There has been a lot of news lately about the Pirates seeking a starting pitcher but also about how they are comfortable with the internal options they have. The Pirates do have a fair number of internal options but it doesn’t appear like it is quite enough to go in to the season with. So lets take a look at those internal options the Pirates are currently counting on.
Locks For The Rotation
The Pirates have 3 locks for the starting rotation heading into the season. A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald all should start the season in the rotation and each one of them could be candidates to make 30+ starts and pitch 200+ innings but then again there are age concerns surrounding Burnett and Rodriguez and consistency questions surrounding McDonald. The Pirates are likely hoping that this trio can contribute roughly half of the starts they need in the 162 game season. More realistically though anywhere from 70-75 starts would be a good total.
Competing For A Rotation Spot
The Pirates have 3 players who look as if they are competing for the final 1 or 2 rotation spots in the rotation. These players are Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and Vin Mazzaro. All three of these players could definitely have a positive impact on the rotation but then again all 3 of them are untested and unproven. Locke and McPherson both showed flashes of talent near the end of last season and of the 2 Locke seems to be the most polished and ready to take on a big league job. Mazzaro is out of options so the Pirates are either going to have to start the year with him on the 25 man roster or waive him. I really don’t see him as a starter but I expect the Pirates will give him a chance to compete for a job. I’m sure the Pirates would love to get 50-60 starts from this trio but I just don’t see it. If they can get anywhere from 30-35 starts that would be a success.
Mid Season Help
The Pirates have two players who look they will be ready to provide rotation depth some time around the middle of the year. Charlie Morton should b coming back from injury and Gerrit Cole should be polished enough from the minor league to make his debut. I have my doubts about Morton getting ready in the short 30 day window he will have but the Pirates appear to be counting on that so we will see. As for Cole we all know he is the top prospect and should make a very anticipated debut this season but we shall see how he fares and how long it takes him to get here. Both pitchers certainly have the talent to fill rotation spots for this club but again there is nothing for certain here. Ideally these guys would be able to provide a half a season each which would give them 30 starts but 15-20 would be a pretty good amount.
There are two prospects outside of Gerrit Cole who appear like they could possibly make a start for the Pirates some time this season. They are Jameson Taillon and Phillip Irwin. Chances are neither will be ready until August at the earliest so counting on the for more than a handful of starts can’t be done. Taillon is of course a top prospect and Irwin is a very stable arm who with just a few months of AAA time could be a Jeff Karstens like starter for the Pirates. Again these two are talented and may play a key role in 2014 but in 2013 anything more than a taste of the majors would be highly unlikely. Around 5 starts is all that can be expected from this duo and even that may be high.
Good Stuff, Poor Control
The Pirates have two left handers who have great stuff but little control. It is uncertain rather the Pirates see them as starters or relievers right now but one would think they will each get a chance at starting in AAA at least to begin the season. These two players are Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver. Both of them are power lefties who if they can even slightly improve their control could be great starters or dominating back end relievers but that is one very big if there. The Pirates shouldn’t be counting on this pair for any starts but it would be a huge bonus if they could make some. I wouldn’t count on them for any but it wouldn’t surprise me to see 10+ starts out of this duo if one or both can take significant strides this season. More likely though these two will serve as bullpen options.
The rest of the Pirates options are players who look better suite for relief work but could step up and make a spot start if needed. They are Chris Leroux, Rick VandenHurk, Zach Stewart and Chad Beck. These guys are really just emergency starters so if the Pirates need these guys for more than 1-2 starts things have probably gone horribly wrong. I would imagine that some of these guys will not even be with the Pirates at the start if the year and if they are 1 or 2 of them are likely to be removed from the roster.
So how many starts do we have from the internal options:
Mid Season: 20
The Rest: 10
The Pirates would probably be able to get by with what they have but my fairly realistic numbers seem to suggest that unless they get good luck in regards to health or are planning to count on players who they probably shouldn’t they are going to come up about 20 starts short. I believe it is important to avoid giving starts to players who just don’t appear ready and to have some backup plans should injuries arise. It is rather apparent to me that right now the Pirates need to bring in one more dependable starter because otherwise making it through the year is going to be rather difficult and could even get ugly. So the talk about Capuano and Porcello has plenty of merit and I expect the Pirates pursuit for their them or another pitcher will start to pick up in the coming weeks.
The Pirates have made a few moves so far this offseason but the team is by no means complete. Logically this raise the question what should the team do next? Well I figured this was as good a time as any to take a look at where the team as constructed stands.
Starter: Russell Martin
Backup: Michael McKenry
Depth: Tony Sanchez, Ramon Cabrera, Ali Solis
Outlook: The Pirates have a solid starter in Martin who will hopefully put up average numbers for the position and a decent backup in McKenry they know is ready to step up and take a good chunk of playing time should he be called on to do so. In addition the Pirates have two solid prospects in Sanchez and Cabrera waiting at the AAA level and added Solis to serve as emergency depth just like Eric Fryer did last season. In an ideal world you would like to see the Pirates add a veteran 3rd catcher, much like Jose Morales last season, but in all likelihood what you see is what you are going to get here and that really isn’t a bad thing.
