First Pitch: A Different and Easier Approach to the Pitching Staff This Year

In 2012, the Pirates needed A.J. Burnett to bounce back in order to have a shot at a top of the rotation starter.

They had Burnett in 2013, but needed Francisco Liriano to bounce back in order to join Burnett at the top of the rotation and make the pitching staff stronger.

Last year they parted with Burnett, and brought in Edinson Volquez to replace him. They also brought in Vance Worley in a smaller deal, and he played a big role.

Three years in a row the Pirates have heavily relied on reclamation projects to make up their rotation. From the looks of things, it won’t continue for a fourth year. Sure, Burnett is back, and looks like a bit of a reclamation project again. However, I think getting healthy will help him bounce back, as you could argue that a lot of his issues last year were due to his sports hernia. There’s also the fact that no one really expects him to be a top of the rotation guy again. Instead, he’s expected to provide middle of the rotation production this time around. Top of the rotation stuff would be a huge bonus.

The Pirates are still getting deals in the rotation. You could argue that Francisco Liriano’s deal is more favorable than Brandon McCarthy’s and Ervin Santana’s deals, despite the fact that Liriano has been the same value or better the last two years. And then today the Pirates watched Volquez agree to a two-year, $20 M deal with the Royals, while they’re paying Burnett for one season. It’s almost the exact opposite of last year’s situation. The Pirates have the less-expensive pitcher, and due to their focus on defense, pitch framing, and the work of their pitching coaches, they will probably get the better results once again.

So where are the reclamation projects? Why abandon an approach that has gone so well? The past week we’ve seen Justin Masterson and Brett Anderson sign deals for around $10 M. Brandon Morrow signed a deal for $2.5 M guaranteed, paying him up to $5 M in bonuses as a starter, or $1 M in relief. I don’t think the Pirates needed to pay $10 M for a guy like Masterson or Anderson, but it’s hard to look past Morrow for such a low guarantee, and such a low maximum price.

The Pirates do have reclamation projects, although they’re only counting on them as depth this year. Clayton Richard is one of those projects, and fills the “Vance Worley” type role of emergency depth out of Triple-A, with the chance to be more. At his best, he has put up numbers close to a number four starter or the back-end of league average results. And the Pirates have shown a tendency to get the best out of the majority of their reclamation projects.

There’s also less of a need for reclamation projects this year. The Pirates will start the season with six guys — Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Burnett, Charlie Morton, Worley, and Jeff Locke — fighting for five spots, and they won’t really need a fifth starter until the third week in April. They’ve got Richard, Brandon Cumpton, and Casey Sadler as early season options. And some of their best pitching prospects could be arriving by mid-season, with Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and Adrian Sampson expected to begin the year in Triple-A. Not only do they have six guys fighting for five rotation spots in Pittsburgh, but they have six guys fighting for five rotation spots with Indianapolis.

With all of the reclamation projects that were on the open market, I would have liked to see the Pirates sign someone like Morrow, or maybe even Kris Medlen. However, I tend to trust their judgement on pitchers, and I feel they’ve earned that trust over the last few years.

So what does this mean for Ray Searage and Jim Benedict? It means their jobs get a little easier. Rather than reviving guys like Volquez, Liriano, and Burnett, they can focus on getting Gerrit Cole to his upside as a top of the rotation guy, seeing if Jeff Locke can have success in the second half, and working on the adjustment to the MLB level for any rookie that makes the jump from Indianapolis this year.

Links and Notes

**The 2015 Prospect Guide will be shipping on Saturday. Everyone who places an order by Friday night will have their shipment sent out on Saturday morning. According to the USPS, all orders sent out by Saturday should arrive in time for Christmas. If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, you can do so on the products page of the site. The eBook will be released on Friday.

**Edinson Volquez Agrees to Deal With Royals

**Winter Leagues: Two Doubles From Pedro Florimon, Nunez Homers

**The Rumors About the Marlins Being Interested in Pedro Alvarez Can Be Put to Rest

First Pitch

  • Brian K. Rhodes
    December 19, 2014 11:08 am

    No spot for Pimentel this season? Will they try to trade him or can he pass through waivers? He stayed on the roster all of 2014 so the team must have had high hopes for him and possibly still do. But it’s getting awfully crowded.

