Williams: The Pirates’ Bullpen Problems Aren’t Solved By a New Closer

If you’re against the traditional closer role, with the belief that your best reliever should be used in the toughest situations, then Felipe Rivero’s current usage is nearly perfect. Rivero is easily the best reliever in the Pirates’ bullpen, and one of the best relievers in baseball this year, but is currently the set-up man to Tony Watson. And that set-up role gives the Pirates some flexibility.

Take Tuesday’s game, for example. Ivan Nova gave up two homers to start off the seventh inning, cutting the Pirates’ lead to 4-3. After being lifted with an injury, he was replaced by Juan Nicasio, who put the tying runner on base. The Pirates called on Rivero, who struck out the final batter of the inning on four pitches, ending with a 101 MPH fastball.

Rivero returned for the 8th inning and retired the heart of the lineup in order, striking out Manny Machado on a 100.9 MPH fastball in the process. Of course, this was all rendered moot when Tony Watson came on to give up a single and a two-run homer to his first two batters in the ninth, tying the score, and eventually leading to a loss in extra innings.

Watson struggled again on Wednesday night, coming on with runners at second and third with the Pirates up 6-2. He allowed one run to score on a sacrifice fly, then gave up another on a double. After getting the second out of the inning with a strikeout, he gave up a two-run homer, tying the score and sending it to extras, where the Pirates lost again.

The Pirates have a paper-thin chance of contending this year, and because of those chances, they can’t afford to lose games like this. Watson currently has five blown saves on the season, and while it’s unfair to expect a closer to be perfect, a better result here would have the Pirates closer to .500.

They would be three games under .500 with wins the last two nights, and would have an upcoming four game series against the Marlins. That’s exactly the position you want to be in if you’re looking to climb out of the NL Central basement.

The struggles from Watson, and the season-long dominance from Rivero, have people calling for a switch. The only problem is that a switch doesn’t really solve the current problem.

Tony Watson isn’t struggling because he’s in the closer role. His struggles were only noticed last year when he moved to the closer role. He had a 4.08 xFIP prior to taking over as the closer last year, and had a 4.43 xFIP after moving to the ninth inning. This year he is sitting with a 4.92 xFIP, and home runs have been a growing problem along the way.

It’s impossible to say what is leading to Watson’s struggles lately, although a good guess would be his workload prior to 2016. Watson threw 224.1 innings between 2013 and 2015, which was the most among relievers in baseball. Mark Melancon was second with 218.2. Only 11 pitchers were above 200 innings.

Of course, the workload doesn’t necessarily guarantee a breakdown. Melancon, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen were all up there with Watson in those years, and all three have relatively maintained their progress. But whatever the reason, Watson isn’t the same pitcher now that he was prior to 2016.

The Pirates tried adding another option in Daniel Hudson, who had some positive signs that he could step his game up with the Pirates. Aside from the strong velocity out of the bullpen, and better strikeout ratio as a reliever, Hudson was struggling in Arizona largely due to a high BABIP and a low LOB%. He had a 5.22 ERA last year, but a 4.12 xFIP. When you factor in the Pirates’ typical ability to improve control numbers (he had a 3.28 BB/9), his numbers were expected to play much better than the xFIP.

Hudson also hasn’t seen the results the Pirates were hoping for. His BABIP of .343 is higher than last year’s .331. His LOB% of 66.1% is still below the average 70%. His walk rate has dropped to 4.07 BB/9, and his HR/FB rate has gone up from 10.3% to 11.1%, which is combined with an increase in fly balls from 32% to 38.6%. Hudson is heading in the opposite direction of where the Pirates hoped he would be, and is not an option right now to help out in the late innings.

That makes Rivero the easy choice for the closer role, not just because he’s the best pitcher in the bullpen right now, but because he’s really the only option people would be comfortable with. And that’s the problem with the Pirates’ bullpen right now.

Outside of Rivero, the top relievers on the team right now are Wade LeBlanc and Juan Nicasio. They are also the only other relievers on the team with an xFIP below 4.00, although neither is below 3.50. LeBlanc is pitching about where expected, looking like a good middle or long reliever, but not really a guy you want in the late innings.

Nicasio has some impressive numbers, and has really stepped up his game lately. However, he has yet to give up a home run this year, and that just can’t continue. His xFIP of 3.90 assumes a normal home run rate, and those are the types of results we should expect going forward when he inevitably starts giving up home runs again. Right now his surface numbers look like a late inning guy, but his advanced metrics point to another guy who is stronger as a middle reliever.

That said, even with the regressed metrics, Nicasio and LeBlanc would be better than Hudson and Watson in the late innings at the moment, even if they aren’t typically the types of pitchers you’d expect in those roles.

