The Pirates essentially finalized their 25 man roster earlier today. Technically speaking there are still a few additional players in camp but all of them are expected to begin the season on the DL. Overall the roster is constructed in a very expected manner and while it is not how I would have went about doing it most of the decisions are at least somewhat understandable. There are always going to be people who complain about the fringes of the 25 man roster but at the end of the day those fringes really do not matter much, it is the core of the team and the overall depth (bench, bullpen and minor leagues) that will determine the fate of a team. The 5th starter, the 5th bench spot and the 7th reliever are not really positions that will dramatically alter the course of a team so the overreaction to the Pirates decisions on those roster spots is likely overblown. With all that in mind let’s take a look at how the Pirates roster looks headed into Opening Day.
C: Russell Martin
1B: Garrett Jones
2B: Neil Walker
3B: Pedro Alvarez
SS: Clint Barmes
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Travis Snider
BN: Michael McKenry, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, John McDonald, Josh Harrison
SP: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke
RP: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez
In reality the only players I would remove from the roster if I was in charge of its construction would be McDonald, Harrison (eventually Inge) and Gomez. In their place I would prefer to see Mercer, De Jesus and Morris. The other change I would like to see made is swapping Wilson and J Sanchez. Wilson is younger and in my opinion more likely to be able to contribute to the rotation for a few starts while Sanchez at this point is probably best suited trying to turn his career around as a lefty reliever. Even these changes though are for the most part temporary. When Liriano comes back I would most likely opt to bump Wilson from the rotation, when Karstens comes back I would most likely opt to bump Morris from the bullpen and I can even understand the argument for wanting McDonald over De Jesus. I don’t get Harrison or Inge over Mercer though. I know Mercer can’t play the outfield while the other sort of kind of can but the Pirates have enough options where they shouldn’t be considering playing infielders in the outfield anyway. The other advantage Inge has is supposedly power but people seem to forget Mercer has a little pop in his bat as well, it was just 2011 when he lead the Pirates minor leagues in home runs. Still arguments over the last bench spot are basically trivial and irrelevant. I don’t get why the Pirates need two (or even one) veteran middle infielders on the bench who can’t hit but in reality the difference between them and the other options is most likely negligible.
With that rather long disclaimer out-of-the-way I figured now was as good as time as any to take a look at the players the Pirates have opted to bring north.
The starting infield is what we expected it to be all along. Russell Martin behind the dish will be counted on to provide solid defense and hopefully will produce somewhere in the vicinity of league average offense from the catcher position. The Pirates likely overpaid for him but if his superior pitch framing skills are actually real and not just a product of catching for guys like C.C. Sabathia then there is a chance he lives up the contract or maybe even provides some surplus value. I’m not expecting much in terms of offense from him but if he can be non horrible and provide the Pirates with an OPS around .700 I would take it.
Garrett Jones likely won’t be playing full-time at first base but assuming the Pirates actually stick to regularly platooning him this season he should get about 70% of the starts. Jones is here for essentially one purpose, to provide the Pirates with relatively cheap power. The rest of Jones’ game is fairly unremarkable from his defense to his baserunning but he is a fair hitter with plus power. That doesn’t make him a super valuable piece but it makes him an asset in the middle of the order. On the hot corner will reside Pedro Alvarez. Like Jones, Alvarez could probably benefit by sitting against some left handers but hopefully the Pirates give him a chance to prove his worth against them. Also like Jones, Alvarez is here to provide the Pirates with some power but unlike Jones, Alvarez has enough power potential where he could develop into an extremely valuable piece. Alvarez is going to strike out too much and not play the best defense at third but if he can show a little more plate discipline, draw a few more walks and continue blasting home runs he is going to have a lot of value.