Starters: Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes
Backups: Brock Holt, Josh Harrison, Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer
Depth: Anderson Hernandez, Jared Goedert
Outlook: The Pirates have two of thier key regulars in Walker and Alvarez manning 2B and 3B respectively. At the other starting positions Clint Barmes provides a great glove but a weak bat so in an ideal situation looking for an upgrade over him would be on the agenda. In the real world immediate upgrades at the shortstop position are hard to come by so the Pirates should be looking for a replacement for Barmes in 2014 and beyond. The bench provides an interesting cast of characters who can play all 3 positions but not one of them is a proven commodity. Keeping two of them on the major league bench would be a bad idea so the Pirates should be exploring the market for a backup at these positions. As far as depth is concerned the Pirates have a couple minor league veterans should an emergency arise.
Starters: Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Travis Snider
Backups: Clint Robinson, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley
Depth: Matt Curry, Matt Hague, Jeff Larish, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, Adalberto Santos
Outlook: The Pirates have a lot of talent in the 1B/OF department but also a lot of question marks. At 1B Jones and Sanchez has the making of a good platoon but the Pirates are shopping Jones which is the right move considering his contract situation and the year he is coming off of. The Pirates shouldn’t trade him for nothing but a good return such as a shortstop for 2014 and beyond needs to be taken if offered. In the outfield the Pirates have one of the best players in the game in McCutchen and two young unproven players in Marte and Snider. Ideally you don’t want both players starting in the outfield to begin the season but once again this isn’t an ideal world. The Pirates should be considering bringing in a more proven outfielder but I understand the reasons they may choose not to do so. As far as the backups go Robinson provides the Pirates with an interesting fall back choice should they be successful in trading Jones. It would be risky to go into the season with him and Sanchez manning 1B but it might just be worth it. As the roster is currently constructed Presley and Tabata figure to fight for one bench spot. Presley is the more prototypical 4th outfielder but Tabata has the OBP skills the team is missing and since he is a righty would be able to spell Snider against tough lefties. Between those two the Pirates should have a solid 4th outfielder. As far as depth the Pirates have two solid prospects in Curry and Santos waiting in the wings and have a plethora of minor league depth to call upon if needed.
Locks: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald
Competing: Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro, Rick VandenHurk
Depth: Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton, Brooks Brown, Zach Stewart, Chris Leroux,
Outlook: Burnett and Rodriguez look like solid pieces of the rotation. They are getting up there in age but the Pirates have little choice but to move ahead with them. McDonald is a big question mark but with all the positives he showed last season the Pirates agin have little choice but to move on with him as part of the rotation. Following those 3 the Pirates have a handful of players who look like non-horrible candidates to start the season as a 5th starter but in no way should two of them be counted on to begin the year. The Pirates absolutely have to look to acquire another starter who is a lock for the rotation. I believe this is the most important thing left to do. I would also like to see a more major league testes starter brought in on a minor league contract to compete for the 5th spot. Locke and McPherson would be solid 5th and 6th starters to begin the season but as 4th and 5th starters with little behind them the Pirates have a big hole. The rest of the players competing will ideally be reduced to bullpen roles or AAA depth. As for the depth the Pirates have a mixture of solid prospects, minor league vets and bullpen arms capable of making a start if needed. Aside from that there is Morton who will hopefully be back mid season and Cole who will hopefully be polished enough to make his debut by mid season. Those two will hopefully being to boost the rotation come the middle of the year.
Locks: Joel Hanrahan, Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris
Competing: Chris Leroux, Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson, Rick VandenHurk, Zach Stewart, Chad Beck, Duke Welker
Depth: Victor Black, David Bromberg, Erik Cordier, Mike Zagurski, Ryan Reid
Outlook: The bullpen is a mess right now. The Pirates are considering trading Hanrahan a move which they should consider but the value is likely to be low so if they don’t get something worthwhile he could always return and be the anchor for the pen. Outside of him Hughes, Watson and Morris look like sure bets to be part of next year’s bullpen and all of them should be solid. Next up is a large number of players competing for those final bullpen jobs. Its really anyone’s guess as to who will get them and to be honest the Pirates should feel perfectly comfortable with 2 arms coming out of that group. Serving as depth should injuries mount is a typical assortment of minor league depth and Victor Black who looks like a good back of the bullpen prospect. If he shows improved control he could be a quick addition. If Hanrahan is traded a proven bullpen arm or two should be added but even if he remains the Pirates should probably look for one anyway.
What They Need To Do?
1) Acquire a starting pitcher who can pitch a lot of quality innings.
