Why the Pirates Will Be Fine if They Don’t Make a Big Addition to the Bullpen

It seems like every year around this time I get into the same debates involving the bullpen. If you’ve read this site over the last few years, you know that I’m totally against paying anything for relief pitching. That involves trading prospects to add a reliever, or spending ridiculous amounts of money for a guy who has a limited upside due to his role. And so anytime the ideas come up to trade for a “Proven Closer” to boost the bullpen, I’m against it.

That idea is coming up this week, with a lot of Pirates fans wanting Huston Street. The Pirates seem to have some sort of interest, as they’ve checked on Street. This is a good time to remind everyone that “checking on” a player doesn’t really mean anything. Teams would be foolish to not check on Street, or any other player rumored to be available. You never know when you could get a great deal that you wouldn’t have gotten without checking. But I don’t think that will be the case with Street.

I don’t think the Pirates should deal for Street, or any other big name reliever. They’ve got plenty of prospects in the system, so a trade wouldn’t hurt them for the long-term. They’ve got money to spend, so it’s not like they couldn’t afford it. But spending prospects or money just because you’ve got that to spend is never a wise approach. In the case of relievers, you don’t need to spend to get quality. If you are spending to get quality, what you’re really spending for is comfort. A lot of teams do this, and it baffles me that the process continues, even though we have so much information that relievers are extremely volatile and not worth the expense.

I could talk about how spending for relievers is a bad idea because of how volatile they are. I could talk about how relievers really don’t provide a big impact, especially when you’re talking middle relievers. But if I’m talking about why they Pirates shouldn’t spend on relievers, all I really need to do is look at their history. That history shows that the Pirates don’t need to spend on relievers to get a quality mid-season addition. Here is a look at all of their mid-season moves over the last few years.

2013

The Pirates didn’t really need much bullpen help during the 2013 season, as everyone in their group was performing well. The only outside move they made was signing Kyle Farnsworth as a minor league free agent during the season. He signed on August 16th, after being released by the Rays, and was called up in September when rosters expanded. Farnsworth had limited playing time, but only allowed one run in 8.2 innings, with nine strikeouts six hits, and three walks.

2012

Not every move has worked out for the Pirates. In 2012 they traded Casey McGehee for Chad Qualls and signed Hisanori Takahashi as a free agent at the end of August. The Takahashi move didn’t work out, as he gave up eight runs in 8.1 innings with the Pirates.

The deal for Qualls is an interesting situation that highlights how volatile relievers can be. The Pirates didn’t give up much in McGehee, trading a player who was no longer needed with the addition of Gaby Sanchez. They got Qualls, who had been struggling with New York. Those struggles continued with the Pirates, as he posted a 6.59 ERA in 13.2 innings, with a 6:2 K/BB ratio.

What makes this interesting is that Qualls went to Miami in 2013 and put up a 2.61 ERA in 62 innings, with a 7.1 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9. This year he has a 1.95 ERA in 32.1 innings, with an 8.1 K/9 and a 1.1 BB/9. The move for Qualls didn’t work for the Pirates, but they obviously saw the potential for him to put up much better numbers than what he was doing in 2012. He just waited to put up those numbers after he left the Pirates.

2011

Prior to their first big collapse, the Pirates were in their first year as mid-season contenders in a long time. They weren’t strong contenders, mostly hanging around because of the weakness of the rest of the NL Central. They needed bullpen help, but rather than making a big trade for a reliever, they made a minor move, signing a veteran pitcher as a free agent. That veteran was Jason Grilli, who was free for anyone to take from the Philadelphia Triple-A squad. He had a clause in his contract that allowed any team to sign him to a major league deal. The Phillies could either refuse and add him to their own MLB team, or release him and allow him to sign with the new team. They obviously chose the latter.

Grilli posted a 2.48 ERA in 32.2 innings with the Pirates, with a 10.2 K/9 and a 4.1 BB/9 ratio. He went on to be one of the best relievers in baseball over the next two seasons, before dropping off this year with the Pirates. He has started to turn things around since being traded to the Angels, with a 1.29 ERA in 7 innings, with a 9.0 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9.

The irony here for the Phillies is that they went out and signed Jonathan Papelbon to a massive four-year, $50 M deal the following off-season. Grilli ended up costing the Pirates a little less than $4 M combined in 2011-13.

2010

The 2010 season didn’t really matter as far as in-season moves, as the Pirates were clear sellers and one of the worst teams in baseball. At the trade deadline, they dealt most of their bullpen, sending off D.J. Carrasco, Javier Lopez, and Octavio Dotel in three separate deals. The returns didn’t provide any lasting impact. The biggest impact was James McDonald, who had some decent results in 2010-12, before falling off last year. They still have Andrew Lambo from that same deal, which sent Dotel to the Dodgers.

Less than a week after the deadline, the Pirates claimed two relievers off waivers. They got Chan Ho Park, who was only with the team through the end of the season, and hasn’t pitched in the majors since. He had a 3.49 ERA in 28.1 innings, with a 7.3 K/9 and a 2.2 BB/9. That was good production, although it was limited by taking place during two meaningless months.

