Top Ten Most Memorable Pirates Moments of 2012

Although the Bucs ultimately collapsed to their 20th consecutive losing season in 2012, there were certainly plenty of memorable moments throughout the 162-game slate. As the calendar year comes to a close, it’s time to look back on the past season; here are our top ten most memorable Pirates moments of 2012.

10. Pedro Alvarez Game-Tying Home Run After Rain Delay vs. Colorado

Down by three in a game at Coors Field, Pedro Alvarez came up as the tying run.  The rain had been coming down hard for the past inning or so, and the game was finally delayed when Pedro came up.  After a 52 minute rain delay, El Toro stroked the first pitch he saw (from a lefty) to left field for a game-tying home run.  Absolutely unreal moment for the few that stayed up to see it.  The Pirates went on to lose the game, but it was still a great moment nonetheless.

9. Brad Lincoln vs. Jim Thome Staredown

The Bucs were up by a score of 8-7 in the bottom of the seventh in Philadelphia.  Jim Thome, one of the nicest major leaguers and a guaranteed hall-of-famer, was up with two men on.  Brad Lincoln blew an 0-2 fastball right by Thome, and the two stared each other down as they walked off the field.  There was something about the whole situation that made it just perfect; the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia rivalry, a guy with 600 home runs against a young reliever for the Pirates… everything just seemed to fit.  Awesome moment.

8. A.J. Burnett One-Hitter vs. Chicago

A.J. Burnett’s first year in Pittsburgh was a great one, and his best start came on August 1st at Wrigley Field.  He held the Cubs hitless through 7.2 innings, and ended up throwing a one-hitter.  He and Neil Walker, who drove in all five runs (including a grand slam,) single-handedly defeated the Cubs to rack up another win.

7. Andrew McCutchen Walk-Off Hit vs. Philadelphia

The 2012 opening series against the Phillies was a good one.  Philly took Opening Day by a score of 1-0, the Bucs won the second game on a walk-off infield single, and it looked like Philly would win the rubber match.  Down 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the Pirates scored two to get within a run.  The stadium was split pretty equally between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia fans, so the Phillies fans were very vocal when they had the lead.  Matt Hague tied the game in the eighth with his first career knock, setting up a dramatic ninth.  With two outs and a runner on third, Cutch hammered a ball to center field.  It didn’t get out, but it was far enough over the head of Shane Victorino to win the game and the series.  Just the first of many great moments of Cutch’s season.

6. Back-to-Back Doubles Beat Chapman

Up until Michael McKenry got to him on June 7th, Aroldis Chapman hadn’t given up an earned run all season.  If you look at the roster from 2012, Clint Barmes and The Fort were two of the least likely to double off of Chapman, but they both did it in succession to give the Bucs the lead in extra innings.  The win got the Pirates within two games of the Reds and gave fans some bragging rights over those annoying Reds fans.

5. Pedro Alvarez Go-Ahead Home Run in 19th vs. St. Louis

The Pirates are very familiar with 19 inning games, and it was nice to be on the winning end of one in 2012.  On August 19th, the team was still very much in the playoff hunt and any game against the Cardinals was important.  It looked like the Bucs were going to finally end the game in the 17th, but St. Louis scored in the bottom half to keep it going.  Finally in the 19th, Pedro absolutely destroyed a ball that put the Pirates back on top.  It took more than six hours, but Pedro’s game-winner was definitely worth the wait.

4. Rod Barajas Walk-Off Home Run vs. Washington

Rod Barajas was really struggling through the first month of the season and the fans were letting him know how they felt.  In a game against the Nationals, Rod was boo’d every time he came to the plate, but his walk-off home run made the crowd go nuts.  It was a great win for the Bucs – beating the best team in the NL – and also became the unofficial birth of “Zoltan.”

3. Starling Marte Home Run on First Pitch in MLB vs. Houston

In the middle of a pennant race in late July, the Bucs finally called up Starling Marte to add some pop into the lineup.  Marte didn’t take long at all to show what he could do.  He led off his first game in Houston and crushed the first pitch he saw – a fastball at the letters – deep off the train tracks at Minute Maid Park.  No matter how Marte’s career with the Pirates turns out, his first home run will certainly be something that fans remember for a while.