2) Acquire a starting pitcher who will be able to compete for the 5th spot and provide depth in AAA
3) Keep their minds open to all possible trades especially Hanrahan and Jones
4) Look for a future replacement for Barmes at SS
5) Acquire 1 or 2 solid bullpen arms
6) Continue to stockpile bullpen options for the final 2 spots
7) Acquire a good utility player capable of playing the middle infield to improve the bench
Moves that Would be Made in an Ideal World
1) Acquire a veteran 3rd catcher to serve as depth in AAA
2) Acquire a proven 1B/OF so Marte and Snider don’t both play everyday
3) Acquire an immediate upgrade at the shortstop position
4) Acquire 2 young pieces to the starting rotation which would allow the possibility of moving Burnett or Rodriguez
5) Acquire 2 or 3 good arms for the bullpen
Top Prospects 6-10
10. Kyle McPherson: McPherson was taken by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2007 making him one of the few Littlefield selections remaining on the list. McPherson’s strength is his ability to command the strike zone and his stuff is fairly good as well. He can get his fastball up into the mid 90s although it sits in the low 90s and he has a pretty good curve and change up to complement it. He is a fly ball pitcher so he can be susceptible to the home run. McPherson started his pro career in 2007 down in rookie ball and pitched how you would expect a college pitcher to pitch against high schoolers. The good performance earned him a taste at A- where he didn’t fare so well in 3 starts. McPherson returned to A- in 2008 and pitched fairly well except he left up a lot of home runs. The Pirates started McPherson out in extended Spring Training to begin the 2009 season and then eventually sent him to A ball. He pitched decently there, even cutting down on his home runs. While his performance was decent it must not have satisfied the Pirates as surprisingly once A- started playing they sent him back to that level but this time around he pitched very well. In 2010 McPherson once again started the season in A ball but this time he was a much different pitcher. His strike out rate rose significantly and his numbers drastically improved. He received a promotion to A+ near the end of the season and was outstanding in two relief appearances. The Pirates surprisingly added him to the 40 man roster in the offseason. He opened 2011 in A+ and made the Pirates decision look like a good one as he made 12 very good starts before being promoted to AA and he continued to pitch well there. McPherson was slated to begin the 2012 season in AAA but a shoulder injury caused the Pirates to hold him back and then start him back in AA. His numbers were worse than the previous season but still fairly good, surprisingly he stayed at the AA level until August. Once promoted to AAA McPherson rolled off 3 great starts which led to a promotion to the majors. McPherson pitched well in his time with the big club and is a candidate to start 2013 in the Pirates rotation. Whether he is with the Pirates to begin the season or not expect to see McPherson make quite a few starts for the Pirates next season.
9. Clay Holmes: Holmes was drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2011 draft. He was yet another tall (6’5″) projectable right handed pitcher, the type this Pirates staff just seems to love selecting. Holmes has a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a slider which shows signs of being a plus pitch and of course like most high school pitchers he is in the process of developing a change up. The one knock on him was his delivery which was said to be erratic leading a lot of scouts to believe he would be a project. Holmes appeared to be a tough sign for the Pirates but on the last day they agreed to sign him for a 9th round record of 1.2 million. Holmes signed to late to see any action in 2011 so he made his pro debut this past season at the A- level. Holmes pitched very well at this level limiting batters to a .176 average against him. He had a sparkling 2.28 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. On the down side though he failed to strike many batters out and had some control problems posting a 4.4 BB/9. The control problems were not a constant problem though as a lot of his outings were fine but he had a few where it looked like he could barely throw a strike at all. Holmes has a huge amount of upside but is still a very raw product. The fact he wasn’t missing many bats is slightly concerning but he is still young enough that not too much should be read into that. Holmes will probably open the season in A ball and what to watch for is if he can show better command in his second year as a professional pitcher, if he does Holmes could climb higher on the prospect charts.
8. Nicholas Kingham: Kingham was drafted by the Pirates in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. At this point he is essentially Clay Holmes but one year further along in development. Kingham is another tall projectable right hander who throws in the low 90s and has an assortment of high potential secondary pitches. For Kingham that includes a decent looking change up and a curve that is still a little raw. Kingham made a couple of brief relief appearances in rookie ball in 2010, he pitched well but it was only a 3 inning sample size. The Pirates promoted him to A- the following season and he pitched well posting a 2.15 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. On the downside like Holmes this year Kingham didn’t strike a lot of guys out but did manage to show good control. Kingham was able to post 6 wins which is fairly rare for a low level starting pitcher because they typically aren’t allowed to pitch the 5 innings needed to qualify. The Pirates opted to send Kingham to A ball to begin 2012 and he had sort of an odd season there. He posted a 4.39 ERA which would indicate his performance was just average but his peripherals tell a different story as he saw a bump in his strike out rate to 8.3 K/9, kept his walks under control and kept his WHIP at a low 1.19. Kingham had a slow start to the season posting a 5.22 ERA in the first half but finished strong with a 1.68 ERA over his last 9 starts. He was a popular pick in 2012 to have a breakout season and while he didn’t he did show many good signs that he was developing as a pitcher and that will probably once again make him a popular break out pick going into the 2013 season. Kingham should open at the A+ level and is certainly one who has the potential to quickly elevate his prospect status.