The problem is that the Pirates don’t have enough reliable relievers right now. Yes, you could move Felipe Rivero to the 9th inning to solve the problem of the last two nights, but where do you put Watson? If he’s in the 8th inning, the lead gets blown before the ball gets to Rivero. If Nicasio or LeBlanc pitch that inning, Watson could be pitching earlier.

The Pirates can’t just continue the current approach and do nothing. But there’s no easy fix here. Moving Felipe Rivero to the closer role just strengthens the 9th inning, while weakening the earlier innings. It makes it less likely that the lead will be blown in the 9th, but also less likely that the lead will ever get to Rivero. Perhaps moving Watson to an easier role might help him get back on track, reversing a downward trend that has gone on since the start of 2016. But they’re already doing that with Daniel Hudson, and have only two other pitchers who are performing well enough to be considered for the late innings.

The Pirates just don’t have enough relievers at the moment to reliably protect a lead from the sixth or seventh inning through the end of the game. It doesn’t matter which inning Felipe Rivero pitches in. He could pitch in the 8th or the 9th, but it won’t solve the overall problem. The solutions would be to find a way to get Watson and/or Hudson back on track, or to hope that Juan Nicasio and Wade LeBlanc keep playing up to their current pace, or to call up Edgar Santana and hope there are no growing pains in his jump to the big leagues.

  • In years past they built their bullpen mainly from SP prospects turned ace RP. Watson, Hughes, Wilson, McPherson, Lincoln, Mazzaro, Morris, and that’s just in 2012-2013. Since then it’s reclamation guys and middle-tier free agents, who haven’t worked out. The best find this year is another former SP, Leblanc. So what happened to that strategy that was working?

  • Nuke Laloosh
    June 9, 2017 9:57 am

    I do agree the bullpen is in shambles, however, Rivero has not. Watson has been well below par since becoming the closer last year. Rivero’s stuff is electric and obviously closer material. The switch should have been made long ago and in my mind Hurdle (And I have been a fan and defender of his) has to stop coaching with his heart. It makes him look like a dope.

  • Where has been the starting pitching this year? Other than Nova and a few starts from Taillon, no one has been able to pitch a consistent and effective 6 innings.

    No wonder the relief core is overused.

  • Bill Harvey
    June 8, 2017 7:11 pm

    I think that the team needs to look at a way to better use their pitchers in general. If they want to use Rivero in a high leverage situation, that is fine. But if they are going to use him to get out of a 1 or 2 out jam in the 6th, he needs to be in for the 7th. They have done that at times, but maybe not enough. With Hurdle’s affinity to start relievers at the beginning of an inning, I think that the Pirates, and probably we as fans, overvalue the “closer”. In truth, if it were me, I would hope and try to save Rivero for the 9th, but if he was needed earlier, I wouldn’t hesitate to use him. I would not, however, just stop using Watson, I would still use him in late game situations, but if you could save Rivero, then if Watson gets in trouble, you could feel more comfortable in pulling him.

    The arguement of saying that if Watson pitches the 8th instead of the 9th only changes the inning where he implodes is BS. There are so many factors that play into that train of thought, that make it irrelevant. Like I said above, if he does run into trouble, you hopefully still have Rivero and/or Nicasio that could be brought in.

    One last item that I would do, I would move Glasnow and Kuhl to the bullpen whenever Taillon comes back and either Kingham or Brault is deemed ready.

  • I think it’s quite simple…we need Trevor Williams to pitch in the bullpen 4 days and then have his start. Then have Nova go bullpen 4 and then pitch his start. It works on the PlayStation every time..

  • I say switch Watson and Nicasio for now. Prefer Watson be put on DL for having a dead arm and Santana promoted to take over 7th inning though.

  • Should the article be the Pirates bullpen problems won’t be solved or may be worse by removing Rivero from the setup spot? I tend to agree with this because Riveros spot is so crucial and without it we may not even have a close opportunity, but Watson hasn’t been up to the task. I would give Nicasio or even Marinez or Hudson a chance.

  • Bill Harvey
    June 8, 2017 4:14 pm

    Tim found a new way to increase site traffic.

    • Shouldn’t matter for a subscription site should it?

      • Tim regardless. If Rivero pitches the 9th the bucs win last night..

      • Bill Harvey
        June 8, 2017 6:52 pm

        It was a joke. But haven’t had this many comments to an article in quite some time, a week at least.

        • I assumed that. The problem with the written word especially in blogs is that sarcasm isn’t as evident as in person and yes this topic really got the comments going.

  • Tim, I must hand you an attaboy for this article and your sideline demeanor since it was posted. You’ve stayed out of the fray of a burning issue with practically the whole fanbase. As an aside to the closer/Watson/Hurdle issues, this 4 game set vs the Marlins, is it going to be a referendum based on attendance?

  • In a perfect world, these guys aren’t attached to certain roles and they are used when necessary. Keep using Rivero the same way and allow a mixture of Nicasio, LeBlanc, Hudson and eventually Santana maybe to work the 9th based on matchups.

