First Pitch: The Pirates Have Had Some Amazing Starting Pitching Depth

Jeanmar Gomez is one of 10 starting pitchers the Pirates have used this year. Photo Credit: David Hague

Jeanmar Gomez is one of 10 starting pitchers the Pirates have used this year. Photo Credit: David Hague

Earlier today I was recording a podcast with James Santelli and Tom Bragg, talking about the rotation, and what moves would need to be made once guys like Jeanmar Gomez, James McDonald, and Wandy Rodriguez returned. Most of the conversation surrounded the fact that the Pirates were about to have too many starters for the rotation. A few hours later, I was writing an article wondering who the Pirates could use to start Saturday’s game.

That’s been the story of the year for the Pirates. One moment it looks like they’re on the verge of some difficult decisions with the rotation. The next moment, they barely have enough starters to fill the rotation. They’ve seen nine starters miss time this year with injuries between the majors and Triple-A.

Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton started out on the disabled list. For anyone who was complaining early in the year about the Pirates signing guys who were guaranteed to miss time at the start of the year, consider that two of those guys represent half of the healthy starters in the majors right now.

This would have been a great year for Kyle McPherson or Phil Irwin to step up and show what they could do in the majors. Unfortunately, both pitchers went down early in the year, and neither will be back anytime soon.

In the last week we’ve seen Jeanmar Gomez, Wandy Rodriguez, and now A.J. Burnett go on the 15-day disabled list. James McDonald went on earlier in the year. The Pirates currently have six starting pitchers on the disabled list, and six legit starting pitching options between the majors and Triple-A.

The amazing thing about all of this is that the Pirates starters have combined for the 6th best ERA in the majors. Despite all of the injuries, all of the Jonathan Sanchez, and all of the starters who seemingly had no chance of making a start coming into the year, the Pirates’ staff has been extremely effective.

Charlie Morton was the tenth starting pitcher to start a game for the Pirates this year. Only three other teams have had ten or more starters on the season. Those teams:

Angels (10 starters) – 4.53 ERA

Blue Jays (12 starters) – 5.33 ERA

Orioles (11 starters) – 4.79 ERA

It’s expected that you’d have a bad ERA if you’re going through double-digit starters. Most teams have their top five starters in the rotation, then maybe 2-3 other options who could be serviceable. Teams don’t usually carry two rotations worth of starters, and then some. Once you get down to that tenth starter, you’re looking at minor off-season additions who you thought would only be starting games in the majors if there was a worst case scenario. The Pirates have seen that worse case scenario, and their starters have combined for a 3.56 ERA.

I decided to look at the rest of the league to see how many starters were used by each team, and how each team was performing. I grouped all of the teams together by the number of starting pitchers they used. I didn’t include tonight’s results, and I’m not sure if tonight’s totals added to any team’s starter count.

5 Starters

1 team, 3.40 ERA

The Atlanta Braves are the only team to use five starters, and as a result are the envy of every team in baseball. No one likes the Tomahawk Chop, so I guess we can call it even.

6 Starters

6 teams, 3.97 ERA

The teams were the Tigers, Royals, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Athletics.

7 Starters

8 teams, 4.06 ERA

The teams were the Yankees, White Sox, Reds, Phillies, Mets, Marlins, Giants, and Astros. Most of the teams have been around that 4.00 range. The Giants and Astros have been horrible, while the Reds have been tremendous and the White Sox help bring up the average a bit.

8 Starters

8 teams, 4.40 ERA

The teams were the Twins, Red Sox, Rays, Padres, Nationals, Mariners, Indians, and Brewers. Most teams fell into the 7-8 range.

9 Starters

3 teams, 3.39 ERA

This was a bit of a surprise. The teams were the Rangers (3.77 ERA), Dodgers (3.65 ERA), and Cardinals (2.78 ERA). Like the Pirates, these teams have all done a great job adding depth. So far there has been a trend that the numbers get worse as teams need more starters. This group actually has the best results. I’d say that’s more about these individual teams, and less about the amount of starters they have used.

10+ Starters

3 teams, 4.86 ERA

The teams were the three listed above. I didn’t include the Pirates.

The rotation depth the Pirates have this year has been incredible. They currently have six starters on the disabled list, one more on the Triple-A DL, released one this year, have four in the rotation, and yet they’ve still got a few legit options in Triple-A. They’re working on their third rotation right now, and choosing between Andy Oliver or Brandon Cumpton. Oliver has a 3.27 ERA in 66 innings, with dominant strikeout numbers, a low BAA, and the big downside being his 57 walks. Cumpton has a 3.31 ERA in 65.1 innings. He’s not as dominant with the strikeouts, but he has good control, and an impressive 3:1 GO/AO ratio. And if the Pirates didn’t want to go with one of those two, they could use someone like Bryan Morris, Vin Mazzaro, or Justin Wilson out of the bullpen. The Pirates are about to turn to what would have been their 13th option at the start of the year, and they’ve still got decent options to choose from.

