The Pirates Need the Unstoppable Trio of Cole, Burnett, and Liriano

The Pirates dropped game one of their important series with the St. Louis Cardinals, but if there’s one consolation it’s that they’ve got their big three starters line up for the next three games. Gerrit Cole starts tonight, followed by A.J. Burnett on Saturday and Francisco Liriano on Sunday. All three have been putting up fantastic numbers this year, with ERAs and FIPs under 3.00. Only Burnett has an xFIP above that mark, at 3.22.

What is even more impressive is the fact that the Pirates have dominated in series that saw all three of these pitchers starting. Maybe this is just coincidence, or maybe there is something to this, where an opposing team struggles when facing so many quality pitchers in a row. So far this year there have been six opponents who had to face the Pirates trio in the same series. The Pirates are 15-7 overall in those series, sweeping four of them, and splitting a four game series 2-2. The only bad results came early in the year, when they were swept by the Cincinnati Reds, then lost 2-1 against the Tigers.

Since that poor early start, the Pirates have swept the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Tigers on the road, while sweeping the Mets at home, and splitting a four game series against the Phillies on the road. The encouraging thing is that, with the exception of the Phillies, all of those teams are currently .500 or better. So it’s not like the trio of Cole, Burnett, and Liriano have just been beating up on bad teams.

The hope is that the Pirates can continue this trend during the current Cardinals series. If the trio can take two of the next three, then the Pirates enter the All-Star break sitting 4.5 back from first place. That’s where they started this series, so they wouldn’t make up any ground. But that’s not a bad position to be in with two and a half months remaining in the season. And if the trio can pull off the sweep over the next three games, then the Pirates will get even closer, pulling to 2.5 games back from St. Louis, which would be a great position to be in.

Friday Night – 7:05 PM start
Lance Lynn (6-4, 2.53 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (12-3)

Lance Lynn is currently 7th in the National League in ERA (2.53), FIP (2.72), and K/9 at a rate of 9.46. He is also 5th in HR/9 while only allowing an 0.49 HR/9 (AJ Burnett is first at 0.24).

Lynn is coming off of a five game stretch where he has an 0.85 ERA, and hitters are batting .193 against him with a .460 OPS. In that span, Lynn has pitched 31.2 innings and has only allowed three earned runs. In his last outing on July 5th, Lynn went seven innings without allowing an earned run and striking out eight against the Padres.

In his first outing against the Pirates on May 1st, Lynn went seven strong innings and only allowed one earned run, an RBI single by Burnett. Most impressively, Lynn struck out ten Pirate batters while only walking one.

Lynn has five pitches with a 4-seam, 2-seam, slider, curve, and changeup. His four-seam velocity is slightly down this year, averaging 91.8 MPH and topping out around 95. Hitters are only batting .175 against the four-seamer while jumping all over the two-seam fastball at a .348 clip.

He was drafted 39th overall in the 2008 draft by the Cardinals out of Ole Miss. It was reported that Lynn made some mechanical adjustments in 2010 while pitching in Triple-A Memphis because of an abundance of walks; suddenly, his stock value skyrocketed back to where it was when he was drafted, and he made his way to pitching in St. Louis in 2011.

Gerrit Cole is coming off of a great start on Sunday against the Indians, where he gave up three earned runs early but took control late to retire 16 batters in a row to end his outing. Cole is currently first in wins in the league with 12, 3rd in FIP (2.60), 6th in ERA in the NL (2.28), 6th in HR/9 (0.49), and 9th in K/9 (9.22).

Cole’s fastball is averaging 95.5 mph this season, which is right in line with his career average. He has increased the usage of his slider so far this year, and hitters are only batting .158 against that pitch. Look out for that slider when Cole has two strikes, as he has used it consistently as a strikeout pitch this season. – Sean McCool

  • Step one, check. Cole 45 emptied the magazine. Step two, batman,nuff said. Step three, nasty sliders from frankie leave cards in bush(league)

  • My Choice for an upgrade would be Justin Upton.He’s a 2-3 month rental so they can’t ask to much for him. We got Byrd 2 years ago and he was putting up a better season than Upton is now. I imagine he would cost a little more . I think Harold Ramirez and Steven Brault get it done.. Thats why we traded Snider for two minor league lefties right. Flexibility . Left handed starters are in high demand. he’s a #4 type starter .