The bigger impact was the addition of Chris Resop. He was claimed off waivers, and combined for a 3.88 ERA in 162.1 innings for the Pirates from 2011-13. During the 2013 off-season he was traded for Zack Thornton, who was one of two players dealt to the Mets this year for Ike Davis.

2009

This was another year where the Pirates were a horrible team, and weren’t really making mid-season moves aimed at a strong second half. However, they did make a big move to add a reliever, and at the time that reliever wasn’t even the main focus of his deal.

The Pirates were rumored to be going after Lastings Milledge of the Washington Nationals, offering Nyjer Morgan in return. The deal was rumored for a few weeks before it finally happened. When it did happen, there was a second part of the deal added — a swap of Sean Burnett for Joel Hanrahan. That swap was meant to even out the deal for Washington, as Hanrahan was struggling, and Burnett was looking like a good lefty reliever. It ended up that Hanrahan was the best player in the deal.

He immediately turned things around with the Pirates, posting a 1.72 ERA in 31.1 innings, along with a 10.6 K/9 and a 5.7 BB/9. The walks improved going forward, as Hanrahan eventually became a top closer in 2011. His walks struggled in 2012, and he dealt with some injuries, but the overall results were still there. The Pirates dealt him that off-season, getting four players in return. One of those players was Mark Melancon, who has been one of the best relievers in baseball the last two years. He has also been much better than Huston Street, so paying for Street to replace Melancon as the closer would make no sense at all.

Going Cheap With Relievers Isn’t a Bad Thing

Looking at the common trend with the above moves, we can see that the Pirates don’t pay for relievers. They don’t deal prospects to help their bullpen. Instead they use waiver claims, sign free agents, or trade from their bench or bullpen to get potential short and long-term pieces.

The thing about this approach is that the Pirates have had a ton of success. They haven’t been perfect, as we’ve seen with Qualls and Takahashi. But for the most part, they’ve done an outstanding job of paying nothing for strong relief pitching. You could expand that track record by looking at off-season moves that brought in guys like Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, or even looking at their decision to turn struggling minor league starters into strong MLB relievers (Tony Watson, Jared Hughes).

The first attempt the Pirates have made this year has been dealing for Ernesto Frieri. That has not worked out in the first seven games that Frieri has pitched. The irony is that it looked like Frieri had the better chance of rebounding than Grilli, and it has been Grilli who has rebounded so far (although with a lower strikeout rate than normal).

I don’t know if Frieri represents the final approach to adding bullpen help. I do know that after the trade, it was mentioned that the Pirates were looking at him for a few years. With that in mind, I don’t think they’re going to be cutting him loose after just seven appearances.

It’s also possible that the recently signed Rafael Perez could work into the mix. He’s not far removed from being a strong MLB reliever, and right now he’s being used as a starter with Indianapolis. That’s probably to fill out the Triple-A rotation, but also to get Perez more innings and more of a look.

The Pirates might add more guys to help out their bullpen over the next few weeks. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the additions are the same low-key deals. I would be surprised if they pay big in prospects, or take on a guy who is making a lot of money. That’s just not what they do when it comes to the bullpen. And I’m fine with that. There are some who would call the Pirates cheap, citing basic analysis that trading prospects or spending money is the only way to make a good move. As we’ve seen throughout the last few years, the Pirates have a great track record of adding relievers without paying for them. There’s no reason that approach should change now.

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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  • Ron Loreski

    Sorry Tim, I couldn’t possibly disagree more. In previous years, mainly last year, the entire bullpen was solid, or pitching over their heads. This year, there is no proven closer, Jeanmar Gomez isn’t as dominating as he was last year, Justin Wilson has had a hard time keeping the ball in the yard as of late, Mark Melancon has pretty much been figured out. Stolmy Pimentel and Ernesto Frieri are projects that I wouldn’t trust putting in any game that’s not a blowout. Tony Watson has been fantastic and Jared Hughes has been much better than expected. The Shark Tank has no “anchor” this year. A guy like Huston Street or Joakim Soria would be the perfect re-enforcement for our bullpen.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      If Melancon has been figured out, then someone should start telling MLB teams the secret.

      • bucsws2014

        IMO, Melancon became too predictable by end of 2013. RH batters simply needed to sit back and hit that low outside corner pitch to RF. He’s going inside more this year and using his curve more, but he’s still vulnerable to the oppo single/gap ball if the batter is expecting the cutter.

        His xFIP is up, Ks down, BBs up and he’s already given up almost as many fly balls in 60% of the season this year than he did all of last year. The one good thing is that his BABIP is better, indicating weaker contact.

        All in all, he’s less dominating as a ground ball pitcher, but still very good.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

          If that’s all they have to do, then why aren’t they doing it? His BAA is .204 this year, which is lower than last year. Doesn’t seem like people have figured him out.

