First Pitch: Thoughts on the Bullpen, Mercer, Taillon, Cole, and the Reds

Thursday is podcast recording day, which means I spent most of my time today writing articles for the site, recording tomorrow’s show, and editing that show. Therefore, rather than a formal article, we’re going to do a Thursday thoughts article again.

**Put me down as someone who isn’t concerned with the bullpen usage. If we’re talking about the middle relievers, there’s plenty of depth in Indianapolis. That depth probably doesn’t include Vic Black (DL) or Duke Welker (struggling) right now, but it does include guys who are having success like Ryan Reid and Jared Hughes.

How can the Pirates reduce Jason Grilli's workload? Photo credit: David Hague

How can the Pirates reduce Jason Grilli’s workload? Photo credit: David Hague

If we’re talking about Jason Grilli or Mark Melancon, that’s a bit of a different story. Right now Melancon is on pace for 84 innings, while Grilli is on pace for 74 innings. It’s good that they’re being used so much, because that means the Pirates are winning. You’d also like to see their usage go down, at least to the 60-70 inning range. But if one of those guys goes down, the Pirates have other options who could step up, like Bryan Morris or Justin Wilson.

Ideally you’d like to have all four relievers in your bullpen at the same time. There are a few solutions to this problem.

1. Start winning by more than one run. The pitching has kept the team in the game long enough for the offense to take a lead. If the offense gets a few bigger leads, there will be no reason to turn to Melancon or Grilli.

2. No need for Melancon/Grilli during easy saves. The Pirates need to abandon the idea that they have to play to the save stat. A few weeks ago Grilli came on to get the final out when the Pirates were up by five and the tying run was on deck. That technically qualifies as a save opportunity, but do you need Grilli for that? Do you need Melancon pitching when there’s a six run lead? The answer is no. And I’d even say that you don’t need Melancon when there’s a three run lead in the eighth inning. You could even give Grilli a night off on those occasions too. Give a few of those outings to Morris, Wilson, or Tony Watson.

3. Losing. Yeah, the Pirates shouldn’t try to lose. But they’re going to lose. There will be a few stretches where they don’t win, and Grilli and Melancon won’t be used as much. When that happens, those projected innings counts will go down. And if it doesn’t happen? Then the Pirates would be on pace for an incredible record. It will happen. It’s baseball. Every team goes on losing streaks. You just want to make sure there are more winning streaks.

**Today was the second game in a row that Jordy Mercer started at shortstop, the third in the last five games, and the sixth in the 15 games that Mercer has been back. Is Mercer starting to take more and more playing time away from Clint Barmes? You be the judge:

**Based on the stats you’d probably be more comfortable with Jameson Taillon than Gerrit Cole. Danny Knobler of CBS Sports had two interesting tweets today.

The comment on Cole wasn’t just the scout Knobler talked to. David Todd of 970 ESPN talked to Jim Callis of Baseball America and got a good report.

Cole still has the stuff to eventually be that number one starter. He’s been dealing with command issues this year, and hasn’t been dominating. It would be great if he suddenly flipped a switch and became the Gerrit Cole people hoped for at the start of the year. That addition to the rotation would be better than any trade the Pirates could make for the rotation.

**As I’ve mentioned the last two days, the podcast will have some changes starting this week. Each week the podcast has been about 70 minutes, and has included minor league and major league talk. Starting this week we’ll be running two smaller shows per week. We will still have an episode each Friday, talking about the major league team. This show will consist of the segment with myself, Tom Bragg, and James Santelli. We will also have a second episode each week talking about the minor leagues. That will include input from our minor league writers, as well as draft and international signing discussions. Each episode will be about 30-35 minutes on average. So it will be the same content each week, just broken up throughout the week to make things easier for everyone. You don’t have to carve a little over an hour of time out of your day. I don’t have to spend an entire day editing one long podcast (instead editing over part of several days, which I think will be better).

**The big weekend series this weekend will be the Yankees and Red Sox…naturally. But the best weekend series will be the Pirates and Reds. The Yankees and Red Sox are at the top of the AL East right now, but the Pirates and Reds are at the top of baseball, with the second and third best records. The last time the two teams played, the Pirates swept the Reds in a three game series. It would be huge if that happened again.

Links and Notes

**The DraftStreet freeroll is back! One Day FREE Fantasy Contest – $300 in cash prizes. The contest is tonight, so join today!

**Save $8 On The Pirates Prospects Books With the MLB Draft Sale.

****The next Pirates Prospects Podcast episode will be available tomorrow. Here is last week’s show: P3 Episode 5: Polanco the Top Prospect? Can Pirates Keep Winning? Mark Melancon Interview.