  • In the last ten seasons, only once has a starter over the age of 37 posted a FIP under 4.00 while also walking more than three batter per nine innings. AJ Burnett is coming off a season in which he walked 4.04 BB/9 and has a career mark of 3.68 BB/9.

    Now there’s clearly more to AJ’s success or failure than walk rate, but what I think that does point out is that almost all successful old starters get there with plus control and command. Intuitively, we all know this.

    AJ will never be confused with a command artist, lost 2 mph on his fastball last season, and still is only a two-pitch pitcher.

    I personally have a tough time putting much faith in him recovering from surgery, regaining his stuff, and tightening up his command after aging another year.

    What the Pirates have done in bringing Burnett back is settle on limited upside while not really even reducing much risk.

    • Apply for NH’s job. You appear to know a lot more than he and the rest of their brain trust

      • You say recovering from surgery as if the hernia procedure is known to be tough to overcome and regain full ability. He had the surgery awhile ago, and is already well beyond the recovery stage. So he has many months to get 100%. Age is an issue, but the guys stats from last year are all very clearly related to the injury, so using them to prove he is a 4 BB/9 guy is at least a bit flawed. He wont be a TOR arm, but his upside is a very competent middle rotation man.

        • Ha! Please. Does your medical degree and resume as a professional baseball scout make you qualified to say definitively that his performance last year was all due to injury? Give me a break.

          And your last sentence is exactly my point. His upside is a competent middle rotation starter. The typical Pirate reclamation project has always had higher upside. The Pirates are now paying him similar to other high upside reclamation projects, but without the expectation of having high upside.

          For this deal to make sense, you then have to have confidence in his floor being higher (I do) AND his risk being lower (I don’t). Therefor, I would have preferred the Pirates continue with what they’ve had success doing, and not settle on the familiar name.

          • So you cant in any way see how the majority of that crappy year is easily due to injury+a major change in defensive ability? As 2 non-medical people, we can both see the chances of him simply sucking last year is less than the chance that his injury and the Phils bad defense contributed greatly to his stats. His upside is lower, and his downside is likely back end option. For this deal to make sense, he has to stay healthy and be 60-75% of what he was 2 years ago. He can throw 180 IPs with a 3.6-3.8 ERA and fill the hole we needed him to. Those stats are in no way unrealistic, even assuming normal age regression. AJ is a competent option as a 3-4th best pitcher in a rotation.

            • Never said that the injury didn’t contribute at all. Of course it did.

              But that’s also an all too convenient excuse for a pitcher who should be losing his stuff not actually losing his stuff.

              If AJ had the ability to vary his repertoire and live on the corners I’d have much less concern about his age. The dude is 38. He’s not going to be able to pitch like AJ Burnett forever.

              Again, and I honestly don’t know why I have to even say this again at this point, it’s not that I necessarily think it was a bad signing. It’s that I’d prefer that money put towards someone with higher upside, like the Pirates have been successful doing three years in a row.

              • The market really didnt favor them finding a high upside guy for cheap. AJ might not be a potential TOR arm, but his upside is still a very good 3 man. For a team with a set 1-2, that is fine.

                • Tim listed two guys in Burnett’s price range with much more upside in this very article. The market absolutely had options. The Pirates made the conscious decision to turn elsewhere.

                  • I really like the fact that Burnett is a one year deal. The younger guys coming up won’t be blocked. The “other options” were all multi year deals that the Pirates won’t need (other than Liriano).

        • Lukas, it appears that your comment was not meant for me, but for NMR. I am in total disagreement with his comment, and agree with your latest there completely by the way.

      • Neal Huntington, the same guy who willfully went into 2014 with 35 yo Wandy Rodriguez in the Opening Day rotation?

        Obviously I don’t know as much as Neil Huntington, nor did my post come anywhere close to insinuating I did. You act like every move he makes is infallible, and I’m crazy for having the audacity to feel a bit uncomfortable counting on a 38 yo starting pitcher to be a mid-rotation starter over the course of a season.

        • As I recall, Houston was paying a good portion of Wandy’s contract for that year – $5.5 million of $13 million owed.

          Nonetheless, arthritis seems like an easy diagnosis on a team physical. San Diego picked up on it for Matt Kemp.

