Jared Hughes: Hughes had the most innings pitched out of the Pirates bullpen this season and overall had a pretty good season. His numbers weren’t dominant as he posted fewer than 6 K/9 but as the Pirates ground ball specialist that appears to be fairly acceptable. Hughes was used in multiple roles this season pitching some long relief at times and even getting a chance to close out a couple of games near the end of the season. There were some knocks against him near the end of the season for allowing a large amount of inherited runners to score but overall he only allowed 10 of 38 for a 26.3% rate. Which is perfectly reasonable. Looking at more traditional numbers like ERA and WHIP Hughes had a great season but he didn’t pitch quite as well as those numbers say even though he was good. The bottom line is Hughes put up a nice 60% ground ball rate and had good numbers supporting that, at a minimum that performance should earn him a middle relief job next season and possibly even give him a chance to win a set up role. Overall Grade: B
Chris Resop: Resop with 73.2 inning pitched had the second most innings out of the Pirates bullpen and did fair in his role. The one discouraging sign is that Resop has always been a strike out pitcher and this season his K/9 rate was down to 5.62 which diminishes his value and overall effectiveness. Usually ERA is not a great indicator of how a relief pitcher did during the course of a season but I think Resop’s 3.91 ERA fits him fairly nicely. He was an average middle reliever this season, the type you should be able to easily find. His WHIP was 1.43 and he allowed 10 of 27 inherited runners to score for a 37.0% rate. Basically Resop is what he is a fungible reliever who is capable of holding down the 6th or 7th spot in a bullpen but a reliever who can be easily upgraded upon. I’m not sure if the Pirates will bring Resop back next season or not but considering he should be relatively easy to replace I expect they will at least consider non tendering him. Overall Grade: C
Joel Hanrahan: Hanrahan threw 14 less innings than Resop and 16 less than Hughes but still received the 3rd most innings of any Pirates reliever. He was used almost exclusively in the 9th inning closer role this season which despite being largely debated by most bloggers is a practice I am relatively ok with. I would like to see some more creativity used but I pretty much accept it for what it is. Hanrahan posted a very strong, 10.11 K/9 but had some massive control problem posting a 5.43 BB/9. There were times this season when Hanrahan looked like his dominating self but there were also long stretches where he looked erratic and largely ineffective. Still more often than not Hanrahan got the job done even if it was not in impressive fashion. Hanrahan inherited only 7 runners this past season and left all of them stranded on the base paths. It was an up and down season for Hanrahan in which his numbers seem to suggest he pitched a whole lot better than he actually did. The Pirates will be able to bring him back next season for probably somewhere in between 7-7.5 million but I expect they will look to deal him. As for this past season I give Hanrahan an Overall Grade: C+
Jason Grilli: Grilli had a strong season posting an unbelievable 13.81 K/9 while posting a slightly high but still reasonable 3.38 BB/9. I think it is pretty clear he had the best season of any Pirates relief pitcher. Grilli pitched the 4th most relief innings for the Pirates this season but only inherited 6 runners which seems preposterous to me considering just how good he was but on the plus side none of the six scored. Grilli did start to get a little shaky near the end of the season but you really couldn’t have asked for much more from him this past season. Quite simply it was a stellar season. Grilli heads into free agency this offseason probably looking at a 2 year contract worth in the neighborhood of 8-10 million dollars. I’m not exactly sure if the Pirates will (or should) give him that kind of money and it will be one of the more interesting stories this offseason. Really not much more than excellent can be said when describing Grilli’s year. Overall Grade: A
Tony Watson: Watson for long stretches of time was the Pirates only lefty in the bullpen which was a large reason why he led the Pirates in relief pitch appearances despite finishing 5th in inning pitched. In addition to some other roles Watson filled this season the Pirates tried Watson as a lefty matchup specialist, it was a role he did ok in but he pitched essentially as well against lefties as he did righties which probably means he is better suited for a more traditional relief role and as a second lefty in the pen. The Pirates will hopefully look for a true lefty specialist this offseason so Watson can be freed up for other duties. Watson’s overall stat line doesn’t really jump off the page at you. I mean 8.94 K/9 is good but not dominating, a 3.38 ERA is good but again not great, and a 1.13 WHIP while very good is not eye-popping. However there was one thing Watson did extremely well this season and that was strand inherited runners. For the season Watson inherited a whopping 61 runners and only allowed 11 to score for a rate of 18.0%. Watson should be back next season as either the primary lefty in the bullpen or maybe as the fireman who comes in to try and put out the fires that the other pitchers started. Overall Grade: B
Brad Lincoln: Earlier I recapped Lincoln as a starting pitcher and he was awful but out of the bullpen he appeared to be an entirely different pitcher. He was as good as if not better than Grilli this season and was really settling into that role and looking good. Lincoln inherited 11 runners while with the Pirates and allowed none of them to score, plus he had an out of this world 99.3% strand rate. Quite simply Brad Lincoln in the bullpen was an awesome weapon Clint Hurdle had at his disposal when he was with the Pirates. We all know the rest though, come the trade deadline he was traded to Toronto for Travis Snider in a move that was praised and criticized by large chunks of the Pirates fan base. His removal from the bullpen no doubt hurt it but how much an impact it had can not really be said. For the record while with Toronto Lincoln was actually quite bad but since I’m judging him just on his performance out of the Pirates bullpen that is neither here nor there. It was a brief 35.2 innings but during that time in the bullpen we got to see the stuff and the talent which made Brad Lincoln a #4 overall pick. Overall Grade: A