        • Andrew

          Fly balls have a lower BABIP than grounders. His GB% on his cutter is down to 50% from 62% last year, but the swinging strike rate is up to 14.3% from 10.4%. He is throwing the four-seamer more with GB rate of 67% which is up from last season. And his curve still has elite swing strike rate, 24.6% with 71% ground-ball rate.

          He has a top 15 FIP-/xFIP- among NL relievers, the only guys ahead of him on teams out of it, are Hector Rendon, who has bad splits against LHH, Jake Diekman who the Philadelphia might want to keep around, and Papelbon (in FIP-, allowing no home runs is great for FIP.)

      • pilbobuggins

        One of the few times I disagree with you tim. While melancon has been getting the job done it is always an adventure with him,adventure and closer together is an oxymoron. I shudder when I think of those two things together in a pennant chase where the pressure is amped up tenfold. I just don’t think melancon will hold up in that pressure cooker. This is one of those times where I hope I’m wrong.

        • jaygray007

          A fun 2.38 ERA adventure. He had like 1 game where he looked bad. That’s it.

          • pilbobuggins

            I’m refering to the many times he has allowed runners on base and gotten out of it. That is not usually a formula for long term stability in any pitcher let alone a closer who has a much finer line to walk. In a pennant chase those runners tend to be brought home more.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

          How is it always an adventure? He has 44 outings this year. In that span he has:

          **21 games where he’s been perfect.
          **13 games with one base runner allowed.
          **6 games with 2 base runners allowed.
          **4 games with 3+ base runners allowed.

          In almost half of his outings he is perfect, and in 77% of his outings he gives up no more than one walk or hit.

          • pilbobuggins

            September baseball has a way of magnifying base runners that is uncanny, all I’m saying is come crunch time that 33% not perfect becomes a whole lot bigger than the 77% perfect.

            • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

              If you’re expecting a pitcher to give up 1 or fewer base runners in more than 77% of his appearances, then those are some lofty expectations.

              Huston Street has 1 or fewer base runners in 79% of his outings this year.

              • pilbobuggins

                That’s what a closer is supposed to do. It is probably unfair to expect that level of consistency from anybody but we do with closers.

                • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

                  It’s not realistic. That’s what I’m saying. There’s a reason it’s unfair to ask that of closers.

                  • pilbobuggins

                    It’s a high pressure job with a short leash,perfection is not only expected but a requirment of the job. That is why closers get paid big bucks. Not saying I like the idea of paying a guy millions for three outs, that’s just the way the game has gone and we have to deal with it. On a side note I gotta say it’s great to be talking about the pirates chances of winning rather than how bad they stink. That was a long twenty years wandering around in the desert.

              • pilbobuggins

                One other thing, between grilli and melancon it’s seven blown saves, that equals the difference between first and fourth place. So I guess perfection from a closer is not to much to ask after all.

                • freddylang

                  Well other teams blow saves too.

            • jaygray007

              *23%. but it happens ;)

              and either way. Whether Melancon is pitching the 8th or the 9th inning, he’s still gonna be pitching close games. this 23% of imperfect outings will just happen in the 8th inning instead.
              he’ll give up a lead/tie in the 8th instead of the 9th. Is there really any difference?

          • leowalter

            But Tim, isn’t it always is always more fun to just say things like ” it is always an adventure ” when you don’t have the stats to back it up ?

          • lonleylibertarian

            A few years ago I became interested in Sabremetrics – in part because of this kind of stuff. Fans tend to magnify bad events – and get hung up on things that the data just does not support.

            I have not wanted to add Street because he seems to be Melancon like – not really an upgrade. I think the incremental value over Mazarro or Oliver is no where near what he would cost.

            BTW – I think we see a very similar thing with Pedro’s throws. I believe he has ONE fielding error out of his 19 – the rest are throws. While he does airmail them now and then – quite a few might have been “saved” by a good to above average first baseman – if the runner can’t advance perhaps a couple of those errors become singles.

            There is lots of good data out there – some of it is not very popular with Pirate fans – like Cutch’s defensive “problems” in CF ;-)

        • http://batman-news.com NMR

          Mark Melancon has a WHIP of 1.03.
          How one can say it’s always an adventure with him when he barely gives up one base runner per outing is beyond me.

  • Lee Young

    Relievers are awful volatile, even ‘proven’ closers. Just trading for someone will not mean they will duplicate what they are doing (both negatively and positively).

    Personally, I would NEVER give up too much for a reliever.

    However, I WOULD get rid of Frieri…lol. I don’t care HOW much potential he has…either that, just pitch him in blowouts and use Stolmy like you’ve been using Frieri.

  • Ben Swogger

    I agree wholeheartedly Tim. It’s just simply not worth moving a prospect, and CERTAINLY not a top prospect like Bell, Meadows, etc.

  • R Edwards

    DFA Frieri, replace with Mazzaro. bring up Oliver, and either DFA Pimentel or Worley to make room – probably Worley. Not exactly huge changes, but at least adding one guy (Mazzaro) who has been pretty solid in the past while adding another (Oliver) who has pitched very well and Indy and has the POTENTIAL to help us.