          I am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one. But won’t a major league level physical reveal degenerative bone diseases? I am curious how the Pirates medical examiners missed out on that one.

        • Yeah, you are right about one thing. Obviously you don’t know as much as NH, that is certain. And where you get the idea that I think the Organization, or any organization for that matter, is infallible, is beyond me. By the way, Adam Wainwright, who the Cardinals are ” willfully ” counting on to be their TOR pitcher , will be 34 during the upcoming season. You know, a year younger than W, Rodriguez was last season ? Quit digging your hole deeper.

    • Burnett will be available early in the season when Morton’s availability is questionable. If Burnett has lost too much he’ll be first out of the top six when Morton is ready. He also provides the advantage of a one year contract, allowing the advance of younger talent, which a two year contract would have blocked.

      • Burnett isn’t the only pitcher to sign a one year contract this winter.

        • He’s the only potential starter to sign with us. The one year deal is the only real reason I prefer Burnett to Volquez. If their salaries were equal and each would take a one year contract I’d chose Volquez over Burnett.

    • NMR,

      “I personally have a tough time putting much faith in him recovering from surgery, regaining his stuff, and tightening up his command after aging another year.”

      You will be relieved that just because the Pirates are paying him $8.5 million, he is not guaranteed a roster spot for the season (see Wandy Rodriguez last year). Also, last year Burnett still pitched 213 innings (career high), made 34 starts, and recorded 190 strikeouts. A good pitch framer will help him with the walks – I think that may be the most striking thing about his numbers from last year.

      Consider AJ numbers:
      2009 – 195 SO, 97 BB (Yankees)
      2010 – 145 SO, 78 BB (Yankees)
      2011 – 173 SO, 83 BB (Yankees)
      2012 – 180 SO, 60 BB (Pirates)
      2013 – 209 SO, 67 BB (Pirates)
      2014 – 190 SO, 96 BB (Phillies)

      Burnett’s SO / BB ratio hovered around 2:1 for the Yankees, jumped to 3:1 for the Pirates, and then dropped back down to 2:1 for the Phillies.

      Maybe there is something to this pitch framing voodoo.

      • Except he already was throwing to a good pitch framer last year.

        I appreciate you doing the leg work on those K/BB rates, and I absolutely think he can put up a full season as a mid-rotation starter.

        I just also understand that historically, very few pitchers his age have been able to do that. I’m simply hedging my bets that AJ may not in fact be one of those extremely small number of pitchers.

  • C’mon spring. I think the bucs are gonna be like graendal laying waste to the central. (Just hope the endings better for them )

  • RichardJarzynka
    December 18, 2014 9:53 am

    Don’t expect to see Jameson Taillon in Pittsburgh in 2015. Prior to missing all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery, he had made only 6 starts at AAA. Give him a full season to recover and develop in Indianapolis.

    The team needs to acquire a right-handed set-up man and a first-baseman who can hit left-handed pitchers.

    • I don’t disagree about Taillon. I just think it’s a tough situation cuz if he spends all year in Indy then we won’t see him until June 2016, at which point he will be “overly ripe” so to speak.

      • What does that even mean?

      • RichardJarzynka
        December 18, 2014 11:12 am

        I’d rather see a top prospect stay at AAA longer than necessary than see him come to the major leagues too soon.

        • Why would people who generally think that the Pirates do a good job with pitchers think that they know more about when to bring up a young pitcher than the Pirates staff?

        • Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with that and I tend to agree. It’s just a matter if they want the help now versus later

      • Whaaaat was that again ?

      • Times change, needs change. Given AJ won’t be around in 2016 and a better revenue stream during Taillon’s arb years, I don’t know if they’d necessarily worry about Super Two in his case. If they weren’t fielding a competitive team, yeah, you’d be right. But that’s no longer the case.

        • Perhaps if we were discussing Kingham or someone else, I could see them not worrying so much about it, but with someone like Taillon who has ace potential, I think they’ll protect him from Super Two. Just my opinion but of course they may see it differently.