I’ve said this before this season, and I’ll say it again. We put so much focus on the five man rotation, but I think what is more important is starters 6-10. Unless you’re the Atlanta Braves, no team is going through the season with just five starters. Most teams will need 2-3 extra starters each year. In the Pirates case, it could be very easy to be out of any sort of playoff hopes right now, all because they’ve gone through so many options this year. They are where they are because of their pitching depth. Hopefully they’ll eventually be in a situation where they have to make tough decisions like “what to do with James McDonald since he’s one of eight healthy starting options” and not “who do we call up on Saturday to give us a fifth healthy starter?” For now, that latter situation isn’t preferred, but it is manageable.

Links and Notes

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.


**Jameson Taillon’s Delivery Shows That Prospects Don’t Develop Overnight.

**Gregory Polanco Promoted to Altoona.

**Prospect Watch: Tony Sanchez and Alen Hanson Each Homer.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Polo On Fire, Yankees/Pirates Suspended By Rain.

**Minor League Schedule: Glasnow Looks To End First Half Strong.

**Pirates to Sign 4th Round Pick Cody Dickson.

**Pirates Announce the Signing of Ten Draft Picks.



**Pirates Allow Season-High 17 Hits, Collect Only Three in Morton’s Debut.

**A.J. Burnett Placed on 15-Day DL, Contreras Released, Morton Activated.

**Injury Updates: McDonald, Wandy, Tabata, Gomez, and More.

**Who Could Start For the Pirates on Saturday?

**Pirates Notebook: Charlie Morton Makes 2013 Debut… Now What?

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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, 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.

First Pitch: The Important Lower Tiers in the Prospect Rankings

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First Pitch: Locke’s Anti-Regression, Cumpton a Bonus, and Jamestown

  • Lee Young

    Wow! That IS incredible that we’re doing so well!

    Hurry back AJ and Wandy, tho!

  • Lee Young

    If it wasn’t gonna ‘blow up’ the pen, I wouldn’t mind Morris, Wilson and Mazzaro piggybacking each other on Sat.

  • jamminjoe66

    I believe it’s all going to depend on what Locke can give them tonight. He goes 7 it’s bullpen guys Saturday. Anything shorter & roster move will be made.

  • Monkshot

    In my perfect world it’s Burnett, Rodriguez, Locke, Cole and Liriano as my starting 5. Jenmar out of the pen in long relief. Would Morton be effective out of the Pen? JMac doesn’t fit in any scenario for me other than AAA depth and even then he would have to clear waivers, right? I can’t imagine the Pirates going that way but where does he fit?

    • smurph

      I agree monkshot. Jeanmar started the season as a RP. Despite his excellent performances i would put him behind those guys. I stated in the first week of the season that the Pirates have a lot more SP depth than the last two seasons. Morton will get at least one or two chances to start, but I just can’t see him earning a spot over those other guys. If the Pirates can play .500 between now and the AS break, maybe they’ll have most of their guys back by then.

    • BostonsCommon

      In my world Ground Chuck better figure it out and find a way to stick in the rotation, because he is not going to my bullpen. Too many walks, too much contact, and not enough strikeouts. I want my relievers to come in, throw heat, and K their way out of a jam. In the bullpen, Morton is just an overpriced Jared Hughes.

      I mean maybe he can fill a long relief role, but do you think Hurdle is bringing him into a tie game with runners on, in need of a crucial out?

      • BostonsCommon

        Clearly when everyone is healthy Morton has got to be about number 8 or 9 on the depth chart. He’s just not a guy you can trust right now.
        I hope he figures it out though, because the Pirates need someone to eat some innings.

  • emjayinTN

    Send Zagurski away anywhere and bring up Brandon Cumpton – 3.00 GO/AO Ratio, 4-4, 3.21 ERA. He does not blow anyone away, just knows how to pitch. If not him, Jameson Taillon, or Nick Kingham. We have 4 with the Reds and 3 with the Angels after that and then we are off the 24th and the 27th – Lets get some decent arms up here from AAA and Cumpton is the decent-est

    • leadoff

      I agree with Cumpton coming up, pitchers in AAA that pitch well should be in line for a call?

  • leadoff

    IMO, Morton threw very well last night, he only gave up 2 earned runs and actually if he had any luck might have done better than that.
    But beyond that he was throwing much better than I have every seen him, true location was a problem, but first real game in a year was not that bad. The Slider or curve whatever it was, was a lights out pitch. I agree with Blass, this kid was pitching with 1 1/2 pitches and holding his own. We know that he has more than that. He was also throwing 95 when he left the game, so holding his velocity was nice to see.
    I am sure the Pirates were somewhat satisfied with how he pitched. He looks to me like he was pitching about 1/2 way to his ceiling.

    • Monkshot

      Morton pitched pretty well considering his lack of control. The movement on a majority of his pitches were downright nasty, I think with better command he’s going to be tough. He just needs to be more consistent, you never know what Charlie your going to get.

      • Monkshot

        You’re going to get.

        • leadoff

          True, you don’t know what you are going to get, he does however have a bionic arm these days, something he did not have before.
          If he thinks he did well and he feels good today, those are good signs, confidence for a guy like him is crucial.

  • krinks35

    Isn’t it grande to not have to see them run out there the likes of Bryan Bullington and hope for the best?

    You could so a similar article about how they have nearly a whole another bullpen’s worth of help ready to call up when someone doesn’t do his job.

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