2. Travis Snider Robs Mike Baxter of a Home Run

By late September when the Pirates travelled to Queens, it was pretty clear that they weren’t going to make the postseason and even the chances of reaching .500 looked bad.  Most of baseball had forgotten about them as they cooled off into September, but an amazing catch by Travis Snider brought some attention back to the team.  On a ball that looked like a no-doubt home run, Snider climbed the wall, hung there for a second, and made the catch to rob Baxter.  If this wasn’t the catch of the year, it was definitely one of the top three.

1. Drew Sutton Walk-Off Home Run vs. Houston

Considering the context, this has to be the top moment of the year.  A.J Burnett had a chance to win his ninth straight game, but he got hit hard by the Astros.  The Bucs battled back and took a one-run lead into the ninth, but Joel Hanrahan blew the save.  Drew Sutton was the right fielder in the game and although he wasn’t charged with any errors, he misplayed a few balls hit into the corner that cost Burnett a few runs.  He came up in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to redeem himself, and drove a walk-off home run deep to center field as the Bucs moved to eight games over the .500 mark.  Pretty unreal moment for a guy who had bounced between teams his whole career and had a few special weeks with the Pirates.

Even though they fell short of .500 once again, 2012 was another great year of Bucco baseball. Obviously, these ten moments are interchangeable and the order varies depending on the person. These were our top ten moments; feel free to let us know your most memorable Pirates moments of 2012, either in the comments section or on Twitter.

Go Bucs in 2013

Cutch named Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year

According to Michael Sanserino of the Post-Gazette, Andrew McCutchen has been named the 2012 Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year.

Cutch joins elite company as Sportman of the Year, as some of the biggest names in Pittsburgh have won the award recently. Those names include Dan Bylsma, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jamie Dixon, Evgeni Malkin, Mike Tomlin, Sidney Crosby, and more. McCutchen in the first Pirate to win since Jason Kendall in 2011.

He was quoted as saying, “It’s an honor to be named the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year. So many  incredible athletes have won this award, including 18 in the Pirates  organization. To be mentioned alongside these greats is  humbling for me, and I am truly thankful of the support that I have received so  far in my career in Pittsburgh.”

McCutchen will be honored at the 77th Annual Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction. The event will take place on February 6th at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Tickets can be purchased HERE.

$70 Million Payroll: Fact or Fiction?

During the “Ask Management Q&A” at Friday night PirateFest, team president Frank Coonelly answered a question regarded the Bucs’ payroll for the 2013 season. In the process, he mentioned that the club could approach a payroll of about $70 million, which would be the largest in franchise history. According to USA Today’s Salary Database, the Pirates had a total payroll of $63,431,999 last season.

Since Neal Huntington & Co.’s first full season in 2008, the Pirates payrolls have looked like this:

Year Payroll Highest Paid Player
2008 $48,689,783 Matt Morris
2009 $48,693,000 Jack Wilson
2010 $34,943,000 Paul Maholm
2011 $45,047,000 Paul Maholm, Chris Snyder
2012 $63,431,999 A.J. Burnett

(Figures from the USA Today Salary Database.)

They have increased the amount of money dished out by nearly $30 million in the past two years alone. Another payroll increase would be a big step for the franchise, but keep in mind that spending more money does not always mean winning (see: Miami Marlins, 2012).

However, the large market teams in baseball, such as the Dodgers, continue to embrace the idea that you can simply buy championships. The Dodgers have been the big spenders of this offseason; their Opening Day payroll is estimated to end up around $225 million. The salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Zack Greinke will turn out to be a total of $80 million, which is expected to be significantly higher than the entire Pirates payroll.