          • I think it all depends. I believe come June Taillon will be ready to pitch in the majors. He was a guy who was already pretty polished when he was drafted. The injury definately sets him back, but I think he was ready to make leap at mid-season had he not been injured. What it comes down to is 2 things: 1) Will Locke and Worley play up to their potential this season, and 2) will Morton and the rest of the rotation be healthy

            As for the latter, we’ve seen in the past that even when it looks like you have excess pitching depth, you always need to tap into all of it. If we have 1 or 2 major injuries, which isn’t hard to imagine, then it could complicate the matter. If come super 2 deadline this team is forced to lean on guys like Sadler and Richard due to injury and they aren’t putting out quality starts, then I don’t see why you don’t bring a guy like Taillon or Kingham up. It will also depend on how those 2 do at Indy the first half. There are too many variables to definatively say that we should give Taillon the whole year at AAA or we should bring him up at super 2. So many things can happen over the course of 162 games. And if it turns out that we do give him the full season at AAA, you certainly can’t say he will make the team out of spring training 2016. We don’t know what could happen with Locke, Worley, Morton or even Liriano. Lock and Worley could easily have huge breakout seasons and Liriano could easily struggle with his control and revert back to his form from 2-3 years ago. Or they could could all play at their maximum potential. You just don’t know. That being said, I think the latest that you will see Taillon in a pirates jersey is super 2 2016. Anything past that you are definately letting him “over-ripe” in the minors as Ben said.

        • Depends on the strength of the rotation. If they feel they can have an above average rotation without Taillon, they absolutely save a good deal of money and worry about Super 2. Liriano-Cole-Morton-Kingham all playing well could greatly impact Taillon.

          • I think pushing starting pitchers into Super 2 territory is especially dumb.

            What are you getting between the date at which the extra year of control is gained and Super 2 passes, 8 starts? At most?

            If your organization doesn’t have anybody competent enough to fill 8 starts within a win of what you’d get out of a prospect in his rookie season you have much bigger problems than Super 2.

            • I agree with this, particularly with the depth the Pirates have at pitching. We can find a competent arm to fill in for 8ish starts and save a ton of money overall from avoiding Super 2.

    • I would take a guess that Liz is the set up man in the plan. Clint Barmes just told MLB Network radio a while ago that he thinks Alvarez will have no trouble at all adapting to 1st base, and it will be the best thing that could happen to him as a hitter. He also said the Pirates are going to be very good,and will be for a long time.

      • RichardJarzynka
        December 18, 2014 11:57 am

        Alvarez has a career .588 OPS against lefties. Last year, his OPS vs. lefties was .504. The Pirates need to find a platoon for him.

        • We need to sign Gaby Sanchez back

        • Tony Sanchez or Sean Rodriguez will likely be his platoon-mate. Maybe they turn back to Gaby, but I believe his ship has sailed.

          • RichardJarzynka
            December 18, 2014 2:30 pm

            Rodriguez might be adequate. His OPS against lefties is around .740. And he would provide excellent defense at 1B.

          • I think it’s hilarious that Gaby was dropped due to lack of versatility and projected salary and yet here the team stands with money to spare, an open bench spot, another one occupied by AAA talent that just so happens to play shortstop, and no RH bench bat.

            • I wonder what the Dodgers would want for Scott Van Slyke? I know Matt Kemp went to San Diego, and so the Dodgers outfield is slightly less jammed up but consider Van Slyke’s numbers last year:

              .315 AVE, 1.045 OPS versus lefties (108 ABs)
              .314 AVE, 1.073 OPS away from Dodger Stadium (105 ABs)

              Obvious overlap here and a small sample size, but a Van Slyke for Kingham deal might make some sense. It makes more sense when you consider that Scott isn’t arbitration eligible until next year and McCutchen may be gone after 2018.

              • Likely a lot. No real reason to move him cheap, and he gives them a great (and somewhat versatile) bench bat. He makes a ton of sense, but likely costs more than his worth as a bench bat getting mainly starts against LHP.

                • He would probably cost a fair piece in a trade, but not much in annual salary. Would a Kingham for Van Slyke trade make sense for both teams?

                  • I could maybe see both teams being okay with that, but PIT shouldnt be. If they arent giving a sizable amount of playing time to VS, they traded 6 years of control over a back end – middle rotation arm for a part time player.