7. Barrett Barnes: The Pirates drafted Barnes in the 2012 draft with the supplemental pick they received for Ryan Doumit signing with the Twins. Barnes signed with the Pirates for slightly below slot but was not an overdraft as he was taken with 45th overall selection and rated the 41st best prospect overall by Baseball America. Barnes is an interesting player as scouts are split on whether he profiles best as a corner outfielder or a center fielder. The Pirates for now are using him as center fielder but that could change as quickly as next season. The case for him being a center fielder is that he is sound defensively there and has good speed, he isn’t a burner but he does run well. The case for him being a corner outfielder is that he doesn’t really have the arm to be a good center fielder and that he projects to add power. Barnes is said to have excellent bat speed and while there are some who question if he will be able to hit for a high average the consensus is that he has excellent plate discipline and would make up for short comings int he average department with a very strong walk rate. In college Barnes didn’t steal a lot of bases but was very efficient when he decided to steal. The Pirates sent Barnes to A- where he struggled initially before settling in and really having a very nice season. Barnes put up a very solid .857 OPS for the season. Barnes did suffer a leg injury late in the season that caused him to miss most of the final month but it isn’t expected to have long term impact. The Pirates typically send advanced college hitters like Barnes to A+ in their first full season of pro ball so expect him to start there. If he does it will likely be as a corner outfielder as center fielder figures to be occupied.
6. Josh Bell: Bell was drafted by the Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. The Pirates gave him a staggering 5 million dollars to break his commitment to Texas in what can sort of be considered the final straw that led to the revamping of the draft process. Bell projects defensively as a solid corner outfielder and his speed is only considered average. Where Bell’s value lies is with his bat. He is considered to have plus all around hitting skills and plus power. He is almost without debate the Pirates best power prospect. At the time he was drafted he was considered to be a very difficult sign because of a letter he sent to teams urging them not to draft him. The Pirates were of course successful in persuading him to sign with them. Bell didn’t get to make his pro debut in 2011 but he was aggressively assigned to A ball to begin 2012. Bell started off slow but held his own for a high schooler going straight to full season ball as he hit .274 and slugged .403. He did have a big strike out problem though. After only 62 AB Bell suffered a knee injury while sliding into second. The injury required surgery and while there was hope he would be back before the end of the season his recovery didn’t go well and he missed the rest of the year. The Pirates are expecting Bell to be ready to go by the start of Spring Training but the knee injury is a real concern at this point. As far as his brief performance goes nothing can really be garnered by it as it was so small of a sample. The Pirates will undoubtedly be careful with Bell and will probably send him back to A ball when they determine the knee to be fully healed.
Gerrit Cole: Cole is the Pirates top overall prospect and he has that crown for good reason. Cole has a fastball that touches 100 mph and also has a plus slider and change up. Cole does still have some control issues to work on but he shown great improvement in that regard this past season. Cole started this season in A+ ball, moved up to AA and eventually finished the season by making a few starts in AAA. He is not a finished product right now but he has the look of a very special pitcher. Cole will likely start next season in AAA and should join the major league rotation sometime during the middle of next season.
Jameson Taillon: Taillon has a very similar upside to Gerrit Cole and has a similar arsenal including a high 90s fastbal and a plus curve. Taillon also has a change up and a slider but those are more of a work in progress at this point. Taillon had a shaky season in A+ this year looking dominant at times and then being hit hard other times. Some people believe his struggles were do to largely focus on fastball command instead of throwing his whole arsenal but whatever the cause Taillon still has the stuff to be considered a top tier pitching prospect. Late in the season Taillon was promoted to AA and made 3 dominating starts. Heading into the 2013 season Taillon will likely start out in AA and should get promoted to AAA some time during the season, there also is an outside chance Taillon could see some time in the majors as a September call up.
Luis Heredia: Heredia at only 17 years old was aggressively pushed to the New York Penn league where he frequently faced competition 4 years older than him. Heredia responded to the challenge by having a great season. The only down side to Heredia’s season was a low K rate but the Pirates focus on fastball command in the lower levels and the fact that Heredia’s hasn’t fully developed his off speed pitches yet makes that less of a concern. Heredia’s arsenal includes a mid 90s fastball and a work in progress slider, curve and change up. The Pirates are probably going to aggressively push Heredia once again and let him play full season ball next season.
Kyle McPherson: McPherson missed the beginning of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury and the Pirates then decided t bring him back slowly by having him start his season repeating the AA level. McPherson pitched decently at the level but his numbers were actually worse than the past season. Eventually McPherson got sent to AAA where he put up 3 great starts before ultimately getting called up to the majors. McPherson performed admirably in his time in the major leagues and he looks like a candidate to compete for the 5th starter job next season.
