One of the strengths to the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates has been their bullpen. The bullpen has combined for a 3.43 ERA this year, which ranks 10th in the majors, and sixth in the National League. The Pirates are anchored by one of the best closers in the game, Joel Hanrahan. They’ve got two capable set up men in Chris Resop and Jose Veras. Both have put up dominant strikeout numbers this year, and have held down the late innings very well for the Pirates this year.
The bullpen has already been strong this year, and the future looks even better. The Pirates have a lot of strong bullpen options that are currently either on the disabled list, or in the upper levels of the minors. To get an idea of how strong the future of the bullpen looks, let’s take a look at some of the top options that we could see in Pittsburgh over the next few years.
Evan Meek - Meek is currently on the disabled list, and has been disappointing this year when he’s been active, although that could be due to his injury. We saw what he was capable of last year, when he put up a 2.14 ERA in 80 innings, along with a 7.9 K/9 and a 3.5 BB/9 ratio. He’s a strong set up man, and has the potential to be a closer.
Bryan Morris - Morris has been moved to the bullpen in Altoona, although the move isn’t necessarily a permanent one. However, Morris is a great option out of the bullpen, with a mid-90s fastball and a nice curveball giving him a one-two punch. He’s got the stuff to be a closing option, and we’ve definitely seen the results in Altoona, where Morris has a 2.21 ERA in 36.2 innings out of the bullpen, along with a 33:11 K/BB ratio.
Justin Wilson - As I mentioned earlier today, Wilson has been putting up some impressive numbers out of the bullpen, specifically the numbers pertaining to his velocity. His fastball has been clocked in the 97-99 MPH range in his two appearances since being moved to the bullpen. That’s great for a left hander, and especially good for a guy like Wilson who has strong secondary stuff, and a lot of movement on his pitches. He could end up being the best left handed relief option the Pirates have.
Tony Watson - There’s really no reason why Watson should be in the minors right now. He had a 2.73 ERA in 26.1 innings in the majors. His walks were a bit high, with a 4.1 BB/9 ratio, although he settled down in that area in the second half of the year. He was the best left hander on the roster this year. The Pirates mis-used him, putting him in more of an extended relief role, while using Daniel McCutchen in a set up role. McCutchen is better suited for an extended relief role, and Watson is better as a late innings left hander, especially with Joe Beimel struggling. Maybe in the future if the Pirates have Wilson and another left handed option on the roster, Watson could be a good long reliever. For now, he should be in the majors, and should be pitching in the Joe Beimel role.
Daniel Moskos - Moskos had a good ERA in the majors this year, although he didn’t put up a lot of strikeouts, allowed too many hits, and his walk numbers were a bit up there. He was lucky on the ERA side of things. He’s hit 97 MPH with his fastball in the past, and has had success in Indianapolis since being sent back down, with a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings, along with a 14:2 K/BB ratio. At this point, he’d be a better option than Beimel, although I doubt we see him until September, when rosters expand.
Jared Hughes - Hughes is quietly putting up a strong season in the minors. The 6′ 7″, 220 pound right hander has a 2.59 ERA in 31.1 innings in AAA, with a 9.8 K/9 and a 4.6 BB/9. The walks are high, and unlike what Hughes saw in AA, when he had a 2.8 BB/9. His best pitch is his sinker, which he’s gotten up to 96 MPH this year in Indianapolis. At the worst, that makes him a middle relief option in the majors. If there’s anything that displays the depth of the bullpen, it’s the fact that the Pirates have a guy who can throw a 96 MPH sinker, and he’s not even on the radar as a top option for the majors.
Michael Crotta - The Pirates recently released, then re-signed Crotta in a move to take him off the 40-man roster. We saw him in the majors this year, putting up good results early on, then struggling and going down with an injury, which might have led to his struggles. Crotta’s biggest accomplishment this year was probably teaching Charlie Morton his sinkerball grip. As an option for the bullpen, Crotta is best as a middle reliever, although with the current bullpen, he serves more as depth.
Aaron Pribanic - Pribanic has been starting in Altoona, but like Hughes and Crotta, he probably profiles best as a reliever. That’s mostly because he’s got a strong sinkerball, and not much else. He’s been known to throw in the low 90s, and has touched 96 in the past. As a reliever, it’s possible that he could sit in the mid-90s, putting him right up there with Hughes and Crotta.
Tim Alderson - Alderson doesn’t have the velocity of the above guys, but he does have some deception with his delivery that gives him some success. He’s had success this year out of the bullpen, although he has struggled a bit lately. Alderson has been throwing in the 87-89 MPH range this year, which is better than the 84-86 MPH range from last year. However, it’s not ideal for a guy out of the bullpen, as you’d like to see him at least hitting the low 90s.
Depth Options - Jose Ascanio, Michael Colla, Kevin Hart, Chris Leroux, Garrett Olson, Aaron Thompson