                    • Josh Harrison was a “part time player” until he showed he had an everyday bat. Even if Van Slyke only manages 250-300 AB’s a season playing the right handed bat in a 1B platoon, pinch hitting, and giving the everyday outfielders a rest, does that right handed “utility guy” warrant trading a middle rotation arm.

                      I mean really that is who we are talking about here. If Pedro didn’t have the throwing yips, he is still the third baseman and Harrison is the right handed bench bat.

                    • And you have to believe that a Van Slyke in Pittsburgh is going to sell a few extra tickets 🙂

                    • I think you’d want more of a role for him than that if you’re giving up Kingham. Moving Snider would free up outfield AB’s, though, and Lambo could take the LH outfield reserve spot.

                    • Okay, package deal – Kingham / Snider for Van Slyke / Paco Rodriguez.

                      Oh, and ESPN has just reported that Matt Kemp has been diagnosed with arthritis throwing the San Diego trade for him in a tailspin.

                    • I don’t know who “wins” that trade, but I think it would be fun none-the-less.

                    • Well, I would hope the Pirates would win with that trade in the sense that Van Slyke would give them a good right handed bat off the bench / utility guy and Rodriguez could be a good lefty out of the bullpen. In terms of big league experience, Rodriguez has been in the majors for three years while Kingham is unproven to this point. But I think that Kingham projects as a starter offsets that.

                      As for the Dodgers, if they can’t unload Kemp (right handed bat), then may try to unload Either (left handed bat), which leaves them with Puig, Kemp, and Van Slyke as right handers in the outfield and Crawford and Joc Pederson as left handed bats in the outfield. Can Joc Pederson play center field? The only reason Kemp is on the block is because Eithier is their best all around outfielder.

                    • The problem is, you dont know when a guy like Harrison is going to explode and they wont bench Pedro for VS without Pedro being basically useless. VS wont get 250-300 because Snider is the backup OFer and Pedro is alive. Even if they move Snider, Cutch and Marte wont sit more than 5 games each barring injury. As the roster sits now, VS gets 0 OF playing time and about 1/4th time at 1B if that. VS is a solid option, but they will want a good return in prospects and a future 3-4 rotation option with all of his years of control left isnt worth the “maybe” that is VS breaking into 3 WAR territory.

                    • Lukas,

                      See Snider / Kingham for Rodriguez / VS proposed trade below. If Snider is part of the trade, then VS gets those extra ABs. In return, the Pirates get another left handed arm in the bullpen. As NMR mentioned, Lambo becomes the left handed option off the bench.

                      Also, Pedro (good, bad, or otherwise) is likely gone in two years (Scott Boras client). Why not get a guy like Van Slyke who crushes lefties and has passable numbers vs. righties?

                    • Doubtful the team wants to block a young prospect like Bell with VS, particularly so soon after moving Bell from a position of higher trade value. They likely like the notion of Pedro walking just as Josh Bell is ready to take over.

        • Man, that is OUTSTANDING information Richard. Now give me some more ” inside ” information.

  • I like that the Pirates have invested in proven SP’s in AJ & Frankie, both having some of their best years pitching in PNC Park. There’s no doubt they have a more proven staff heading into the season than the last couple years.

    Considering both the Cards and Reds have moved proven SP’s this off-season, Pirates arguably have the best starting staff from top to bottom in NL Central. Now it’s time for Cole to grab the bull by the horns and be the #1 stud over an entire season. I predict Cole will be in the Cy Young conversation in 2015.

    • SK

      I was reading one of JAL’s links the other day over at the PBC Asylum and it was an MLB article considering the path to the playoffs for each team in our division. While the writer went all Captain Obvious by picking the Cards over the Bucs by two games, his writing also spoke loudly on the point you make here.

      The Cards’ pitching – at least right now – is nowhere near as good “top to bottom” as ours. They have one or two guys who are very good, but the rest could be reasonably expected to have problems and I’m not seeing any depth there at all. Only the Bucs seem to have this deep vein of pitching this season.

      Gotta hand it to Huntington. This could be our year to put up another pennant.

      -BB

    • Arguably, sure. This is baseball. Everything is an argument.

      I’d still comfortably take the Cards rotation, however.

