Is the Pitching Staff Set For 2012?

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.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • John DiVito

    Agreed.  This also doesn’t take into account that Rudy Owens could get
    in the mix if he is healthy and starts off well next season. 

    I will be looking forward to the competition in Spring Training.

  • John DiVito

    Agreed.  This also doesn’t take into account that Rudy Owens could get
    in the mix if he is healthy and starts off well next season. 

    I will be looking forward to the competition in Spring Training.

  • http://twitter.com/BuccoMike Mike

    Chris Resop spot has been taken by leroux and hughes. Jose Veras needs to have a good September to have a spot on the club for 2012. Ohlendorf 8.03 is as good as gone, Maholm also is gone. Correia is a option for the 7th or 8th inning.

  • Lee Young

    It’s definitely promising to have this kind of competition on the pitching end. Now, if we could get some hitting……………….

  • http://twitter.com/BuccoMike Mike

    Buccos bullpen for 2012- hanrahan, correia (possibly), hughes, d-cutch, veras, Moskos, and Twats.

  • Anonymous

    They are not really gonna run Lincoln out there next
    year, are they? Ugh, hope he is the long man instead
    he is not a major league starter.

    • http://twitter.com/bucco_resist Ian Rothermund

      You’re right!   I’m so sick of these people trying to say Lincoln has something to bring to the table.  I mean, forget that he’s obviously progressed from last year.  Or that so far this season for the Pirates he’s had a solid K/BB ratio, and a really nice WHIP.  But I mean, let’s get real, is a guy that’s given up less hits than innings pitched really the kind of guy we need to give a shot?  What a waste of time…we should pack up him and Pedro in a boat, float it into the middle of the Allegheny, and sink it.  Don’t be dumb, SlipperyRockSlim, maybe we should actually see what he has.  Last year was last year, and so far in his time this year has shown that he has improved, maybe he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.

  • Anonymous

    Mike, I think Resop will be back. More reliable
    than Veras.

  • Anonymous

    Im not totally sold on this rotation for next year. I think Morton and McDonald should be the only ones with a spot going forward. Having Lincoln and Locke battle for a spot and then making a move whether through trade or FA to get an upgrade(like the jorge delarosa type they tried for this year).
    As for the buillpen I think this could be the Pirates last chance at getting some top end value for Hanrahan, before it turns into another Matt Capps situation. They could pick up a castoff to close or let Meek Resop Leroux and maybe Bryan Morris take a crack at closing.

  • Brian colleran

    Veras isn’t signed on for 2012 though, Tim. Do you expect to see him resigned for next year?

    • Anonymous

      Veras will be going into his arb-2 year.  The Pirates still control his rights for 2 more years.

      Veras, like most relievers, is prone to volatile swings but overall has been a good pitcher in the back of the bullpen.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sold on Jared Hughes yet either….Sure, he has been lights out in his few outings but thats only a few outings in September. We all thought Mike Crotta was the man in April so until Hughes shows me what he can do for at least a half of a season, I will wait to pencil him in as a lock for the bullpen…

    • http://twitter.com/bucco_resist Ian Rothermund

      Wait….so you’re intrigued, I think I get that.  However, to make you think he’s legit, he needs to be able to do it for an extended period of time…..but you wouldn’t give it to him.  How is a player supposed to convince anyone if he doesn’t get a shot.  His sinker is nasty, way better than Crotta; better velocity, later movement.  I would take Hughes ahead of D.McCutchen right now.

  • Anonymous

    The bullpen we’ll likely see at the end of the 2012 Spring Training:

    Hanrahan (RH) — closer

    Leroux (RH)
    McCutchen (RH) — long reliever
    Meek (RH)
    Veras (RH)

    Moskos (LH)
    Watson (LH)

    However:

    Hurdle does not trust Moskos.

    Hurdle seems to trust McCutchen but McCutchen has had a career year this season. McCutchen may be a probable roster cut because his stuff is not that good.

