First Pitch: Aside From Francisco Liriano, Who Should Be in the Pirates’ Playoff Rotation?

The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t clinched anything yet. But it’s becoming quite clear that this team is going to the playoffs. They currently sit 2.5 games back in the NL Central, 2.5 games back from the first Wild Card spot, and 2.5 games in the lead for the second Wild Card spot. The Milwaukee Brewers are the only threat to their playoff chances, and the red-hot Pirates play Milwaukee at home this weekend. They follow that with four games against the Braves, and three against the Reds, with both teams struggling lately.

It’s not impossible for the Pirates to improve their chances of winning the division, but with a week and a half to go, it seems improbable. They’ll most likely be playing in the Wild Card game, and the question of who should pitch that game is simple: Francisco Liriano. He’s the ace the Pirates needed all season, and he turned into that ace after the All-Star break, continuing his run tonight. In a one game playoff, there’s no one who should be starting over Liriano.

But what about if the Pirates advance beyond the Wild Card game, or find a way to win the division? Who will be in the playoff rotation?

Liriano is obvious. I think Gerrit Cole is obvious as well. He hasn’t been a top of the rotation starter this year, but he’s been a good pitcher. It would be great if he took it to the next level during the post-season, much like he did last year in the NLDS. Even with his current performance, he’s worth a rotation spot.

After an off-season with plenty of predictions that he’d be the first starting pitcher replaced in the rotation, Edinson Volquez has also become one of the obvious picks for a playoff rotation. The results from Volquez have been great, although the advanced metrics say that he probably won’t continue at this pace. As long as he is going at this pace, the Pirates should stick with him.

That leaves one more spot up for grabs, with three more starting options. Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton are current members of the rotation, with Vance Worley recently sent to the bullpen. I’d have to think that Worley would be out of the mix, since he was the first guy removed from the rotation when Morton returned. Worley actually has the best numbers out of those three, although it’s close. Worley has a 3.64 xFIP, while Morton and Locke are both at 3.78. You could make the argument that Worley should be starting in the playoffs over those two.

The issue with Morton is that we don’t know how healthy he will be the rest of the year. He looked good on Tuesday night, although that’s one start against a last place team. This doesn’t say how he will do against a playoff team.

Locke’s issue is a lack of consistency, and a sudden loss in control that has led to a 4.06 BB/9 ratio in the second half. Locke has had some good outings, but he’s also mixed in some bad outings, and looks like a number four starter overall. That’s not ideal for a playoff rotation.

The Pirates could play the matchups here. If they’re facing a team that struggles against the sinker, go with Morton. A team that struggles against lefties? Locke. A team that can’t hit the cutter? Worley.

Overall, the potential playoff rotation this year doesn’t look nearly as good as last year’s group. Last year the Pirates had three pitchers who were pitching like top of the rotation guys. Liriano was in that group, along with Cole and A.J. Burnett. Now they’ve got one top of the rotation guys, and several #3-4 starters. The good thing is that with their offense this year, they won’t need the same quality of pitching that they saw last year. All they need is a group of starters who can keep them in games, and you could argue that they’ve got three starters who can do that right now, along with three more starters who could do that in the right matchups.

Links and Notes

**Clint Barmes is the Latest Injury Replacement to Step Up and Lead the Pirates to Victory

**Hurdle on Liriano; Jordy Mercer Injury Update

**Wyatt Mathisen Adjusting Well to Third Base

**2014 Altoona Curve Season Recap and Top 10 Prospects

**Morning Report: Looking Over the Indianapolis Prospect List

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.

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if morton healthy he is the guy,or start locke if he is good jeff great, let him throw 100 pitches ,if he is bad jeff get morton or worley in the game fast.


Work to be done before the Bucs can do the victory dance. Milwaukee will be very motivated to try and sweep the Bucs and get back in the running. First step its to close out the Sox. Then put a fork in the Brewers and take at least 2 out 3.


I don’t know who the best starter is on this team, it looks like a
different pitcher from start to start. Liriano is probably the one that
you would have the most faith in, but all of the others are capable of
shutting down anyone. Seems that Boston might like to get Liriano next
year as a 3rd or 4th starter. With a whole pitching staff of 3’s and
4’s, Hurdle should go with match-ups.


I don’t see the need to go 4 deep with starters in the playoffs. Liriano is your best SP at this time, Cole, and as good as Volquez has been I still may take Charlie if he’s able to repeat the success of this week. Volquez becomes another strong bullpen arm to me, with JW/JH/TW/MM.


Make the playoffs first…About looking ahead..Who will this 70 million owner retain liriano,martin,
davis ,etc or none ?


“The Pirates could play the matchups here. If they’re facing a team that struggles against the sinker, go with Morton. A team that struggles against lefties? Locke. A team that can’t hit the cutter? Worley.”

Spot on with that Tim. Hope that’s the way they do it.


It will be interesting. For me, I go with Morton unless the opponent truly stuggles with lefties. Not just one guy you want to avoid, but half a lineup that will really play to Locke’s strength. I see certain guys on opposing teams like Adrian Gonzalez that Locke would have an advantage, but for the most part that is negated by losing ground against the rest of the lineup, so I’d stick with Morton. I just trust him more.


Morton showed me a lot last year in the NLDS. Unfortunately he got to face Wacha. I wouldn’t trust Locke to step up. I am confused about Worley though. The guy does have the only CG shutout on the staff – which came in SF vs. Bumgarner. He faced the minimum thru 7 innings. Why is he not being considered again?

Scott Kliesen

Let’s hope they need a playoff rotation. It’s going to be a daunting task to fly cross country and beat Baumgarner in a one game do or die game. That’s why I’m hopeful Pirates can gain a game on Cards today and find a way to overtake them for the division.

If they do get into a NLDS matchup, I believe Pirates would go with Morton over Locke and Worley. He’s got the experience and better stuff/command.

Mike C.

I like your idea of playing the better matchups. With those three, you never know who’ll show up. Look at Locke, great one start, horrible the next. I say give em very short leashes, making em throw max effort hope for 5-6 good innings and hope thr BP can continue this great run. Hell, piggyback if you need to. I don’t trsut any of em to survive 3 times vs a lineup.
The question also is, who’ll be our #4 if a series goes long. From what i read, this year’s POs have very few off days, so a fourth starter could be needed.
With Liriano and Cole’s injuries this year, can we trust them to pitch well on 3,4 days rest?

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