    I agree, I would not sell the farm for a guy like Street, who will cost a ton in prospects given that many teams will be bidding for him. I would at least take a look at trying to get someone like Benoit or Soria, who mad be had for a much lower price?

    Regardless, I am not as optimistic about the bullpen for the next 2+ months. Other than Watson and Melancon who can we truly depend on pretty much every outing? Hughes has been very good this year, but his past suggests he may still hiccup from time to time. The rest are all crap shoots at best.

    • bucsws2014

      Why would you even think of DFA’ing Worley and keeping Pimentel?

      I’m not opposed to bringing up Oliver to see if he can perform up here, but the guy still worries me. As long as he’s ahead in the count, he’s phenomenal. But once he gets behind in count or needs to pitch from stretch, his performance decreases dramatically. BB/9 is still over 5.

      • R Edwards

        Well, Oliver has been lights out this year in Indy and has dramatically improved his control this year, compared to last year and prior years. He is pushing 26/27, so we need to find out what he can do.

        Worley is nothing but a retread – he had a nice brief run for a few starts, but now he’s getting figured out and he has a very limited ceiling. It is very possible that if was DFA’d no one would even pick him up.

        • http://batman-news.com NMR

          “dramatically improved control” is a relative statement, no?
          Oliver’s walk rate is still higher than all but six qualified relievers in major league baseball.

          • R Edwards

            27 walks in 46 innings, still not great admittedly. But, opposing hitters BA in the neighborhood of .150 and over 9Ks per 9 innings.

            I’d rather bring him up and see what he can do, then to keep a known mediocre quantity like Worley or Pimentel.

            • http://batman-news.com NMR

              I’d rather actually get a good pitcher for the playoff race. Crazy, right?

              • R Edwards

                That always sounds good, but its always a matter at what cost? I would love to see the Pirates get a Papelbon, Street, Benoit, or someone along those lines – but at what cost? If we have to give up 2-3 of our top 15-20 prospects, I say no. I don’t want to see the team mortgage the long term, for a shot at the playoffs for one year. This team would still be too flawed, IMO, to win it all.

                Plus, who says Oliver couldn’t be a help? Seems to make sense to try him out, before making a big trade.

                • http://batman-news.com NMR

                  What team has EVER mortaged the long term to acquire a reliever? Let’s not make this market out to be more than it is.

                  • R Edwards

                    we’ll see….but I suspect a guy like Street will cost a lot more than what it cost to get Marlon Byrd last year – as there will likely several teams bidding..

                • Guest

                  we’ll see….but I suspect a guy like Street will cost a lot more than what it cost to get Marlon Byrd last year – as there will likely several teams bidding…..

    • leowalter

      Try calling up the Rangers and asking them for Soria in return for second and third line players or marginal prospects ! I can imagine what Jon Daniels reaction would be.

  • jaygray007

    The bullpen isn’t even bad. I don’t understand the narrative that melancon isn’t good.

    • jaygray007

      i meannn… an upgrade’s an upgrade. if they upgrade frieri to soria, fine. i’ll be happy enough. just don’t pay out the wazoo.

      But personally, i’d rather them move Edinson to the bullpen once everyone in the rotation is healthy. Cole, Liriano, Locke, Morton, and Worley rotation.

      I guess it comes down to either choosing worley or volquez for the bullpen. I choose Volquez because his contract is up this year and because we’ve seen the extreme velocity in short bursts. plus his peripherals are making me a little nervous as a starter. A move to the bullpen could encourage better k rate for him by letting the ‘stuff’ get sharper in short bursts.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    A couple things: I mentioned Jim Johnson who is similar to the Grilli situation. The A’s are willing to swallow the 4 mil remaining on his deal acccording to several outlets. He’d be a strong option moving to the NL – especially with a track record like his if he’s healthy. It’s a cheap option for a top guy.
    Secondly, a recent report from ESPN says that Seattle has a shot at Tijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and DJ Peterson for David Price. The Bucs comp on this would be Kingham, Hanson, and Bell roughly. I don’t make this deal. I like Price alot, but not that much. Bell to me is becoming a key part of the future the more 1B struggles continue on the big club.
    I would however consider Kingham, Hanson, (one of – Rojas, T Sanchez, H. Ramirez, Tabata, Lambo, Allie). Maybe another arm too like Cumpton, Sadler, Sampson.

    • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

      Maybe Heredia still has enough swag to be a part of a deal to land a major SP.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      I think it would be higher than Kingham, because Walker is rated higher than him. Probably Glasnow or Taillon.

    • Andrew

      I think the Pirates have enough below average strikeout, ground ball RHPing, which is what Johnson is, I think they could definitely use a better right handed option out of the bullpen, preferably one with some swing and miss stuff. And I agree no reason to pay a top dollar for it.

    • pilbobuggins

      Jim johnson is a perfect example of what I’m afraid melancon will become.