Up the middle Neil Walker figures to get nearly every start at 2nd base and assuming Inge takes Harrison spot he better be starting everyday as the Pirates really won’t have a viable alternative on the 25 man roster. He had some back problems near the end of last season which bares watching but in reality any injury to him would really hurt the Pirates. It is unclear whether Hurdle plans to use him near the top of the order or more towards the bottom but given the fact he is one of the few Pirates players with a decent knack for getting on base placing him near the top (or eve at the top) of the order would probably be the wisest decision. Up the middle with Walker is Clint Barmes. Barmes’s value comes almost entirely from his ability to field the shortstop position very well but even so he is going to have to improve upon last year’s numbers to be of much use to the Pirates. Over the last 4 months of 2012 Barmes posted an OPS of around .650 and if he is able to do that for an entire season he won’t be the most glamorous shortstop but he will give the Pirates value.
The starting outfield is pretty much what we expected all along. There was a quasi competition for the corner spots but for the most part those were basically just made up as it was rather clear who should be the starters. In center field the Pirates will once again have their superstar Andrew McCutchen. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is likely one of the best 10 players in the game today and in order for the Pirates to have any chance of competing he will need to perform at a MVP caliber level. McCutchen did have a few flaws last year though and hopefully this season he will improve upon them. Last season he struggled stealing bases and was a little on the weak side defensively. Considering the rest of his game these are minor points of course but shoring them up would only make him more valuable.
In the corners the Pirates will use Starling Marte and Travis Snider. I expect to see both of them rested, especially Snider, on a fairly consistent basis but they will both get a long chance to prove themselves. Marte has plus speed and is a great defender so even if he struggles with the bat this season he is likely to still provide the Pirates with value. By no means is Marte’s bat weak though as he has the potential to possibly be the Pirates second best hitter this season behind only McCutchen. Marte is likely going to be forced into the leadoff spot a role he isn’t really suited for since he has some strike out issues but if he can maintain a high average and show any improvement in plate discipline he should be serviceable there. In the other corner will be Snider. He doesn’t have the speed or defense of Marte so he is going to have to hit to create value. People tend to think him hitting is less likely than Marte hitting well but in reality I think its a pretty even race. Snider has shown flashes in the past and comes with more power potential than Marte. The Pirates in order to have a shot at competing probably need one of these two to break out and become a true plus player and the other one will have to at least hold his own and be an average starter.
As I have previously stated the construction of the bottom of the bench really doesn’t matter a whole lot but the players near the top of the bench will likely get a lot of playing time so they will matter a good deal. The top player on the bench is likely Gaby Sanchez and he is expected to pick up the 30% or so of the starts that Garrett Jones doesn’t get at 1st base. Ideally Sanchez would bounce back to his 2010-11 form but that doesn’t really seem likely. In reality all the Pirates need him to be is a good bat against LHP and a good PH option off the bench two roles I think he’ll have no problem handling. Jose Tabata could potentially wind up in a similar situation to Sanchez only in right field. It is possible he winds up platooning with Snider and if that is the case he too will have to hit very well against left handed pitching. Tabata has the upside for more though. At this point he isn’t likely to develop into your traditional starting corner outfielder but he has very good plate discipline and that alone has the potential to make him a valuable asset atop the order. His speed although it has been questioned is still above average and his defense is probably around average as well. Tabata has the makings of an OBP first starting corner outfielder or a solid 4th outfielder. He is likely to be the second most important bench player.
The third most important bench spot and the last I see with much value will go to Michael McKenry. As the backup catcher he is likely to get at least 60 starts this season and will need to continue hitting as well as he did last season to provide value in those starts. His defense is decent but often overrated by Pirates fans but his bat can make him a solid backup catcher. The last two spots are currently slated to go to Harrison and McDonald but Inge will likely eventually assume Harrison’s role. In my mind the most important of these spots is the Harrison/Inge spot. This is supposedly the offensive first infield bench spot so whoever holds it down is going to have to actually you know hit at a respectable level. McDonald will serve as Barmes backup and though he is probably a touch worse both offensively and defensively his presence in the lineup for a day here or there shouldn’t really cause a noticeable difference.
