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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

First Pitch: The Lack of Moves Isn’t the Big Problem It’s Made Out to Be

The Pittsburgh Pirates did nothing to upgrade their team this year. That’s the reason they’re not currently in line for the playoffs, and why they might not make the playoffs. Or at least that’s what I’ve been hearing.

I heard it during the off-season, when it was said that they weren’t going to be contenders this year because they didn’t make any additions to the team. It was repeated constantly the first two months of the season when they didn’t bring up Gregory Polanco right away. Then it came back up over the trade deadline, and once again at the new deadline in August.

The argument is extremely lazy, assuming that everything wrong with the Pirates is because they didn’t add Player X. It over-estimates the value of one player, and assumes that a team’s fortunes can be determined by one player. It’s also an evolving argument that forgets how things actually played out, and forgets that the Pirates’ problems weren’t due to a lack of moves. Let’s take a look at each time frame, and see if adding a player would have fixed the issues for the Pirates.

The Off-Season

The Needs: The Pirates were coming off a season where they had great pitching and a league average offense at best, leading to 94 wins and a playoff spot. The bullpen was expected to be strong again. The perceived needs were in the rotation and the offense. The specific moves were an addition at first base, and bringing back A.J. Burnett. The Pirates ended up signing Edinson Volquez, making a minor trade for Vance Worley, a few other minor moves that didn’t help as much, and traded for Ike Davis a few weeks into the season.

The Rotation Results: Volquez and Worley have been the best starters in the rotation this year from a results standpoint, with a 3.31 and 3.01 ERA, respectively. Meanwhile, A.J. Burnett has been pitching through an injury, and has a 4.40 ERA on the season. The advanced metrics say that all three pitchers should be in the league average range going forward. But so far, the Pirates would have been worse off if they would have gone for Burnett over Volquez. You can go the hindsight route and say they should have added both, but that ignores the real problem. The guys who were expected to do well — Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole — haven’t done well. Liriano has turned things around lately, but for most of the year these two haven’t lived up to expectations. The Pirates made some good moves in the off-season, and dodged a bullet with the aging Burnett. But those moves are hidden by the fact that the guys already in place have struggled.

The Bullpen Results: The bullpen has been the biggest issue this year, a year after they were automatic. The Pirates have seen Jason Grilli and Bryan Morris struggle, only to go elsewhere and be lights out. Other players who performed last year, such as Jeanmar Gomez and Justin Wilson, have also struggled this year. Mark Melancon and Tony Watson have been two of the best relievers in the game this year. Jared Hughes has posted good numbers for a middle reliever. Once again, the guys who did well last year, and who were expected to do well this year, haven’t done well. Making matters worse, two of those players immediately had success elsewhere, while the Pirates haven’t been able to get one of their signature bullpen reclamation projects going (although I am looking forward to seeing what John Holdzkom can do after following his progress with Indianapolis this year).

The Offense Results: The Pirates ended up adding Ike Davis a few weeks into the season. Davis hasn’t been the best addition, but it might not matter. They have one of the top offenses in the NL this year, with a .321 wOBA that ranks second behind Colorado, and a 105 wRC+ that ranks first, tied with the Dodgers. A big reason for this is due to the guys already on the roster, like Russell Martin, Josh Harrison, and the MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Not everyone has played up to expectations (Pedro Alvarez, for example), but this is a case where a lot of things were going right.

The Verdict: Pirates fans would have been happy in the off-season if the Pirates spent money on Burnett, rather than Volquez, and if they would have added a first baseman (which they eventually did). The pitching swap would have made them worse, while the offense turned out to be fine. The Pirates aren’t in this situation because of a lack of off-season moves, unless you want to look back in hindsight and say they should have done something to prevent their situation in the bullpen and with their top two starters.

Gregory Polanco and the First Two Months

The Need: Polanco was destroying Triple-A pitching during the month of April. Meanwhile, the Pirates offense was struggling. Andrew McCutchen started slow the first two weeks. Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, and Russell Martin were all struggling offensively. The Pirates were coming off a season where they had an average offense at best. You could have expected some of these players to rebound, but the expectation that the Pirates wouldn’t have a top offense was totally justified. Travis Snider and Jose Tabata were also struggling, which led to the hope that Polanco could come up early and help the Pirates, even if that meant the potential for a $10-15 M raise down the line.