    • leowalter

      You are joking about your prospective trade pieces for Price,right ? I can tell you,that is what the Friedman would think. Maybe ask him if he would want some bats and a dozen balls too ?

  • ElGaupo77

    Street’s contract could preclude giving up a good prospect. Also Frieri could pass through waivers and be like Tabata.

    Really a lot about Street revolves around Martin being resigned.

    • deacs

      I thought Martin said he hadn’t been approached about an extension. Can anyone confirm this? Also I’m hoping we’re on the other end of a Bowker for Lopez deal. We should be able to get some middle tier guy to pitch the 7th on the cheap.

      • pilbobuggins

        Of all the pitchers being mentioned here,I think the best thing the pirates could do for the pitching staff is resign martin. A top line catcher is almost as important as a top line pitcher and a lot cheaper. He is the one guy I think the bucs fo will overpay to keep, after all they overpaid to get him so why not overpay to keep him.

    • S Brooks

      I don’t think Frieri gets through waivers, no way. There are probably a dozen teams who are going nowhere in ’14 that see the same upside the Pirates do and have nothing to lose but the $1.5M owed him the rest of the way. Fix him and you have an elite closer for $4M next year.

      • pilbobuggins

        I agree, just let’s not try and fix him when the game is on the line ok?

    • leadoff

      There is almost no chance to sign Martin, IMO, the Pirates are not even trying to sign him, I believe they have moved on.

      • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

        Commentary not too long ago from Frank was that he would be a key focus as part of the future. I see Martin getting a strong offer from the team. Maybe 3 yr/30-40M

        • csnumber23

          Agreed!!

      • csnumber23

        Are you kidding me?? They have not moved on from Martin. If they don’t resign him, expect to see a Qualifying offer. They are not going to just let him walk out the door. Especially with Tony Sanchez clearly proving he is not the answer.

  • leadoff

    I don’t think that the description of why the Pirates don’t need bullpen help is adequate.

    You must look at what they do against the NL Central. Melancon is a setup pitcher, not a closer, he has an ERA that is a full run higher from the closer position than the setup position. Aside from Hughes, the Pirates have no pen vs the NL Central. The NL Central is fast ball oriented and the Pen for the Pirates with the exception of Melancon and Hughes are fast ball pitchers.

    I can’t use info from 2009 to 2013 as valid info because of the changes in teams from the NL Central. For example the Reds now have Mesoraco coming into his own and a dead red fastball hitter, Hamilton a dead red fastball hitter, the Pirates pen, dead red pitchers for the most part. Brewers, every one of them dead red fastball hitters, the Cards Wong and Tavares, new guys but dead red fastball hitters. How good the Pirate relievers are is not the question, how they fit vs the division is what counts. Street is a pitcher that IMO would move Watson to the 7 inning role and shorten the game.
    Look at it this way, which guy would you want to come in and close out a game: Melancon or Chapman. Rodriguez or Melanson, Rosenthal or Melancon. Simply put with Street from the beginning of the year, the Pirates are probably in 1st place.

    • pilbobuggins

      Could not have said it better myself. I have been saying all year, if you can’t beat your division you can’t win your division.

    • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

      Melancon’s career ERA by inning:
      5th: 6.00
      6th: 5.40
      7th: 3.86
      8th: 3.00
      9th: 2.72

      If anything it seems he gets better the farther he moves back.

    • moose7195

      The only difference between a setup man and a closer is the title they’re given. Many times, the setup man handles a more difficult part of the opposing lineup. So your split about his ERA in which inning is sort of worthless, the inning doesn’t matter. It’s like putting stock in pitcher’s wins.

    • csnumber23

      LOL – this post is laughable. I take Melancon over Rosenthal or Rodriguez. Just because Melancon doesn’t throw 100 MPH doesn’t mean he isn’t a quality closer. You clearly just want someone that throws 100

  • http://batman-news.com NMR

    The content of this article doesn’t seem to support the title.
    It’s one thing to say that a team has had success in the past acquiring bullpen pieces without expending large resources. It’s a completely different topic all together to claim that they’ll be “fine” using those methods to fix a bullpen that has exactly two reliable options and rankes near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories.
    When people talk about relievers being volatile, what they’re really describing is risk. While it is certainly true that all relievers are risky, it is an absolute fact that the good ones are less so.
    The Pirates have done a good job assembling a team with few glaring needs. The bullpen is unquestionably one of them. Nobody gives out awards for most efficiently utilizing resources, and it will absolutely be a mistake for the Pirates to lose out on a playoff spot due to continued bullpen failure because they chose options with lower chance of success.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      Melancon, Watson, Wilson, Hughes, Gomez. Which one would you replace?

      Pimentel and Frieri are both projects, or being used as projects. They would be the easiest ones to replace for short-term gain, but you lose potential long-term gain.