Right now the Pirates rotation is a bit of mess. At the top of it the Pirates have probably one of the best one-two punches they have had in a while in AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Neither one is a true ace but both seem like fairly safe bets to put up solid numbers this season. At 36 and 34 years old respectively there is of course the chance that either Burnett or Rodriguez has reached the end of their rope as pitchers but with how both of them pitched last year it seems likely they probably have another year or two of value left in them at least. Behind them is James McDonald who si the ultimate wildcard for the Pirates. If there is a true ace currently in the Pirates rotation it is James McDonald. McDonald showed us in the first half of the season last year that he has the talent to be a number one starting pitcher but he showed us in the second half of the year that he isn’t ready to be that yet and possibly never will be. What James McDonald the Pirates get this year, potential ace, borderline #5 starter or somewhere in between will probably be one of the biggest factors in how the Pirates season winds up.
Rounding out the rotation are a pitcher who amazingly actually has a wider range of possible outcomes than McDonald and a pitcher who looks like a fair bet to be a solid a back end guy but who has yet to prove it at the major league level. Jonathan Sanchez is another wildcard in the Pirates rotation but he is even less likely to pay off than McDonald. If Sanchez can keep his control problems at a minimum he will have an excellent chance of being a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Pirates but if he can’t he will most definitely be a total disaster. The Pirates really can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be expecting much from him. If Sanchez can give the Pirates 3 or 4 non-horrible starts in the month of April without completely exploding then it should be considered a success. The other pitcher Locke is a different story. Locke pitched exceptionally well in AAA last season but in his short stint in the majors was the victim of a very unlucky high home run rate. Assuming the high home rate drops this season which it will almost assuredly do I’m fairly confident Locke can become a solid #4 starter for the Pirates and mange to keep them in almost every game. He isn’t the flashiest pitcher but his performance in AAA has earned him this shot.
The back of the bullpen will consist of Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes. These four actually make for a fairly solid quartet of arms. Grilli has been successful in a set up and middle relief role the last two seasons and will inherit the closer role this year. Melancon struggled last year in April and was sent down to the minors but when he returned to the majors he pitched pretty well The two of them , Grilli and Melancon, will likely be the Pirates 8th and 9th inning duo. By no means is this the best back end duo in the league but the tandem should be able to close out most leads that are handed over to them. Watson and Hughes were rather successful last season in their middle relief roles and will be counted on this season in later inning situations. Hughes will probably inherit the 7th inning role and Watson will continue being the top left handed releiver in the bullpen. The success of these two last year makes it fairly likely the adjustment should be relatively smooth.
At the front of the bullpen trying to bridge the gap to the back 4 guys will be Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux and Jeanmar Gomez. All 3 pitchers are capable of throwing multiple innings and all will likely be called upon to do so throughout the year. Wilson provides the Pirates with a second lefty and one who is more of a strike out pitcher. Leroux and Gomez will likely pick up most of the long relief duties. Both are out of options and one of them is likely to be released once pitchers began to get healthy so it will be sort of an extended competition for the duo. Leroux appears to have the more upside but Gomez has more major league experience. Leroux and Gomez are both fairly replaceable relievers so they will have to pitch well this season to remain with the team.
With only 11 days left until Opening Day I thought it was time to take my final crack at predicting which 25 guys the Pirates will take north with them.
Catchers: Russell Martin, Michael McKenry
Both Martin and McKenry are healthy and appear ready to begin the year. There has been some talk about the Pirates looking for a catcher but I imagine that would only be as a depth option for AAA. These two have been locks to make the team since Spring Training began and nothing has changed that.
1st Base: Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez
Despite battling an injury early in the spring Jones now appears at full strength and should be ready to open the year as the Pirates regular 1st baseman. The plan all along this spring was to have Jones be the starter and for Gaby Sanchez to platoon with hm and pick up the starts against left handed starters. Sanchez has also been working out at third this spring and will hopefully be a viable alternative there.
