs, Bell remains a major part of the Pirates future. But he needs to show progress, both at the plate and in the field.
3. And about the rest of that infield…
Bell isn’t alone. The Pirates’ production out of shortstop (24th in MLB in OPS), second base (25th in OPS) and third base (24th in home runs) is an indictment of Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Colin Moran, respectively. Moran is a rookie and at 25 in theory still is progressing. But a decision must be made soon whether he has enough positives to outweigh mediocre power and poor defense if he’s to be the third baseman of the future.
The days with the franchise, it seems, are numbered for Mercer and Harrison. The Pirates’ two longest-tenured players are nearing the ends of their contracts (for Mercer, at the end of this season) and are among the team’s five highest-paid players.
4. Cervelli’s future in life
A pall has been cast on what arguably should be the most heartening and encouraging aspect of the Pirates season: Francisco Cervelli playing like one of the game’s best catchers. The popular-among-fans Cervelli is second among qualifying MLB catchers in OPS and third in Wins Above Replacement. But he’s also on the concussion disabled list for the second time in a month and fourth time over the past 13 months. Is it getting to the point of seriousness where his longterm health is being threatened?
5. Uh oh, the Brewers are for real
As if perpetually chasing the deep-pocketed and highly talented Chicago Cubs and the perennially contending St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central wasn’t difficult enough, the Milwaukee Brewers improved an 86-win team over the offseason and had the NL’s best record as late as a week ago. In short, they’re not going anywhere.
The Cardinals are down, but by their lofty standards (one sub-.500 season since 1999), in their “down” year they’re still ahead of the Pirates. And the Cincinnati Reds aren’t going to stay bad forever (they’re 34-26 since May 8, a .567 winning percentage that would equate to the NL’s second-best record). What’s a small-market, hard-luck team like the Pirates supposed to do to compete?
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.