Do the Pirates Need Another Starting Pitcher?

By Jared Lankes

If the season started today, the Pirates rotation would shape out as Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, and likely Tyler Glasnow with Trevor Williams, Steven Brault, and Drew Hutchison behind them as depth. While the rotation doesn’t look bad by any stretch on the surface, there are certainly some big underlying issues that make the rotation very unstable. Let’s take a look at each starter and determine the question marks each one has.

1) Gerrit Cole: When healthy, Gerrit Cole is a top starter in the NL. However, 2016 proved that a pitcher’s health is fickle for even the best of pitchers. Cole was hurt multiple times in 2016 and was unable to get any sort of rhythm going because of it. While it has been stated that he will be ready to go to start spring training, there is always going to be skepticism over how he will return off of injury or if these more minor injuries are a prelude to a more major injury that could cause him to miss a year or two instead of a month or two. And for the Pirates, they can ill-afford their ace being hurt, ineffective, or both, as was proven last season.

2) Jameson Taillon: While Taillon had a great stretch in his first stint in the MLB, one must remember that he’s been injury-prone in the past. This proneness to injury and the fact that he’s a young pitcher might make the Pirates more careful with him throughout the 2017 season to keep him around the whole season instead of having to shut him down in September and losing a major asset. Plus, there is always the chance he gets hurt again, which would be devastating. Also, there is this weird sophomore slump thing in baseball that could certainly happen to Taillon if he’s not careful.

3) Ivan Nova: Nova was great for the Pirates in his time in 2016 and earned three more years with the team because of it. While he pitched well, some things don’t add up. His super low walk rate won’t keep up as that’ll return to more realistic levels, he still gets hit hard and may not benefit from as much “good luck”, and I could certainly see the home run numbers at least spike a bit. I don’t expect Nova to be fantastic, but he will be a solid starter. However, I don’t think he will be great enough, by himself, to make the rotation stable in the middle.

4) Chad Kuhl: Kuhl is an intriguing case. He pitched well enough to earn a rotation spot in 2017, but he has some issues. Firstly, he kind of slowed down late in the season, showing off his youthfulness and fatigue of not having that kind of workload before. That doesn’t make too many people confident in his ability to handle a 180-200 inning workload this year either. There’s also the case where he has troubles against lefties. He lacks an out pitch vs lefties and that might be an issue as teams can stack the deck with lefties against him when he starts, similar to what teams did against Juan Nicasio last year. Plus, his strikeout and ground ball rates didn’t exactly back him up as being a super redeeming quality of a starting pitcher in the MLB. All his qualities point to him being a bullpen pitcher, and he is a massive question mark in 2017.

5) Tyler Glasnow: Glasnow, while being a super prospect, is very unpolished. He showed that in his short amount of MLB time in 2016. While he is still working his way to being a great pitcher, I don’t think him at his current state is good enough to be in an MLB rotation for a team that wants to contend. He may be ready at some point, but I don’t believe Opening Day is that time. He also would get played the cautious card by the Pirates because he’s a young arm that hasn’t handled a big league workload yet or even came anywhere close to sniffing that mark.

6) The depth: The depth of Brault, Williams, and Hutchison, and eventually Nick Kingham is good, but it is what it is, just depth. Sure, they can spot start every now and again to get some guys breaks, especially the other youngsters, but each of the depth starters have their own issues. While I believe in what Trevor Williams can do and Kingham can still end up being very good, I am not big on Brault or Hutchison because I think they are both 6 or 7 starters or bullpen arms at their peak at this point. However, Brault does represent a lefty option for the rotation that the Pirates do not currently possess. But on the other hand, Brault lacks the necessary pitches in his arsenal to be a starting pitcher in the MLB and didn’t instill confidence in many in his couple of MLB starts.

Overall, the Pirates are riding with a rotation filled with righties who are young and unproven, injury-prone, or are middle-of-the-road, average rotation arms at best, or a combo of two or all three of these. The rotation is also filled with a ton of ifs and while every rotation has ifs, the Pirates rotation seems to have more than many others. Leaning on young guys, a guy that was good for two months with the Pirates that you hope continues it, and an ace coming off injuries might not be the best strategy.

Now, I know I’m being maybe a bit tough on the Pirates and looking at it as if everything is bad. It’s not. These pitchers all have great qualities, and there are always surprises. However, I just find it very difficult to be ultra confident in the rotation in its current state. The Pirates would benefit from adding a quality, veteran starter that can eat them up innings while being effective. I know it’s not the best market to find a guy like that, but the Pirates need to try their hardest because this rotation may not be goo enough on its own.

Pirates Sign Joey Terdoslavich

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have signed first baseman/outfielder Joey Terdoslavich to a minor league deal, which includes an invite to MLB Spring Training, this according to Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects. 

Terdoslavich was a sixth round selection of the Atlanta Braves in the 2010 MLB Draft. At one point, he was ranked as high as #11 among Braves prospects by Baseball America in 2012. The big league level has been a struggle for him however, as he’s posted just a .620 OPS in parts of three seasons with the Braves from 2013 to 2015.

Last season, Terdoslavich played for the Baltimore Orioles AA and AAA affiliates Bowie and Norfolk. Combined with both clubs, he put up an OPS of .724 in 126 games. The Pirates will likely use Terdoslavich as organizational depth for either Altoona or Indianapolis.






