Mikolas, O'Neill lead Cards to win over Bucs

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Joe Musgrove pauses on the mound after giving up a single to St. Louis Cardinals' Tyler O'Neill during the third inning of a baseball game Monday, July 15, 2019, in St. Louis.

Larry Kelly

Larry Kelly is a partner in the law firm of Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, www.lgkg.com, and a former sportswriter at The News.

I don’t mean to be negative. Really, I don’t.

I don’t ever see a half-empty glass.

And so after the Pirates 12-5 run leading up to the all-star break, I allowed myself to get a little excited. Series wins against the Cubs and the Brewers were encouraging. Come from behind victories were exciting.

But then reality set in after a series sweep by the Cubs following the all-star break. Remember the same Cubs managed by Joe Maddon who said, “We can’t wait for the Pirates to come to Chicago.”

Obviously old Joe knew something that the ardent Pirate fans didn’t.

Here’s what old Joe knew. The Pirates have the 14th-ranked pitching staff in the 15-team National League. Only the Colorado Rockies, who play in altitude more fitting for space travel than baseball, are ranked worse than the Pirates’ pitching.

The Buccos’ team ERA is 5.01. That number is only good if you're calculating your Grade Point Average in college. The Bucs have given up 490 runs this season. Only Colorado has given up more in the NL. The team WHIP (walks and hits given up on average per inning) is 1.45. The batting average by the opposing team is .265. If former Pirate shortstop Mario Mendoza could have hit .265, his name wouldn’t be a punch line to a joke (The Mendoza line) and he’d still be in the big leagues.

Not only is the pitching horrible but the hitting is merely pedestrian.

The Pirates rank ninth among NL teams in batting. This, notwithstanding the mind-boggling statistics of Josh Bell, who at the time of this column had 27 home runs and 84 RBI.

At a time when home runs are what every team is desperately searching for, the Pirates rank 12th out of 15 NL teams in that category.

Baseball is now a sabermetric sport. Analytical analysis has taken over the game. That’s why most general managers now hold Ivy League degrees.

The most prominent analytic in the game today is WAR (Wins above Replacement). WAR is defined as the number of additional wins a team has achieved above the number of expected team wins if that player were substituted with a replacement-level player — i.e., “a player who may be added to the team for minimal cost.”

If you’re a Pirates fan, the phrase “minimal cost” should be all too familiar to you. We have too many minimal cost players.

The Pirates have only two players in the top 100 in WAR. Josh Bell at 52 with a WAR of 2.8 and Brian Reynolds at 72 with a WAR of 2.5. In comparison, the Houston Astros have eight players in the top 100.

Even though Bell looks like a superstar, in reality he hasn’t reached that plateau yet.

Superstars include the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, who is number one in baseball with a WAR of 6.7 and the Angels’ Mike Trout, who is number two with a WAR of 6.2.

Max Scherzer of the Nationals leads all pitchers with a WAR of 5.5. The Pirates best pitcher using WAR as the metric is Felipe Vazquez, who has WAR of 1.7 ranking 136th in baseball.

Unfortunately, unless something crazy happens, the Pirates are headed for another year of mediocrity. On the bright side, you can say the Bucs, whose payroll is ranked 27 out of 30 MLB teams according to Spotrac, are overachievers. We really shouldn’t be this good.

Wow — I can’t believe I just said that. Let’s go Bucs!

(Larry Kelly is a partner in the law firm of Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, www.lgkg.com, and a former sportswriter at The News). 

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