2nd Base: Neil Walker
Fairly straight forward here. Walker is healthy and is the Pirates everyday 2nd baseman.
3rd Baseman: Pedro Alvarez
Again no rocket science here. Alvarez struck out a lot last season and has been struggling this spring but the Pirates have little choice but to let him have a shot at being an everyday or close to it 3rd baseman.
Shortstop: Clint Barmes, John McDonald
Before yesterday it wasn’t so clear just who would be backing up Barmes but the acquisition of McDonald clears things up quite a bit. Barmes will start on most days but when he needs a breather or is pinched hit for late in games McDonald will see some time in the field at shortstop.
Left Field: Starling Marte
Contrary to popular belief I don’t think Marte had a starting spot nailed down headed into Spring Training but from all reports he has looked great and his numbers have been solid so he will now undoubtedly as he should start the year as the everyday left fielder.
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen
Duh, who else would it be?
Right Field: Travis Snider, Jose Tabata
Some thought Sands or possibly Presley or even Hawpe may factor into right field mix at the beginning of Spring Training but it became fairly clear early on that the spot was Snider’s to lose and that in all likelihood Tabata would make the team as the 4th outfielder and split time with Snider in right taking most of the starts against left handed pitchers.
Starting Pitcher: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Locke
Burnett, Rodriugez and McDonald have long been assumed and nothing from this spring changes that. The three of them will form the Pirates top 3 going into the season. The last two spots have looked like a bit of mess all Spring Training as Liriano hasn’t been healthy at all and Karstens really hasn’t been either. Locke hasn’t exactly separated himself from the pack but he was a favorite for a job headed into spring training and no one has really over took him at this point.
Bullpen: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Chris Leroux
Things have gotten a lot less settled in the Pirates bullpen in the last couple of days. Grilli, Melancon and Hughes were all assumed to essentially be locks since the beginning and nothing has changed on that front. Also considered near locks were Tony Watson and Bryan Morris bu Watson has only pitched sporadicly and Morris apparently has an option remaining meaning he could start in the minors without the Pirates having to risk losing him. Leroux is out of options and has had a pretty strong spring so I expect the Pirates to keep him on the roster and not risk losing him.
For those of you not keeping track at home that is only 20 players meaning there are still 5 spots available. These are the 5 that I think still come with some uncertainty.
Bench (1): Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Alex Presley, Felix Pie, Brad Hawpe, Jordy Mercer, Ivan De Jesus, Jared Goedert
At this point there is only one bench spot remaining and all the above players still vying for it. With the acquisition of McDonald I assume Mercer and De Jesus are out of the running. Non roster invitees Hawpe and Goedert seem like long shots and are unlikely to make the team. That leaves Harrison, Inge, Presley and Pie. I would prefer to see the Pirates use this last spot on the best offensive player but knowing how Huntington and Hurdle like to construct a roster I think this last bench spot is likely to go to an infielder with some versatility so that eliminates Presley and Pie. This final spot in my mind is down to Harrison and Inge. To date Inge has shown nothing tha hints he would be an asset to this team so I expect the Pirates will opt to carry Josh Harrison as the final bench player.
Rotation (1): Jeff Karstens, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeanmar Gomez
Before his disastrous start yesterday I would have said McPherson would get the last spot if Karstens wasn’t ready to go but now I’m not too sure. I still can’t imagine any scenario in which Gomez gets the nod but the Pirates are keeping Sanchez starting and have to make a decision on him by the 24th. I think there are serious doubts that Karstens will be ready by the start of the season but right now I’m still inclined to say he will take the last rotation spot.