Eric Wood to Represent Canada in the WBC

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Mark Olson - MiLB

p/c: Mark Olson – MiLB

According to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, Eric Wood will be playing for Team Canada in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. 

Wood is coming off his best season, as he posted a .782 OPS, while hitting a career high 16 home runs in 118 games for the Altoona Curve. The 24-year-old native of Ontario also had a very good showing in the Arizona Fall League, in which he put up an OPS of .876. Wood was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, but didn’t get selected. 

It seemed likely that Canada was going to have both Wood and Jameson Taillon on the WBC roster. Taillon participated in the 2013 WBC, but chose not to take part in this one, citing workload and injury history. 





The Case for Andrew McCutchen Bouncing Back in 2017

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Justin K. Aller - Getty Images

p/c: Justin K. Aller – Getty Images

Prior to last season, Andrew McCutchen was viewed as one of the faces of MLB, with his MVP caliber numbers, as well as his popularity off the field. While McCutchen is still popular around the game, the numbers were a different story for him, as he statistically had the worst season of his big league career in 2016. The obvious question is whether or not McCutchen can bounce back this season – Here is why I think it could happen.

There’s no denying that McCutchen’s overall numbers offensively last year were mediocre compared to the three seasons in which the Pirates made the playoffs. However, the second half stats were at the very least more promising than what he did in the first half of the season.

2016 first half: .319 OBP, 8.8 BB%, 99 wRC+, 24.7 K% 

2016 second half: .358 OBP, 11.9 BB%, 115 wRC+, 16.9 K% 

While McCutchen’s on base percentage in the second half still wasn’t extraordinary, it was certainly much better compared to the first half. Also, the walks were up while the strikeouts went down in the second half. 

According to Statcast, McCutchen had an Average Exit Velocity of 91.2 mph, while the Average Distance of the balls he hit was 235.5 feet. Both of those figures were above the MLB average. The power also remained, as he posted a .430 slugging percentage, which was fifth best among National League center fielders. 

McCutchen will be entering his age 30 season, so he’s still in his prime. He hasn’t lost the ability to draw walks and his power/bat speed combo continues to be very good. It remains to be seen if McCutchen can return to his MVP form, but there’s little reason to think that he can’t perform at an All-Star level again. 







Reviewing the Pirates Arbitration Figures

By Jason Shetler

Friday was the deadline for all MLB clubs to come to terms with their arbitration eligible players. As I mentioned in the last post, Tony Watson will be taking the Pirates to an arbitration hearing. Here is a review of the players the Pirates did avoid arbitration with.

As first reported by Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports, the Pirates avoided arbitration with Drew Hutchison and Jared Hughes for $2.3 million and $2.825 million respectively. Hutchison received slightly more than his projected figure of $2.2 million, while Hughes got more than his $2.5 million projection.

Matt Gajtka of DK Pittsburgh Sports reported that both Jordy Mercer and Juan Nicasio avoided arbitration. Mercer signed for $4.3 million, which was a little higher than the $4 million he was projected to make. The projected figure for Nicasio was $4.6 million, and he settled for about a million less at $3.65. 

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Biertempfel was the first to report that the Pirates and Gerrit Cole came to terms at $3.75 million. While that may have come as a surprise, perhaps the bigger surprise is that Cole settled for less than the $4.2 million he was projected to receive.





Pirates and Tony Watson Headed to Arbitration Hearing

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Alex Caprara - Post Gazette

p/c: Alex Caprara – Post Gazette

A source tells DK Pittsburgh Sports that Tony Watson will be taking the Pirates to an arbitration hearing in February. The projected salary figure for Watson was $5.9 million.

Watson has been a vital part of the Pirates bullpen since he joined the team in 2011. His best season came in 2014 when he had a 1.63 ERA along with an ERA+ of 222 and was named an All-Star. 

Last season, Watson was in the setup role to Mark Melancon. Two days prior to the trade deadline, the Pirates dealt Melancon to the Washington Nationals, and Watson took over as the closer. Although Watson wasn’t his dominant self in 2016, he put up a 137 ERA+, which is still well above league average. Prior to last season, Watson was considered a Top 5 lefty reliever in all of baseball, so it’s likely a situation in which he wants to receive more based on career track record.



Buster Olney Ranks Pirates Bullpen Tenth Best

By Jason Shetler

Earlier this morning, ESPN’s Buster Olney came out with his rankings of the Top 10 bullpens heading into 2017. The Pirates cracked the list, as they were ranked tenth best.

Olney mentioned that he likes the addition of Daniel Hudson, who was one of the hardest-throwing right-handed relievers in the National League last season according to FanGraphs. Olney also thinks that the bullpen could be even better than their #10 ranking, if Tony Watson can excel as the closer.

Felipe Rivero will be in his first full season in the Pirates bullpen after coming over from the Washington Nationals in the Mark Melancon deal, and has the potential to be an elite level reliever. Juan Nicasio was outstanding last year once he was moved to the bullpen. Wade LeBlanc joined the Pirates in September, and could be a sleeper, as a lefty who can pitch multiple innings out of the pen if needed. Jared Hughes had a down year in 2016, but if he can bounce back, it gives them a different weapon to use for groundball purposes. Looking at the options, as well as the depth, the Pirates bullpen should be an improvement in 2017.