  • Darkstone42
    June 8, 2017 3:26 pm

    Hudson is starting to find his groove again, and that helps. Rivero needs to continue to be used as he has, except maybe a little less frequently to save his arm a bit. (Although, it does help that he’s pitched so well, it’s likely kept the stress of his pitches down.) But Watson needs to be taken out of leverage. He’s not the pitcher he was when he shut guys down. That’s all there is to it.

    • OK, I agree but…..one thing which would help the whole BP is for the SP to go deeper in games. Nova has been. Cole has to some extent and JT (hopefully) will be able to. Option Barbato. Bring up Schugel, who after an awful start has been good. You still have Watson and Hudson, who because of their contracts and ineffectiveness you have to keep. This is a great time to bring up a AAA SP, Kingham or Moroff (that’s not right, but can’t remember his name) and replace Marinse.
      What is there to lose, other than ballgames, which is not the major concern of management.

      • Holmes, not Moroff. But he hasn’t had much experience at AAA, so never mind.

  • Don’t switch roles. Watson needs moved much lower in bullpen. LeBlanc/Hudson in 7th, Nicasio in 8th and Rivero in 9th. Bring Santana up and see what he can provide.

  • This situation is tough. If the Pirates embrace the new view of using your best reliever , a la miller, then they do need to name a new 9th inning guy and give Watson some time away from that. The options as I see it right now are Hudson, nicasio, or Santana. I tend to lean toward Santana and give him a shot. It’s not their style so my bet would be nicasio for now and Santana comes up to get some Mlb work to ease into it.

    • Sorry mate, but I having a hard time with these “a la miller” references…. what does that mean and how that even relate to the 2017 pirates??

      • I think he’s talking about Andrew Miller and how he’s used in innings 5-8 more or less.

        • Yeah, I knew it was his that Miller, and folks fell in love with him, for good reason, for what he did in the playoffs, turn off the lights the party is over stuff… but even in the playoffs that overuse showed, and if the point is that you can use your pitches with talent in the BP at any time (not overuse), well, isn’t that singing to the choir to this blog, and said over a 100 times…. I never thought that this blog was into a closer by committee, but if you look at the posts, it leans that way… and I of course agree Deacs 🙂

          • It doesn’t even need to be closer by committee, really. That’s the single payer solution of bullpen usage; probably something that should be done, but not realistically feasible right now.

            The “Miller” situation, at both of the stops that made him famous for it, succeeded because both teams *also* had a legitimate reliever for the traditional 9th inning closer role. Didn’t even really take anything out of the ordinary from the Manager.

            Maybe the Pirates have that guy in Nicasio, but there’s certainly nobody else who comes close to being worthy.

  • Worst part about this problem to me is that it’s setting up Rivero to be overworked.

    • Friendly reminder that no pitcher in baseball threw more innings than Tony Watson between 2012-2015. Guys like Melancon are the exception; relievers simply aren’t built to throw that much for that long without breaking.

      We’ll be very lucky to get full utility out of Rivero’s years of control.

  • Nicasio is not destined to start giving up homers again. He only gave up 1 all year in 2015. Second half of last season, when he moved back to the pen, he only gave up 2. Sure, he’ll let off a HR eventually, but there’s no reason to believe he’s not the 2.20 FIP pitcher he’s been so far this year.

  • Rotation: Cole, Brault, Williams, Nova, Taillon
    Bullpen: Rivero, Nicasio, Watson, Hudson, Santana, LeBlanc, Kuhl
    AAA: Glasnow, Barbato, Marinez (or waivers)
    DL: Bastardo, Lindblom–these guys can replace Kuhl or Santana

  • Tim, while I agree Watson isn’t the only problem in the pen, the Tuesday example is cherry picking. Let’s cherrypick Weds then. Watson blew a huge lead while Rivero sat in the bullpen until the lead was already blown. There’s absolutely no way to explain that one way.

  • Why Leblanc in both losses? He has played for a number of teams who let him go after some early success. Watson has never been a good closer. His stats even last year were ever good enough to go into this year as a given role as closer. As a two pitch pitcher with neither pitch dominate does not make a closer. Someone must have told him to throw his slider more,whatcha is pitch he hardly ever used in past. He was good as 8th inning guy when fastball was consistent 94&95 with movement. Now not much difference between fastball and changeup.. before had good location, not now. Time has caught up with him. Can’t believe management didn’t see that at start of season.Where is all that great pitching in minors?