  • I like that the Pirates have invested in proven SP’s in AJ & Frankie, both having some of their best years pitching in PNC Park. There’s no doubt they have a more proven staff heading into the season than the last couple years.

    Considering both the Cards and Reds have moved proven SP’s this off-season, Pirates arguably have the best starting staff from top to bottom in NL Central. Now it’s time for Cole to grab the bull by the horns and be the #1 stud over an entire season. I predict Cole will be in the Cy Young conversation in 2015.

  • William Wallace
    December 18, 2014 9:20 am

    I would have liked to have signed Frankie. Morton/Locke are iffy. Everyone and their mother thinks Taillon is going to be in the mix but until he starts throwing and throwing with control let’s not pencil him in.

  • As I understand it from various interviews, the Bucs have plenty of video on guys like Floyd, Anderson, Morrow, et.al. who would be considered for reclamation projects. If Ray/Jim think they can fix it, they make a recommendation to acquire the guy. If not, they pass. And as the Pirates were not closely linked to any of these guys – and in fact picked up Richard before any of the others were signed – tells me they didn’t like what they saw, or at least not enough to pay the prices other teams paid.

    And I’m fine with that.

    And hey, Chad Billingsley is still out there 🙂

    • I thought Billingsley was going to be a stud for years to come back in the day.
      As it is, I’m good with where the Bucs stand going into the season. I’m more excited to see Kingham or Taillon than I am to see one year of Gavin Floyd or Brandan Morrow.

    • bucs: Excellent point about Ray and Jim and their input. I doubt many teams saw a future for Volquez last year based on his performance as a Padre in 2013, but he re-claimed his confidence and was able to parlay a $5 mil one year deal into 2/$20. I am thrilled for him and especially that he signed in the AL.

  • I liked Morrow as the 2015 Pitcher Reclamation Project®. Huntington may have offered Morrow a contract but it takes two to come to an agreement. Such is life.

  • This team should have a very good pitching staff this year. As you mentioned Tim, 6 guys for 5 spots to start the year. Plus Kingham, Sampson, and Taillon at various points this summer. I like Locke quite a bit as a reliever, so I’d look to get him in the pen. I think the Pirates will have an excellent pitching staff in 2015.

    • I agree…except for the part about Locke. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Gotta stick up for Marty, here. I’m with him on Jeff Locke. I really think he would be a very good bullpen / long relief arm. If he added a show me pitch that wasn’t a sitting duck, he’d be set for life.

        -BB

        • I agree as well. We’re in an off-season where Andrew Miller and Zach Duke got big multi-year deals as lefty relievers. If you look at their numbers as starters compared to Locke, the advantage is clearly in Locke’s favor.

          Tony Watson is one of the best lefty relievers, and he wasn’t even a great starter in Double-A.

          • I think those are awfully dangerous comps for Locke.

            Miller has always had far better stuff thank anyone could reasonably expect Locke to show in a relief role and Duke essentially had to completely reinvent himself as a sidearm junkballer.

            Still haven’t seen much evidence other than hope that Locke projects to be the kind of pitcher that plays up in relief.

            EDIT: Not to say he can’t be a serviceable middle reliever, but when guys like 2014 Miller and Duke are invoked, I don’t get the impression that serviceable middle reliever is something folks would be very excited getting out of him.

            • Yeah, Duke had a 4.35 SO/W last year, whereas Locke’s was 2.23 (1.74 career). Wonder what league average is?

          • Tony regularly hits 95-96 on the radar gun with his four seam and throws his sinker even harder.

            http://www.brooksbaseball.net/velo.php?player=453265&gFilt=&time=month&startDate=03/30/2007&endDate=12/18/2014&s_type=2

            And despite Watson’s year – 10 wins, a 5+ strikeout to walk ratio, and a 1.63 ERA – he did have 7 blown saves.

            Jeff Locke walks too many batters to be an effective reliever. He does not have that blow by first pitch strike fastball that many relievers rely upon. There are exceptions (knuckleballers like Wakefield and Niekro), but generally good relief pitchers bring the heat.

            • You have to account for the fact that as a reliever, the fastball gains speed. Not saying i like Locke as a relief man, but if he can throw 92ish as a SP, it stands to reason he could touch 94-95 in one inning work. Plenty of useful relievers sit around 94-95. If the FB gained 2-3mph in relief, it could make his change appear better. It would come down to how he attacks hitters.