The Results: Snider and Tabata continued their struggles in right field, which led to Josh Harrison getting regular playing time, and beginning his breakout season. It’s possible that Harrison could have broken out even if Polanco came up in May. But the fact is that the Pirates didn’t need Polanco in May because of Harrison. And now they’ve turned into the top offense in the NL. That doesn’t include production from Polanco, who has struggled since coming up.

The Verdict: I still think Polanco is going to be a star. He just hasn’t made a seamless jump to the majors, which is not uncommon. That’s what the Super Two argument was all about — not wanting to pay a massive amount for a guy who could be a star in the long-term, all to get an extra month of production when he’s going to be at his least productive state in the short-term. It’s easy to look back and realize this was the case now. But at the time — when clouded by expectations that the Pirates would struggle offensively, and while watching Polanco tearing up in Indianapolis — it was easy to believe that he was the answer.

The Trade Deadline(s)

The Need: At this point the Pirates knew about their bullpen issues. They knew that they could use a starting pitcher, since Liriano and Cole had been unreliable. They knew that the offense was fine and no longer an issue. So the task was simple: add pitching.

The Results: The Pirates added Ernesto Frieri in a swap for Jason Grilli, hoping that Frieri would bounce back with a change of scenery. It ended up that Grilli was the one who bounced back. They added John Axford in a waiver claim. Francisco Liriano returned and was much better than he was in the first part of the season. Gerrit Cole returned, but has been about the same. Jeff Locke has struggled in the second half, while Charlie Morton went down with an injury. Meanwhile, the Pirates tried to make a move at the deadline, offering up prospects, but the two teams trading top starters — the Rays and Red Sox — were looking for MLB talent. It was a rare case where a team willing to part with top prospects didn’t have the inside track to any player they wanted.

The Verdict: This is where we look at what trading for a player actually does for a team. Oakland and Detroit added the top starting pitchers. Oakland added Jeff Samardzija in early July, then traded for Jon Lester at the deadline. The moves made them a favorite in the American League. But the results haven’t worked in their favor. They had a .621 winning percentage before the first move. They have a .481 winning percentage since the Samardzija trade, and a 13-19 record since their busy deadline.

Detroit traded for David Price. They had a .552 winning percentage before that. Since the move, they have a .529 winning percentage. Meanwhile, Price has a 3.86 ERA in his time with Detroit, although his 2.94 xFIP suggests he’ll be better going forward. Those are two cases where a team made a big splash, and saw their results go south after the move. This doesn’t mean that adding a player will actually hurt your team. That would be ridiculous. For the meaning, let’s look at the next team.

The Cardinals added Justin Masterson and John Lackey at the deadline. They had a .533 winning percentage before the deadline. They have had a .594 winning percentage since the trades. Meanwhile, Masterson has performed poorly, and has been removed from the rotation. Lackey has performed the same as the guy they traded away to get him, Joe Kelly.

It’s almost like the results of 1-2 roster moves (or a lack of those moves) don’t determine the results of a team of 25 players.

You can analyze the moves that a team did, or didn’t make at the deadline or in the off-season. But that’s a small piece of the puzzle. The Pirates didn’t make the moves that people wanted in the off-season. The offense that they had improved, the pitchers they added have helped this year, and the pitching they had largely struggled. They tried to add pitching at the deadline, but the teams trading starting pitching wanted MLB help.

It’s easy to be frustrated over the lack of moves. And maybe that added to a percentage of the problem. But ignoring everything else that has happened ignores a much larger percentage. It’s much more difficult to be upset over the fact that the Pirates made two great moves to add starting pitching over the off-season, but then saw their best pitchers from the 2013 season struggle in 2014. Not only is it hard to fit that in a Tweet, but you also don’t get the clear satisfaction of assigning blame, because you’re not sure whether to blame the players, blame the management for not anticipating this, or just realize that sometimes things don’t go as planned, and not every situation needs someone to blame.

Overall, the lack of moves are a convenient thing to complain about. But that’s not the problem with the Pirates. The problem is much more complex, looking at all of the little things that have gone wrong this season, whether that’s from a transaction standpoint, a managerial standpoint, or just players playing below their expectations. Despite all of the things that have gone wrong, and despite the lack of major moves, the Pirates currently sit 1.5 games out of the Wild Card race, with an easy schedule coming up. They can still make the playoffs. I don’t think they’re in a good position to advance in the playoffs, but no single move would have changed that.