**Pirates Win 1-0 On Martin’s Walkoff, Another Combined Shutout.

**Latest Keith Law Mock Draft Has The Usual Names For Pirates, Surprise At The Top.

**Jonathan Mayo’s Second Mock Draft, More Reese McGuire.

**Links: Are the Pirates For Real?

**Pirates Notebook: Who Makes In-Game Hitting Adjustments?

**Prospect Watch: Allie and Lambo Homer; Pimentel Has Another Rough Outing.

**West Virginia Wins 8-3 In Lakewood, Allie Hits Monster Homer.

**Minor League Schedule: Cole Leads First Place Indianapolis Into Columbus.

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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  • emjayinTN

    Tim: The Pirates have finished the first third of the season at 34-20, 14 games above .500. That plays out to a full season record of 102-60, which I do not think is possible. Therefore, the 8/9 Closers will be getting more rest as the season progresses. Mercer has “taken” the Shortstop position with excellent D, and a much better approach at the plate than any of the Shortstops since Jack Wilson. We will definitely see Barmes again – a $5 mil salary does have that effect – but Mercer is our SS for 2014 and beyond.
    Agree wholeheartedly that an efficient Cole would be as good as any trade we could make to improve the team. We also have to make a decision on AJ, and it sure would help to have a viable option either way. He has been The Leader – his pitching has been excellent, and his and Wandy’s off-field could be worth even more to kids like Jeff Locke, Jeanmar Gomez, and Gerrit Cole.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    There’s been lots of pitchers with great stuff but no command. They ‘litter’ the transaction wires from teams hoping they get lucky and the pitcher finds it.

    That is probably why he got hit around in college. Not very optimistic at this point.

    But….I sure hope he DOES find it!

    • http://www.facebook.com/susanne.klichlangford Susanne Klich Langford

      What is going on with Cole? He hasnt pitched since last Sat and tonights pitcher is TBD. Was hoping to catch him in C-Bus tonight.Does he have an injury or are they letting him clear his head…or tired arm?

      - Fred Langford

      • Happydude1

        Indianapolis’ website lists Cole as the starter for tonight.

  • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

    Fortunately for baseball fans everywhere, any and all national baseball outlets will be focused on the Yankees and Red Sox, which is nice, as both clubs are a little underexposed.

  • Nickmid13

    The Pirates’ starters haven’t thrown any complete games, and I can’t remember the last time a starter even went 8 innings. That could be solution 4 – go more than 7 innings.

    • elgaupo

      Exactly what I was going to say. Jeanmar could have gone 8 the other day, he was at 76 pitches after 7. If Melancon or Grilli doesn’t get used that’s a good thing right?

  • capirate

    Winning all these games are great, but Pirates not dominating. Even against weak teams most wins by 1 or 2 runs. Will definitely see a stretch at some point when they stop winning all these close games. Hopefully it won’t be too long a stretch.

  • smurph

    If the bullpen is logging a lot of innings, it means the starters are not. So that is a good thing, no? Obviously you don’t want to overwork Melancon or Grilli, but the Pirates have a lot of bullpen depth in the minors as well as on the DL to replace the middle innings guys. As for whether it is Barmes or Mercer at SS, it doesn’t really matter. Nice to have both of them. Either McDonald (.065) or Inge (.211), preferably McDonald needs to be released.
    Agree on the issue of Cole. I am glad they are limiting his innings at Indianapolis. Wouldn’t it be great if he hit his stride in July-August just in time to give the pitching rotation a boost?

    • emjayinTN

      smurph: McD (.268 OPS) & Inge (.483 OPS) added together do not make a good ballplayer. Inge started off great, and has not done anything since and an 8K to every W is not what I want to see in any capacity. Mercer can cover 2B/SS/3B so we have to find some gainful employment for Inge, McDonald, and Harrison, even if we have to go down to Lo A West Virginia to get somebody else, it will be a positive move.

      Cole has always been the No. 1 everywhere he has been – he needs the daily interaction with Burnette, Rodriguez, Liriano, Grilli, Martin, and Searage. Instead of expectations, he will now have a challenge in front of him.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      smurph, you would think a low innings count for the starters isn’t a terrible thing by reasoning they will be fresher in August and September, where the pitching collapsed in ’12 and ’11. But one of the problems is, Gomez’s last start aside, the starters are racking up high pitch counts in those low inning totals. So it doesn’t necessarily follow that they aren’t going to wear down.

      As for Inge, he needs to stick with the parent club but remain on the bench. I’m not kidding, the team is 15-4 when he’s active but not starting. Call him a good luck charm, call him a good clubhouse guy, but after what happened in Oakland last year and what Brandon McCarthy said about him, and considering baseball players are a superstitious lot who believe in chemistry, I wouldn’t mess with it.

      Harrison, I agree with. Sure, he plays multiple positions — poorly. As an old teacher of mine used to say, he’s illiterate in multiple languages. We don’t even need him at AAA with Ivan DeJesus Jr. in the fold.

  • leadoff

    Not worried about the bullpen, depth all over the place. I would like to see the Pirates change their offensive approach.
    Their approach is the main reason for all the strikeouts, that can be adjusted.
    What the Pirates do is try to run up the pitch count of the opposing pitcher, when doing this they get themselves into far too many 0-2 and 1-2 counts, stats show that a hitter’s chances of success are greatly diminished when they get into these counts. From a baseball prospective, when you get into those counts you can’t pick the pitch you want to hit, you have to hit what the pitcher gives you and that is his out pitch.
    What they need to do is hit the first pitch that is in their zone and quit taking pitches just to take them. It looks to me like this approach has greatly affected guys like Marte.

  • https://profiles.google.com/107500598404660809214 Kerry Writtenhouse

    The reason I’m not too concerned with Cole is becaus we in the end, talent plays out. I’d drive myself crazy if I kept jumping on and off the wagon like some do. In the end, the cream rises. All the players won’t reach their ceiling. As long as we’re hitting more than we’re missing.