Bob Smizik's Blog
My five-player, first-quarter Pirates MVP ballot is presented below and does not include Andrew McCutchen. Who would have expected that with the Pirates eight games over .500? Lots of people, myself included, would have figured McCutchen to be on pace for another MVP-caliber season for the Pirates to be so lifted.
He’s been good, but others have been better and more important to the success of the team.
The list is pitcher-heavy, as well it should be. Pirates pitchers are near the top of the class -- second in ERA, first in BAA and fourth in WHIP. Pirates batters are in the middle of the class -- eighth in runs, ninth in OPS, 11th in batting average. It's also reliever-heavy because that part of the team is most responsible for the success thus far.
In inverse order:
5. A.J. Burnett: Fears his performance, at 36, might slip were unfounded and/or grossly overstated. He’s been better this year -- .257 ERA (10th in the league), a 1.10 WHIP (12), .204 BAA (6th) and 79 strikeouts (1st). His K/9 of 11.29 leads all starters by a wide margin and is up from 8.01 from last year. He reeled off four straight strong seven-inning starts this month and is a primary reason, along with the other members of the rotation, why the Pirates are 11-6 in May.
4. Mark Melancon: Much skepticism greeted the news that he had been acquired from Boston in the Joel Hanrahan trade. A 6.20 ERA has been known to do that. Overlooked were the 20 saves Melancon had with Houston in 2011 and that the Red Sox were willing to part with Jed Lowrie to get him. He has been spectacular in handling the eighth inning. It wasn’t until his 22nd appearance that he gave up more than two hits in an inning. His ERA and WHIP are sensational matches: Both 0.78.
3. Starling Marte: What hasn’t he done very well? There were concerns, and justifiable ones, that he was ill-suited to bat first because he doesn’t draw walks. Well, he hasn’t mastered working the count, but his on-base percentage of .372 is fifth among NL players with more than 100 at bats in the No. 1 spot. Leading off a game, he is 18-for-36 (.500) and, clearly, has been a castalyst for the Pirates offense. His 10 stolen bases lead the Pirates are are fourth best in the league. He has five home runs, an .836 OPS and looks to be an outstanding defensive player.
2. Jason Grilli: He leads MLB with 17 saves, one more than the great Mariano Rivera. He also has a lower ERA (0.92 to 1.56) and a lower WHIP (0.66 to 0.92) than Rivera. Not bad company to keep. His save percentage is the same as Rivera’s -- 100. He has a 14.2 K/9 and a 7.8 K/B -- both spectacular. Opponents are batting .134 against him. The Pirates have 26 wins and he’s closed 17 of them, which speaks more plainly than anything to his value. Based on stats, he’s the best closer in MLB. More importantly, based on performance he’s the best closer in MLB.
1. Russell Martin: Hard to imagine anyone would come up with another name. What a difference one player can make. He’s taken one of the most important positions on the team and upgraded it immensely. Teams no longer romp at will on the bases against the Pirates. They proceed with great caution when thinking about stealing. He has thrown out 12 of 28 runners who attempted to steal, an excellent 43 percent rate which is third best in the National League and more than triple the team's rate of success from 2012. If that were not enough, he leads the Pirates in OPS (.881) and slugging (.517) and is second in doubles (10) and home runs (6) and third in on-base percentage (.364).
Beyond the glory, there’s often a lifetime of pain. The Washington Post details the physical hardship many former players must live with after their NFL career conclude.
By Sally Jenkins, Rick Maese, Scott Clement, Washington Post
They remember the hard hits – most of them, at least. The brain-rattlers that left them blank-eyed and disoriented, they have no recollection of at all. But the ones that snapped ligaments, rendered bones the consistency of crushed ice or bent joints in ways they ought not to bend are still felt every morning years later.
A career in the National Football League creates echoes good and bad. Some reverberate in medical records, others in luxuries from rich contracts. But the most vivid ones for many former players come when they get out of bed each day and put their feet on the floor. If the NFL confers wealth – a rookie’s base pay next season will be $405,000 – it exacts a heavy price: lifelong hurt.
A Washington Post survey of retired NFL players found that nearly nine in 10 report suffering from aches and pains on a daily basis, and they overwhelmingly – 91 percent – connect nearly all their pains to football.
“I hurt like hell every morning when I wake up,” says former linebacker Darryl Talley, 52.
“I can’t run anymore,” says former offensive lineman Pete Kendall, 39. “I can’t play basketball with my kids, can’t walk for any extended distance.”
Read the rest of the story.
After his performance at the NBA Combine, this is what one scout said about former Pitt center Steven Adams: ``I can say I was honestly stunned. Where did that come from? That’s not something you develop with a few weeks with a trainer. He was way more skilled than we thought. That makes a huge difference in our evaluation of him.”
Adams is on the rise in the NBA draft, could well be a lottery pick. ProBasketballTalk.com has this detailed report on Adams.
By Kurt Helin, ProBasketballTalk.com
In today’s NBA player development matters a lot — draft a guy and for a few years bring him along slowly, develop his skills and mold him into a player that fits your system, all at an affordable price compared to the free agent market. Look at the teams left in the playoffs such as Indiana, Memphis and the Spurs — they are all masters of this.
If your team can develop players Steven Adams out of Pittsburgh is a guy to consider.
And he is a guy on the rise — he was a solid first round pick who may have moved up to late lottery with his showing at the NBA Draft Combine last week (especially if he keeps that up in workouts for teams). First, he measured big — 7’0” in shoes, 255 pounds. That’s legit NBA center size. But what really turned heads was
Read the rest of the story.
Allan Muir dissects the Penguins loss last night to Ottawa and makes a couple of good points beyond the obvious: The Senators were finally able to stop the Penguins power play, which had been dominant in the playoffs; this was the first postseason game in which the Penguins did not score at least three goals.
By Allan Muir, SI.com
The Ottawa Senators have it all wrong. They call themselves “The Pesky Sens,” swiping a catchphrase from the Dallas Stars and using it as a hashtag on Twitter. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so misleading.
The Senators aren’t pesky. They’re resolute. Resilient. They proved it again tonight, piecing together their biggest win of the postseason just when everyone was ready to write them off.
We’ve all made that mistake before. This is the same team that seemed destined for the draft lottery after losing Jason Spezza, then Craig Anderson, then Erik Karlsson in rapid succession. But they proved everyone wrong, not just earning a playoff berth, but knocking off the second-seed Montreal Canadiens with ease.
So maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised to see them send what looked like a sure loss into overtime with a shorthanded beauty in the final minute off the stick of captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Read the rest of the story.
The case could be made that the Pirates have the best bullpen in the National League.
Pirates relievers are first in the following categories: saves, save percentage, batting-average against, slugging-against, K/9. They are second in ERA, OPS-against and WHIP.
But there’s something else the Pirates bullpen is first in, and it’s not so good: Innings.
Pirates relievers have pitched 157 innings in the team’s 44 games. That’s close 11 outs, on average, every game.
The bullpen is on pace to pitch 578 innings. Last year, the bullpen pitched 498. The National League average was 487.
Closer Jason Grilli is pace to pitch in 81 games. Joel Hanrahan pitched in 63 last year.
Eighth-inning setup man Mark Melancon is on pace to pitch in 85 games. In a similar role last year, Grilli pitched in 64 games.