The Pittsburgh Pirates currently have 18 pitchers on the active roster due to September callups, a number that doesn’t count Paul Maholm or Kevin Correia, who are both on the 60-day disabled list and out for the 2011 season. Throughout the 2011 season the Pirates’ pitching staff has set the tone. When they were competing, it was because the pitching staff was constantly going six or more innings with two or fewer runs. When they started falling apart, it was because the pitching staff started coming back to earth.
Some of the late season struggles were just a natural regression. Some of the struggles were due to starters surpassing their previous season’s innings limits. Some of the struggles were due to injuries. I talked a few weeks ago about the 2012 rotation, pointing out that James McDonald, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Karstens seem to be locks. I also pointed out that Brad Lincoln had a good shot at a rotation spot if he finished off the 2011 season on a strong note. So far this year Lincoln has a 2.70 ERA in five starts, with an 18:8 K/BB ratio in 30 innings as a starter.
If those four make the rotation, that leaves one spot for Ross Ohlendorf, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, and Jeff Locke. It wouldn’t seem likely that Maholm would return to the team, as he has a $9.75 M option with a $750 K buyout. Ohlendorf is due for his second run through arbitration, while Correia is under contract for $4 M. Both players could be candidates as bullpen arms, and Ohlendorf could even be an expensive AAA option, ready to serve as the 6th starter in the event of an injury. Locke could also make a strong case for the rotation in the final few weeks, as he is going to remain in the six man rotation for the remainder of the year.
The Pirates don’t exactly have a pitching staff that could rival the Philadelphia Phillies, but their pitching staff looks good heading in to the off-season. You’re not going to find someone better than what they’ve got on the free agent market, at least out of the players who are available to the Pirates. So with the rotation options looking set, what about the bullpen?
The last two years we’ve seen the Pirates add veteran bullpen arms in January. Heading in to the 2012 season, the Pirates have Joel Hanrahan anchoring the bullpen as one of the best closers in the game. They’ve got Evan Meek, Chris Resop, and Jose Veras as 7th/8th inning options. All three pitchers have their question marks, and they aren’t on the Mike Adams level of 8th inning guys, but they get the job done most of the time. Meek is the clear favorite if he can fully recover from his injuries this year.
The other standouts from the bullpen this year are Chris Leroux, Daniel McCutchen, and Tony Watson. Leroux has a 1.74 ERA this season, posting some strong results after changing his arm slot in the minors. He’s almost to the point where you could add him to the previous list of players as a 7th/8th inning option. Daniel McCutchen has had a decent year out of the bullpen, with a 3.40 ERA, serving as a strong middle reliever. Tony Watson has been a good left handed option, although he’s been misused at times as a long man, rather than the go-to left hander.
The Pirates also have Jason Grilli, Daniel Moskos, Aaron Thompson, and Jared Hughes as options for the middle innings.
There’s clearly a lot of competition for bullpen spots heading in to the 2012 season. One area where the Pirates could improve is the 8th inning. As we’ve seen over the last two years, it’s a lot easier for a team like the Pirates to add bullpen arms through free agency. There’s always someone who slips through to January, and the Pirates could possibly find an 8th inning guy through this method. That would take some pressure off of guys like Leroux, Resop, and Veras if he’s still around, allowing them to work in the 6th and 7th innings.
Last year the pitching staff was a big need. This year that need doesn’t seem to exist heading in to the off-season. Not only do the Pirates have some strong options heading in to the 2012 season, but they also have depth, both in the rotation and out of the bullpen. Unless there’s a situation that presents itself, such as a trade for a solid starting pitcher, or a strong 8th inning reliever becoming available in January, the Pirates would be better off going with the guys they have.