Mike Kovak

Column Mike Kovak

Mike Kovak is assistant night editor at the Observer-Reporter.

Career years from Bucs’ acquisitions make sense … now

July 18, 2013

Following the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2012 collapse, the second consecutive bitter September for the Buccos, I canceled my 10-game partial season ticket plan.

Couldn’t take it any more.

I was fed up.

Proclaiming that manager Clint Hurdle and the team’s management structure would remain, despite so much as a formal, end-of-season review, rubbed me the wrong way.

I explained my frustration to our ticket representative, an e-mail I dug out during Monday’s Home Run Derby.

Man, I’m an idiot.

At the time, I professed to switch allegiances 100 percent to the Nationals, the team I rooted for while living in Northern Virginia. I even bought the MLB.TV package to watch as many games as possible. My wife may or may not have believed me.

Turns out the subscription hasn’t been used all that much this summer. The reason?

The Pirates’ offseason acquisitions, the same ones I lambasted, the same ones I insisted would hurl the Pirates further into futility, are having career years.

(Quick sidebar: I’m unapologetically on the bandwagon. One, I’m a high school sports reporter and, in my opinion, permitted to be a fan of sports I do not cover.

Two, I bought tickets to see Jermaine Allensworth, Kevin Polcovich and Al Martin; I watched in amazement as Turner Ward broke through the right field wall at Three Rivers Stadium; and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when I met Rich Loiselle.

Having been through all of the stink, I’m hoping for a mulligan in order to enjoy the sweet smell of a pennant race, whatever that is.)

OK, back to my stupidity.

The e-mail I sent brought up newly acquired catcher Russell Martin hitting .211 last year and the Pirates paying him $17 over two seasons. I thought that was an unwise move, given how Martin’s batting average had regressed every year since 2007, his on-base percentage in 2012 a career-low .311, his WAR (Wins Over Replacement Player) just 1.8.

What I was overlooking was Martin’s value behind the plate. As many know, Rod Barajas threw out about six percent of runners in 2012. Hamilton Porter from “The Sandlot” would’ve been an upgrade.

Martin, while producing a respectable slash line of .239/.346/.394, has slammed the brakes on opponents’ running games, gunning down 48 percent (22 of 46) of would-be base stealers, 17 percent better than his career average.

I scoffed at Francisco Liriano’s offseason, accidental arm injury.

Typical Pirates, I thought.

Now Liriano is having his best season since 2006, his breakout year with the Twins. At 9-3, he already has the third-most wins in a single season in his career. His 2.00 earned-run average is second to that 2006 mark of 2.16. Ditto for his current WHIP of 1.187.

His strikeouts and walks – 80 and 28 – are downright gaudy.

And maybe here’s the most laughable moment from my offseason temper tantrum.

I bemoaned the loss of Joel Hanrahan.

Not only did getting rid of Hanrahan less than 10 innings before he had season-ending surgery to repair the torn flexor tendon muscle in his arm turn out to look like something the Steelers would do – cutting bait with a player before that his regression becomes their problem – but it opened the door for setup man Mark Melancon and closer Jason Grilli.

Melancon leads the league in holds with 25. His WHIP is a career – and ridiculously low – .789. He’s struck out 46 and walked four. They’re ridiculous number for anyone, let alone someone who had a 6.20 ERA in 2012.

You know about Grilli. Leads the National League with 29 saves, lapping his career total nearly six times over. Sixty-three strikeouts, nine walks, career-bests in WHIP (.861) and ERA (1.99).

He’s also the guy who’s been on the mound when I’m shaking my head, trying to enjoy a little bit of the moment, and the Pirates are reminding me why I have nothing to do with running a baseball team.

Jason Mackey can be reached at jmackey@observer-reporter.com.



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