      • deacs

        Do you think 2 projects handicaps the bullpen or do you think their upsides are worth it? I’m hoping if guys go 7 innings more often then it won’t really matter that much.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

          I wrote about this last week. I’m fine with them taking a chance on Frieri, but they shouldn’t be throwing him into important innings right now. I like Pimentel’s upside, but there’s no reason to use him basically like a Rule 5 guy.

          They need to start using Pimentel, and not in the “once a week” fashion. See what they’ve got with him when he actually pitches like a reliever. Use Frieri as the emergency guy while Searage works with him.

          • deacs

            Yeah I understand that logic. With Stolmy you have to find out what you have by pitching him. With Frieri there’s still work to do behind the scenes so if he’s not a finished product, or Ray is not “done” with him, don’t use him in late innings. Instead use him to soak up innings when the games out of reach. I’m ok with that. Sounds like Hurdle’s trying to skip a step with Frieri.

          • http://batman-news.com NMR

            Very much agree with this, Tim.

      • http://batman-news.com NMR

        Jared Huges and Jeanmar Gomez are replacement-level pitchers. You would literally struggle to do worse.
        And I’ll use your same logic in regards to Frieri and Pimentel. If relievers can be found so easily and cheaply, there is absolutely no logic in keeping two projects during a Division race. That’s the difference between 2010 and 2014.

        • jaygray007

          Frieri? fine.

          but Pimentel still has SP potential.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

          The league average for relievers is a 3.60 ERA / 3.75 xFIP.

          Hughes has a 3.70 xFIP. Gomez is at 4.02.

          I’m not saying they’re great pitchers, but any team would take them in the bullpen right now for the middle innings. You don’t have to struggle to do worse.

          I agree somewhat with Frieri and Pimentel. I don’t think they should continue using them the way they have been used.

          • http://batman-news.com NMR

            Except that Jared Hughes is your 3rd best reliever right now, not a middle innings guy. And Jeanmar Gomez has a career HR/FB rate 2% above what xFIP regresses to. We’re talking about a playoff contending team. The baseline absolutely should be higher.

        • Andrew

          A reliever like Hughes with a very high ground ball rate, and low walks (this is not a given for Hughes see 2013), will be underrated by FIP. The Pirates have made a habit of collecting a lot of the low K% – BB% relievers with high ground ball rates, Hughes, Morris, Gomez, and to an extent Mazzaro.

          But I agree with the point that the why keep two projects especially when it has been demonstrated that the manager doesn’t exactly manage the bullpen assets well. The Pirates are on the steep slope of the win curve, every marginal upgrade is valuable right now, another RHP who gets strikeouts would be very valuable right now.

          • http://batman-news.com NMR

            How’s it going, Andrew?
            .
            I do agree that FIP, and therefor WAR, understates guys like Hughes. But as you point out, I’m not sure there’s enough track record to believe he’ll keep putting up these walk rates. Extremely fine line he’s walking, as you know.

            • Andrew

              I’m alright, have to go the PBC Asylum for morning links now.

              I think most relievers walk a fine line, most only really have one thing they do well, not sure Hughes is that much different, but his ceiling is definitely limited. The Pirates could certainly use another RHP who can get strikeouts. If Melancon is isn’t getting up before the ninth, that is a lot of outs to navigate with Hughes as the best right handed option.

      • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

        I know 100mph isn’t the end all be all, but 103 mph is and there are some dominating type guys in our division. I like our pen, but I think Grilli is missed.

        • piraddict

          1H2013 Grilli is missed.

  • S Brooks

    Before any additions are made, there is the matter of who’s getting demoted/DFA’d/traded when Cole comes off the DL. Between Volquez and Worley, I think it’s Worley going to the pen. His last two outings (including the relief appearance against Cincinnati Sunday) didn’t look all that sharp, and whether he’s outpacing his peripherals or not, Volquez has been getting the results for over two months now, with just the hiccup against the Reds a month ago. Worley has a platoon split this year in a small sample, but lifetime he’s pretty close to even – and we know NH likes relievers you can throw out there against batters from either side.

    So with Worley in the pen, there are now 8 guys. I think either Wilson goes down or Stolmy gets packaged in a trade for another piece. The more I think about it, the more improbable it seems to me that NH would pick up Frieri just to DFA him a month later. From all reports the issue is mechanical – Frieri’s arm slot has moved more over top, which has diminished his horizontal movement and deception. If Searage is able to fix it, the Bucs just got a guy far more dominant than Huston Street.

    The problem, as others have pointed out before, is that Frieri is not the only liability in the back end of the pen. Swapping out Wilson (who has an option) or Pimentel for Worley has the potential to fix that. If it happens reasonably soon, a pen with ’11-’12-era Frieri, Melancon, Watson, Hughes, Worley, Gomez and one of Wilson/Pimentel is a contender’s pen.

    • http://batman-news.com NMR

      But but but I thought Frieri was just “unlucky” because teh XFIP???

      • S Brooks

        Well, there’s no question it’s a mechanical issue – Searage began working with Frieri on it as soon as he got to Pittsburgh and there were blog posts and articles quoting him on it. So I’m assuming NH sensed an opportunity to refurbish him to his former glory, and that was the #1 motivator.