Juan Cruz: Cruz pitched exactly the same number of innings as Lincoln did and had a fairly decent season. The overall stat line 8.33 K/9 and 2.78 ERA look pretty good but Cruz was getting very lucky and allowing a lot of base runners posting a 1.63 WHIP. When the Pirates released Cruz it surprised some people but in all reality he wasn’t pitching all that good. Still Cruz had a certain magic to him that allowed him to tip toe out a few tight spots and was certainly worth picking up off the scrap heap this past offseason as an NRI. Essentially Cruz like Resop was an average middle relief pitcher and really there is nothing wrong with that. The Pirates will likely look top pick up another pitcher like Cruz on the scrap heap again this offseason and if they pitch like Cruz did this season it should be considered a success. For the record he inherited 7 runners and allowed only 1 to score for a 14.3% rate. Cruz wasn’t really good but he wasn’t bad either Overall Grade: C
The Rest: The Pirates had another 106.1 innings pitched out of the pen that was picked up by 15 different pitchers. None of them pitched more than 13.2 innings (Qualls) and two of them (McCutchen and McDonald) didn’t even manage to record an out. Rather than go over each one individually I figured I’d lump them all together here. Qualls (13.2 IP) was pretty bad out of the pen but advanced numbers suggest he was unlucky (6.59 ERA, 3.94 xFIP), still his tiny 3.95 K/9 is a red flag. Doug Slaten (13.0 IP) was decent out of the pen but was a little lucky and overall looked like a pretty fungible average lefty relief pitcher. Evan Meek (12.0 IP) was down right awful out of the pen in his limited chances but did pitch rather well in AAA, regardless he is now a free agent and the Pirates have no reason to look at bringing him back. Kyle McPherson (11.2 IP) showed some good things in his limited time in the bullpen which led to him getting a few starts near the end of the season. Chris Leroux (11.1 IP) put up some bad numbers in limited action from the bullpen but pitched far better than those numbers would indicate and appears to be in line for the long relief job in next year’s bullpen. Kevin Correia’s (10.1 IP) time in the bullpen was pretty much like his time in the rotation, mediocre, he wasn’t bad but not good either just decent. Hisanori Takahashi (8.1 IP) posted a good strike out rate (11.88 K/9) but was overall rather bad in his limited action; he is a free agent and probably won’t be brought back. Jeff Karstens (7.1 IP) didn’t get a lot of time in the bullpen but did pitch some average innings out of it late in the season. Bryan Morris (5.0 IP) amazingly pitched very sparingly out of the bullpen this season. Morris is out of options so the Pirates will either need to wave him in 2013 or put him on the roster but yet they really choose not to take much of a look at him. For the record he was fairly good in his 5 innings of work and had a good season in AAA; he should be in the opening day bullpen next season. Justin Wilson (4.2 IP) was a starter in AAA this season but pitched only relief with the Pirates and he did fairly well in his limited opportunities. The Pirates seem to want to keep him starting so he’ll probably return to AAA next season but does have a chance of winning a bullpen job out fo spring training. Jeff Locke (4.1 IP) came up for a fairly odd stint with the Pirates bullpen in which they only intended to use him for long relief so as to not mess up his pitching schedule I guess. Regardless he didn’ allow a run in his brief time and held runners to an absurd .077 BABIP of course nothing can be drawn from that and Locke will of course return to starting next season whether it be in the majors or at AAA. Rick VandenHurk (2.2 IP) got called up to the majors in September on the strength of a good showing in AAA but really didn’t get to show much while with the team. His 2.2 innings weren’t great though he did show he could miss some bats but VandenHurk looks like a possible cut to free up space on the 40 man roster. Wandy Rodriguez (2.0 IP) threw only 2 innings of relief this season and I bet most of you remember those two innings, Rodriguez came in to pitch the 18th and 19th innings of the Pirates 19 inning marathon win over the St Louis Cardinals. For what it is worth he pitched well in those 2 innings and as a starter seemed to settle in nicely with the Pirates rotation after this appearance. Daniel McCutchen (0.0 IP) failed to record an out this season in his only appearance but faced only 2 batters. Considering he wasn’t even called up in September McCutchen is a candidate to be cut this offseason. Finally we have James McDonald (0.0 IP) who liked McCutchen didn’t record a single out but faced 4 batters in the process. At the time he was pitching in relief McDonald had pretty much lost it so there is little surprise he failed to record an out. Hopefully his demotion to the bullpen is just a blip on the radar as McDonald should return to the rotation next season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have built a pitching staff a bit differently than the two traditional models. When thinking about how to build a pitching staff most people think about the Yankees who sign a lot of high profile free agents or the Rays who draft and develop a large stable of good arms. The Pirates however has done none of these. I’m going to explore how the current 12 man pitching staff plus the top reserves came to join the Pirates.