    Meek may no longer be capable of dominating batters. He might not be the best pitcher for the eighth inning.

    Neither Moskos nor Watson were competent LOOGYs this year. This could hurt them next year.

    Hughes and Crotta look capable of pitching in the Majors, although Crotta was injured for most of the current season.

    The Pirates have the depth needed to replace anyone but Hanrahan.

    • http://twitter.com/bucco_resist Ian Rothermund

      Sadly, Moskos hasn’t proven he can be trusted.  What was most disappointing about his appearances thus far is how much trouble he’s had with left handed batters.  I may be mistaken, but if you’re a lefty out of the pen, you need to get left handed bats out.  Watson can get left handed bats out, I would give him the bulk of the left-on-left battles.  Beyond that, you really don’t need another lefty out of the pen, so for him to be there means that he deserves to be there regardless of which side he throws from, and I don’t think Moskos has that kind of stuff.  I mean, what happened to his upside?  I remember him getting drafted and the idea of the mid-90′s being simple, I distinctly remember 96 being muttered once or twice.  Then when he gets to Pittsburgh, he hits 90-91 consistently, 92 sometimes.  Then he has two secondary pitches; a slider and change.  Neither of those seem to move very much at all, and he throws them at about the same velocity; low 80′s.  I would rather have Jeff Locke coming out of the bullpen next year as a second left handed option than Moskos, if Locke doesn’t get into the rotation, which I can easily see.  Every time I see Moskos, all I can think of is Matt Weiters.  That was a quintessential Dave Littlefield pick.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Goat,
    You do realize that Jeff Karstens was a top 5 starter for most of the season, I have to assume you forgot to put his name on your list, and Ian, I just think Locke has more potential than Lincoln. And Alvarez, come on, everyone is afraid to admit that he may be a bust, well he’s close. Another year like this and you can stick a fork in him. He looks lost up there now, he may need to get a fresh start with another organization to have any shot.

    • http://twitter.com/bucco_resist Ian Rothermund

      Well yeah, I think Locke has more potential than Lincoln as well, and I think there’s a possibility that both of them are in the rotation come April next year.  Also, read the article about comparing the ’08 draft, some good things about comparing how other players that have made it from that draft are doing so far.  This entire year was a bust for him, from the slow start, to being injured for as long as he was.  I think the best move for Pedro may be to come into Spring Training in ’12, forget about this season, forget about Sept. ’10, and put it behind him.  If you already think it’s time to get rid of Pedro, to “start fresh” in another organization, maybe you need to put some things in context.  Another argument I have is, assuming this won’t be what to expect from Pedro for his entire career, why not let him work things out?  Even when this team was in first place, they weren’t a playoff team.  I realize we’re so much better with Harrison hitting .260 with no power, but maybe we should be looking at the big picture

      • Anonymous

        Thats my problem with Pedro as well as Harrison, no power. You need power from 3B and I dont know what happened to Pedro, but how many HR does he have this year?
        As far as Locke and Lincoln goes, they will probably be battling it out for the 5th starter spot in spring training. McPherson may even be in the mix. What an incredible year he had. I am not a strikeout guy, I am more of an era guy, but he did it all this year. You gotta figure Karstens, McDonald, Morton and Correa are in to start the year at least, only leaves one spot. You have to try to win some games on the ML level. You have seen this year that the fans appreciate that. Biggest thing they gotta do is sign Derrick Lee for a couple of years. He is the only proven power hitter we got, and I dont want to see McCutchen swing for the fences all year just cause they need more HR. I see him as a .300 hitter with some pop, not a .250 hitter with 30 HR. Just a thought.

      • Anonymous

        I dont think its too soon to say that the 2008 draft sucked. Pedro is the biggest disappointment, but there are others. Read the article again and look at how many impact bats came out of that draft. Quite a few, in fact, more than usual. Pedro…not one of them.