        That said, even with his less effective mechanics, Frieri’s xFIP suggested he should have been closer to a 4 ERA guy, certainly playable in lower leverage situations. It’s far from a perfect model, but you know there is some logic to it – if your stuff is good enough to strike out major league hitters at the rate he’s been doing it, even this year, then it should be good enough to get hitters out in other ways.

        Put it another way: Melancon in ’12 with the Red Sox was unlucky. Frieri in ’14 with the Angels was broken AND unlucky. But mostly broken.

        • jaygray007

          what makes Frieri so broken though?

          He has to be doing SOMETHING right, right? 10+ k/9 and less than 3 bb/9. how do you have the stuff to have that K rate, the control to have that bb rate, but at the same time throw up meatballs?

          i’m not doubting what you said. It’s just really weird that the underlying stats look good. could he just have a mental thing about serving up meatballs? i have no idea.

          • S Brooks

            Whatever it is, it’s happening on his 4-seam. The results on his 2-seamer and slider are consistent with his career numbers. The 4-seamer is allowing a .338 AVG and .706 SLG.

          • http://batman-news.com NMR

            Because of the difference between command and control.
            .
            Frieri is able to throw the ball over the plate just fine (control), but he’s always lived up in the zone and too many of those pitches are center cut right now (command).
            .
            Combine that with that fact that he relies on deception rather than change of speed, and his deception apparently isn’t deceiving many at the moment due to a change in arm slot, and you’re left with a guy who absolutely should be expected to give up a lot of long balls.

            • bucsws2014

              Frieri “able to throw the ball over the plate just fine” is a funny comment after watching his last 2 PA/2 BB performance.

              • http://batman-news.com NMR

                No, what’s funny is analyzing players based on their last outing.

        • pilbobuggins

          While I agree frieri has a high upside,I just wish in the short term hurdle would not use him when the game is on the line. At least until he proves in low pressure situations that he can get the job done.

        • http://batman-news.com NMR

          You missed my sarcasm.
          .
          There absolutely is some logic to using xFIP, but DIPS theory states that strikeouts, walks, and homeruns are the three things a pitcher can control. Saying a pitcher is “unlucky” because he is giving up a lot of something he can control is just plain lazy analysis.
          .
          Melancon is an excellent example of that. Mark Melancon gave up a lot less homeruns in 2013 than 2012, but it wasn’t due to luck. It was due to dropping 4-seam usage by 25%, increasing cutter usage by 45%, and pitching exclusively to the low outsider corner quadrant.

          • S Brooks

            No, I got the sarcasm – and I agree with you that looking at xFIP as the sole guide to how good a pitcher is would be lazy. You always have to look at why. Sometimes it’s velocity, mechanics, pitch usage, injury, etc.

            Sometimes it’s just the randomness of clustering tougher lineups, or a higher percentage of your mistakes being hit, or an uncharacteristically low strand rate – things that over the long term tend to regress back to the mean. My point is, with Frieri it’s hard to say it’s not at least some of the latter.

            • pilbobuggins

              A straight as a string fastball does not do much for your numbers either unless you consider bad good

              • S Brooks

                Yeah, that goes back to the overhead slot. He’s lost 5-7″ of horizontal movement plus the deception that came with his low 3/4″ delivery.

                • pilbobuggins

                  I have no doubt that searage and the guys can get him right again. My only problem is when they are using him in games.

    • pilbobuggins

      I’m pretty sure the pirates announced that worley would be the one sent to the pen.

      • leadoff

        Worley is in the Pen, but he will start next week.

        • pilbobuggins

          Until cole comes off the dl, I believe that was the plan.

        • pilbobuggins

          I like your idea of packaging pimentel. Maybe tabata or snider, question is what do you get?

          • S Brooks

            You get to not pay Jose Tabata $10M for the next two years, is what.

            • pilbobuggins

              I’m in favor of shedding the salary, my question is who is taking him along with pimentel and for what. My choice would be either texas or arizona.

              • S Brooks

                I don’t think anyone is giving anything back in that deal. You might have to give up more than Stolmy just to get a team to take Tabata off your hands. Because of his salary and production (and status), he has negative trade value. If you want a Tabata, you can get one pretty easily for the league minimum.

                • pilbobuggins

                  That’s what my point was I was being a bit sarcastic just for the sake of a good conversation. I do think texas would be a good partner for a trade regardless of who the pirates decide to deal.

  • smurph

    The point about volatility and uncertainty concernign RPs is legit. However, to an extent, you could say the same thing about non-RPs. In your example, you said it was no big loss when they traded McGehee for Qualls, because they had Gaby Sanchez. And yet Sanchez, batting mostly against LHP has a .697 OPS, while McGehee batting against all pitchers shows a .777 OPS. Sure most RPs are at the top of their game for shorter periods, but then you have guys like Rivera, Eckersley, Lee Smith, Wagner, K-Rod, Gossage who did it year after year after year. If you had a chance to get Aroldis Chapman, would you want him? Is he the MVP on the Reds team right now? I would certainly put him in the top 3 most valuable players on that team.