Clay Holmes: Holmes was selected in the 9th round of the 2012 draft and was yet another of the Pirates projectable high school right handers. Unlike many of the other projectable pitchers the Pirates drafted Holmes made a strong pro debut and was great in the New York Penn league. Holmes pitched basically as well as Heredia did. Like Heredia, Holmes also had an issue striking out hitters but hopefully that will improve as he moves forward. One big downside of Holmes season is that he completely lost control of his pitches at times leading to a handful of ugly outings but most of time he was dominant. Holmes is a prospect to keep an eye on and should start next season at A ball where his prospect status could take a big jump if he performs well.
Justin Wilson: Wilson started the season in AAA as a starter and had some dominating outings being the big part of two no hitters. Wilson was nearly unhittable at times this season and had a strike out rate of 9.2 K/9. On the downside Wilson continued to show the control problems that had plagued him for his whole career posting a walk rate of 4.4 BB/9. Wilson was eventually called up to the majors where he made a few relief appearances. He looked decent overall but still had some serious control problems. Wilson’s future may ultimately be as a reliever but the Pirates are probably going to keep him starting in AAA next season so he can get more work in and hopefully harness his control issues.
Nicholas Kingham: Kingham is yet another of the Pirates many projectable high school arms. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft and had a very strong showing in A- last season. Kingham still has a lot of things to work on but he has a good fastball and an improving curve that makes him look like a good pitching prospect. This season Kingham played A ball and had an up and down year struggling in April and June but pitching fairly well the rest of the season. His ERA for the year was a little high but his peripherals suggest he pitched better than his ERA indicated. Kingham remains one of the Pirates better pitching prospects and should open next season in A+.
Tyler Glasnow: Glasnow is yet another one of the Pirates many projectable high school right handers and like the other two I mentioned he had a very strong pro debut. This season Glasnow was dominant in rookie ball posting a strike out rate of 10.5 K/9 and holding hitters to a .156 average against him. He has the normal assortment of a 93-94 mph fastball, a projectable curve and a work in progress slider and change up. For as well as he pitched this season Glasnow pitched only 38.1 innings so the Pirates will probably move cautiously with him and have him pitch in A- although he appears as if he might be ready for A ball.
Bryan Morris: Morris spent this past season in the AAA bullpen and he played well for the first 3 months of the season before struggling down the stretch. The Pirates used Morris’s last option this past season so it was kind of strange to not see him really get a chance at the majors. In order to retain him this season Morris will need to start the season on the 25 man roster but yet the Pirates only gave him 5 appearances in September. Morris had a good season this year posting good numbers, throwing a mid 90s fastball and even performing well in his brief time in the majors but he is still really an unknown right now. Morris has potential closer stuff so the Pirates probably won’t give up on him this offseason so he will probably be in the major league bullpen to begin the season.
Victor Black: Heading into this season Black had only pitched sparingly which made the Pirates decision to send him to AA seem odd but he rewarded them by posting great numbers. Black was throwing his fastball in the high 90s and he struck out 12.8 K/9. Black pitched well against both righties and lefties holding both to a batting average below .200. On the down side Black did show some control problems but his stuff was so good that he will definitely be added to the 40 man roster this offseason since he is Rule V eligible. Black will likely open the season in AAA and could very well see the majors at some point next season.
Upper Levels: Other than the prospects I have previously mentioned the Pirates had very few stand outs in the upper levels. Phillip Irwin pitched well in AA, regaining his prospects status and getting promoted to AAA. Irwin will likely be added to the 40 man roster this offseason. Welker pitched in relief in AA this season and did well eventually earning a promotion to AAA. Like Morris and Black, Welker looks like a strong closer candidate. Other than those two Brandon Cumpton had a decent season in AA and should move up to AAA where he could continue starting or pitch relief depending on need. Jason Townsend and Tyler Waldron each got promoted to AA near the end of the season and both pitched decently, Townsend looks like a decent relief prospect going forward and Waldron is still a fringe starter prospect. A spattering of other like Jeff Inman, Tim Alderson, Hunter Strickland and Jhonathan Ramos did just enough to keep their prospect window open heading into next season.
Middle Levels: Robby Rowland who was acquired for Brett Lorin this offseason had a goos howing in A ball this season. It was a nice bounce back season for Rowland as he restablished himself as a prospect. Rowland should get a chance to pitch in A+ next season where he will hopefully continue building off his success. Zach Von Rosenberg was disappointingly sent back to A ball this season and his numbers were mediocre. The good news is that he did look a little better this season and is still young enough where he could improve. Von Rosenberg will likely start next season in A+. Outside of those two and the one I previously mentioned Casey Sadler probably has the best upside and he had a good season both starting and relieving in A+ this season. He should move up to AA. Ryan Hafner and Zach Dodson took major steps backwards in their developments this season and will need to rebound quickly next year. Other players like Pofirio Lopez, Josh Poytress, Rinku Singh and Matt Benedict pitched ok this season and remain borderline prospects.
