5 Most Irreplaceable Pittsburgh Pirates
Five Irreplaceable Pittsburgh Pirates' Players
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place in the National League Central. They have the second best record in all of MLB, behind the Atlanta Braves by a half-game. Unlike other great teams this season, the Pirates have been getting very lucky. Of all the top five teams, the Pirates’ run differential is the lowest, at just plus-49. The Braves’ run differential is plus-125.
Obviously, if you watch the Pirates or pay attention to baseball, you will know that the Pirates don’t have an outstanding offense; it’s actually very below average. Luckily for the Pirates, the pitching staff has been the best in baseball, somehow. For whatever reason, the baseball Gods have provided the Pirates with a ton of unexpected contributions from guys like Jeff Locke, Vin Mazzaro and Mark Melancon.
The Pirates have also been extremely healthy this season, other than the starting rotation. In the rotation, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez have all missed significant time. However, the offense has been healthy for the majority of the season. Neil Walker is the only major contributor on offense to miss much time in 2013. The St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds have had injury issues all season, with Chris Carpenter missing all of the season and Yadier Molina recently going on the disabled list. For the Reds, Johnny Cueto and Ryan Ludwick have all missed a ton of time.
For the Pirates to continue competing, their offense can not suffer any injuries. It is simply not a deep enough lineup to pick up any unnecessary slack as a result of key contributors not being in the lineup.
5. A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett is the leader of the clubhouse. Being a clubhouse leader is probably overrated, but for this young Pirates’ team, any leadership from players that have postseason experience is greatly needed. Not only is Burnett a great leader, but he is also a great pitcher having a career-year. In 21 starts, Burnett has compiled 134.1 innings with a 2.95 ERA. His 9.98 K/9 is a career-high and his walks are down compared to the rest of his career.
4. Russell Martin
Russell Martin’s influence on this team cannot be overstated. He is a very good catcher, both offensively and defensively. Compared to last season’s starting catcher, Rod Barajas, Martin looks like Johnny Bench. Martin throws out nearly half of attempted base-stealers and hits well enough to be above average offensively for a catcher. He calls great games and keeps his pitchers comfortable. His 11.1% walk rate is among the highest on the Pirates’ roster. Based on his overall numbers, this is the best season of Martin’s career.
3. Starling Marte
It’s tough to rely too much on someone as young and inexperienced as Starling Marte, but the Pirates have to. He isn’t technically a rookie, but this is his first full season in MLB. He is a centerfielder playing left field, and at PNC Park, that is a necessity. He is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball. His .282/.343/.438 slash line with 10 home runs and 33 stolen bases is extremely impressive for someone as young as Marte. He leads the league in several categories among lead-off hitters.
2. Pedro Alvarez
This one seems obvious. Pedro Alvarez is basically the only legitimate power hitter on the Pirates’ roster. Alvarez used to be a black hole defensively, but has somehow managed to become an above-average defensive third baseman. His 27 home runs are tied for first in the National League with Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Unfortunately, the strikeouts are always going to be a problem for Alvarez.
1. Andrew McCutchen
The current favorite for National League MVP can’t be left off this list, right? Right. Andrew McCutchen has developed into one of the best overall players in MLB, with a great speed-power combination. His defense has become very good in centerfield and his base-running has improved as well. After a relatively slow start to the season, McCutchen has worked his way up to a .311/.385/.507 slash line with 16 home runs, 65 RBIs, 72 runs and 24 stolen bases.