Bullpen (3): Bryan Morris, Tony Watson, Jeanmar Gomez, Justin Wilson, Ryan Reid, Mike Zagurski, Jonathan Sanchez
Although he still has an option remaining Bryan Morris remains in my opinion one of the Pirates strongest options for the bullpen so despite the fact there is now a chance he could start the year in the minors I still expect to see him as part of the bullpen on Opening Day. Watson has me legitimately concerned at this point and I am now leaning towards the idea of him not being ready by Opening Day and actually starting the season in the minors. I’m expecting the Pirates to carry two left handers in the bullpen to start the season regardless of Watson’s health so assuming everything breaks as I predict that leaves no room for Reid or Gomez and makes the final two spots a battle between Wilson, Zagurski and Sanchez. At this point I can’t see Sanchez making the team unless they opt to have him start in the rotation so my prediction is the final two spots will go to Wilson and Zagurski.
Lineup: Marte (LF), Walker (2B), McCutchen (CF), Alvarez (3B), Jones (1B), Martin (C), Snider (RF), Barmes (SS)
Bench: McKenry (C), Sanchez (1B-3B), McDonald (2B-3B-SS), Tabata (OF), Harrison (2B-3B-SS-OF)
Rotation: Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald, Locke, Karstens
Bullpen: Grilli (CL), Melancon (SU), Hughes, Morris, Leroux, Wilson (LH), Zagurski (LH)
Due to the nature of the job the bullpen arms perform I am not going to bother predicting exact numbers for each player but instead focus on a more general idea of what my expectation is for each player. With a small sample of innings the numbers of bullpen pitchers can vary greatly without there being much variance in their actual performance. As a whole thought I’m expecting the Pirates bullpen to be roughly like the rest of the team which is basically around average. It’s tough to put a number on the bullpen but I could see them being worth roughly 1.5-2.0 WAR this season.
Grill enters the 2013 season as the Pirates closer which is a role he has yet to fill in his professional career. Last season and even in 2011 Grill was outstanding first in middle relief and then in set up duty for the Pirates. His strike out rate last season was amongst the best in the majors and for quite a stretch of time he seemed almost unhittable. Still truth be told Grilli isn’t a spring chicken and the drop off for baseball players can be quick and when coupled with the violate nature of relief pitchers it is certainly possible Grilli could struggle. My expectation is though that he’ll handle the closer role adequately and be an average closer for the Pirates. Grilli will likely regress from his strong 2012 but he should still have a solid 2013.
Melancon was the key piece of the Joel Hanrahan deal and is actually fairly similar to the Hanrahan the Pirates originally acquired. He is coming off a terrible 2012 but that is largely due to a few poor innings at the beginning of the season. Melancon is currently the favorite to take over the set up role and I think he can do quite well in that role. He is familiar with the NL Central and was actually rather successful in it back in 2011 when he was part of the Houston Astros. Melancon doesn’t strike a lot of batters about but his rate isn’t extremely low either and paired with his high ground ball rate he has the makings of a very solid bullpen arm. Melancon is very likely to rebound from his poor 2012 season and I could even see him getting a few save opportunities this season.
Watson is the Pirates most experienced and at this point best left handed relief option. Make no mistake he isn’t a dominating pitcher but he has shown a nice ability to come in and pitch out of tight spots the last couple years and that is something that can’t be overlooked. I think the Watson we have seen the last year and a half or so is essentially what Watson is. He is a solid left handed middle reliever who should perform well during the season. My expectation is more of the same.
Hughes saw a rather alarming drop in his strike out rate last year but it was at least coupled with a lower walk rate. I have trouble believing his strike out rate won’t at least recover some in 2013 and although I’m hopeful it won’t I imagine his walk rate will also increase. Hughes is never going to be one to strike many batters out though so as long as he shows a slight improvement in his strike out rate his ground ball rate should be enough to keep him effective in 2013. The Pirates may let Hughes compete with Melancon early on for the set up role but I think he is best suited for a middle relief job where he can be called on to try and induce a groundball when one is needed. Hughes is another one like Watson who I think what we have seen is what we are going to get. I’m expecting some variation with his strike out and walk rates but I imagine his overall numbers will stay about the same.
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).