    • pilbobuggins

      That goes all goes with what I was saying earlier. A closer is expected to be perfect all the time, one that is like chapman is worth his weight in gold. A good closer I arguably the most important piece on a winning team,until he is’nt. A closer is like a vegas marriage it’s great until your wife finds out then it’s all over but the crying.

    • http://batman-news.com NMR

      Gaby Sanchez has faced RHP in 58% of his plate appearances.

      • smurph

        Then I was correct?

        • http://batman-news.com NMR

          Well, no, based on the English definintion of “mostly”.

  • leadoff

    If the Pen was not an issue I am sure the Pirates would not be out inquiring. I doubt that they are inquiring about center fielders. Also I would not be afraid to bet if they talked to the Padres then they talked to a bunch of other teams also.
    I understand the Pirates philosophy of not wanting to make moves when they think they have the players in house and those players have to play up their abilities before the Pirates want to give up on them, but matchups are important and the Pirates have a bunch of bad matchups in the NL Central this year.

    • letsgopitt123

      This. Tim is too busy counting his money from the front office to actually see what is going on with the baseball team.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

        I’m not really that busy. It doesn’t take much time to count zero dollars.

  • letsgopitt123

    Tim, how can you say we don’t need to improve the bullpen when we have the 2nd most blown saves in the bigs(behind Houston)? 15 on the year total… If we didn’t blow half of those we would be in 1st place. It’s clear to me that the bullpen needs some reinforcement to cut down on the blown saves.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      I said they don’t need to pay to improve the bullpen. They’ve been fine having success with low key additions.

      • letsgopitt123

        They have been finding success with projects when they have the whole off season and spring training to work with the guys. Bringing someone in and “working” with them on the fly has not worked. When adding a bullpen piece mid season you need to bring in someone that is ready to go.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

          Did you read the article above, or did you just jump right to the comments?

          • http://batman-news.com NMR

            Assuming you’re not actually suggesting the Pirates should be targetting the equivalent of Chris Resop and Chan Ho Park to fix a glaring bullpen need for a playoff run, Jason Grilli has really been the only mid-season guy to pitch well.
            .
            Not that I’m supporting the immature money counting garbage.

            • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

              I think they need middle relief, not a late inning guy. I’m fine with Melancon/Watson in the late innings.

    • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

      Well they have also had the most save situations (106) in all of baseball so it seems kind of natural they would rank high in the blown saves category. On an efficiency rate the Pirates relievers get a hold or a save in 84.9% of their save situations good enough for the 13th best mark in baseball (MLB as a whole is at 83.9%). Is this good enough for a playoff team? Well the St Louis Cardinals (86.7%) do a better job but the Reds (83.7%) and Brewers (82.0%) do not.

    • S Brooks

      Not all of those blown saves resulted in losses.

  • leadoff

    I still think the title of the column should have been “Why the Pirates won’t be fine if they don’t make a big addition to the bullpen”. In fact IMO, they need two additions to the pen, I still think they need a specialty lefty as well as a closer, just because they got along without them before does not mean they can’t be pieces that can get them over the top now. Specialty left handers can be had relatively cheap.

  • John

    I agree totally because with the strong farm system the Pirates have you can always go in house. The Pirates need to save the money for more important things like signing Martin. As for Grilli, he isn’t being used by the Angels in high leverage situations. Sometimes Hurdle is just to inflexible to change till it is to late. Loyalty is a nice trait but in a “business” climate it can be a disaster. And Hurdle himself often refers to the Pirates as a business. Professional sports is really just a sport to fans and a business for everyone else involved.

  • CalipariFan506

    Didn’t read all of the comments but my opinion is similar to Tim’s.

    The only difference I have is that we need to use AAA instead of the market and cut ties with some guys who may have value at some point. I’d like to try Obispo, Oliver, Holdzken and Wall in that order. I’d like to DFA Frieri, Worley, Gomez and Pimentel in that order.

    Wouldn’t try that all at once by any means, but that would be the pecking order.

  • marty34156

    Frieri can’t get anyone out, Wilson has struggled immensely this year, Pimentel has been bad, Watson and Melancon can’t do it all, go add a reliever. At least call up Mazzaro and dump Frieri. Adding a SP could help too, as the addition of a SP could then push Worley to the pen. Worley and Mazzaro replacing Pimentel and Frieri improves the pen. I agree they shouldn’t give up anything substantial for bullpen help, but they definitely need to do something. Even if it is a lesser known reliever than Street, like James Russell or Andrew Miller.

  • Bryan Graham

    Melancon, Hughes, and Watson aside, there isn’t a guy in the pen who should feel safe about his job security. If the pen doesn’t improve, and quick, they might as well throw in the towel. It’s not worth breaking the bank over, but you might have to pay a little higher than you would like.