First Pitch: What Do the Pirates Have in Their Rotation?

Earlier today I wrote an article looking at what should be expected from each spot in the rotation from a numbers standpoint. That focused on the league averages, and the ERA from each spot. As a side note, I prefer FIP and xFIP over ERA, but when you’re talking about league averages, it really doesn’t make much of a difference. Also, the goal was to look at what teams actually did last year, rather than what they’d be expected to do going forward. That means ERA is a better choice.

For the purposes of this article, I wanted to look at the numbers from today’s article, and apply the rotation rankings to each Pirates’ starter. For this reason, I’m going to focus more on the FIP numbers, since that projects what they should be doing going forward. I included the ZiPS projections for each pitcher, but I mostly went with the 2013 FIP numbers, since I feel that tells the story of what should be expected of these pitchers. Note that this is true regardless of whether the 2013 FIP numbers led to improvements over the ZiPS projections, or a decline compared to ZiPS.

Check out the article from earlier today to get an idea of what is to be expected from each rotation spot. Here is how each spot applies to the Pirates’ 2014 starters.

Francisco Liriano

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.21/3.30

2013 Stats: 3.02 ERA / 2.92 FIP

Liriano doesn’t meet the standard of a number one starter based on the MLB average. His numbers from last year were close, and his FIP last year suggests that going forward he would be around a 2.92 ERA. To put that in perspective with the number one rankings, Liriano would have been an ace for about a third of the teams in the league last year. He would have been a number two starter for all but one team in the league last year (the Dodgers).

Liriano’s ZiPS numbers weren’t as optimistic this year, although those are based on his career numbers, and he doesn’t look like that pitcher. I’d say Liriano is closer to his 2013 numbers, making him an ace in a weaker rotation, or one of the best number two starters in the league.

Gerrit Cole

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.61/3.76

2013 Stats: 3.22 ERA / 2.91 FIP

Cole is in a similar situation as Liriano. His 2013 numbers are much better than his ZiPS numbers. The 2013 FIP is almost identical to Liriano’s, which means that if he continues that going forward, he would be a number one for about a third of the teams in the league, or a number two for almost every team in the league. I think it’s more likely that Cole repeats his 2013 numbers, rather than putting up the numbers ZiPS projects.

Charlie Morton

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 4.10/4.26

2013 Stats: 3.26 ERA / 3.60 FIP

Morton looked great last year, and this is a case where I would trust his 2013 numbers over his FIP. The FIP considers past stats, which don’t factor in his new sinker, and which factor in his injured 2012 season. Morton’s FIP last year, if he carries that over this year, would be a strong number three starter, or a number two starter in a weak rotation.

Wandy Rodriguez

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.83/4.15

2013 Stats: 3.59 ERA / 4.42 FIP

It’s really hard to say what Rodriguez could do, especially with his velocity down in his first two starts, and neither start going well. At this point, I’d go with the lowest projection, which was the 2013 FIP. That FIP would make him one of the best number five starters in the league, or a number four starter in a weak rotation. If you go with the ZiPS projections for this year, he’s either a weak number three, or a strong number four. However, the ZiPS projections take into consideration his previous stats, which probably aren’t relevant with his injury. I’d say the weak 4/strong 5 prediction works best.

Edinson Volquez

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 4.50/4.28

2013 Stats: 5.71 ERA / 4.24 FIP

It’s hard to say what Volquez will do going forward. I’m not going to say he’s fixed after seven innings, but I will leave it open that he could have a good year, and do much better than most are anticipating. His FIP is pretty much the same from last year and the ZiPS projections, so that seems like a safe bet to go with for his projection. That FIP would make him a league average number four starter if he maintains that going forward. I think those types of numbers are achievable.

What Do the Pirates Have?

Liriano and Cole are both guys who project as number one starters in a weak rotation, or some of the best number two starters. Charlie Morton projects as a number three starter in a strong rotation, or a number two in a weak rotation. Edinson Volquez projects as a league average number four starter. Wandy Rodriguez looks like a number four starter in a weak rotation, or a number five starter in a strong rotation.

