Monday, July 4, 2011

Andrew McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan and the Great All-Star Snub of 2011

Random thoughts from Bucco Central.

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan is headed to the All-Star game, a well deserved honor. Center-fielder Andrew McCutchen should be going with him, but the All-Star game is an honor conferred largely based on reputation and McCutchen is still building his. [Although a quick stroll through the stats would reveal these facts:  McCutchen is 3rd among all National League center-fielders in OPS (.892), 3rd in Slugging (498), 2nd in RBI (after today's win over the Astros he has 46), and 3rd in stolen bases (15.) It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to figure it out.] However, there's a bright side for Pittsburghers, which is, in the two games since his All-Star snub, he's gone 4-for-9 at the plate, with a two-bagger and three RBI's. Let's hope he stays motivated by The Great All-Star Snub of 2011. (tm)

Back to the Hammer. Earlier this year, I heard some radio jocks suggesting that the Pirates might package Hanrahan to get a big-bopper for right field or an upgrade at short-stop. Here's why that's phooey. Hanrahan shortens the game by a full-half inning. Teams pretty much know they'd better score within their first 24 outs, because the last three outs, in the 9th inning, are locked up.

Not that he's perfect. He gave up one run in DC the other night, but still got the save. I love the way he goes after hitters. It doesn't matter who it is; whether its the 7th, 8th and 9th guys in the Washington Nationals line-up, or the great David Ortiz, Hanrahan doesn't dance around the strike zone, nibbling here, nibbling there. He just goes up there with a rocket launcher attached to his right shoulder and dares batters to hit him. His success speaks for itself, to say nothing of the psychological lift I think that he gives the team.

Not to mention, the Buccos aren't exactly blowing teams out. The hitting just has not come around as much as we (and skipper Clint Hurdle) would like it to. As Bill Cowher used to say, it is what it is. And given that it is what it is -- 22nd in the league in runs scored and 5th in MLB in strike outs (with a whopping 644 to date) -- having a hold card like Hanrahan, a closer who can almost guarantee you three outs is a huge advantage. To think that you can trade the best closer we've seen in these parts since the great Kent Tekulve, well, that's just asinine. Unless you're getting something like Jose Bautista in return. (I had to. Sorry, Mr. Huntingdon.)

While we're here, I didn't believe in the Pirates when the season started. Why, really, would I? Why would anybody?

But Neal Huntingdon said he was building from the ground up, re-stocking the woeful farm system. I'd heard that old saw before so many times, I was sick of it. I didn't believe he would do it because, nobody had before. The Pirates were terrible when they had their best players on the field. If one of them got hurt, they were even worse. I don't know exactly what that is, but whatever is worse than terrible, that's what the farm system was. They weren't the 'not ready for prime time players,' they were the 'never ready for prime time players.'

This year, the injuries just keep mounting, and the young guys keep performing. The list goes on and on, but the two who stand out most are, of course, Alex Presley and Chase d'Arnaud. They've both performed so well that they may have earned permanent spots with the big club. When Jose Tabata comes back from his injury (get well soon, Jose), I think we may be seeing Presley in right field on a steady basis. (I would like that outfield a whole lot, if anybody wants my opinion.) When Pedro Alvarez comes back to play 3rd base on a day to day basis, d'Arnaud should remain at shortstop. When Ronny Cedeno's healthy, I think he may be spending a lot of time on the bench, watching d'Arnaud in the field.The kids have performed so much better than anybody could have expected and, frankly, the contributions of the Indianapolis kids deserve their own post. Maybe over the All-Star break.

In the meantime, there is reason to enjoy this moment -- Pirates fans, please do enjoy your existential moment, the feeling of being 44-41 on July 4th. Drink deep, let yourself become intoxicated with the winning. Life moves pretty fast and you never know what might happen. But, with guys like Chase and Presley coming along, there's reason to hope that the Pirates can continue these winning ways. Heck, maybe they can even get better. In the words of that legendary philosopher Kent Tekulve, the future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.

[Photos:  McCutchen -- NESN; Presley --; Tekulve --]

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