              • Maybe. I don’t think it is a function of how many innings a pitcher throws. I think it comes down to plate approach. If Locke eliminated the hip turn and became more of a straight on pitcher he would gain velocity. The hip turn hides the ball longer but sacrifices some velocity.

                • That is absolutely a fair point, but even with the hip turn he could still gain at least 1-2 mph as is by knowing he only has to throw one inning.

              • If Locke is nothing more than a “useful reliever” he’ll be non-tendered after 2016. Huntington isn’t paying 2nd yr arb rates for a guy who is going to get credit for being a starter the majority of his career.

                • I would actually hope that is the case. Find an okay trade option or let him go, as they have 5 guys that are better and him not fitting into the bullpen makes him a no go. Liriano-Cole-Taillon-Morton-Kingham are all better options off the top of my head, leaving plenty of guys for depth.

                • A trade would be better.

  • Let’s not forget Liz or Pimentel either.Not sure if they have given up on Pimentel as a possibility to start or if they even plan on trying to make a starter out of Liz. But I look at both of these two guys and I see super talented power arms who have struggled to establish themselves as major leaguers but, if Benedict and Searage can get to work on them and get the results they want, We may have our Set up man and/or our closer of the future. Both have outstanding natural stuff. Melancon’s not going to be around much longer. Wouldn’t it be nice to see both of them reach their upside .Watson sandwiched between Pimentel in the 7th throwing 96 mph fastballs and Liz throwing 98-100 mph fastballs and knee buckling curve balls Maybe guys would hesitate before throwing at our MVP

    • Chris: Excellent points, but I hope to see at least 2 pitchers from AAA make their way into the Rotation sometime in 2014 – Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham. As far as a reclamation project we need not look at personnel outside of our own organization because we have some people who need to step up – Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke. We did not sign Morton for 3/$21 to give us another 4, 5 RHP. We had hoped that he had turned the corner and would be a possible low 3 or even a high 2. However, once again he was injured and did not reach his maximum contribution. His velocity was down a few clicks (probably due to injury) and I hope that he is healthy and can step up for this team this year. Jeff Locke can be better also, but I think he is going to need to develop a third pitch to assure success. His fastball was a very good pitch in velocity last year – sometimes hitting 93, but just a fastball/changeup will not get it for a LHSP in the majors.

    • CH

      Good points especially this last. With that much pitching depth, I would have no trouble retaliating when needed, even when looking at an ejection or even a suspension of some sort.

      The Pirates have to know that they’ve got to have Cutch’s back in EVERY case this season. They cannot allow their best player to live with a target on his back.

      I think one way of going about it would be to simply repay two-fold what is done to our guys. Cutch gets hit? Fine. The next batter from your team gets hit. And so does the one after him. And if you wanna toss our starter, fine. We’ll just go to our pitching depth and be there waiting for you to be fool enough to plunk our guys again.

      The Pirates cannot (read: CAN NOT) have the opposition taking advantage of Cutch. Period.
      ________________________________
      “Of course you know this means war.”
      -Wabbit

      • Dumbest. Idea. Ever.

        • NMR

          Okay, so I’ll admit a 2 for 1 plunking is … how shall we put it… over the top. I’m just saying that we have the depth to defend our guys.

          And I will walk with you a little way here by admitting we wouldn’t want to be classless or, God forbid, turn into the D-backs. But the point remains we lost the division last year, in part, because Cutch was effectively targeted and missed time due to a HBP injury.

          I can remember two or three times last season, maybe more, when Cutch would get hit by a pitch and the umps would warn both benches… Effectively saying you better not retaliate while allowing the opposition to sucker punch us.

          What I think is honest and a good idea is that – warning or no – one of your guys is getting it if you take liberties with our guys.

          I think there was a good body of evidence showing that beaning Cutch negatively effected his production too, so it makes sense for opponents to bean him if he’s gonna be skittish the rest of the game.

          My idea is not the Dumbest Idea Ever.

          The Dumbest Idea Ever was a toss up between a land war in southeast Asia and a war of choice in Iraq. Closely followed by going up against a Sicilian with death on the line….
          ____________________________
          “Would that be one lump or two?”
          “Oh, I like a lotta lumps.”