  • Mjmiller1219
    June 8, 2017 1:51 pm

    I don’t think it’s ever been mentioned but possibly Benedict was the real pitching wizard and Searage can’t turn a hodgepodge of AAAA players into a MLB bullpen. Either that or Benedict was the find them in the find them and fix them combo. Our pitching has went south since he went south

    • Seems like Nova doing exceptional, seems like Rivero is best in the game (perhaps), Nicasio has nice stats, so does Leblanc before the hiccups and Williams is showing promise… probably the same amount of success stories for one year than in the past… regardless, this Searge / Benedict thing is sewing circle stuff for girls, they can tweak and be better than some other teams pitching coaches but there is no secret mojo/potion…

    • WillyMoGarcia33
      June 8, 2017 2:15 pm

      I think I gave up on that idea when the Marlins signed both Locke and Worley. In addition to Wei-Yin Chen getting that big contract, their depth being players like Nicolino, Copeland, Fife, etc. is sad (I live in New Orleans, so Marlins AAA affiliate the Baby Cakes is all I get. It’s tough). Pitchers like Koehler and Conley have gone backwards, and Urena is in Alan Hanson territory where he’s out of options now and hasn’t met his potential. If Benedict was the brains behind it all, I can’t see it with the sad depth of pitchers they’ve been acquiring, and development of others.

      It had been brought up on many, many occasions that maybe Benedict was the wizard. But I don’t see it.

      • WillyMoGarcia33
        June 8, 2017 2:26 pm

        And this doesn’t include the fact the Baby Cakes also carry Lobstein and Kelvin Marte. As well as position players Lombardozzi, Ramon Cabrera, and Carlos Paulino. I feel like I’m watching the Ghosts of Pirates past when I go to a game.

  • ok I’ll make over the pirates pen
    rivero cl, nicasio 8th, santana or brault 7th , 5th 6th hudson, marimez mop up watson. dfa leblanc and barbbato. Now brault could go to starting rotation with glasnow going to pen. hudson could move into the 7th if starts to turn it around.

    • DFA Leblanc??, hard to take your post seriously after that, for me….

      • LeBlanc has had a couple of rough appearances, but he’s fit into several slots this season and performed well overall.

        • Exactly, the guy has been one of the more surprising success stories for the PBC in 2017, achieving more than we thought… but I always love when someone learns the term DFA and runs with it, deep breath teddy, deep breath…

          • come on ,did 10 other teams be so wrong, le crookednumber and his 86mph fastball is not tricking anyone any more. he had a nice run.

      • been with 10 teams, he a AAAApitcher and is 32 yrs old, I like marimez more.

    • I think it’s a little bold to expect someone to come straight out of AAA into leverage especially when struggling in the minors currently. Did the FO wait to long or did they see something that was a problem it’s hard to say. Is he making changes that he isn’t comfortable with who knows. There’s scouting out there that suggests he could have trouble in MLB. Barbato has two options he can be sent down whenever.

      • does it matter, other teams make these kind of moves all the time. If our manager is mailing it in, let bring up the farm and get rid of the over thirty AAAA pitchers.

    • BallHeadWonder
      June 8, 2017 2:11 pm

      Is weed legal in Pittsburgh??? Respectfully not the answer!!

  • rickmontgomery
    June 8, 2017 1:41 pm

    Just out of curiosity for you stat guys – when is the last time Watson put down the side 1-2-3 in the 9th? Seems like forever.

  • Well I totally agree with this. Taking Watson from the closer role will certainly help, even if he remains in the rotation and if he does poorly, at least the team still has a chance to come back and win. In the end, it’s simply not enough talent — which is really an indictment on the front office’s drafting results after all these years. Is there any pitcher in the bullpen they drafted and developed? It seems that in most seasons, the Pirates are going to be built such that everything basically has to go right (with the Bucs and the division in general) for them to have a solid chance to contend.

    • Yeah, everything does have to go right when you are low market team in a ‘rich’ major American sport without a true salary cap, gosh… gosh…. I can’t fathom how folks don’t get that….

      • I think that’s true to an extent but not a full excuse. They can draft/develop better. They can make more decisions that are driven primarily by a desire to win vs. develop for future. They can spend some money. I’m not talking Yankees money but they have more to spend I would wager a bet. It’s not like every other team has tons of dough as we don’t. the small market thing is true but it can’t be used as every-season cop out. Small market teams CAN succeed and doesn’t have to be by alignment of the stars.

        • I can’t respond to these posts…”They can spend some money… but they have more to spend I would wager a bet”…. for the love of god how clear could NH have made it about that he was at the limit, even after the savings for Marte/Kang… Does anybody else read what I read about payroll and the real financial constraint on NH???? Folks who want to post here and talk about payroll, need to understand the facts, if not, it is really hard to read, for me, but who cares, others will like those posts, so fun for all… win/win…

          • I guess I’m not sure what is worse not knowing something for sure and being certain you know. Or understanding the uncertainty and using it to manicly chase bad solutions and be negative about others decisions when you should accept that some things don’t work the way you would like when you would like and leaders tend to deal with numerous invisible constraints and confidentiality is a simple reality of being an adult.

            • I’m just irritated at myself for not knowing if you agree with my posts or disagree, those are the issues I deal with as an adult…

              • My use of pronouns is bad. Substitute one for you.