Lower Levels: The lower levels were dominated by last year’s high school draftees and this year’s draft crop. Jake Burnette, Jason Creasy and Colten Brewer, the Pirates other 2011 high school draftees, each had successful seasons to varying degrees this year. Pat Ludwig and Dalton Friend two college draftees from this past season both appeared very good in relief in the lower levels. Adrian Sampson the Pirates 5th round draft choice had a very solid debut in A- and should move up to A ball next season and is one to keep an eye on. Other draftees such as Jonathan Sandorft, Hayden Hurst and Jon Kuchno pitched very sparingly but remain interesting prospects nonetheless. A few others such as Joely Rodriguez, Jackson Lodge, Andy Otamendi and Bryton Trepagnier did just enough to get themselves noticed but will have to show more going forward.
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.
AJ Burnett: Acquired this offseason Burnett proved to be a big boost to the Pirates rotation. After an injury which sidelined him most of April Burnett became the ace of the Pirates team and pitched well enough to genuinely be considered a borderline #1 pitcher, not just a #1 pitcher for the Pirates. As all Pirates fans hoped Burnett proved to be more comfortable in the National League, lowering his walk rate and home run rate while still striking out a fair amount of batters. Like all Pirates players Burnett did start to perform worse as the season neared its close but he was still a very strong starter for the Pirates going down the stretch. The Burnett deal looks to be one of the Huntington’s best and fortunately the Pirates have a chance to benefit from it next season as well. Burnett was an unquestioned leader this season and will hopefully continue pitching well and taking a leadership role next season. As for his performance this season it is hard to be disappointed Overall Grade: A-
James McDonald: McDonald starting off pitching as well as if not better than Burnett but unlike Burnett he went in to complete free fall in August. McDonald’s season was sort of the perfect microcosm for the Pirates season. It started off a little shaky, went on an absolute tear and then quickly fell apart at the end. Even with the horrible ending McDonald still managed to put up fairly good numbers overall for the season so it is difficult to call his year a disappointment but it is fair to say that it could have been a lot better. One area McDonald will have to work on is limiting his number of free passes allowed as that really bit him at the end of last season. McDonald profiles as a very similar pitcher to Burnett and at the beginning of the year it appeared Burnett’s presence was helping him hopefully that same effect comes back next season, as McDonald figures to have a prominent role in the rotation once again. Overall Grade: C+
Kevin Correia: Correia just wouldn’t go away this season. The Pirates tried everything they could to get him out of the rotation but alas he was the only member of the opening day rotation still making starts going down the stretch in September. He wasn’t awful this season but he really wasn’t great either. He pitched well enough to be a decent 4/5 starter which is in reality what he truly is. The Pirates could have done far worse as a backup plan this season or they could have done far better by turning to one of the younger pitchers early on. The most troubling thing about Correia this season was his inability to miss bats as his K% took another hit this season and due to this and other factors, namely bad luck, Correia had a few outings where things just didn’t seem to be going his way. Correia is now a free agent and while it could make some sense for the Pirates to bring him back I don’t think there is any mutual interest here. He did a solid job filling in and holding a back of the rotation this season so I need to give him credit for that. Overall Grade: B-
Erik Bedard: Bedard stayed relatively healthy this season which if you would have told me that at the beginning of the season I would have said would have been a huge boost for the Pirates but unfortunately it wasn’t. Bedard had a great first two months but then suffered a mild injury which forced the Pirates to push back one of his starts by a couple of days. At the time it seemed like no big deal but Bedard wasn’t the same pitcher after that. The Pirates tried to give Bedard some extra rest by going with a 6 man rotation and using off days to rearrange the rotation and give him 5 days off between starts instead of 4 but it didn’t work. So after three abysmal months the Pirates finally cut Bedard in August. I can’t really say it was a disappointing season from Bedard as he managed to stay relatively healthy, pitched two great months and even when things went sour from him the numbers suggest some bad luck was at play. Still he was a pretty bad pitcher from June one and really didn’t help the Pirates much after that point. The Pirates made a gamble on Bedard and got some production but it really didn’t pay off, still I think it was one worth making. Overall Grade: C
Jeff Karstens: Karstens did what Karstens does. When Karstens was on the field he pitched well putting up good strong numbers despite his peripherals saying he probably wasn’t that good of a pitcher. However we are used to that from Karstens but his undoing this season was his durability issues. Due to injuries and an apparent decision at the end of the season to look at younger pitchers Karstens threw only 83.1 innings. That is a major disappointment. Like I said he was good in those innings, he walked very few batters and even raised his strikeout rate again but he just didn’t manage to stay on the field long enough for me to call his season a success. The Pirates face a tough decision with Karstens as he is in the final year of arbitration and will likely command a salary of around 5 million dollars. If Karstens is healthy the Pirates won’t be able to find a better starter for 5 million dollars but the injury issues make him a potential non tender. I anticipate the Pirates will tender him but I wouldn’t rule out a trade possibility. As for this season I have to give Karstens good marks for when he pitched but I also have to knock him for how little he pitched. Overall Grade: C
Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez came over to the Pirates near the trade deadline in a deal that received mix reviews. A lot of fans didn’t think it was worth giving up Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens and Colton Cain for him and those voices only grew louder when Rodriguez struggled in his first handful of starts with the Pirates. As for myself I thought that was a pretty fair price for Rodriguez although I would have hoped for a bit more salary relief but that is neither here nor there. The Pirates definitely didn’t get a steal here but they weren’t robbed blind here either. Anyway after his first few shaky starts Rodriguez settled in and actually became arguably the Pirates best starter down the stretch. The Pirates probably will have Rodriguez for the next two seasons and at this point it feels kind of nice to have a good stable veteran left hander in the rotation. Rodriguez won’t wow you with his stuff and he has to improve a bit on his strike out rate he had with the Pirates but he appears to be a good option for the Pirates next season. Overall Grade: B-
The Rest: Rather than break down the final four pitchers who made the Pirates other 23 starts this season I’m just going to mention them all briefly here. Morton made nine starts before going on the DL (with what a lot of Pirates fans thought was a phantom injury) and then receiving Tommy John surgery. He wasn’t particularly impressive in those 9 starts but still has a good bit of potential. I doubt the Pirates tender Morton a contract as he won’t be ready to pitch until at least June and even then the 30 day rehab he is permitted would probably not be enough for him to get ready to pitch in the majors again. I’m expecting a non-tender and a minor league contract. Overall Grade: D Next up is Jeff Locke who made 6 starts for the Pirates and has what first looks like a terrible stat line but Locke did manage to miss some bats and his xFIP suggests his ERA was unlucky. Locke right now is slated to compete for the 5th starter job and is probably currently the favorite for that position. Overall Grade: C Third on the list making 5 starts in Brad Lincoln. Lincoln was excellent out of the bullpen for the Pirates this season but as a starter (which is all I’m grading him on here) he was quite awful. I recall one good start out of the 5. His advanced numbers suggest he was a bit unlucky as well but even so he was still pretty bad. Lincoln is no longer with the team so he obviously won’t be a factor next season. As a starter I give him an Overall Grade: D Last but not least on the list making 3 starts this season is Kyle McPherson. Due to injuries McPherson didn’t start this season in AAA but rather repeated AA. He spent most of the season there before eventually getting called up to AAA and then shortly there after getting called up to the majors. McPherson had essentially the opposite season to Locke; his stat line looks good but his advanced stats say he had a bit of luck this season. Right now McPherson is a strong candidate for the #5 job next season but I would call him a slight underdog right now. Overall Grade: C+
* I’m not going to list the pitching prospects here instead I’m going to do 3 recaps for the pitchers: starter, relievers, prospects.
Since this is the offseason I have some spare time with no Pirates games to watch so I decided that since I believe the Pirates biggest and perhaps only free agent splash this offseason should be a starting pitcher I decided to look into how the typical starter does. I’m hoping to make this a multi-step series and take a look at a bunch of stats from K/9, BB/9, WHIP, FIP, xFIP, WAR and so on but for now this post deals entirely with ERA. I wanted to see the defining marks between a 1 and 2 starter, a 2 and 3 and so on. So I took a look at the past 3 seasons of baseball that is 14,578 starts accumulated by 423 individuals.
I decided to attribute 2,970 starts to #1 pitchers, 2,968 starts to #2 pitchers and 2,880 starts to #3-#5 starters. There is some math behind this as in the course of a 162 game season a team would go through a rotation 32.4 times meaning the #1 and #2 starters would ideally make 33 starts and the #3-#5 would make 32 starts. Thirty teams, over 3 seasons playing 162 games should come out to 14,580 starts but since we were missing two (probably a game that was rained out and never made up) I took it from the pitcher number that ideally starts game 162 which is the #2 starter.
I then ordered the pitchers by the ERA they have put up as a starter over the course of the last three seasons. This means Shelby Miller, Brad Peacock, Aaron Thompson, Dellin BetancesCesar Ramos and Jeurys Familia are at the top of the list with a 0.00 ERA conversely Ryan Verdugo with a 32.40 ERA is at the bottom of the list. Now obviously these pitchers wouldn’t be considered the best and/or worst starters over the last 3 seasons because with the exception of Peacock who started 2 games everyone I mentioned has only made 1 start. However this still works for my purpose. I made the assumption that the best ERAs belong to number 1 starters, the next best #2 starters and so forth. To figure out the average ERA for a #1 starter I went down the list of ERAs gradually getting higher and adding the number of starts made by the pitcher. Once I reached 2,970 I stopped and moved on to a #2 starter and I repeated this process until I got to the end. Now of course this didn’t work out perfectly and I had 4 pitchers who had some starts in two categories so what I did was assign the ERA to each individual start and broke it apart accordingly. For example Roy Oswalt ended up being the borderline between a #1 and a #2 starter, he has made 64 starts over the last 3 seasons and I needed 28 of them to be added to the #1 starter group and the remaining 36 to the number two starter group. Essentially I broke him into two players one who made 28 starts at a 3.50 ERA and one who made 36 starts at a 3.50 ERA. I also split up the innings accordingly meaning I averaged his number of innings per start and then multiplied that by the number of starts in each category. I did this for the other 3 borderline pitchers as well.
