No one from the Pittsburgh Pirates will come out and say the rotation is set with two weeks to go until the regular season begins. But the truth is that the rotation is set with two weeks to go until the regular season begins. In fact, the rotation has been set for a long time.
The top three starting pitchers were guaranteed spots coming into the season. Francisco Liriano pitched like an ace last year, and is in year two of his contract with the Pirates. Gerrit Cole is the ace of the future, and looked like he was moving into that role at the end of the 2013 season. Charlie Morton was finally healthy last year, and looked like a strong middle of the rotation starter. He also signed an extension over the off-season, which bought out control of three free agent years.
That left two rotation spots, and two likely candidates.
The first candidate was Wandy Rodriguez. All off-season, there were questions about Rodriguez’s health, and whether he’d be able to actually start. However, Rodriguez finally looks healthy, and has been pitching well throughout Spring Training. He has responded to every question about last year’s injury with “I feel nothing”, telling that the pain which constantly set him back last year is gone. Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington basically confirmed that Rodriguez was a lock for the rotation, although we didn’t need him to say anything to tell that Rodriguez would be a starter this year.
“He feels healthy, he’s thrown the ball well, and we’re looking forward to getting him built up and having him take the ball for us in the rotation,” Huntington said.
That leaves one spot, and Edinson Volquez. Coming into the Spring, he looked like a lock due to his salary, and the comments by the Pirates that they signed him as a starting pitcher. But Volquez has struggled in his time this Spring, leading to a lot of doubt about whether he can be effective, and whether the Pirates will actually keep him in the rotation. In fact, I had two people ask me today at Pirate City whether Volquez would be sent down (he can’t be) or put in the bullpen (he won’t). Huntington gave Volquez a vote of confidence in his meeting with the media today.
“Barring injury, we see Edinson in our rotation to start the season,” Huntington said. “We believe in the stuff. We believe we can help him make adjustments. We’ve had some other guys throw the ball well. So I’m not going to say he’s a lock, but as we came in to Spring Training, we anticipated he would be in our Opening Day rotation.”
So there you have it. Liriano, Cole, Morton, Rodriguez, and Volquez. It’s the rotation that was anticipated heading into Spring Training, and if everyone stays healthy over the next two weeks, it will be the rotation on Opening Day. It’s not a bad rotation either. Liriano and Cole looked like aces by the end of the 2013 season. Morton is a strong middle of the rotation guy. If Rodriguez returns to his pre-injury stuff, he can also give middle of the rotation numbers. That leaves a question mark in Volquez, with the chance that he could bomb in the fifth starter’s role.
You don’t have to search long and hard to find a team in the Majors with a question mark at the number five starter’s spot. And if worst comes to worst and Volquez bombs in the first month of the season, then it won’t be the end of the world. Jonathan Sanchez bombed in the first month of the season in 2013, and the Pirates went on to win 94 games, win the Wild Card game, and take the NLDS series to five games. The Pirates have some strong depth behind Volquez, so they’ll be able to recover quickly if he does struggle.
The whole off-season has been a focus on whether A.J. Burnett would return. Then, when Burnett left, it was a focus on whether Volquez could be successful, while the great news that Wandy Rodriguez was healthy sort of flew under the radar. All of this led to a perception that the Pirates will have some serious pitching problems. But I look at the Pirates’ rotation, and I see four good starting pitchers, one question mark, and good depth. A lot of teams, including contenders, would take that situation.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.
**From yesterday: James Santelli Wins a SABR Analytics Research Award. Congratulations to James on the outstanding accomplishment!