The Pittsburgh Pirates have a problem with their bullpen. The problem isn’t a lack of talent in the bullpen. Tony Watson has been one of the best relievers in baseball this year, and Mark Melancon isn’t far behind him. Those two give the Pirates a great combo in the late innings. Jared Hughes has stepped up to have an impressive year. While he’s not as good as his ERA, his xFIP of 3.76 currently ranks third on the team. Justin Wilson has struggled this year, but showed tonight why he’s such a dangerous left-hander. Jeanmar Gomez hasn’t been bad, with a 3.45 ERA / 4.01 xFIP. That combo lines up with his 2013 numbers.
The problem the Pirates have is the combo of Stolmy Pimentel and Ernesto Frieri.
I like both of these guys, and I like that the Pirates are giving them both a shot in the majors. Pimentel is out of options, which means they’d have to designate him for assignment if he wasn’t in the majors. When he’s on, he has an upper 90s fastball and a plus slider. The Pirates added Frieri for Jason Grilli, after Frieri struggled with the Angels. He’s got a great arm, and the advanced metrics showed that he would be a bounce back candidate.
The problem with both pitchers has been their usage.
I like Frieri as a bounce back candidate. His biggest issue with the Angels was an unlucky HR/FB ratio. He’s not only carried that over to the Pirates, but has struggled with walks in his limited innings. It’s not a problem that the Pirates are giving him a shot to turn things around. The problem is that they’re using him in important innings. He came in on July 3rd in the ninth inning, with the Pirates down by one run, and gave up five runs while recording just one out. His next outing was on July 8th in the bottom of the ninth, when he gave up a walk off shot. Tonight he started his outing in the bottom of the tenth inning, and was quickly pulled after walking the first two batters he faced. Had it not been for Gregory Polanco’s great throw/Russell Martin’s great catch, plus the added effort from Justin Wilson, Frieri would be looking at another loss.
As for Pimentel, I like the upside of his arm. I think he could be a starting candidate for the Pirates in the future, or a late inning relief option. But for some reason, the Pirates won’t use him. He’s had five appearances in a little over a month since coming off the disabled list. The first game was when the Pirates were ahead by six runs. The next outing was when they were down by five runs. He threw 4.1 innings with one run allowed. He waited ten days until the next outing. The Pirates were down by three runs and he threw four shutout innings. Despite this outing, it was another week until Pimentel threw (which was probably due to the four innings this time), and the Pirates were ahead by five runs when he came in. His last outing came five days later, and when the Pirates were down by three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The Pirates need to switch these situations. Frieri needs to be throwing in the meaningless innings while he fixes whatever problem is leading to his down year. Pimentel needs to be used like a normal reliever.
There’s no reason why Pimentel should be used like a Rule 5 pick. There’s nothing to save him for. Eventually the Pirates need to make a decision on him. He’s out of options, which means they’re always going to be in a situation where he needs to be in the majors, or needs to be designated for assignment. They can keep him as the mop up guy, but relegating someone with his stuff to that role would be disappointing. They need to see what he can actually do. I’m not saying that Pimentel should be pitching in the late innings. I’m just saying he should be pitching more than once a week.
The Pirates basically have a shortened bullpen due to their usage of Frieri and Pimentel. They’ve got one guy they never use, and one guy they shouldn’t use in later innings. If they flipped the roles, then Frieri could go to the mop up role, and Pimentel could get middle inning work. The numbers for Pimentel haven’t been great this year, but it’s hard to put up good numbers when you’re hardly even on a schedule to pitch. The Pirates could see what they’ve got with Pimentel, and make an actual decision on him. They could limit Frieri to non-important innings, giving him a low pressure situation to turn things around. Or they could just use them both like normal relievers, and not have one specific reliever who only pitches when the team is up or down by three or more runs.
Right now the Pirates have a five man bullpen, plus one reliever who never pitches and one who shouldn’t be pitching most of the innings he does pitch. They’ve got dominant relievers in the late innings. They’ve got electric arms in the middle innings. But it’s hard to have a successful bullpen when you’re wasting two of the seven available spots.
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