So at the end what this gave me was 5 groups of starters separated by ERA. I then used the total ER allowed by each group and the total IP by each group to come up with an ERA for the group. It was a pretty straight forward process but as you can see the explanation of it can make it sound a little complicated. Below are the results of my breakdown.
#1 Starter: 3.06 ERA
#2 Starter: 3.74 ERA
#3 Starter: 4.12 ERA
#4 Starter: 4.51 ERA
#5 Starter: 5.47 ERA
Average Starter: 4.12 ERA
The ranges were as followed
#1 Starter: 0.00-3.50
#2 Starter: 3.50-3.96
#3 Starter: 3.96-4.29
#4 Starter: 4.29-4.80
#5 Starter: 4.80-32.40
To get rid of the extremes I took away the top 10% and bottom 10% of each category and the ranges and averages doing that were:
#1 Starter: 2.79-3.46 (Average of 3.09)
#2 Starter: 3.56-3.91 (Average of 3.74)
#3 Starter: 4.00-4.27 (Average of 4.11)
#4 Starter: 4.31-4.75 (Average 4.51)
#5 Starter: 4.90-6.37 (Average of 5.34)
I took away the top and bottom 10% just to make sure the extremes weren’t playing too much havoc with the averages. Also this now starts the #1 starters with Justin Verlander and ends the #5 starters with Sean O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan is probably not a common name to most but he has made 24 starts over the last 3 seasons so he isn’t just your typical cup of coffee starter who bombs in his 1 or 2 starts. The numbers as you can see for the most part stayed the same which validates my thought that the extremes really didn’t have much impact.
For reference sake I’m going to look at the Pirates six starters and compare their numbers to the above.. I’m going to use their ERA’s over the last 3 seasons, their ERA’s last season and their xFIP over the last 3 seasons and last year’s as well. The ERA’s should show us how they have compared and the xFIP should give us a fair estimate of how we could expect them to perform.
2010-2012: 4.62 ERA, 3.90 xFIP
2012: 3.51 ERA, 3.40 xFIP
2010-2012: 3.63 ERA, 3.80 xFIP
2012: 3.76 ERA, 4.09 xFIP (with Pirates only it was: 3.82 ERA, 4.42 xFIP)
2010-2012: 4.07 ERA, 4.23 xFIP
2012: 4.05 ERA, 4.17 xFIP
2010-2012: 3.96 ERA, 4.04 xFIP
2012: 3.89 ERA, 3.89 xFIP
2011-2012: 6.36 ERA, 4.49 xFIP
2012: 6.30 ERA, 3.61 xFIP
2012: 3.68 ERA, 4.66 xFIP
So now the next logical step is to ask where these Pirates pitchers rank on the number scale well before we can do that we must decide on one number to assign them. Using the xFIP and ERA numbers available I’m going to make some reasonable estimates and predict the following ERAs for the above 6 starters:
Remember these numbers are just approximations based on some educated guesses by me. Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald and Karstens seem to fit them because that is essentially where they have consistently been. For Locke and McPherson their sample sizes are such that one can’t really get a good feel for them. I put the numbers in between their ERAs and xFIPs and assumed some struggles as young pitchers which I think should put them in 4.40-4.60 range. Basically what I feel comfortable considering either McPherson or Locke for next season is as a 4.50 ERA pitcher. I believe that is a reasonable number for either one to hit next year.
So now the question is what does all this give us?
Burnett: A strong #2 starter, maybe even a borderline #1
Rodriguez: An average to weak #2 starter
McDonald: An average #3 starter
Karstens: A strong #3 starter, maybe even borderline #2
Locke and McPherson: Average #4 starters
So that actually looks pretty good. Two #2s, two #3s and two #4s but alas we know it’s not that simple. Our top two pitchers Burnett and Rodriguez are getting up there in age and could regress. The chances of McDonald being an average #3 starter seem slim as over the course of the last two years he has alternated between looking like a decent #1 to looking like a #5. Karstens is solid and dependable when he is on the field but has durability issues. And Locke and McPherson are young unproven pitchers who could possibly step up and be solid #3s even or could bomb and struggle to hold on to good #5 status. The bottom line is the Pirates have the makings of a decent looking rotation when compared to the rest of major league baseball but there are just so many questions surrounding them that addressing that area this offseason needs to be considered.