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Perrotto: Handing Out Pirates’ First-Half Awards

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Jack Suwinski, Pittsburgh Pirates

It has been an eventful season for the Pittsburgh Pirates so far.

They broke out with a 20-8 start following four straight last-place finishes in the National League Central. Though the Pirates inevitably cooled off, they were still in first place in the division standings on June 15.

However, since beating the New York Mets on June 11 on a day when Andrew McCutchen recorded his 2,000th career hit, the Pirates have gone 7-19.

With the unofficial second half of the season starting Friday, the Pirates have a 41-49 record, are in fourth place and trail the division-leading Cincinnati Reds by 8.5 games.

Along the way, McCutchen made a triumphant return to the Pirates after five years away, Bryan Reynolds signed an eight-year, $106-million contract – the largest in franchise history – manager Derek Shelton received a one-year extension through 2024, shortstop Oneil Cruz broke his left ankle and right-hander Vince Velasquez underwent season-ending elbow surgery.

Let’s hand out some midseason awards before the Pirates return to action Friday night when they host the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Jack Suwinski leads the team with 19 home runs while becoming the primary center fielder in his second major-league season. The next closest Pirates player in home runs is Andrew McCutchen with 10.

Through 80 games, Suwinski has a slash line of .235/.360/.514. The low batting average is offset by the on-base and slugging percentages, which give him an .875 OPS and 135 OPS+

Despite replacing Reynolds in center, Suwinski still profiles more as a corner outfielder as his minus-3 defensive runs saved at the position suggest. However, he hasn’t looked terrible in center and his 2.4 bWAR is one full point higher than any other Pirates position player.

LEAST VALUABLE PLAYER

Austin Hedges is a wonderful clubhouse guy, cares about his pitchers as much as any catcher I’ve been around, and the pitching staff and coaching staff love his pitch calling. Hedges’ six defensive runs saved are third on the team behind third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes’ 11 and first baseman Carlos Santana’s eight.

Call me old school but I still believe every player in the batting order needs to contribute at least something and Hedges has been atrocious offensively. He is hitting .179/.230/.232 with six extra-base hits (one homer) in 172 plate appearances. That feeble production doesn’t justify him playing regularly.

CY YOUNG AWARD

Mitch Keller turned the corner during the final four months of last season and has built upon his 2022 success this year with a team-high nine wins in 19 starts. His record is 9-4 to go with a 3.31 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 117 innings.

Just as important is Keller’s ever-evolving demeanor in the clubhouse and on the mound. He has become a well-respected figure in the clubhouse and takes the mound with the confidence of someone who has emerged as an All-Star this year.

CY YUCK AWARD

Chase De Jong had a fine season last year with a 2.64 ERA in 42 relief appearances. It seemed he would be a key member of the bullpen this season and he even bought a home in the Bradenton area last winter so he could work out regularly at the Pirate City facility.

However, De Jong is now at Triple-A Indianapolis during an injury-plagued season. In six relief appearances with the Pirates in 2023, he has allowed six home runs in 11.1 innings, which has contributed to a 13.50 ERA.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Players have been being called up from Indianapolis and making their major league debuts on a regular basis over the last month. None have made a big impact, but right-hander Osvaldo Bido has been solid and provided at least a small boost to a depleted rotation.

Bido is 1-1 with a 4.44 ERA in six games, five of which have been starts, and that’s nothing special. Yet his 101 ERA+ means he has been a tick above major-league average, which isn’t bad for a 27-year-old who was not even invited to major-league spring training.

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