          -Wabbit

          • We lost the division by two games, so you are actually arguing that we lost two games because we went .500 during the time Cutch was hurt. Not the MUCH WORSE start to the season, but the .500 week and a half when Cutch went down. Sorry, its absurd to say the main reason we lost the division was Cutch got hit and hot hurt. Waay too many things that also contributed to 2 extra loses, or 1 loss, that also made the difference. Any notion of “we have to protect Cutch by hitting other players” takes the focus away from the game. Protect Cutch by sending the next pitch into the gap and scoring him, and win the game.

      • The Bob Gibson/Don Drysdale school of thought of hitting two for every one of ours is a thing of the past. Pirates already lead league in hit batters. The last thing they need to do to be successful is have a mindset of hitting more batters.

        • SK

          Hm. I did not know that that idea was previously championed by Messers Gibson and Drysdale. Those guys must be some of the Dumbest Guys Ever.

          Still, your post gives me pause. I was unaware that the Bucs led the league in hitting batters. This makes me think along two tracks:

          1. Pitching inside is a big part of our staff’s success and

          2. That success might come at Cutch’s expense.

          So. Okay. Fair enough. But I cling tenaciously to the idea that the opposition waiting for Cutch to bat for retaliation is not cool. You re-plunk the next guy up, right?

          And I have to say that some of the bean-balls Cutch took last season were very bad. The rib-cage 95 mph variety is bad enough, but a few guys were getting him in the head. I remember the one time Cutch was so jacked that he was bitching at guys in the other dugout, saying, “That was my HEAD, man!”

          There’s intimidation and then there’s reckless endangerment.

          So. Okay. If nobody’s gonna plunk their guy back I strongly suggest charging the mound and shoving the pitcher’s head up his arse.

          (I don’t know what’s come over me today. I’m being so violent. Cripes. I better take a multi-vitamin or something.)
          —————————————–
          “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!”
          -Wabbit

          • Too funny Wabbit!

            Lots of good Drysdale stories, but my favorite is the one claiming he purposely hit a batter while in the on deck circle because he had the audacity to attempt to time his swing to Drysdale’s pitches.

            As for protecting Cutch, there’s no simple clear cut answer. He isn’t the charge the mound kind of guy, otherwise he would’ve done it already. And the retaliation response will only perpetuate the problem.

            IMO, MLB is addressing it the best way they can. Unless they start hooking pitchers up to lie detectors to find out who is hitting batters on purpose, the warning system is the best way to address it.

            • One thing I have wondered is why more umpires are plunked. A 95-96 MPH fastball to the face mask still hurts like hell. Instead of bitching to the ump about bad ball / strike calls send that fastball shoulder high and the catcher just got crossed up on that pitch.

          • This is why you’re one of my favorites, Wabbit!

            My apologies for admittedly going over the top. I just think fans generally have these delusions of WIld West justice in baseball despite there being absolutely zero actual evidence that retaliating has any positive effect what so ever.

            Seriously. It’s not like this idea is new or anything.Yet fact is the more a team hits another, the more they are hit themselves. And this is not even debatable. It’s fact.

    • I think Liz is kind of a Holdzkom case, where they noticed something that changed about him before he was in the organization. Not that they won’t have stuff to work on, but it seems like he’s made the first step.

      I don’t know what they will do with Pimentel. Last year was the year to see what he could do in the majors.

      • Tim, I saw Liz against the Curve last Summer, and I couldn’t believe he was in AA. It was like a man against boys.

        • Well he was like 20 years older than most of the other kids. 😉

          • I have seen other MLB and AAAA guys pitch at that level and not look nearly as dominating. Showing 96 and 97 on the stadium radar in Altoona is nothing to laugh at. Particularly when the guy is throwing mid 80s sliders.

      • Ha! Dibs! I posted this thought the other day when I wrote, “I smell Holdzkom all over Liz.” Or something to that effect… Of course, I posted it and then thought about how awful that sounds.

        Or was it “Liz smells an awful lot like Holdzkom”?… I don’t know if one of these guys smells better than the other… but at least for both of ’em you can hear their fastball coming before you can see it.

        -BB

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