                • I’m getting tired mate, 2:45am in Singapore and need some sleep, annoy you and others tomorrow I hope, good chat 🙂

          • I enjoy your pleasant responses to posts. Really a breath of fresh air. You are truly, truly the smartest poster on this site. Thanks!

  • BallHeadWonder
    June 8, 2017 1:34 pm

    Tim!!!!!! How do u not mention THE ABSOLUTE WORST OPTION in our Pen!!! JOHNNY BARBATO IS HORRIBLE!!!!! if Barbato doesn’t throw his “Masterbator” (Like my Major League II reference) Watson does not make an appearance!! For me it starts with Barbato!! He has got to go!!! As we are living with Glassnow, I would rather live with Santana!!!

    • Looks like you accidentally put a comma in your last sentence instead of another exclamation point!!

  • Mjmiller1219
    June 8, 2017 1:28 pm

    I agree. I think giving edgar Santana and nevarykys (forgive my butchering of his name) a chance and see how they go. Build for ’18 since Marte and Kang made that decision for our team. Trade cervelli, Watson, cutch, Hudson to make $$$ available and let see if Huntington can get 2 acquisitions with that money to bolster a young squad.

    • Hi – we probably will let emotions, after two tough losses, die down… take a peek at the team once JT comes back and maybe Brault and then take a deep breath to see if Martes return makes us a thought in a seemingly and surprisingly open Central…. but yup, I expect more injuries and more bad luck and hope anyone who has value and limited control have value to others…

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 8, 2017 1:18 pm

    I new GM and manager would be a good start….
    NH was good at taking a system that hit rock bottom, and building the system and roster up. However, over the past 3-4 years his decision-making has been atrocious – in many of his trades and top draft picks, along with 25 man roster decisions – the list is far too long to mention, but have been well documented.
    Hurdle seems like a fun guy and appears to be well liked by his players, but this group needs a real kick in the pants at times and some difficult decisions need to be made – NH and Hurdle do not seem capable of either….

    • Nope, the GM is fine… when you cut out the noise and look at what he deals with, can’t say financial constraints again, but I did we would have had a line-up of whatever the order
      JHay -2b
      Marte – OF
      Cutch – OF
      Kang – 3b
      Bell – 1b
      Cervilli – C
      Polanco – OF
      Mercer – SS
      Starting pitching has put up with a loss, bullpen was ok until Watson hiccups…
      Bench of Frazier/Freese/Jaso/Stewart… etc…. for our payroll and the uncomfortable moves that it causes, that is nice…

      • pierogieking
        June 8, 2017 1:54 pm

        Agreed 100%. This shit isn’t on the GM. Watson was worth a shot at closer. Kang and Marte screwed this franchise this year.

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          June 8, 2017 5:59 pm

          Who signed Hudson, Barbato, Gosselin, Marinez, Jaso, Stewart? Who traded Walker for Niese? I could go on and on….

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        June 8, 2017 5:57 pm

        Keep drinking the kool aid….the GM has weakened the roster and system with numerous poor decisions.

  • Todd Tomasic
    June 8, 2017 1:13 pm

    Bastardo must be called up soon so one of Barbado or Martinez is gone. Taillon
    will be back soon so a starter will have to go. Kuhn or Glasnow? And perhaps to
    the pen? NH has some work to do

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 8, 2017 1:11 pm

    There is plenty of blame to go around for the Pirates blowing two consecutive games in their “house of horrors” – Camden Yards. I was at the game Tuesday evening, but thankfully missed last night’s fiasco.
    Watson – I’ve been a big Tony Watson fan and supporter ever since he arrived in Pittsburgh. Although he has mostly been a very highly productive and successful reliever over the past several years, his most recent failings should result in his removal from the closer role. Not every setup man, no matter how good they are in that role, translate to being a successful closer. I’d move him back to a setup role and see if he can re-discover success in that role. Rivero should obviously be the new closer.
    Hurdle – He is partly responsible foe these two losses, because like a lot of managers, he stubbornly sticks to a preset plan for how he uses his bullpen, instead of managing by feel and how guys are actually performing. Rivero was unhittable Tuesday night – he mowed down the Orioles in his 1.1 innings of relief – it was obvious a total mismatch. There was no reason to pull him and bring in Watson for the 9th inning – especially given Watson’s recent struggles and Camden Yards being a hitters band box. Apparently, Hurdle decided to double down on this ill-advised means of managing his bullpen last night – costing his team a second game. This is not the first time he’s made these kind of bone-headed and stubborn decisions.
    NH – Let me see – who did NH bring in this year to bolster the roster in 2017? Gosselin, Hudson, Barbato, Marinez – did I miss anyone? The fact that Barbato and Marinez (and Hudson) are still in the Pirates bullpen is a joke – and a bad one.
    I don’t know he performed last night, but Polanco was a liability Tuesday night – he looked totally overmatched and lost at the plate….didn’t even hit a hard foul ball in his 4 or 5 at bats. He looked very bad.
    When you see Cervelli throw the ball and Diaz throw the ball, there is no comparison – the difference is obvious – Diaz has a cannon of an arm. Stewart better not be brought back…he’s useless and a bad fit for a team trying to determine who is part of their future….