    • Upton? – awful contract – the trade would differ widely depending on what salary help comes with him – if none then I would not even consider a B level prospect. I actually thing the Snider trade was to plug some holes – not much in the pipeline in the way of lefty starters – not for flexibility

      • Awful contract? He is making plenty this year, sure, but he is a UFA after this year.

        • Bigger issue is where do you play him? Marte seemingly not out for more than 10 more days if they retroactively place him on DL. Either you bench Polanco for good (unlikely due to recent play) or he platoons? Seems like a trade for an OFer would be for the bench.

  • Marte not in the lineup but he took BP. maybe he plays SAT and SUN

  • I’m kinda sitting here wondering why the offense has struggled so badly this year. When you look at last year numbers they were a top 3 offense in the N.L in pretty much every statistical category. OBP was the big one.This team as a whole is a poor situational hitting team.What irritates me is the lack of instincts during the AB’s How many times have we seen watch fastballs down the heart of the plate and then swing at balls in the dirt. They don’t know how to battle through AB’s. It’s gotten a little better of late but it’s still bad. To beat good pitching you have to attack you pitch and make it count. If you get into a pitchers count you don’t swing at the ball like you did on strike 1 and two. You let the ball travel and hit it the other way or pick up the spin and lay off of it. Some of the blame has to be put on the coaches. They are not finding ways for their hitters to make adjustments. Why isn’t Tabata here? It’s baffling…I know his SLG% is awful but .298/.341 ? He gives you professional AB’s and finds his way on base. Thats how you generate runs. This team is good because of their pitching but they are a stupid offense. Talent is being wasted

    • Posted this elsewhere, but they havent been any worse this year really. Roughly 4 days ago ROOT had a graphic comparing this year to last year to the date. Same runs per game, same batting average. Thats lacking total depth of stats, but it shows an offense capable of scoring just like last year and hitting like last year.

      So all the analysis of us not doing this or that seems odd when in many ways, we are on the same pace we were last year on offense and with a muuuuuuch better record. We’ve basically hit the same for average, with a slightly lower OBP and less power. Which was made up for by stellar pitching. Lesser offense, but not by a ton outside of the power numbers.

      Tabata isnt here because he isnt good. You can keep saying his name, he’s still an 84 wRC+ player who does one thing well and nothing else good enough. Singles dont get you to the bigs and sustain a roster spot.

  • Tigers beat the Pirates 2-1 in April when Cole,Burnett,and Liriano pitched.

  • Giving up 3 ER isn’t gonna cut it this series.

  • Am I missing something in this paragraph:

    “What is even more impressive is the fact that the Pirates haven’t lost a series that saw all three of these pitchers starting…. …The only bad result came in the first series of the year, when they were swept by the Cincinnati Reds.”

    Or did I somehow read it wrong?

    • Tim runs every aspect of the business, scouts clubs on a daily basis, and still finds time to write some of the best articles on the site. I think we can let it slide.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I forgot about the Reds, added the sentence at the end, updated a few other things in the article, but forgot to change the first line.

  • Just think how good the Pirates pitching would be with a better middle infield defense – Mercer ranks a mediocre 10th on Fangraphs and Walker a poor 17th.

    • “Mediocre 10th” makes no sense, if he’s top 10 in a league of 30 teams he’s above average.

      • I think we’re arguing semantics at this point, no?

        • Well thats a pretty important distinction in this case. He’s clearly characterizing Mercer as mediocre when the stats he uses shows otherwise. Id ignore it if it was pure semantics, but his wordage just doesnt match the stat at all.

          • It really depends on how you break apart your bins, doesn’t it?

            Only 25 shortstops have qualified; if you’re speaking strictly in terms of being either above or below average, then sure, Jordy would be in the above bin. But if you break it up into good, mediocre, and poor then I think Bruce would obviously have an argument.

            (I’d personally lean slightly above average, fwiw)

            • I guess i just think “good” for any guy in the top 10. Thats above average relative to the league and good enough to place you with some good names.

