By Jared Lankes
A lot of the Pirates offseason plan seemed to center around the bullpen. They were looking to create a shutdown bullpen full of guys who can get the opposition out consistently, leading to many wins. However, it hasn’t quite panned out as was hoped so far. The Pirates bullpen has been average at best, and even saying that could be seen as a stretch. The bullpen has looked very shaky, blowing or nearly blowing leads that weren’t even conceivable for a Pirates bullpen just a season ago. The Pirates have a ton of pitchers in the pen that can pitch very well, so the problem is not about the depth or the readily available pitchers the team has. Nope, the problem is that the guys have not performed the way people thought and expected.
The Pirates’ bullpen has seen many changes due to injury, ineffectiveness, or both. Kyle Lobstein, Cory Luebke, Rob Scahill, Wilfredo Boscan, Arquimedes Caminero, Ryan Vogelsong, and others have all shuffled around the bullpen. Some ineffective; some not. Many of these pitchers are very capable of pitching well and even have in the past. Though, the problem is they haven’t to this point. Plain and simple. There’s plenty of pitchers here the Pirates can turn too. Not many they would like to turn to right now.
The other problem has been that some of the bullpen main stays haven’t pitched great or as they were expected to, at least. Jared Hughes has struggled to find his footing since returning from injury, and Tony Watson has really been inconsistent. Watson can look lights out at times, but when he is struggling, it’s very, very bad. It is not the version of Tony Watson we are used to seeing.
There have been 2 very bright spots in the bullpen. Those being Neftali Feliz and Mark Melancon. However, it is hard to have a good bullpen with 2 great guys and 5 guys who can either get shelled or dominate, but it is unknown which version you will see that day. That is a tough thing to work around, and something the Pirates haven’t had to deal with in years.
It’s hard to fix a problem when the problem is based on guys underperforming as opposed to just not having quality guys. Pirates have many quality guys in the bullpen that they don’t want to give up on because they belong. It becomes really hard to replace guys that belong but are just underperforming. They are going to have to figure out how to get these guys right again, so that the bullpen can become a dominating force once again.