Links and Notes

**Josh Bell is the Pirates Prospects 2014 Minor League Player of the Year

**Tyler Glasnow is the Pirates Prospects 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year

**Morning Report: Jose Osuna Quietly Had a Strong Second Half

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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.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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The Pirates “doing nothing” was clearly a bad move as their record shows. They are under-performing. Would “doing something” have made a difference? We’ll never know. They should not be absolved from criticism.

I am convinced that the Pirates are in the business of being good, and do not care about being great – particularly when that involves spending money or risking future success. There is money to be made being good. If they sign Russell Martin I’ll come back and eat crow.


What if they make Martin an outstanding offer that an organization like the Red Sox, Cubs , Dodgers or Angels decides to top ? Then is it the Pirates Organization’s ” fault ” that Martin leaves ? Your oversimplification is outstanding.


Whatever offer another organization offers Russ Martin better at least be matched by Nutting. My oversimplification is almost as outstanding as your acceptance. I want championships, enjoy your “nice days at the ballpark”


You can’t be that ignorant of economic facts…can you ? And I especially like ” I want championships ” ! Well golly gee Mr. Special Fan ! You are certainly the only one that comments on PP that would like to see that. Why not set down and demand that the Pirates Organization pay special attention to some one as important as you.


Economic facts: The Pirates pursued no premiere free agents, delayed their best prospect for financial reasons, made no significant non-waiver trade deadline deals, and no significant waiver deadline deals — all while receiving record TV profits and revenue sharing. As a season ticket holder, it would be in their best interests to listen to people as important as me.


I’m sure everyone else that showed up this year isn’t as important as you.

dion v. hankinson

One of the Pirate problems is the inconsistency of Mc Cutchen.,So many of his hits are in a less critical situation He is not a good clutch hitter.He is a good player but plays too deep and has a very poor arm. Comes in very well .I feel Marty is a better centerfielder.
Walker is a very average fielder .

Joe Duke

You prove yourself again and again to be one of the best and most thoughtful sports writers out there.


I don’t think anyone was expecting the Pirates to land Price or Lester but not adding an established arm to the bull pen , well in my opinion standing pat was not the right thing to do . The O’s and the Nat’s seem to be doing Ok after making some key trades . I am a believer that you should always make an effort to improve your team , some work some don’t .


Tim is right and wrong, not an opinion just a fact. Huntington tried desperately to upgrade this team this year, if he thought it was good enough, he would not have tried so hard to upgrade it, sure if all the pieces fell into place they might make it, but he apparently thought the chances would have been much better if he could have upgraded this team. When you are willing to give away a lot of high end talent to make a move, that shows desperation to me.
The part about upgrades not necessarily working out was a big possibility. If they would have taken Burnett in the off-season instead of Volquez, Huntington would have been lauded by most, but would have made a bad decision.


Great post. I can summarize it: no move was the right move.


“The argument is extremely lazy, assuming that everything wrong with the Pirates is because they didn’t add Player X.”

No, lazy is writing an entire article based off a huge, flaming straw man. First class journalism here, folks.

Lukas Sutton

Any you got your degree from journalism at which school? Agree or disagree with his points, but thats just trolling at the point you act like its poor journalism. Its an opinion supported by situations.

John Lease

Yes, I do have a degree in Journalism. Penn State, class of 1985. And yes, the straw man argument is exactly what it was. Pretending the Pirates are being run well isn’t an opinion, it’s fantasy.


You don’t need a journalism degree to understand appropriate writing, Lukas.

A straw man is a distraction that lowers the intellect of the argument. Instead of focusing on the real issues, it interjects a point of contention that doesn’t exist.

You are equally as free to overlook this fact as I am to object to it.


NMR…why is your name NMR but your picture is “NRM”? Is the picture coincidental or did you have a bout with dyslexia there? Not sure why the extreme negativity towards this article that is one man’s opinion when you attack it with no facts whatsoever. That is trollish. I might have even agreed with you if you had a point or two because saying the Pirates needed to make a move is like saying “What if the A’s didn’t make a move?” You don’t know until you do it.


My picture is a hat tip to a guy who calls me National Record Mart after the old music store.

The manner in which Tim composed the article – contrasting his argument with a counter argument that is fabricated – is not an opinion. It is the definition of a straw man.

Nobody is assuming everything that has went wrong with the Pirates is due to not adding a player. Nor is anyone assuming that adding one player will fix every problem. That is a fabricated argument set up to be easily defeated.

You’re looking for facts? Sure. How bout the fact that this team projects to be within 1-2 games of a playoff spot while running out a bullpen in which the bottom five arms have combined for -2.3 WAR. A bullpen that has been clearly flawed since May, has gotten no better, and has not been improved.