              If i really got specific and ranged it, i’d go 1-5 as elite, 5-10 as good, 10-15 as average, 15-20 as poor, and the rest as “why do you play this person at SS”.

              • SO then being #10 would make him “average” I guess…?

                Mercer hasn’t been a problem defensively this year. Walker has no range and hurts us…but this is a team needing more offense.

                • I mean people keep saying that, but it was roughly 2-3 games ago where they showed an infographic of last years team and this years team. Same batting average to that date, like .1 difference in runs per game. This years offense actually isnt all that far off of last years, and now sits basically average in the NL and like 4 wRC+ away from STL.

                  I think we could upgrade spots, but i see no logical 1B upgrades easily available and i dont think benching Polanco is best. Kinda limits opportunity.

                  • Well, first, I think we could upgrade the bench. I would also want to know how much Marlon Byrd would cost to bring back. With the injury to Marte and the fact that we’ve wanted to give more days off this year, we could still find “ample” playing time for both Polanco and Byrd and would improve our bench in the process. The Pirates bringing aboard Zobrist could also yield similar results, although Byrd is better in my opinion. Is Byrd signed another year past this year too?

                    • I think the bench, when healthy, is fine. When 2 guys get injured we do suck on the bench. But if we get healthy for the playoffs i have no issue with Stewart-S Rod-Kang off the bench. Pick a 4th OF from Tabata/Decker and im content with whatever else.

                      Byrd has a vesting clause that kicks in if he plays enough, which he will unless his team uses him as a platoon guy and plays him sparingly. Which isnt really the reasons for getting him for us. He’d be making good money off the bench for us next year most likely so i dont see that trade happening. I dont see any big trade happening. Pedro doing enough to not be benched, Polanco not gonna get benched unless he goes full tailspin. Leaving bench moves for a backup 1B option.

                      Which i kinda like, since prices at the deadline are stupid inflated and the return isnt assured unless you get a big time player.

                    • While I think Bucs could still use some RH pop off bench (not named Hart), Byrd would be overkill from a salary standpoint – and he needs to be a regular.

                      Someone mentioned Ryan Raburn a few days ago. At $2.5mill, he’d be a solid fit. Probably fetchable for a couple of the Rule 5 guys discussed this morning.


                    • Im on board with that.

                    • Marlon Byrd and Jose Tabata had virtually identical WAR for Sept two years ago – he added psycholigically and had some key hits – but did not have overwhelming stats.

                      I have thought someone like Scott Van Slyke who can play both first and the OF might be the way to go. He is a bit older – 28 and it looks like he will get less than 300 ABs again this year with the Dodgers. They have a 5.5 game lead right now over the Giants and D’backs. But should on e of those two teams get hot LA might want to add a piece or two to keep the division lead – or get the second wild card.

                    • Jared- I think making a move here is necessary with Harrison being out 7 weeks. That’s a good portion of the year where we have an unproven third baseman, zero backup behind him, and our main depth outfielder being gone. We Need an upgrade which can play 1b/OF or 3B/outfield, and we need it now. Hart is garbage and will still be garbage when he returns, Lombardozi seems to be useless, and hurdle (after that baserunning gaff) refuses to use Hernandez under penalty of death.

                      Would everyone think i’m crazy if I bought up trading to get Steve Pearce back?

                    • I agree with your statement. I think someone like Ben Zobrist would make a ton of sense. Could play 3B, 2B, 1B, and OF as well as be an upgrade over any of our other bench players (not named Kang) once everyone is healthy. He’s Sean Rodriguez with a little better bat.

                    • Thats almost assuredly going to be a bidding war that isnt smart to get into.

                    • I have no problems with Zobrist, but from year to year he is all over the place in terms of his hitting which is my only issue there. I’d take him tough

                    • 89 wRC+. So not really a sizeable upgrade overall value over a guy like Tabata. Not walking like usual to make his 20% K rate okay. Maybe you bank on a slightly low BABIP coming to earth but he’s gotta walk more to be greatly useful.

