A few weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates looked to be sitting on the fence between buyers and sellers. They were just below .500, just saw their top prospect promoted, and had several teams to jump in the Wild Card race. I wrote about how they needed pitching, and should pursue a pitcher that they can control beyond the 2014 season, as the need for pitching and the chances to contend in 2015 looked to be greater than their chances in 2014.
That was also a time when the 2015 rotation looked to be Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and then three open spots. Thus the need for starters in 2015.
A few weeks later, the Pirates have seen the addition of two very productive starting pitchers to their rotation. Jeff Locke and Vance Worley have been fantastic lately, and are part of the reason why the Pirates are currently above .500. Locke has a 2.54 ERA in 28.1 innings this month. After tonight’s start, Worley has a 1.74 ERA in 20.2 innings.
Worley is only a year removed from being a good MLB starter. Tonight, I wrote about how Worley’s mechanics are back on track, and based on the results and the history, there’s good reason to think he’s back to the starter he was pre-2013. On Tuesday, I wrote about how Jeff Locke’s numbers look legit, and how he looks like a completely different pitcher this year.
It’s still early with each pitcher, and we’re talking about small sample sizes that support the eye test. There is still one month to go before the trade deadline, giving the Pirates several more starts from each pitcher to get a better idea of what they’ve got. Neither guy is a top of the rotation starter, but both guys are capable of being reliable MLB pitchers, and guys you could slot in to the Opening Day roster in 2015.
The thing about the Pirates is that they don’t necessarily need a bunch of top of the rotation starters. Last year they had success largely due to their pitching staff. The offense struggled, and they won because they were led by three guys who were pitching like top of the rotation starters (A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Gerrit Cole by the end of the year). This year they really haven’t had anyone pitching like a top of the rotation guy. Liriano has struggled, Cole has been good but not great, and everyone else has been in “reliable starter” territory.
One other big change this year has been the emergence of a strong offense. Now that Gregory Polanco is up, the Pirates are led by a ton of speed at the top of the lineup, which has resulted in some good performances from all three outfielders. Even with Starling Marte out, they can sub in the hot hitting Josh Harrison. Neil Walker has been hitting for more power this year. Russell Martin has been strong offensively this year. In fact, the entire offense is clicking right now, leading the Pirates to having the second best wRC+ in baseball in the month of June, and the best in the NL.
Because of this strong offense, the Pirates don’t need a lot of top of the rotation guys. They’re not a team that needs to win 1-0 or 2-1. If they get a starter who gives up three runs, but eats some innings, they’re still going to be in the game.
They still do need a guy who can anchor the pitching staff. Hopefully that would be Gerrit Cole or Francisco Liriano when they return. Cole returns this weekend, and Liriano is starting his progression back to the majors. If one, or both of those guys gets back to being a top of the rotation guy, then that would be another big boost to the rotation.
It’s not out of the question for the Pirates to trade for a starter. Even if their 2015 rotation is Cole, Morton, Locke, and Worley, they could still use another strong starter. But they don’t look as desperate as they might have looked at the start of the month. It looks like they’ve got two good additions to the rotation in Locke and Worley, which is a nice boost. The offense is also showing more signs of being legit, with Polanco providing a big spark, Josh Harrison continuing to hit, and everyone else doing well. Combine those two things, and the Pirates may have already made the in-season additions that they needed.
There’s still a month before the trade deadline. We’ll see if those additions are all that is needed.
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.