  • How about a new manager?

  • Part of an “answer” may be as simple as Neal not collecting broken down misfits like Barbato and having them in the bullpen. This is a guy with a FIP AND xfip a hair below 6. Why should he even be an option for Hurdle to possibly choose? WTF can’t they get a better reliever to fill out their pen. And IF Santana IS as good as some believe and he’s not up yet… that’s just more evidence NH isn’t really serious about winning this year because at least half the pen are literal gas cans at this point in time and every possible win is precious.

  • Hurdle HAS to make Rivero the closer and I’ll explain why (other than for obvious reasons). Tuesday night you needed 9 outs so Watson giving up 2 runs in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning doesn’t matter. The game is tied, who cares what inning it is and of course they lost the game in extra’s. But let’s say you get into a game like last night where you haven’t used Rivero yet. Or lets say Nova or Taillon when he comes back goes 7. At that point you use Nicasio in the 8th and Rivero in the 9th. By having Watson named the closer you HAVE to use him in the 9th unless he’s closed out the last two games. I understand that Rivero not being the closer gave Hurdle the freedom to use him against the better hitters or higher leverage situations which worked out for the Pirates. And while that benefited the team that certainly wasn’t by design. So I understand the premise certainly – when you need 9 outs and 3 relievers – forcing Rivero to pitch the 9th when the 7, 8 and 9 hitters are up is a bad strategy if you needed him against the heart of the order in the 7th or 8th inning. But moving him to the closer’s role is a great idea if these guys ever start pitching 7 innings again. Really what I should’ve said is just abandon the idea of having your best pitcher stuck pitching the 9th and be able to use him when you need him most. But most managers and definitely Hurdle won’t adhere to this idea. Why? I have no idea.

    • That post in length and substance seems familiar 🙂

    • I’m curious if Hurdle’s been ordered not to give Rivero save opportunities esp with Boras sticking his rear in.

      • The best conspiracy theory I could think of as to why Watson still had his job leading up to last night is that he could accumulate enough saves in order to convince another team he was a legit closer and we could get more at the deadline. But if you think back a couple years Joakim Soria had 23 saves and was only able to fetch Jacoby Jones. We made Soria the 7th inning guy so as it turns out – other teams look at peripherals and not just save numbers so my theory was debunked.

        • Free agency is one thing. However arbitration has a variable built in for saves that does make a difference. I think it’s sad if they’re trying to save $1-2m per yr chancing wins if it’s really true

  • rickmontgomery
    June 8, 2017 12:53 pm

    I certainly don’t think I have all the answers, but the Pirates must do something. The fans are starting to abandon the team again believing that management is either unwilling or unable to halt the slide into mediocrity. The bullpen (except Rivero) is so horrible that even Bastardo’s return is beginning to look like a positive. My solution: Rivero closes, Santana sets up, Nicasio is the 7th inning guy. Glasnow to bullpen and Barbato to wherever. Then become sellers in full rebuild mode and, at some point, make a managerial and GM change. We’re bled out and need a transfusion.

  • Too bad NH collected so many half ass relievers. They could have kept Tyler Webb who is tearing up Triple A but we’re all well aware of Neal’s affinity for “assets” and he couldn’t bear to see Bastardo depart without recouping some trade value.

    Hudson was a bad signing from the word go. It wasn’t his 2016 results that were a problem- it was his peripherals which were mediocre.

    Watson gave no reason for optimism in 2016.

    That this bullpen has so many gaping holes should surprise no one.

    • I can get on board with cutting Bastardo loose at whatever ST deadline criticism much more than frantically moving one problem to create another.

    • Good to hear Tyler Webb is tearing up triple A, as we try to find, if I read the posts correctly that we have two guys tearing up AAA and not on the team… If Webb was in the majors and folks showed me his success, the conversation would be different…. Now the funny part of my post, Bastardo is the man, and we should see some compelling stuff soon, IN THE MAJORS 🙂

  • I know baseball is bound by tradition but I don’t believe that the whole concept of a “Closer” is that old. If I was a team owner one of the first things I would tell management is that if they want to name a closer instead of matching the best available reliever to the situation “there is the door and don’t let it hit you in the backside on your way out.” Any team that is progressive enough to adopt this concept will have an advantage. There was no excuse for bringing in Watson last night with Rivero available. No other successful business would use employees or assets in this manner.