The Buccos find themselves in a predicament here. It’s difficult to fill out a roster each season while a) remaining competitive with the big market teams and b) staying inside the budget. The free agent market is insane this offseason. Although they scooped up Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano, neither player came on the cheap. Trades put the team in a tough spot as well, as you have to give to receive. You either need to deal prospects with future potential or current players with some value in order to receive anything decent in return. All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan, projected to make about $7 million in 2013, was just dealt to Boston for Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, and two prospects. Since free agency and trading include high risk for a team like the Pirates, more pressure is placed on scouting and drafting. However, MLB now limits draft spending, so the Bucs are in trouble in that department, too.

Going back to what Coonelly said at PirateFest, is a $70 million payroll out of the question? Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects currently estimates it to be around $66 million. We’ll agree with Tim and say that Coonelly’s prediction will fall short. The additions of Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and the re-signing of Jason Grilli come at high prices; all three also represent some risk. Even though the Pirates owe large amounts of money to these three players in 2013, their payroll shouldn’t skyrocket too much – mainly due to the Joel Hanrahan salary dump. With these expensive additions, the Bucs had to deal Hanrahan for a few guys who will make league-minimum salary. Sands and Melancon could still be very valuable players, but they just come at a much cheaper price; that’s how the Pirates have to form their club. Garrett Jones, another Pirate that is due a big raise in arbitration, could be traded soon as well, even if it doesn’t make sense. At the end of the day, the Bucs can’t keep up with the Dodgers and Yankees of the league in terms of high-paying star power, but they may still build a formidable ballclub.

We saw last season that the Pirates can hang with the best teams out there, despite having one of the lowest payrolls. While a payroll increase would most likely be a nice boost, there is no guarantee of a winning product. Still, they will probably have to keep pumping more and more money into the franchise as teams around the league continue to pay ridiculous numbers to their players.

Getting to know Mark Melancon

Full Name: Mark David Melancon
Age: 27
March 28th, 1985
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 2″
Weight: 215 lb.

Mark Melancon was drafted by the New York Yankees in the ninth round of the 2006 Draft. Melancon, University of Arizona product, remained with the Bronx Bombers until the trade deadline of 2010, when he was shipped to Houston with Jimmy Paredes in exchange for Lance Berkman. He was strong in the closer role for the Astros in 2011, as he finished the year with 20 saves and a 2.78 ERA in 74.1 innings. After his solid 2011 campaign, Melancon was dealt to Boston for shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland. A brutal April and rocky relationship with controversial manager Bobby Valentine led to a rough 2012 season. He posted a 6.20 ERA and allowed eight home runs for the Sox, but finished the year strong, allowing just one earned run in his last eight appearances. Melancon now comes to Pittsburgh along with Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel, and Ivan De Jesus, as Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt head to Beantown.

A quick scouting report via Pirates Prospects:

“He throws a four-seamer and a cutter, both of which average around 93 and top out at 95-96.  The curve remains his best pitch and he occasionally throws a change.  He’s a strong groundball pitcher, with a 53.8% groundball rate for his career.  He’s been better against right-handed batters than left-handed, holding the former to a 226/293/336 line while the latter have hit 250/342/402 against him.  He throws with a high-effort delivery that’s led to elbow issues.”

A couple videos…

Melancon making a slick play against former Bucco Jose Bautista:

A tough play to retire Hanley Ramirez:

Retiring Robinson Cano to get out of a bases-loaded jam:

Melancon is an intriguing piece of the Hanrahan trade, despite a difficult season with the Red Sox. There are a few positives to take out of his 2012 season, notably his strong September. In eight appearances that month, he surrendered just one run, one walk, and four hits, while striking out 13 and posting an ERA of 0.90. Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, and Boston beat writer Pete Abraham all believe Melancon will bounce back in Pittsburgh:

melancon tweets

Melancon, who turns 28 in March, will be a crucial part of the Bucs bullpen. The departure of Hanrahan moves recently re-signed Jason Grilli into the closer position. Melancon should slide into the setup role, with Jared Hughes and Tony Watson providing middle relief. Bill James projects him to post a 3.47 ERA and an 8.53 K/9 in 57 innings next year. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do for the Buccos in 2013. He is still pre-arbitration eligible which is good for the cost-conscious Pirates, and he’s under team control through the 2016 season.