This very site talks ad nausea about how not only is it easy to build a bullpen, it can be done cheaply. If one is to believe that, then there is absolutely no excuse for the situation they find themselves in.


Nice. Thanks…and I agree. Getting Axford is fine but they needed another real solid reliever long ago…and experimenting with Frieri and pulling the ripcord on Grilli was bad.


Apparently Grilli was let let go as a clubhouse management move because he wasn’t taking his demotion well. I can understand that, though it didn’t work out well performance wise between Grilli and Frieri.


The talent in the pen is not the complete problem with the pen IMO, how Hurdle uses them is a big one. Morris was not a high leverage relief pitcher, much better at starting an inning, the way Miami mostly uses him. Grilli had an attitude problem when they moved him away from the closer position, but is doing well in low leverage situations.
I agree that the pen could have used some retooling.
Hughes is a high leverage specialty relief pitcher, not a late inning innings eater. Melancon is not a late inning innings eater either and should not have been run out there for 2 innings.
Hurdle is a role manager, not a man to man manager, most of the managers in MLB today manage man to man in the late innings, especially going down the stretch. IMO, the Pirates should have gotten a specialty left hander to go with Hughes, however I doubt very much if Hurdle lets the guy only pitch to one batter. Moving Lopez a couple of years ago might have been a big mistake. Most of the clubs that are ahead of the Pirates have one or two specialty people in their pen. Hurlde gets a lot of credit for keeping his pen strong, (too the point of taking a loss IMO) but rarely does anyone question his use of the pen in strategic situations.


Pirates had one of the top 20 bullpen performances of all time last season following the management structure that you are currently faulting.

I really don’t think this is black and white, there is a tremendous amount of noise in bullpen performance, and everyone can find after the fact examples of when this or that method failed or worked. I think Hurdle has some belief in the clean inning, because 1)correctly pitchers are generally better without runners on, and 2)he believes that it limits the number of appearances, thus number of times a pitcher warms up and gives more rest day. I cannot prove or disprove the 2nd part.

A more role oriented bullpen focusing on leverage and actual platoon splits is most likely better. But there really isn’t any team that currently does this, the man management method you advance in practice is managers chasing platoon splits of that are the most marginal, and interpreting splits as nothing more than handedness. If a manager brings in a LHH to pinch hit against Melancon he doesn’t under understand the concept.


I don’t think it is black and white either and I don’t believe in managing after the fact, I believe in situational managing. I agree that all teams start off a game with roles set for the pen, but most managers change when the situation presents itself IMO.


leadoff, I’ll be the last guy to argue Hurdle is a good bullpen manager and certainly feel his usage has been suspect at times, but think about one of the examples you just used.

No, Mark Melancon isn’t suited for multi-inning outings. You know who else agrees with that? Clint Hurdle, judging by the fact that Wednesday was the first time in 133 appearances with the Pirates in which Melancon was asked to pitch more than one inning. The decision to use him in that role was due to a lack of options, plain and simple.


I don’t believe Hurdle used Melancon for 2 innings because he did not have other options, I believe that he is going down the stretch and he thinks that Melancon was the best pitcher he had for the job, he has a fleet of pitchers and options this time of year. He is doing the same thing with Watson, he is now pitching him in the 7th inning, trying to keep the best caliber pitcher he has out there, but that is where he is wrong, the best pitcher might not be the best pitcher for the situation.
Going down the stretch Hurdle looks to me like he is going to go with less hoping to get more, rather than using all the tools he has available.


“…he has a fleet of pitchers and options this time of year.”

Again, this argument only works if that fleet doesn’t suck. They do.


Whether they suck or not, Hurdle ends up needing them in the end anyway, why not cut to the chase and use them. I am old school, I believe when a pitcher does not have it get him out of there, I don’t care how good he was or is, I only care about the current situation, If I have to use the whole fleet to get out of an inning that will cause me to lose, I’ll use them.
How many times has Hurdle stuck with a starter until his pitcher gets tied up or behind when the guy was done, he still ends up needing another pitcher, my question is why wait until it is too late?


leadoff,I can’t tell you how much I agree with you on this. Wihout getting into specifics, Hurdle goes against the grain when it comes to ” man to man ” management with his bullpen, and this season it has jumped up and bit him. Love him or hate him,( and I really disliked a lot about ) LaRussa, he and Dave Duncan showed the way.


