Tony Watson has established himself as one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. Out of 142 qualified relievers last year, he ranked 21st in WAR, 10th in ERA, and 24th in xFIP. He has done so well that he has become the set-up man in a dangerous late inning combo that also features Mark Melancon, who has been better than Watson.
But the Pirates need two left-handed relievers, and that need was increased when they traded Justin Wilson away to the New York Yankees to get Francisco Cervelli. The Pirates filled that need by dealing Joely Rodriguez to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Antonio Bastardo.
Bastardo has put up some good numbers in Philadelphia, with a high strikeout rate, a decent ERA, and advanced metrics that back up the ERA. There has been one downside, and that is a high walk rate. Last year was his worst season, with a 12.6% walk rate, despite a 29.9% strikeout rate. Fortunately for Bastardo, the Pirates have already started working on adjustments to fix the control issues.
I talked with Bastardo and pitching coach Ray Searage about the control (video below, along with highlights), and learned that they are working on a mechanical adjustment in his delivery, so that he can come down stronger on his front foot. This will prevent him from shifting side to side in his delivery, and will allow him to repeat that delivery better. Bastardo has already been a good reliever, even with the control problems. If he can eliminate those control issues like many other Pirates pitchers in the past few years, then he could turn into a great lefty reliever.
The Pirates are also trying to get Bastardo to use his changeup more often. Searage said that it is a good pitch, and referenced Watson as a guy who greatly benefitted by using his changeup more often. Watson only used the pitch 7% of the time in 2012, then upped the usage to 17.8% in 2013, and 21.5% in 2014. Those were also his best seasons, probably due in large part to the improvements against right-handers. Watson had a .304 wOBA against right-handers in 2012, compared to a .247 wOBA against lefties. He improved to a .260 wOBA against right-handers in 2013, and a .288 wOBA in 2014. The Pirates also trusted him to face over 100 more right-handers in 2014 than 2012.
Bastardo doesn’t use his changeup often. In his career, he has used the pitch 3.2% of the time, and only used it 1.1% of the time last year. He’s already a guy who does well against right-handers, but could see a boost in his numbers with increased usage of the pitch. Add in the possibility of improved control (which should also be helped by the Pirates’ duo of pitch framing catchers), and Bastardo could give the Pirates two of the best left-handers in the game.
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.
He should be much better than Wilson was for last years team.
This bullpen group led by Melancon, Watson, Bastardo, Holdzkom and Hughes has the makings of being the best in all of baseball. Now let’s hope Clint uses them intelligently and doesn’t burn any of them out by Labor Day. For example using Watson and Melancon in the 8th and 9th inning for the second day in a row if they have a 3 run lead.
Just a couple of more days and it will be time to play ball! once again. At which time we will see who do it and who don’t. Here’s to a great season with few surprises even fewer injuries and a championship at the end. Let’s go bucs!
It’s astonishing that a lefty (non-loogy) has thrown his changeup at a 3.2 percent rate over his career. It’s obvious that this was never a good pitch for him but
Have you guys seen JIHADI JOHN in just released photos in a Pirate Hat! Have we opened up a baseball academy in Syria?
I haven’t seen that, but I did see a picture from Raqqua a few weeks ago showing the results of Jordanian bombing and one of the men in the picture had a Yankees hat on. Not surprised.
Maybe he’s been watching Public Enemy videos with Chuck D rocking the P.
I can’t think of a pitcher the Pirates have not tinkered with, to their credit most of the time it works.
Jonathan Sanchez was abysmal, granted I read that he didn’t take the advice seriously. McDonald flamed out quickly as well.
Didn’t McDonald have TJ surgery? I think that might have been part of his problem late. Granted he has not come back,but some guys don’t. Still keeping my fingers crossed with Taillon.
Sanchez didn’t. He felt he would be fine without changing.
…and Sanchez never really was very good to begin with. Terrible control and high HR numbers throughout his career.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Besides, we only have him for a year.
Like you didn’t think Cole amounted to much ?
Well a 97 ERA- isn’t exactly stellar, but the day is young.
His FIP and xFIP and SIERA is rather similar to MadBum through both guys first two years, so this year is pretty telling. Took about 500 innings before Bum saw a big step forward into ace territory, so hopefully Cole is nearing that point where his talent+experience results in a nice progression. Not that its a lock Cole reaches ace level, but even guys like King Felix took a few hundred innings before really becoming that ace guy over a full season.
Not saying Cole has been bad, just a bit underwhelming to this point. For all his velocity his fastball seems hittable, and he struggles mighty when turning order over a 3rd time, possibly because he is so fastball reliant.
Bumgarner is left handed, throws his four-seamer high in the zone, relies on his fastball around 40% and throws a very effective hard slider/cutter. And is thus a fly-ball pitcher, left handed left fly ball pitchers are one class of FIP over-performs.. I don’t see the two as comparable at all.