Drafted: Tony Watson, Brad Lincoln, Daniel Moskos, Jared Hughes
Traded: A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan
Free Agents: Erik Bedard, Kevin Correia
Minor League Free Agents: Jason Grilli, Juan Cruz
Waivers: Chris Resop, Chris Leroux
Rule V: Evan Meek
So lets take a closer look at each of the above 17 player’s situations:
Watson: Converted starter, who was given up on by the Littlefield regime
Lincoln: Former top draft pick, who has the look of a bust and is trying to recover some value
Moskos: Highly criticized 1st round pick, who failed as a starter and is trying to make it as a reliever
Hughes: Probably the most typical of the group but he too is a failed starter trying to make it in the bullpen
Burnett: High profile free agent signed by the NYY whom essentially paid the Pirates to take him away
Morton: Major league pitcher who was traded along with two prospects to acquire a decent outfielder in Nate McLouth
McDonald: Major league pitcher who was traded along with a prospect to acquire a relief pitcher, Octavio Dotel
Karstens and McCutchen: The two lesser players the Pirates received in the Nady/Marte deal who’s return was headlined by Tabata and Ohlendorf
Hanrahan: Swapped for Sean Burnett to balance out trade because Nationals thought Milledge for Morgan deal favored Pirates slightly
Bedard: Oft injured fragile pitcher who after a rocky showing in Boston drew little interest this past offseason
Correia: Low level free agent starter signing who the year before the Pirates signed him was sent to the bullpen because of poor perfroamnce
Grilli: Signed from the Phillies AAA team and the Pirates had to give no compensation
Cruz: Minor league free agent signing
Resop and Leroux: Expendable relievers picked up off the waiver wire
Meek: Selected by the Pirates in the Rule V draft and after failing to stay on the roster the Rays essentially gave him to the Pirates
So there you have a collection of cast aways, failed starters, busted first round picks and non-desirables make up your 2012 Pittsburgh Pirate pitching staff. This is a miss-mash rag tag group if I have ever seen one yet I’m rather weirdly comforted by this staff. It isn’t a great staff but this has the ability to be a very good starting staff and with any semblance of offense could help lead the Pirates to a record they haven’t seen in quite a while.
On the flip side the offense, which I have little confidence in, is made of highly touted first round picks, big time former prospects, mid-level free agent signings and depth players who had very successful minor league careers. Just looking at the two side’s resumes one would assume the hitters are the good half of the Pirates and the pitchers are struggling but we all know that is not the case.
Joel Hanrahan: After a terrific season last year as the Pirates closer Hanrahan will once again be the team’s closer. There is no reason not to expect another great season from him. As the anchor of the bullpen Hanrahan should be in line to finish out most of the Pirates’ wins. I would not rule out a midseason trade though because the price of relievers is very high right now and if the Pirates find themselves out of it by the deadline shopping Hanrahan to a contender in need of a late inning reliever would make a lot of sense because they could potential acquire a long term solution for 1B or SS.
Chris Resop: Some thought Resop would be non-tendered but I am happy the Pirates decided to bring him back. Resop’s ability to post high strike out totals makes him good at coming into jams and getting out of them with little damage; I’ve always consider this the fireman role of the bullpen. For most of the season Resop did quite well in this role but he faded as the year went on nonetheless I expect him to return to this role and do fairly well in it.