LaRussa is a stubborn egoistical old-school neanderthal whose bullpen management was far from optimal.

Luhnow recounted a meeting early in his Cardinals career when he and sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman (who was then consulting for St. Louis) tried to explain the relationship between leverage and reliever usage to Tony La Russa, who responded with a litany of objections (relievers are conditioned to pitch at predetermined times; closers know the market pays for saves) that Luhnow and Lichtman weren’t prepared to address.



LaRussa is widely known to be a very conservative type of contrarian who would argue with anyone of an opposite political viewpoint on whether the sky is daylight or if it is night. What that proves about his discussions with Jeff Luhnow and a sabrematrician is subject to analysis by a psychologist I would think. If it affected the way he and Duncan utilized their bullpen, it isn’t obvious. Luhnow’s judgement in some areas is also subject to some scrutiny I would think.


I agree on Luhnow he currently seems better suited for secondary role, as opposed to GM.

My point is that we are discussing two different forms of less than optimal bullpen usage. If I had to pick one, I agree with you and Leadoff, I think more can be made out of flawed bullpen arms if they are used base on the
situation. Maybe Pimental would have had some use if he was hidden from LHH as he walks them 14% of the time and RHH only 7% with similar K rates.

I’m not really defending Hurdle, certainly some luck in last year’s performance, but contrast that with Showalter who seems to empty the bullpen every other night. He oversaw the best bullpen performance of all time in 2012, is doing well this season, but 2013 and 2010 were terrible with 2011 being average. As for La Russa if I’m being really cynical, I’m not sure if the credit should go to him or his bullpen’s health, that was aided by the testosterone and it’s precursors that were floating around in his clubhouses.


Heh heh Andrew, great reply. Smiling at that LaRussa reference also. When you talk about luck, LaRussa’s performance in his last World Series was about as dreadful as a MLB Manager can pull off. So Ron Washington accommodated him by being even worse ! Back to the present, Showalter and Hurdle have shared the same bullpen rabbit foot on occasion, but eventually that will come back to bite.


And Metheny is following in their footsteps.


Obviously Andrew disagrees with you ( and me also ) He is pretty consistent in his comments, but, I thought that Hurdle was very lucky last season with a good many moves that were head scratchers, but they worked out for him. This year, his luck was proceeded by the word ” bad “, and the forecast regression has surely followed.


In fairness to the “we should have made moves” crowd, there were a number of other pitching and 1B options than outlined in the article above. And, in hindsight, the Morris and Grilli deals might have cost us a game or two.


The only other 1B that made sense was Abreu and Morneau. Obviously the Pirates scouts didn’t think Morneau was going to bounce back. And I believe a lot of clubs were shocked at the money that was spent on Abreu.
I don’t see any SP that really catch the eye either. I think arbitration or options are on there too (Wandy is on the list). You could say Hammel or Chen, but both are projects. One project is enough for me (and I’m glad it worked out). Other than that, it would have meant bidding for Hughes or Nolasco or Garza. Definite options, but no guarantees.

And none of them fix the point that Tim was making, which is the back end of the rotation has fulfilled it’s purpose, and mostly exceeded expectations. Cole, Liriano, and Morton were the ones who underperformed the most, and have led to the pitching staff as a whole being bad.


It’s possible that holding onto Grilli and Morris might have benefited, but we do know one fact: pitching Morris and Grilli cost us seven wins in April/May.

Morris had 4 holds, 3 blown saves for Bucs. He has 12 holds, 4 blown saves for Miami. While his ERA and WHIP might look great, seems he’s still a bit iffy in high leverage situations, considering he’s blowing 25% of those opportunities.

S Brooks

Fact check on that – the Pirates came back to win 4 of the 7 games in which Grilli and Morris blew saves, so while their performance was unquestionably crap, it’s not true that they cost the team 7 wins. Even if you throw in the game against the Reds where Grilli came into the 9th in a 5-5 tie and allowed the winning run to score, that still only adds up to 4 losses.


OK, good job on fact checking. As long as we’re on the subject though, there were also three games where Morris added gas to the fire, preventing a potential comeback, so let’s split the difference and call it five and a half 🙂

Scott Kliesen

One could say the primary reason the Pirates have fallen back from last year’s record is Pitching. Yes, Cole, Liriano and Morton have failed to pitch as well as they did last season, and the bullpen has an inordinate amount of meltdowns, too. However, I say the season boils down to this simple truth, they are 13-22 vs Cards and Brewers despite OUTSCORING them by 20 runs in those 35 games!

