The Pirates bullpen continued to be a strength for Pittsburgh again during the 2012 season. The 2011 bullpen finished with a 3.76 ERA, and were even better this year. The ‘pen finished with a combined 3.36 ERA — which finished ranked seventh in the National League (11th in the Majors). In the first half of the season, the relievers sported an impressive 2.59 mark. That number went up to 3.89 in the second half of the year.
Closer Joel Hanrahan was able to put together a second straight successful season as the Pirates closer. Jason Grilli came back for a second year and showed the emergence of the club’s eighth inning man while posting solid strikeout numbers. Tony Watson spent the majority of the season as the lone lefty in the bullpen, but pitched well in his sophomore year. The Pirates saw short samples of rookies Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson in relief, who could help the club in the near future.
Hanrahan was named to his second straight All-Star team in 2012 and finished with a 2.38 ERA. The hard throwing closer notched 36 saves out of 40 chances. He was successful in 16 of his last 17 save attempts, suffering a blown save on September 30th vs. Cincinnati, which sailed the Pirates their 82nd loss of the year.
Hanrahan ranked fifth in the N.L. in saves. The right-hander has 82 total saves with the Pirates, which is ranked fourth on the club’s all-time list. Hanrahan is third time arbitration eligible this offseason.
Grilli emerged as the Pirates eighth inning man during the 2012 season in his second year with Pittsburgh. Grilli finished with a 2.91 ERA over a career-high 64 games over 58.2 innings. The right-hander also set a career-high 90 strikeouts and ranked fourth among N.L relievers with a 13.81 K/9 ratio. Grilli was charged with a run in just 15 of his 64 appearances and struck out at least one batter in 56 of those 64 outings.
Grilli is a free agent this offseason.
Hughes trailed only Hanrahan for the best ERA amongst relievers out of the Pirates bullpen with at least 36.0 innings pitched. Hughes posted a 2.85 ERA over 66 games (75.2 innings) and led the National League rookie relief pitchers in ERA and ranked second in appearances and innings pitched.
The right-hander had a variety of roles for the club between multiple innings and coming in to pitch mid-inning. Hughes will likely return to the Pirates bullpen for the 2013 season.
Resop finished the season with a 3.91 ERA over 61 games (73.2 innings) with the Pirates this season. Resop pitched at least one inning more this year than in 2011, making 20 appearances in multiple innings. Resop pitched towards the late innings with the Pirates during the 2012 season. He held batters to a .226 average with runners in scoring position, and a .146 mark with RISP with two outs.
Resop is second time arbitration eligible this offseason.
Watson put together a solid 2012 season as the club’s lone lefty out of the bullpen for the majority of the year. Watson finished with a 3.38 ERA with a team-high and career-high 68 appearances (53.1 innings) this year. The left-hander whiffed 53 batters over 53.1 innings this year. Watson also inherited a team-high 61 runners, the second-highest total in the National League.
Watson finished strong with a 1.71 ERA in his final 31 games. The lefty will return to the Pirates bullpen in 2013.
Qualls finished with a combined 5.33 ERA over 60 Major League games with the Pirates, Phillies and Yankees. That mark was a 6.59 ERA after Pittsburgh acquired the right-hander at the trade deadline for infielder Casey McGehee.
Qualls is a free agent and will not likely return to the Pirates next year.
Leroux started the season on the disabled list with a right pectoral muscle strain. After rehabbing in the Minors, out of options, the Pirates designated the right-hander for assignment. He was not claimed and was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis. Leroux posted a 3.11 ERA over 63.2 innings. Leroux made 21 appearances, seven of those starts with Indy. The Pirates added him back on the 40-man when he was a September callup. Leroux posted a 5.56 ERA over 11.1 innings with just two walks and 12 strikeouts.
Leroux is out of options. He will enter spring training battling for a spot in the bullpen.
Takahashi posted an 8.64 ERA in nine appearances with the Pirates after being claimed off waivers from Los Angeles in August. Seven of his eight runs he allowed over 8.1 innings came in two games. Takahashi sported a 4.93 ERA with the Angeles prior to joining Pittsburgh.
Takahashi is a free agent and will not likely return to the Pirates next year.
Morris joined the Pirates in September after the Triple-A Indians finished their playoff run. In limited time, Morris was solid in his five appearances. Morris posted a 1.80 ERA over five innings with two walks and six strikeouts. He made his Major League debut at Chicago and tossed a perfect frame in relief. Morris gave up both runs (just one earned) over an inning against Milwaukee. He did not allow a run in his other four games.
Morris posted a 2.67 ERA over 81.0 innings with Triple-A in 2012. The right-hander is out of options next year, which gives him a good chance of breaking camp out of spring training in 2013.
Wilson made his Major League debut on August 20 at San Diego, and struck out the side in his scoreless inning of work. He was sent back to Triple-A, and returned as a September callup. Wilson posted a 1.93 ERA over 4.2 innings. He walked three while striking out seven during that span.
Wilson went 9-6 with a 3.78 ERA and 138 whiffs over 29 games (25 starts). Wilson was moved into the bullpen late in the season to join Watson as the club’s second lefty in the bullpen. The organization likes Wilson as a starter, so he could return to Triple-A to start 2013, but join the Pirates at some point next season.
VandenHurk finished with a 13.50 ERA over four games with the Pirates after begin selected from Triple-A for a September callup. The right-hander went 13-5 with a 2.92 ERA over 19 starts with Indy and was named the team’s Pitcher-of-the-Year. He finished fifth among International League pitchers in ERA.
After spending the entire 2011 season with the Pirates in the Majors last season, McCutchen made just one appearance in the bigs this season. McCutchen was optioned to Triple-A to start the year out of spring training. He allowed two runs on a hit and a walk without retiring a batter in relief on August 21st.
McCutchen did not join the team as a September callup. He is currently in the Dominican Republic with the Tigres del Licey for winter ball. McCutchen has not yet made an appearance.
by Tim Williams
Most successful major league relievers were starting pitching prospects at one point in their career. There aren’t really many relief pitching prospects in the minors. The Pirates have a few guys who are upper level relievers with late inning potential. Vic Black and Duke Welker are the main two, and both could have a shot at the major league bullpen next year. Bryan Morris is another, and will have to be in the majors next year, as he’s out of options.
In the last few years the Pirates have found the most success by moving struggling starters to the bullpen. This is a very common tale. It led to Tony Watson and Jared Hughes, who both looked like organizational starters in Altoona, but both have emerged as strong options out of the bullpen.
The Pirates have a few upper level candidates who could take that route. Phil Irwin has a shot of making it as a back of the rotation starter, but the Pirates might not need him in the rotation, and could move him to the bullpen if needed late next year. Brandon Cumpton and Tyler Waldron have been starters, but both profile better as relievers. Mike Colla and Nathan Baker have both moved to the bullpen from their previous starting roles.
The standout guys are Morris, Black, and Welker, as those are the guys with closer stuff. Guys like Irwin, Cumpton, and Waldron could emerge as middle relief options, and possibly as soon as 2013, since all three have already pitched as high as Double-A.