Pirates Pitching and Catching Proven in Season’s First Two Months

The calendar flipped to June and, if it doesn’t already, it will feel more like summer. By extension, it feels more like baseball season — even though teams have been playing for two months.

Now in the thick of the 2015 season, small sample sizes are mostly done away with. Meaning, some real conclusions can be drawn from what has gone on so far.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are 27-24 after beating the San Francisco Giants Monday night. They played above .500 in April then, despite spending most of May with more losses than wins, entered June with a winning record.

Pittsburgh’s recurring theme was that when the team pitched well, the hitters couldn’t hit. When the offense hit, the pitchers didn’t pitch.

Then the Pirates put it together and won seven games in a row to vault back into baseball’s collective attention. They scored six runs per game in that stretch while the pitching staff limited opposing teams to only two runs per game.

As the Pirates season is nearly one-third completed, the starting pitchers and their batterymates have shown themselves to be rock-solid while the offense continues to shake their cold start.

The Starting Pitching is No Fluke

The pitching staff continued its excellent start to the season through May, led by Gerrit Cole who is tied for the National League-lead with eight wins. He has a 1.90 ERA and has struck out 79 hitters over 71 innings this season.

The reports he could be in for a Cy Young campaign weren’t a stunt.

All A.J. Burnett has done is post a 1.81 ERA in the last two months, which rose from 1.37 after his first bad outing of the year in a 11-5 win at San Diego last week. Francisco Liriano has a 3.47 ERA, mostly due to two bad flare-ups against Minnesota and St. Louis in which he gave up 12 runs in 8.1 innings. Aside from that, he’s struck out 75 in just 59.2 innings and might be the best number three starter in baseball.

Then there’s the return of Charlie Morton, who might be the league’s best number four starter if he continues to pitch the way he has through 14 innings.

Jeff Locke is the only point of contention among the public, but not within the Pirates clubhouse as Clint Hurdle dismissed any notion of replacing him in the rotation. As Tim dug into yesterday, Locke’s encountered some misfortune so far, which indicates his numbers should improve as the season moves on.

He won’t ever put up fantastic numbers and will have the occasional meltdown, but the reality is that Locke gives the Pirates a good chance to win more often than he doesn’t, and that’s a luxury few teams have as a fifth starter. Plus, whatever may happen, Vance Worley is available to be stretched out in the bullpen,

As for that bullpen, Mark Melancon recovered from his rough start, using his superior command to allay any concerns of velocity. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes have teamed with him to solidify the back-end, while Arquimedes Caminero looks better each time he pitches as he better harnesses command of his 100 mph fastball and secondary stuff.

Antonio Bastardo has been the only eyesore and he’s really only still with the team because of his status as a left-handed reliever. Don’t expect to see him used unless the outcome of a game is already mostly decided.

Entering Monday’s game, the Pirates 3.04 ERA was the second-best in all of baseball — topped only by, who else, the Cardinals.

The Catchers are Alright

Entering this season, I thought the loss of Russell Martin would be the one that hurt the 2015 Pirates in a way they wouldn’t be able to recover from. His impact, not only at a face numerical-value, but also in the way he worked with pitchers and his leadership, was irreplaceable.

That’s still true.

But the Pirates aren’t doomed by the loss as anticipated.

They mitigated Martin’s massive loss with the pickup of Francisco Cervelli, who is baseball’s third-best pitch-framer, according to Baseball Prospectus, having added 40 extra strikes this season. He’s also hit .326/.395/.409 as one of three Pirates with an OPS over .800.

And, recall Martin’s .402 on-base percentage last season. Cervelli’s .395 OBP would lead the team if he qualified, which he’s only roughly 10 plate appearances shy of doing.

Concerns about Cervelli’s injury history remain. He’s never played more than 90 games in a season which leads the Pirates to use Chris Stewart more than a normal backup catcher. But if Cervelli can stay on the field for the majority of the next four months, he could gain recognition as one of the game’s better catchers on both sides of the ball.

Don’t forget about Stewart, who seems to have become Cole’s personal catcher. He doubled three times Monday and carries a .711 OPS after 18 games — not bad for a backup or any catcher — while performing well defensively, having saved four runs above average according to FanGraphs.

  • I know this piece was meant to, lets say celebrate, the work to date of the pitchers and catchers, but it seems downright odd that nobody – P2 or elsewhere – seems to care at all about the fact the Cervelli’s offense is being held together by a .400 BABIP.

    • As was Martin’s offense based on an extraordinarily high BABIP last season.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 2, 2015 10:14 pm

    Given Wainwright’s absence, as well as Adams going down, I think the Cards will taper off…..I think we can overtake them as long we start winning our division games – our record so far within the division is not very good, and that cannot continue. We owe the Reds big time.

  • It, honestly, seems like the Pirates will be battling for the Wild Card yet again…the Cards have a big division lead and are every bit as good as we are and are battle-tested. Hopefully we can make a run and get back into the post season…due to another terrible start to the year it’s unlikely it will be as division champ. Just reality.