Three Thoughts on Our Developing Rotation

An off-topic comment a few days ago led to this post. I’ve been neglecting talk of the rotation as of late, instead writing about the plot lines surrounding the bats, bench and bullpen.
This morning that changes.

If you’ve read or listened to an interview of Dave Littlefield recently, you’ve likely noticed a reference to the fact that the Pirates’ rotation is entirely homegrown. Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and John Van Benschoten were all drafted and developed by Pittsburgh. Furthermore, of the candidates for a start should one of those five falter, two more—Bryan Bullington and Sean Burnett—are also products of the farm system.

I’m not sure what to make of it. Are we supposed to be impressed?

It’s heartwarming to think that should any five of those seven starters produce at a given time, the Pirates would be in possession of a young, cheap, talented staff. That indeed is enviable—everyone needs pitching, and when it’s inexpensive, all the better.

Unfortunately, only the work of Snell and Gorzelanny—and perhaps Maholm—leave me excited. Two studs and an innings-eater make up 60 percent of a rotation. We have the young and cheap parts down pat. Talent, not so much.

When Detroit made its Cinderella run to the World Series last year, many of us attempted to draw comparisons between our team and theirs. When I was trying to think of a rotation comprised of players from an organization’s farm system, the Tigers’ came to mind.

Detroit selected Justin Verlander with the second overall pick in the 2004 draft. He made his professional debut in 2005, reaching the majors after only 20 minor-league starts.

Jeremy Bonderman was a first-round pick of Oakland, but he was traded at such an early point in his career that he’s been with Detroit since the age of 19. Similarly, Mike Maroth was drafted by Boston, but he spent the majority of his developmental years with the Tigers.
Nate Robertson was acquired via a trade with the Marlins and pitched just a year with the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate.

Andrew Miller and Rick Porcello were, like Verlander, high-end draft picks that will likely go on to have illustrious careers. They were selected in the 2006 and 2007 drafts, respectively.

Six young arms acquired on the cheap. Not bad.

There’s one arm in Detroit’s rotation that I haven’t mentioned, though, and it’s the glue that holds everything together.

Kenny Rogers was signed as a free agent prior to 2006, and he went on to have one of the best seasons ever for a 41-year-old pitcher. Rogers won 17 games, posting a 3.84 ERA in 204 innings. He threw 23 scoreless frames in the playoffs.

You can develop all the talent you want, but at times you’ll have to spend to bring in the last puzzle piece or two to fill out a roster. In the Tigers’ case, investing $8 million per season in an ace led to a 24-win improvement and a league championship.

The Pirates spent $3 million on Tony Armas and drafted “safe,” solid arms in Brad Lincoln and Daniel Moskos. They’re on pace to win five more ballgames than they did in 2006, up from 65 to 70.

Draw your own conclusions. Non sequiturs concerning the Pirates’ starting pitching follow.


We haven’t talked much about the lefties as a group. Late last year (and into the off-season), we debated how effective three similar arms could be when featured in the same rotation. Said Rob Sandow:

Why don’t the Pirates split Gorzelanny and Maholm [in the rotation]? They are similar pitchers and by the second night teams get used to their pitching. Separate them and I feel they would be much more effective.

My reply to Rob’s comment was centered around the fact that with three left-handed pitchers in the rotation, having two pitch back-to-back is unavoidable.
“You need to decide, I guess, what’s the least of three evils. You’re going to have one of three combos: Gorzo-Duke, Gorzo-Maholm or Duke-Maholm.
Pitching Duke and Maholm on consecutive nights—now that would be a disaster.”
Just a few quick thoughts on why the setup should remain as-is:

  • Gorzelanny’s throwing just fine, thank you, behind Ian Snell. Leave him alone. You don’t mess with a good thing.
  • In four of his last six starts, Maholm’s lasted seven innings or more. His stat line isn’t going to knock your socks off, but he’s been steadily improving. Would he progress more quickly if he followed a righty in the rotation? Maybe.
  • If you put a righty in between Gorzo and Maholm, then you’re left with two options: Pitch Duke after Maholm or Gorzelanny after Duke.
    • Without being much of a scout, I hate to give this assessment—but I will anyway. Duke and Maholm are more similar than Gorzelanny and Maholm are. Hence the “diaster” bit: If Zach’s already getting bashed in, think how bad it’d be if he followed his clone in the rotation.
    • Pitching Gorzo after one of the lefties runs the risk that he’d be negatively effected by teams getting a glimpse of a similar pitcher the night before. Let me say it again: Gorzelanny’s throwing just fine, thank you, behind Ian Snell. Leave him alone.


I’ve completely ignored the reclamation projects, so let’s get a quick status report.


  • Yoslan Herrera – The first Cuban defector signed by the Bucs this off-season, Herrera reported to Double-A Altoona. He’s still shaking the rust off after his professional career was put on hold for two years. With the Curve, Herrera is 1-5 with a 5.58 ERA in 12 starts. He’s allowed 75 hits in 59.2 innings.
  • Serguey Linares – The second Cuban defector signed by the Bucs this off-season, Linares reported to Single-A Lynchburg. With the Hillcats, Linares is 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts. He’s allowed 20 hits in 20 innings.
  • Alay Soler – The Pirates claimed Soler off waivers from the Mets during Spring Training. Apparently Omar Minaya knows how to evaluate talent; even though Soler was a low-risk investment, he’s produced minimal results and appears to be a waste of a rotation spot. With Double-A Altoona, he has a 5.65 ERA in 13 games (five starts).
  • Dewon Brazelton – The third overall pick (by the Devil Rays) from the 2001 draft was signed by the Pirates in June. Wilbur summarizes Brazelton’s underwhelming career well. He recently made his first start for Altoona, throwing four shutout innings.

I was going to cover a few more snippets, but this post has run longer than I anticipated. If there’s something else you’d like to talk about, feel free to drop me a line.




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Randy Linville

Randy is currently living and thriving in suburban Dayton, OH with his wife and two kids. He was raised in Cincinnati, OH and attended Anderson High School. He went to Miami University (Ohio) and received a degree in Paper Science Engineering from MU. He is a devout Christian and a pop culture buff. He coaches his son’s baseball and basketball teams and his daughters softball and basketball teams. Randy has been a Pirates fan since the late 1970s and has fond memories of the 1979 World Series team. He began blogging for Most Valuable Network in 5/2004 after stumbling across a help-wanted sign for a Pirates blogger. He wrote for Pittsburgh Lumber Co. until the site merged with Pirates Prospects in 2/2011.

Game #71 at Seattle

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A Victorious Afternoon for the Tribe

  • Randy

    I want to talk about something positive. Or at least something funny.
    On the positive side: the Pirates don’t employ anybody like Pacman Jones
    On the funny side: how about a post about pitchers who had a bigger gut than Jimmy Anderson
    On the serious side, how much fun would it be to have a rotation of Snell, Gorzo, Chris Young, Ollie and fill in the blank? Okay, that’s not serious. That’s sad. Really sad.

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