  • Michael Sankovich
    June 8, 2017 12:46 pm

    Our GM’s biggest strength over his tenure has been the construction of the bullpen. Now he seems to have lost his magic in this area. I think its time for a new group with some fresh ideas to come in, and see what they can do. It’s no guarantee that they would be any more successful, given the economics of MLB and budget constraints imposed by current ownership. But things seem to have gone stale with Neal & Co., and it seems time to move on.

    • I think for folks who seek NH to be replaced will have remorse when someone else tries to deliver in our obvious financial constraints… But hey, what the heck do I know… I do know that we are discussing Rivero, one of the best relievers in baseball, from a gutsy trade that other teams wouldn’t even have to contemplate, different playing field for NH and maybe 3-5 other GM’s with these constraints…

      • I hear Dave Stewart is available. He is a man of action fans will love him.

        • :)… too funny, actually surprised it didn’t take 10 years for AZ to dig out of that mess…

          • Their pre Stewart lineup is strong once gone they’re unwatchable.

            • I’m glad we talked, I need to go dissect that team…. I’m very surprised that they are doing so well, I kinda saw the colorado thing coming but not at this pace or should I say record this year…

      • Michael Sankovich
        June 8, 2017 1:04 pm

        yes they hit with the Rivero trade. And I liked it at time, knowing they weren’t going to seriously contend anymore last year, and with Melancon’s certain departure in free agency. Leblanc seems to be an okay addition this year, too. Including Nicasio, that leaves what you’d consider 3 dependable relievers. They have done better than this in the past. I guess my main criticism of NH & Co. over their 10 year tenure is the failure to draft & develop impact major leaguers, but that’s a story for another article.

        • What’s lost in the whole mess is how Leblanc blew both games as well. I fine with him logging innings uneasy about leverage.

          • I bet mate, that you could make an argument that Leblanc, during some difficult times, performance led to a few wins with success and eating innings, balances out…

            • I think he’s paid for himself several times over. But him being thrown into the leverage debate solution category I dunno.

              • Isn’t it funny, baseball, such a great game and why this is the only major team sport that I could even handle discussions about (fans are mostly pretty hip)… Was it Larussa that said that you are only as smart as your closer, most hate him here but thoughtful words… If Watson goes 1, 2, 3 on Tuesday and Wednesday then it is hugs and high fives and sweep talk and off to Miami for the burgeoning Pirates, but, but, but,,, real life jumped in 🙂

                • And the other team is on fire going into xtras and you have to waste innings from Leblanc and Rivero

                  • I wrote a post the other day, ignored of course, curious what nicasio will get in FA in 2018, I think pretty nice payday

                    • I think he needs to be cloned he might give the pirates a break with asking price.

                    • :)… I just know that Nicasio was a very good signing and I’m already missing him in 2018, because we like him and because we are the pirates he will get more elsewhere and that team will be brilliant and our GM will be a fool….

        • I actually get that Michael, the draft and develop point of your post, big time… Then I argue that we lost our 3 best hitters for flukey reasons and the starting pitching kept us viable for a month plus and then the JT injury and then the ongoing problems with Glasnow… This is so difficult, to me… again, broken record Tedwins, such little room for error being a pirate fan 🙁

    • I don’t know if there’s ever been a greater myth(perhaps the cholesterol hoax) than NH building great bullpens. Honestly… that still lives on I suppose

      • Michael Sankovich
        June 8, 2017 1:08 pm

        he had a pretty good run there with Hanrahan, Grilli, Melancon as closers. Good support from Watson, Gomez, Hughes and others for a couple of years. Compared to how he’s done with the draft, his track record in constructing bullpens looks fine.

        • Someone does the most hilarious review of Grilli’s book I think I read it on cough another pirate site

          • Isn’t knowing that Grilli wrote a book good enough for a punch line mate 🙂 🙂 🙂

        • Of course, when we won 98 games and the two years before it was someone, Watson, then melancon and hand shakes and hugs and for me I was so cocky I would go to bed after 7 and we had similar success, as you mention, before that year… oh well… who cares…

    • Stale? Billy beane is seen as one of the best baseball guys and his team has been terrible the last couple years. NH has done a fantastic job. Every GM has up down seasons and can’t bat 1000 in every situation. Ridiculous that you want to make a change just because our bullpen which if I am not mistaken, was seen as the strongest area of our team. Can’t place all the blame on the GM when the players aren’t producing. Idiotic post.

      • What is tough about a lot of these posts is that folks understand the financial constraints, get (sometimes) the necessary and uncomfortable moves that are necessary to keep the payroll under ‘X’ and then expect not to have hiccups… our margin of error, is so so so small every year, and when you lose key unexpected pieces, hard to recover

        • I like looking at the bottom of the Dodgers payroll listing $20-30m to guys who they’ve cut loose

          • Yeah, this site (PP shows the teams payrolls somewhere) and Sportstrac or something close to that always brings me back to normalcy on the inequities… 🙁

        • Michael Sankovich
          June 8, 2017 1:29 pm

          yep, the hazards of being a fan of a team like the Pirates. And it’s not going to change. The current system is what MLB wants. If things go right with trades/signings/drafts, there’s a chance for a brief window where teams with less revenue can compete, but it closes quickly. That’s the Pirates (and previously Tampa, Oakland, Minnesota….). Hell, if fortunate, can actually win a World Series (KC).

