First Pitch: The Pirates Have Had Some Amazing Starting Pitching Depth
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.
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 teams, 3.97 ERA
The teams were the Tigers, Royals, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Athletics.
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 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.
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.
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.
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