In layman’s terms, they have been extremely unlucky this year.


SK: Good points and good numbers, but there are also some important considerations. The Pirates played over their heads last year and it was all good – they got on a roll and stayed on a roll, building up a large cushion. We got down a little, but then Morton and Cole came on in the second half and pitched very well. This year the first two months were ,500 if I recall, and they never put up numbers that could sustain them if they hit a bad stretch, and we were forced to use up both Locke and Worley early in the season. There is also the “every other year” theory with Liriano and Morton who never seem to put together consecutive seasons of good or bad. We went out on a limb for Morton with a long term contract which will cost us $16 mil over the next 2 years. You speak his name in 2014 and there was nobody on earth who could tell you what you were going to get from him in a start – a no hitter? A great game then a meltdown? Or, cannot find the strike zone, and when he does, the ball cannot avoid the bats? No doubt he has the stuff.

Should we try to sign Volquez or depend on getting some of the pitching we thought we would have this year? Pimental never materialized, and Taillon lost the year to TJ surgery. Locke and Worley really helped this year, but lately, it looks like Locke cannot seem to find the strike zone, let alone having command within the zone, which is a necessity for him. Is Kingham ready? I think either way with Kingham and Taillon, the Bucs will probably let them stay at AAA until June. So, Cole, Morton, Locke, and Worley to start the year?

Our hitting is good enough to win – now and in the future. Martin is a must, but with the consideration that he only works 125 games a year. He will definitely be issued a QO if we cannot sign him long term. I like the maturation of Marte, Harrison, and Mercer. ‘Cutch and Walker both are doing well, and if Gregory Polanco cannot start and bat in the No. 2 hole, we need to reevaluate our goals for this team.


Agree whole heartedly although explain why Matt Thornton got past them for nothing? Also after one outing I have to say who the hello thought Holdskom couldn’t have helped about a month ago? This guy has electric stuff and would have helped.

David Lewis

“explain why Matt Thornton got past them for nothing?”

Because he wasn’t very good, and $3.5M/year through 2015 is a lot to pay for a mediocre middle reliever?


“wasn’t very good” doesn’t answer the question if he’s still better than what the Pirates have, which is almost certainly true.

And as the Nationals have shown by claiming him, there’s still a market for him at $3.5m. No reason the Pirates couldn’t have let another team pick him up this winter.

David Lewis

xFIP is somewhat of a blunt instrument, but I’m being lazy.

Thornton’s xFIP with the Yankees was 3.89.

First-half xFIP of the Pirates’ relief pitchers:
Watson: 2.78
Melancon: 2.83
Hughes: 3.68
Wilson: 3.98
Gomez: 3.99
Pimentel: 4.31
Morris: 4.51
Grilli: 4.56

Thornton was “almost certainly” better than Grilli (gone), Morris (gone), and Pimentel (treated like a Rule 5 pick). He was “almost certainly” worse than Watson and Melancon. He was about the same as Hughes, Wilson, and Gomez.

So you’re paying $1.1M for two months of a middle reliever who you expect to be about the same as your current #3 -#5 relievers. Why is this a good idea?


You’re using xFIP as a scalpel instead of the blunt object it was intended to be. xFIP is a starting point, not definitive proof.

This bullpen lacks a second quality lefty. Has all year. This is inarguable. Matt Thornton is a quality lefty. That is also inarguable. You can wait for Justin Wilson’s results to regress to his peripherals, or you can go get a guy that is already actually pitching well.


Thornton is a LOOGY, bullpen arms hidden from the opposite handed batters are likely to outperform FIP/xFIP, and there is certainly a small but significant projected gap in Thornton’s performance vs Wilson the rest of season.

On the other hand Pirates seem to eschew specialists, rightly or wrongly, and I don’t think a LOOGY with $3.5 million due is easily moved in the off-season.


I suppose “no reason” was a bit strong, Andrew. I’m still a believer in listening to the market, however, and the market just deemed $3.5m for a year of his services appropriate.


I think that is the difference between the deadline/waiver market and the offseaon market, and I think the Nationals understand that they will be paying Thornton next season but accept that because of the usage they will get out of him in September and the post-season. I could be wrong, and additional serviceable options who are currently performing well would have certainly benefit the Pirates.


I was wondering if his stuff is quirky and new, so they wanted to delay other teams getting at bats against him. will he be this effective after he’s been around for a while?

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