Jason Grilli: Signed in the middle of last season from the Phillies Grilli came in and did very well. The Pirates choose to bring him back this season and he will be the team’s second highest paid reliever. Grilli has shown the flexibility to pitch late in games, pitch multiple innings and to do some mop up work if necessary. I see Grilli taking on the role of the utility pitcher; this means he will pitch in any and all situations. Grilli is really a non-descript relief pitcher but he seems to mesh well with this team so his respectable performance should be enough to warrant him a spot on the roster for most of the season.
RIGHT HANDED OPTIONS
Evan Meek: Meek will likely get the first crack at the set up role but due to his injuries and inconsistent play last year coupled with the facts the Pirates have a lot of bullpen options and Meek has an option left he is not a lock to make the team. I think last year was a fluke year for Meek and I expect him to make the team and regain his form this season. A healthy effective Meek would make the idea of trading Hanrahan a little easier to swallow or should the Pirates find themselves in a competitive position it would give them a terrific shut down duo for the 8th and 9th innings.
Chris Leroux: There has been some talk about stretching Leroux out to become a starter but I don’t see it happening. Chances are Leroux would have to be sent down to the minors for a while to work as a starter and with no options remaining he would need to be waived for that to be possible. With all that being said Leroux is not a lock to make the team. The Pirates have a lot of good options available and with being out of options he provides less flexibility that most of the people he is competiting with. He is a definite borderline player; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the year in the bullpen or be waived, it could go either way. My prediction is that Leroux will make the bullpen and pitch well but not really do enough to distinguish himself and he will be removed from the roster at some point during the season.
Daniel McCutchen: As of right this minute McCutchen is probably the favorite for the long relief job. Should the Pirates bring in another starter as is rumored the job will likely go to a current projected starter like Kevin Correia. This could leave McCutchen on the outside looking in but with an option remaining he should definitely remain on the Pirates 40 man roster and be called upon some time this season. He might even be called upon to make the occasional spot start this season depending on the health and performance of the Pirates top starting options. There is nothing that wows you about McCutchen but his ability to give multiple innings out of the bullpen makes him a nice option to have around.
Jared Hughes: Hughes came up late last season and pitched pretty well but he is probably a long shot to make the major league roster at this point. He seems to be another pitcher in the same mold as Grilli, Resop and Leroux he can strike people out and his control while a little shaky is good enough to make him a solid relief option. The Pirates will probably call upon him at some point this season and I see no reason why he won’t be a serviceable middle reliever.
Juan Cruz: I believe Cruz is the Pirates answer for replacing Jose Veras. Before signing Cruz the Pirates had Evan Meek and a bunch of other intriguing arms to fill the set up role but what they didn’t have was someone with experience doing it who they could call upon should no one step up and take the role. Cruz gives the Pirates that; he will be the fall back option for the Pirates 7th and 8th inning roles. Cruz is on a minor league contract so he doesn’t have to make the team and very well might not but it is good the Pirates brought him in just in case he is needed. I would really like to see Cruz make the team but unless Meek starts out in AAA I just do not see a spot for him. Probably at some point this season Cruz will get his chance with the Pirates and if so I expect him to put up similar numbers to what Veras did last season.
LEFT HANDED OPTIONS
Tony Watson: Watson is probably the Pirates best option for a left hander out of the bullpen meaning he will likely make the team out of spring training. On the other hand Watson is not a complete product and could definitely use more time in the minors. When pressed into duty last season Watson performed admirably and with no other clear cut options he deserves a chance to prove himself. I am not expecting a great season from Watson but he seems like a serviceable lefty; if one of the below guys or someone else can step up it would be great for the Pirates to get him back to AAA. As it is I see Watson having a serviceable year as the top lefty in the pen and pitching a lot of situational matchups.
Daniel Moskos: Moskos may be the Pirates second best left handed option for the bullpen but he could use AAA work even more than Watson could. With their abundance of right handers I doubt the Pirates will choose to carry two lefties but if they do Moskos has the inside track to be the second lefty. Whether Moskos makes the team or not he is going to be asked to play a role in the majors at some point and I see it going quite well. I have always liked Moskos as a potential late inning left handed reliever and while that will never make him worth the 4th overall pick it should make him a useful player. I predict Moskos will begin to take some late inning situational time away from Watson by the end of the year.
Jo-Jo Reyes: The Pirates signed a slew of depth left handed relievers and I am not going to spend much time of any of them but the one I find most intriguing is Reyes. He has started in the past and has basically only been a passable spot starter but he has shown a good knack for getting lefties out meaning a bullpen role could be good for him. I think he has a chance to make the roster out of spring training but I don’t see it. I am not expecting much from Reyes but I believe he can be a decent reliever if he is needed.