Putting this in perspective, last year there was only one team in baseball with two starters that had a 2.92 ERA or better. If Liriano and Cole pitch like they did in 2013, and their FIP numbers translate to ERAs this year, then they could do just that. If you add in Morton and his projected 3.60 ERA (using last year’s FIP), then you’ve got an average of a 3.14 ERA over the top three rotation spots. Last year there were eight teams who could match or beat that, and one of them was the Pirates.

The weakest spots for the Pirates are with Volquez and Rodriguez. However, if you add those two in the mix, the Pirates are projected for a 3.63 staff ERA. That would make them one of the top seven teams in the league, based on last year’s numbers. The Pirates rotation was in the top seven last year.

Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases on the products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**What Should You Expect From Each Rotation Spot?

**Is There a Spot in the Majors For Jeff Locke?

**Prospect Watch: Three Hits For Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco and Stetson Allie

**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham Gets Second Start

**Vin Mazzaro Accepts Assignment to Indianapolis

**Jameson Taillon Undergoes Successul Tommy John Surgery

**Draft Prospect Watch: Baseball America Updates Rankings

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

    No matter how you cut it, 2014 has been different so far. I think we have more than enough in the Rotation to carry us through a successful season, but, unlike 2013, the offense has been very good right out of the gate, and in some games we have simply outscored the opposition. You are right, we cannot light any cigars where EVOL is concerned, especially not after just 7.2 IP, but the results have been excellent so far. He’s showing solid #2 results and we only need a #4 or #5. I am not concerned with the bottom of the Rotation – the Top 3 of the Rotation is where we will succeed or fail in 2014. That and the BP. We are solid, but I am having more and more concerns about whether Jason Grilli will return to where he was at early last year or in 2012. His velocity is down 3 or 4 mph, and he has been struggling every time out. At some point will we see a switch to Mark Melancon? When Grill was throwing 96 and sometimes getting to 97, and the slider had drop-off-the-table movement, he was absolutely filthy. He is now at 92/93 with more sideways movement than down on the breaking pitch???

    • Ron Loreski

      I’d like to see Stolmy Pimentel get a shot at closer if they decide to make a change. Mark Melancon doesn’t seem to have that “IT” factor that most closers seem to have

      • Jeff Rhodes

        Grilli hasn’t been Grilli-esque yet, but if his velocity is still good, I assume he’ll get ample opportunity to straighten himself out — particularly since he hasn’t actually cost us a ball game yet. If a move has to be made, they might feel like they owe Melancon the first crack at closing. But don’t rule out the possibility of Morris stepping into that role.

    • Andrew

      Grilli’s average fastball velocity

      2012: 94.6 mph
      2013: 94.1 mph
      2014: 94.3 mph

      It is not the velocity, he has lacked any control thus far. He has also thrown more change ups than the last two years combined.

    • smurph

      Agreed Grilli’s velocity is not the issue. However, let’s be realistic. His days are numbered. He is 37, coming off an injury last year. You don’t want to throw in the towel after 2 or 3 bad outings. However, if it becomes a pattern, I think the first move would be closer by committee. I agree with Jeff that Morris could be a candidate because of his velocity.

      • Andrew

        He certainly could be near the end of closer life cycle.

  • Lee Young

    I kind of agree…I think Wandy and Volquez are going to battle it out for #4 / #5, which may or may not be a good thing?

  • piraddict

    Liriano is probably at his peak, while Cole has ample room to grow in his skills. In 2H14 Cole could blossom into a true #1. The Pirates would be better off to substitute one of Locke, Pimental or Cumpton for Wandy right now. To keep Wandy on board because of his salary is to engage in the “fallacy of sunk cost”. Wandy will be paid whether he pitches or not. The Pirates can immediately upgrade #5 by maing the change now. It also prepares them better for 2015.

    • emjayinTN

      Keep in mind that it would be nice to be able to trade Wandy before the deadline, which gives us 3 months. He has been solid and had a real good game going the other day and then the HR’s came. With two former #1’s fighting it out at the bottom of the Rotation, the Pirates are in good shape, and we have the luxury of having guys who could step in immediately. LHSP’s are in demand all the time, and I hope we can get a young prospect – maybe not a Top 10 kid, but enough to make it worthwhile.