Statistically in their first 2-3 years, they are. Which was my point, it had nothing to do with their stuff being comparable….more so that people assumed the hype with a big time guy like Cole means ace level success this quickly. My point was that it was that expectation that seems to drive a ton of this underwhelming feeling. More than a few guys that went on to ace level needed more than 2 years to do so.
So while i agree Cole hasnt lived up to expectations yet, its not really the norm for guys to do that so soon in his spot. K rate went up to where MadBum has seen his rate, his GB rate is solid, his periphs are similar. They get to their results in different ways, but when both guys were at this point in their career, both have been/are considered solid yet not spectacular at times.
Bottom line imo, for him to be where he is at isnt unusual. If he doesnt take steps forward this year/next year, then i worry he isnt an ace. Right now, he isnt that far off (or really at all) of a good number of guys with high expectations that went on to be TOR arms.
Through his first 320 inning, in 2009-11 Bumgarner had a 84 ERA-. NL starters have lost 0.32 runs off of ERA and 0.28 off of FIP since 2010.
To this point Cole for being a 1-1 college pitcher has been under whelming. Can that change? Sure, but is he much more a thrower than a pitcher currently. The secondary pitches need development.
And as a population pitcher aging curves don’t have a parabolic arc. Some of this is the unpredictability, some of it is that velocity universally declines, but as a whole there isn’t this steady improvement leading to several peak years.
You can pick and choose stats to try to make it seem like Cole isnt comparable to MadBum to the 2nd year in their careers, but FIP, xFIP, SIERA all show guys that had great stuff, flashes of ace and periods of feeling it out. They are different, but the period of learning how to dominate was similar in context and most importantly in time it took.
You say he has been underwhelming, stats say he has been similarly effective to this point as guys like Hernandez and Bum. Increases in his K rate and a continually solid xFIP and SIERA show positive signs, and the same was said of others. Yes, he hasnt lived up to “future ace and leader of a rotation” expectations, but thats absurd expectations to meet in 2 years. Him already being a safe 2-3 option is huge, and now he is at a point where he has to take the step that plenty before him have taken once they got a handle for ML stuff. Plenty of young SP didnt hit what became career norms for them right away, and that should really never be the expectation.
All I’m saying is pitchers are unpredictable without smooth development paths, and this idea of steady improvement is a fallacy.
Everyone understands the limitation of ERA, and FIP is a
better predictor of future of performance but it is not without its own limitations. Cole to this point has prevented runs only slightly better than league average, ERA- 97, you can dismiss this and point to the FIP- of 85 or you can look deeper and ask why that gap exist.
1)A RHP throwing 75% fastballs, which haven’t been particularly deceptive, is likely going to run a BABIP greater than league average.
2)Cole struggles from the stretch. Pitchers’ K and BB rate
fall with men on base, but Coles FIP/xFIP of 2.40/2.62 with bases empty declining 3.38/3.53 with men on, is twice the league average, a problem neither Bumgarner or Hernandez didn’t have early in his career.
Can these things improve? Yes, but this something preordained.
I didnt dismiss it, but i used 3 stats that give a quality overall look of a guys ability in 2 seasons and how it stacks up well with guys that went on to have a ton of success. You, ironically, used only 1 stat and tried to act like some of those that i used arent as quality as yours. Which has some merit, and its why i used 3 different measurements in issuing the point that Cole compares to others in the first few years of their career fine.
Cole made a key improvement in K rate, and has seen perfectly fine SIERA, FIP and xFIP. His ERA- was 89 the first half season, 103 last season. So one solid and one not great, but again not unusual for guys early on. First two full seasons for King Felix were 89 and 103. Not saying Cole is heading to that success, but that getting overly worried about a pitcher in his first 200-400 innings is overreacting.
Cole’s BABIP isnt greatly different than Hernandez, so its not a situation that bars a player from success. Cole has a FB with speed that allows him to generate weak contact when placing it well, its far more key that his change play well than great adjustments to the FB.
You can go ahead and predict that Cole’s issues in his first 1.5 years are more likely to indicate he isnt an ace, bit personally i think its jumping to conclusions due to expectations.
Foo: Ye of little faith. I think it will all depend on the results. If he does well, the Pirates may opt to offer a 2 or 3 year contract since he is only in his age 29 season. From his angle, if his numbers are much improved moving to pitcher friendly PNC away from the Philly bandbox, he may welcome an offer from the Pirates. I think he also has about a dozen MLB Saves in his career.
Without any improvements he could be as good or better than Wilson was in 2014. If he can improve command & get more comfortable with the changeup, he could be a real sleeper for the Pirates.
Please no long term deals for interchangeable bullpen arms!