          • Great post – wonder if those teams had the bad luck we had, never mind, who cares… I truly believe this Pirate team is locked and loaded to compete for the next 6 years, might not make folks happy, compete, but I’m cool with it Michael

            • Michael Sankovich
              June 8, 2017 2:27 pm

              you must have faith in current crop of prospects (meadows, newman, tucker, et al), wish I shared that. I actually want to see them produce as solid major leaguers. Given our track record with top prospects……………..

              • Hmmm, Michael, are you trying to get me in trouble here 🙂 :)… I’m not sure if I have faith in the prospects but we are on this site and there are some good insight, why we pay, that says that we have some real support on the way and maybe 2-3 difference makes, as well, on the way… I will say Michael that we haven’t had the kinda of sexy player/help that one could think was on its way, but I do like the depth of the system and one could argue that maybe we will start getting that sexy player/difference maker…. Build it up, let then knock down the door and maybe something special, it doesn’t have to be Meadows, who knows, maybe it is someone we just think is ho-hum because of being burnt too many times in thinking the guy will be a star, see Polanco… btw, I still think Polanco will be compelling mate 🙂

                • Meadows may turn into a bust and Luplow turn into a star. That is how prospects sometimes turn out. Seems to me that the kids did pretty well the last two games not that there aren’t going to be growing pains. But I agree that I think there is some real support on the way.

      • Michael Sankovich
        June 8, 2017 1:15 pm

        I think working under such extreme economic constraints just wears on you over time, as evidenced by Billy Beane making some of those crazy trades a few years back to go all in. It may have reached that point with Neal & Co. I know there are only a limited number of GM jobs available, but seriously, after about a decade, why would someone in Neal’s position want to stay on. He has to know it’s almost an impossible situation. That’s why some new management talent that hasn’t been beaten down by the system seems like a good idea. Just my opinion.

  • Honestly this year just felt cursed from the get go, the team on paper seemed solid to me but hey I’m an NH apologist, so there is that… The Kang thing at first, disturbing, the Marte thingie next, gosh, the Taillion news that hit all of us in the sad bone if you have a pulse, and the franchise guy, locked in for seemingly the most thoughtful extension that any team could dream about stumbles around like he would be lucky to be the 4th outfielder if his name wasn’t cutch… Then we get some good news, great news about Taillion and Cutch kinda wakes up a bit (or more so) and then this, the Watson games…. Not sure why it hurts more when your closer blows it but it does and though this article is thoughtful doesn’t have to be so cut and dry…. From the article “The struggles from Watson, and the season-long dominance from Rivero, have people calling for a switch. The only problem is that a switch doesn’t really solve the current problem”…. it might not and probably wouldn’t solve it but some us are just asking the manager to perhaps be a bit more flexible on when both of them are used, performance/big moments, and it doesn’t have to end with the discussion, the simplifying discussion about Rivero vs Watson… It can be thoughtful flexibility on using the entire BP and perhaps leveraging starters who are struggling for new roles, spitballing, as guys like Brault get a look and others knocking on the door… Anyways, good article, just don’t think it is as simple as Rivero vs Watson in the 9th inning, guess I made that clear 🙂

    • Longest post ever, I”m not sure who read it to be honest, I wouldn’t to be fair 🙂 🙂

      • I read it and agree with it in general.

        • Your a kind man and you probably don’t know that my real name is Edward, nickname is Ted and even my work email at one of the biggest firms in the world show my name as Ted… curious if my mom remembers that my real name is Edward 🙂 🙂

      • I read it too, and basically agree as well. It’s not a simple situation, but personally, I would put Watson on the DL (tired arm or somesuch), go without an official closer, and recall Santana.

        • I have no idea what Watson is anymore, as we sit here (I’m sitting at a bar in Singapore) and wondering what he really is… Maybe hurt, how do we know, maybe high leverage innings took a toll, how do we know, maybe lost it from all above, how do we know… what I do know (and you and others) is that performance has been declining and no reason to pencil him in for closing, if match ups work out well, go ahead and put him in to close Hurdle, but can you please think about it Hurdle…

    • The reason blown saves hurt is at our core we have already logged it as a win. We have Melancon and his ability to be near perfect in this role to thank.

  • TurnerWardHitsTheWall
    June 8, 2017 12:34 pm

    I would send down Barbato and bring up one of the two hot rookies at Indy. Maybe rotate the closer for the time being. We should never have lost both of those games. I was mad last night!

  • Bingo Tim.

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