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Evaluating the Pirates' first half: Infielders

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday's game with the Indians marks the midway point in the 162-game season. The Bucs will play three more games against the Padres and four against the Cards before the All-Star break, the more traditional marker between the first and second halves of the season. But let's take a look at the Pirates roster and see how its members have performed to this point. Rather than letter grades, I evaluated each player's performance versus expectations. The three choices are Better, As Expected or Worse. Your mileage may vary.

First base

Pedro Alvarez: Coming into 2015 Alvarez's career line was .235/.307/.435 .742 with an OPS+ of 105. This year, going into Sunday, it was .240/.314/.442 .756 with an OPS+ of 109. Because of his high draft slot and alluring power, there has always been hope that Pedro will figure things out. His five-game performance against the Cardinals in the 2013 NLDS will always be the Holy Grail. But I think we can safely say after 2,500 career plate appearances that this is who he is. A few years ago the belief was that if Pedro could ever get his strikeout rate below 30 percent, things would all come together. But he's done that the past two seasons (23.4 percent this year) while maintaining a solid walk rate, and there hasn't been the big payoff even though he ranks in the top ten in MLB in Exit Velocity (look at the names around him). Pedro's hitting more ground balls than ever and that's resulted in a rather pedestrian 11 homers, with only two since May 26. He's a platoon player who can't hit lefties.

Alvarez's transition to first, meanwhile, has been a disaster. Fangraphs rates him as one of the worst defenders in the game, regardless of position. And the eye test confirms it. His lack of instincts for the position might be the single most surprising thing about this Pirates season for me. Because of his defense, Worse

Sean Rodriguez: Rodriguez is an easy guy to root for, since he checks all the scrappy, hustle, 100 percent effort boxes, and he made what will probably be the best defensive play all season. But Rodriguez is an offensive black hole. He has two walks in 115 plate appearances and his .261 OBP is horrific. His defensive versatility means he does have some value, and I do like how Clint Hurdle has used him, particularly as a late-inning defensive replacement at first, but hopes that he could replicate the JHay super-utility magic of last year were misplaced. As Expected

Corey Hart: Currently on the DL, the 33-year old Hart has only delivered three extra-base hits in 57 plate appearances, walking once and striking out 19 times. He also can't play in the field. I liked the signing, but it hasn't worked out. Hart will probably get one more chance after his rehab stint, but it would be no surprise if he were designated for assignment by the trade deadline. Worse

Andrew Lambo: One hit in 27 plate appearances. His highlight of the season came on Opening Day when he had a great 13-pitch at bat that resulted in an out. He's currently on the 60-day DL with plantar fasciitis. Maybe Lambo will get a few at bats when rosters expand in September, but it's been another disappointing year. Worse

Second base

Neil Walker: If we went back to Opening Day and time-traveled forward to today and I showed you Neil Walker's .277/.343/.416 line, you'd probably say, "Yep, as expected, although the power numbers look a little light." It's just how we got here, time travel notwithstanding, that's been a little odd. On June 16 against the White Sox, Walker went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. It dropped his line to .252/.308/.374. He then missed a string of games with a minor injury. He returned with a pinch-hit single June 21, started to hit a little better, then went to Detroit where Tigers fans thought they were seeing the second coming of Rogers Hornsby. Walker went 10-for-17 with two homers in the three-game series. What had been a somewhat disappointing first half all of a sudden looked a lot more respectable.

Defensively, Walker is slipping. He's a below-average second baseman, and my guess is this will be his last year at the position. The Pirates will have a very interesting decision in the offseason, as Walker will be due $10-11 million in his last year of arbitration. Do they move him to first? Do they look to trade him? Do they DFA him? These next three months will be the key. OBP is crucial, and I love that you can just pencil Neil in at .340 every year, but because of the lack of power and the odd route to his stat line, I think Walker has slightly underperformed expectations. Worse


Jordy Mercer: Imagine what Mercer's career numbers would look like if you didn't include anything before the middle of May. Last year he woke up on May 5 with a .156/.205/.182 line in 84 plate appearances with two extra base hits, both doubles. This year? More of the same. Mercer woke up on May 24 hitting .171/.225/.198. He had three extra base hits, all doubles. It's hard to recover from that kind of start, getting a batting line back to respectability--assuming, of course, that your manager continues to start you. Last year Mercer went .273/.323/.424 in 471 plate appearances the rest of the way, finishing with a 95 OPS+ This year? More of the same. Going into Saturday, Mercer had hit .312/.356/.440 since May 24.

More and more people are starting to realize Jordy can really pick it. He is, by far, the Pirates' best defensive option at the position. Still, his 74 OPS+ isn't good enough. Worse

Third Base:

Josh Harrison: If last year didn't happen we'd be talking about Harrison's increasing usefulness and development. But last year did happen and from that perspective he's taken a pretty big, if expected, step back. He had a 134 OPS+ last year, one of the most inexplicable seasons on record. Harrison's a useful guy on the roster, but he's not a star. The surprise this year is that his defense has been so poor. As Expected

Jung Ho Kang: Nobody had any idea what to expect. Kang has been all the Pirates could have hoped. His glove plays at third, less so at short. He's struggled a bit lately, but the Pirates have to feel great about this venture into the international market. Better

This is the first in a four-part series. Up next, I'll discuss catchers and outfielders.