PIRATES MID-TERM GRADES
By John Perrotto
Wednesday was Independence Day for the vast majority of Americans.
For Pirates' fans, though, it had to seem like Christmas. The Pirates took over sole possession of first place in the National League Central and moved nine games above .500 with a 45-36 record.
It's all pretty amazing stuff for a franchise that is on a run of 19 consecutive losing seasons, the worst streak in major North American professional sports.
The Pirates also reached the midway point of their season Wednesday and the second half starts tonight when they host the Houston Astros at PNC Park. So, it seems like a good time to hand out first-semester grades for position players with at least 65 plate appearances, starting pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched and relievers with at least 20 innings pitched.
Pedro Alvarez (.237-15-48) -- Give the Pirates credit for sticking with the slugging third baseman when it would have been easy to send him to the minors and give "El Toro" credit for sticking with it because his grade looked like an F for much of the first half. Grade: C.
Rod Barajas (.218-7-18) -- He's been a rock behind the plate in his first season with the Pirates but the journeyman has often been an anchor to the offense. Grade D
Clint Barmes (.204-4-21) -- Pin this bad contract on manager Clint Hurdle, who persuaded general manager Neal Huntington that Barmes was worth two years and $10.5 million on the free agent market. Grade: F
Matt Hague (.235-0-7) -- For those who got excited by his Grapefruit League heroics in March, repeat after me: "Spring training means nothing." Grade: F
Josh Harrison (.217-2-9) -- He's a lovable little guy but he has been a below-average performer all season. Grade: D
Garrett Jones (.275-12-36) -- He has responded to the challenge of potentially losing his starting job by flashing his stellar rookie form of 2009. Grade: B
Andrew McCutchen (.360-16-54) -- The only player who might be having a better season in the major leagues is Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Might. Grade: A
Casey McGehee (.245-5-25) -- He has done a solid job in a part-time role after a miserable beginning. Grade: C
Michael McKenry (.247-6-17) -- He is becoming one of the best backup catchers in the game and deserves more starts in the second half. Grade: B
Alex Presley (.242-6-13) -- He looks so good in one at-bat and so bad in the next but he has enough talent to raise this grade by year's end. Grade: D
Jose Tabata (.230-3-11) -- Giving this dog a six-year contract last August provided too much of a sense of security and he now rightfully finds himself where he belongs -- at Class AAA Indianapolis. Grade: D
Neil Walker (.275-5-37) -- The bottom line, hometown hero or not, is that his offensive game hasn't improved since his rookie season of 2010 and that's disappointing. Grade: D
Erik Bedard (4-9, 4.57) -- He has pitched better than his numbers indicate and he has also brought some added professionalism to the clubhouse without fanfare. Grade: B
A.J. Burnett (9-2, 3.74) -- Proof that one team's trash (Yankees) is another team's treasure, he has become the leader of the pitching staff off the field and a very reliable member of it on the field. Grade: B
Kevin Correia (5-6, 4.34) -- His respectable surface statistics are all smoke and mirrors as his rates of 3.59 strikeouts and 1.48 home runs allowed per nine innings shows he is extremely hittable and quite lucky. Grade: F
Juan Cruz (1-1, 3 Sv, 2.54) -- Signed off the scrap heap as a minor-league free agent in the offseason, he has done a fine job so far but hold your breath in the second half. Grade: A.
Jason Grilli (1-2, 1 Sv, 1.93) -- He has been such a lockdown eighth-inning guy. Grade: A
Joel Hanrahan (4-0, 21 Sv, 2.53) -- Don't snicker when you read this: He is the Pirates' most intimidating closer since Goose Gossage. Grade: A
Jared Hughes (2-0, 1 Sv, 2.20) -- Don't believe the ERA because the 4.66 strikeouts and 3.07 walks per nine innings says he is the bullpen's version of Correia -- very lucky. Grade: D
Brad Lincoln (4-2, 3.14) -- The string of three bad starts in a row in June aside, he has been brilliant, both as a reliever and in his last start against Detroit before being moved back to the bullpen. Grade: A
James McDonald (8-3, 2.45) -- What in the world were the Dodgers thinking when they gave him away in a trade for Octavio Dotel two years ago? Grade: A
Charlie Morton (2-6, 4.65) -- The perpetually perplexing Morton was just that again this year until undergoing Tommy John last month that ended his season. Grade D
Chris Resop (0-3, 1 Sv, 3.54) -- He has the stuff to close but his inconsistency keeps him in middle relief. Grade: C
Tony Watson (4-0, 3.81) -- One area the Pirates should upgrade is left-handed relief as Watson's habit of walking hitters is likely to bite them in a pennant race. Grade: D
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 25 years.