Bob Smizik: It’s still early for the Pirates

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On one side, coming from the half-full crowd, was this argument about the Pirates: We’re better because we’re opening the season with Liriano, Cole and Morton.

On the other side, representing the half-empty crowd, was this argument: They’re worse, because they don't have Burnett, Byrd and Morneau.

And, as the Pirates stand 10-16 and nine games out of first place, the winner is: Neither side.

No question, the half-empty pessimists have the early lead. But, and you’ve heard this before, it’s early.

The full-season status of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton, who debuted May 11, June 11 and June 13 of last year, respectively, has done nothing to strengthen the Pirates -- thus far. All three have pitched below expectations and are part of the problem, as opposed to the solution.

The 2014 performances of the players who did not return has only strengthened the argument of those who believed the Pirates made a mistake in letting them go. Justin Morneau, who failed to homer in over 100 at-bats with the Pirates, is the big story in Colorado. He has five homers, 19 RBIs, which is third in the NL, and a .993 OPS. A.J. Burnett has a 2.15 ERA in six starts with the Phillies. Marlon Byrd, also with the Phillies, has 16 RBIs, two more than any Pirate.

What appears to be a full-scale victory for the half-empty crowd must be viewed from the prism of: It’s early.

If you don’t believe it’s early -- as in too early to determine much of anything -- consider this:

• At the end of April last season, Garrett Jones looked like he was continuing from where he left off in 2012 when he was one of the most dangerous hitters in MLB against right-handed pitching. He had three homers, 15 RBIs and an .884 OPS. Who knew he would drive in only 36 more runs the rest of the season and finish with a miserable .703 OPS?

• Russell Martin had six home runs and a .904 OPS in April. He would hit only nine HRs in the next five months and finish with a .704 OPS.

• Travis Snider was giving indication of finally living up to the hype with a .799 OPS. He finished with .614.

• Jeff Locke was pitching as well or better than any starter -- 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA. He finished so poorly he was not even given a chance to make the team in spring training.

It works both ways.

• Who knew Andrew McCutchen was headed for an MVP season with his April OPS of .731, which became .912 by the end of the season.

None of this is an attempt to wipe away what has happened thus far. The Pirates, expected to regress, have done worse. They are one of the biggest disappointments of the 2014 season. But it is too early -- not quite one month in -- to be making any definitive judgments on how the season will evolve.


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