Saunders: Archer is the Name, But Kela Trade Provides More Insight Into Pirates’ Strategy

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates made two big trades on Tuesday, acquiring Texas Rangers closer Keone Kela and Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer.

The acquisitions were a significant departure from the way the Pirates have done business in the past, with the price paid for Archer exceeding anything the Pirates have given in the past, and Kela the first sitting MLB closer the Pirates have added under Neal Huntington.

Archer is going to be the headline-grabber as a player that could be the top-line starter the Pirates have lacked since trading Gerrit Cole in January. But to me, the acquisition of Kela might actually be more significant when it comes to the Pirates change of strategy and its potential future impact.

Ever since Andrew Miller was the darling of the 2016 baseball postseason when Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona bucked traditional bullpen theory and inserted Miller whenever needed, MLB teams have been giving more and more value to late-inning relievers that aren’t closers.

That’s exactly what Kela will be with the Pirates, as Huntington emphasized on Tuesday that Felipe Vazquez will hang on to that role. But now in front of him, he’ll have Kela and Kyle Crick in some to be determined order, along with Richard Rodriguez and Edgar Santana.

Let’s take a look at the back end of the bullpen in graphical format.

That’s an absolute monster.

“It opens up possibilities,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Your depth is now increased. “So, when guys are down, other guys can replace. You’ve got a guy that’s pitched the ninth, the eighth, the seventh, the sixth. Every situation that’s involved in the game, he’s been used in it. It gives you the opportunity to use different guys if you’re one run down now, rather than just waiting until you’re tied or ahead, based on rest and their availability. Depth is always going to play well out there.”

With five dominant relievers, the Pirates will have the luxury, on just about any night they want, ti pull their starting pitcher after six innings, and sometimes five innings.

The addition of Archer will go a long way to shoring up one spot of the rotation, but that will make just three pitchers with a FIP below the NL average of 4.19. The Pirates will still be left with Trevor Williams (4.34 FIP) and Ivan Nova (4.68 FIP) in the rotation.

On the season, the Pirates starters have a 4.04 FIP the first two times through the order, seventh-best in the NL. The third and fourth times through the order, they have a 5.27 FIP, 11th in the league.

An even deeper bullpen should give Hurdle what he needs to have a quicker hook with some of his starting pitchers, particularly those with below-average results.

“We’ve got starters that we’ve worked hard with to develop and get deeper into games,” Hurdle said. “When that doesn’t make sense we’ve got more weapons to go to, or it’s not working that particular day, it obviously helps everybody.”

The Pirates didn’t need Kela. They already had a good bullpen. They already had an experienced closer and a promising set-up man. If they were lacking anything from a positional standpoint, it was a situational lefty, something they still lack.

But now they have a dominant bullpen that can easily cover three or four innings. The biggest advantage of having such a unit is to get starters out of the game quicker, which should make all of the Pirates starters better, not just one spot in the rotation.

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