Doug Slaten: Slaten is the definition of a lefty specialist; he is horrible against righties but does well enough against lefties that he still manages to keep a job. Hurdle likes two lefties in the bullpen so Slaten has a chance to make the major league roster but I don’t see it happening. If needed he would be fine if used in a LOOGY role but anything more than that could be scary for Pirate fans.
Brian Tallet: Even with the Pirates lack of left handed options Tallet stands little chance to make the team. I imagine he is here as sort of a last resort back up plan. Chances are Tallet will not play in the majors this season but by some chance he does we shouldn’t expect much. I imagine the Pirates will try to find him a spot in AAA but even that could be tough to do.
Stetson Allie: I have not given up on Allie as a potential starter but it looks as of now that the bullpen is the safer bet and that he will probably be working in that role this season. He has only been pitching for two seasons so of course he is raw I’m not sure why anyone expected anything more from him. Allie has a huge upside but is probably as far away from the majors as the younger Luis Heredia. I think Allie will show progress this season but it will likely be back in short season ball so it won’t exactly send his prospect status soaring. The potential is still very much there though.
Justin Wilson: Wilson could return to starting this season but due to his control issues I see his best fit as the bullpen. When you combined that with the fact the Pirates are light on left handed relievers Wilson could see time in the majors as early as the beginning of this season if he is needed. There were reports of Wilson hitting 99 mph out of the bullpen last season; that would be fantastic from a left handed reliever but I think more realistically we will see him consistently at 95-96 which will still be good. I expect Wilson to get some time in the pen later this season and as long as his control isn’t plain terrible I think it will go rather well.
Bryan Morris: A lot of people have given up on Morris but I haven’t. I see him as the heir apparent to Joel Hanrahan. Would that be a good return for the Jason Bay trade? Well of course not but it would still be great if he could turn into a good closer and I think Morris has the makeup to do just that. Should the Pirates opt to trade Hanrahan (and I think that depends on their contender status this season) I see Morris assuming the closer’s role by the end of the season.
Jeff Inman: Inman has a big upside and is probably easily one of the Pirates most talented pitching prospects. The problem the man can’t stay healthy. He has been in the system 3 years and has thrown just 40 innings. Inman was once considered a starting prospect but at this point I don’t see any way possible he remains a starter. He could have a future as a reliever pitching limited innings but even that would require him to stay healthier. Considering his low inning workload I would be surprised to see the Pirates start him above A+ but he could find himself in AA at some point. If he manages to stay healthy I can see him putting up very good numbers but that is a very big if at this point.
Duke Welker: The Pirates protected Welker from the Rule V draft this offseason, considering they had quite a few options they could have protected it shows they must think rather highly of Welker. He does have good stuff for a reliever and appears to have the making of a late inning reliever but for some reason I just don’t have a strong feeling about him. I see Welker struggling as a reliever in the majors but I don’t really know why, it is really just a hunch. Anyway Welker should start the season in AA but if he does well he is a candidate for an early promotion to AAA. He could even have an impact in the majors this season but I don’t see that happening.
Zac Fuesser: Fuesser is my second left handed pitching prospect on this list. He appears destined for a relief spot even though he did start 11 games last year and pitched over 100 innings. With so many other pitching prospects around him Fuesser has mainly been used in a piggy back role meaning he pitches but only after a more highly thought of prospect gets his work in. He will be in A+ this season and with a stacked starting rotation he will probably get little consideration there but could be called upon often as a long reliever. Fuesser’s true development as a reliever probably won’t start to next season when the prospects start to separate themselves from the filler but the fact he is left handed gives him a respectable chance at making an impact in the majors at some point.
Summary: For 2012 the bullpen appears to be fairly strong. My only real concern about it is that it will be overworked but hopefully the Burnett acquisition will alleviate that some. The Pirates have a good mix of right handers but are really lacking left handed options at the moment. The relievers are by no means a lock to be effective but I think considering the number of options the Pirates have available it is pretty safe to assume they will be able to find a mix that provides them with good stability this season and that is really all you can ask from a bullpen. For next season the Pirates have an intriguing mix of young pitchers who are coming up in relief roles that should allow the Pirates to cut loose some of their more expensive middle relief options. As far as long term goes it is always difficult to know exactly what pitchers will end up relievers but it appears as if the Pirates should have some options and chief among might be a fireball closer in Stetson Allie (although we should hold out hope he ends up starting).