On March 25th, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Vance Worley from the Minnesota Twins for cash considerations. That was when the Pirates were counting on Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano to lead the rotation. It was when Wandy Rodriguez showed some promise by staying healthy and pitching fairly well in Spring Training. It was when many were projecting the Edinson Volquez experiment would end in failure. It was before Jameson Taillon had Tommy John surgery.
On Sunday, Vance Worley will get the chance to start for the Pirates, and put them above .500 for the first time since April 14th, which was just over two months ago.
If you would have predicted that back in March, no one would have believed you. And the doomsday scenarios would be out in full force if you would have predicted the following:
**Gerrit Cole would be pitching more like a strong number three starter than a top of the rotation guy, and would be on the disabled list in June.
**Francisco Liriano would be pitching like a number four or five starter, and would also be on the DL.
**Wandy Rodriguez would implode early.
**Jameson Taillon would go down for the year with Tommy John surgery.
**Volquez would have some of the best numbers in the rotation.
**The mid-June rotation would include Volquez, Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, and Worley.
Baseball is a funny game. Tons of words were written over the off-season, looking at the pitching staff from every different angle. Will the Pirates bring back Burnett? Should they bring back Burnett? Which reclamation project would be best? Will Ray Searage be able to fix Edinson Volquez? Can Francisco Liriano have two good years in a row? Will Charlie Morton stay healthy? When will Jameson Taillon be up? Will Wandy Rodriguez be the same after returning from his injury?
The off-season questions always pose a situation where the team can’t possibly contend if the question is answered with a negative. And yet here we are in mid-June, with the rotation in disaster mode, and the Pirates have a chance to go above .500 tomorrow, with one of the worst possible scenarios you could have thought up in Spring Training.
I’m not giving any credit to anyone for where the Pirates are right now. I’m not going to criticize if you didn’t think they’d get here after their poor start to the season. On paper, it didn’t look like they would get here. It doesn’t look like they’ll stay here either with the current rotation.
Whether they will stay here is a totally different topic. I’d dig into it with stats and analysis, but the simple approach is that I don’t think it’s probable that this current rotation will keep the Pirates at .500 or better. But let’s set aside the numbers for a moment, and keep with this “baseball is a funny game” approach.
One thing the Pirates had going for them last year was the ability to keep winning, no matter what happened. They kept winning no matter who went down with an injury. They kept winning no matter who was called up. Maybe that’s what is going on with this team. They were eight games under .500 on May 20th. Since then, they’ve gone 16-8, despite losing Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano (who was more of a loss in name than in stats), and a red-hot Neil Walker. Those players were replaced with Jeff Locke, Vance Worley, and Gregory Polanco. Only one of those players was expected to do well (although I’d say there aren’t as many expectations for Worley, just curiosity over what the Pirates have with him).
I wish I could sum this all up by saying that the Pirates will continue with this trend of staying in the race, no matter what is thrown at them. I could point out the numbers that say they probably won’t continue to do well with the current rotation, but as we’ve seen, the only thing that matters is the on-field performance. For now, I’ll just be watching Vance Worley pitching for the Pirates tomorrow, aiming to put them above .500 and possibly within two games of the Wild Card. I’ll be wondering whether the Pirates might have found themselves a pitcher for the next four seasons. And if they win tomorrow, I’ll be marveling at how the Pirates will have climbed above .500 with this rotation, defying all odds and expectations in the process.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.