                    • How So? Tabata only plays outfield, specifically right field, and can barely do that. Pulling out the wRC numbers here serves no purpose . Pearce has more value due to his position flexibility and actually can hit more than singles……This provides the missing platoon partner for Alvarez, a 4th outfielder, and also someone whom can man third if need be. He might be struggling a little this year, but even so he has way mor eupside than Tabata whom has zero upside

                    • wRC+ shows a better overall value on offense than most stats, so it clearly applies. Its great to look at singles, but overall as a hitter he isnt good. His upside is debatable depending on how you see his skill set, and i dont think his value in playing multiple spots is great if he plays spots that generally look for plus offense that he isnt giving.

                    • We disagree on the fundamental value of position flexibility to a team. Having one player whom can back up multiple positions gives you the ability to do things with your lineup beyond numbers like wRC. You have to think beyond the individual player sometimes to see the team value, especially because we can’t have backups for every starting player on the roster. Advanced Metrics cant think outside the box, luckily managers and GM’s can. In any given game, having one player whom can play 3 positions allows you to choose to give a player a day off whom wouldn’t get it otherwise, give a player off whom maybe struggles against a certain pitcher, or get a hot player a start he wouldn’t have otherwise.

                    • Luke sutton
                      July 16, 2015 6:23 pm

                      Which i agree with, but if the player who plays those positions isnt a great hitter, then hit first spots like 1B and RF make it tough to have him start there over other options. His value as a multi spot man is limited because his bat doesnt play well at 1B or RF as he is hitting this year. His walk rate shot down, and his OBP is painful.

                      If we are going to upgrade the bench, do it with a guy that is actually going to upgrade it on offense. We can plug in plenty of not good hitting options as is, the point of trading for someone is upgrade. Pearce, this year, seems lost. Playing multiple spots doesnt help him as much when his bat isnt good enough to slot in over even a Polanco.

                • You must have missed the 4th inning last night then 🙂

            • But what if you broke it into “elite”, “very good”, “good”, “mediocre”, and “poor”?


            • NMR, maybe you or Andrew can answer this for me as I find defensive metrics somewhat inscrutable…

              UZR for Crawford and Mercer are identical. UZR/150 slightly favors Mercer. Yet Crawford has a 7 rPM to Mercer’s 0 and 11 DRS to 3. Only significant difference I see is # of chances.

              Enlighten me please, thanks.

          • He doesn’t like Mercer, never has, and has complained about Walker for countless years. So, yeah, he has an agenda. I don’t understand how this team has won 50 games at this point with as many flaws as I am seeing in this thread alone.

            • I think the flaws lie more in line with the people posting in this thread vs. the team itself (me included), so maybe thats it?

          • I’m with you on this one Luke

      • OK maybe I was being a bit harsh – but if you are going to be a drag on the offense every year for two months until you get your bad going you had better be a top 5 shortstop to play everyday. The middle infield of the Bucs is actually a bit better than the corners – both J-Hay and Pedro rank in the 20s. I still think J-Hays best position is 2nd base and he would be a defensive improvement over Walker.

        Also, I was probably a bit harsh on Jordy because of the critical error he made last night. One earned run for Locke seems to be overlooked. Gave them a great start out of the #5 starter slot.

        • True! Well said. Harrison does seem fit for 2B but i doubt thats a priority with Hanson so close.

          • Unless Kang lights it up the next 7 weeks i would agree. I still don’t see where there is an upgrade to Jordy available out there though…..Pirates have completely ignored young talented shortstops when they’ve become available for trades, only to watch them get dealt for very reasonable prices, so obviously they are fine with Jordy out there

            • Honestly, we will see how it plays out obviously, but Kang seems tailor-made for 3rd. He’s got a good glove, a solid arm, but doesn’t really have the range for SS. I say make him the every day 3B and let Harrison move around again…2B, 3B, and OF. I think JayHay is a much more dynamic player when he’s making plays all over the field for us and giving us solid at bats while still allowing us the flexibility to have the best bat in the lineup at the position he’s not occupying.

              • However, he’s looked pretty ragged in RF this year. Poor reads, bad routes.

              • Kang is a very strong defensive 3rd baseman, i guess we will have the time to see how he does with more plate appearances, but i think we were all hoping for more power than we’ve seen so far. Of course, we would have said the same about Neil about 3 weeks ago, so maybe its just around the corner

            • Good SS get paid a ton, and they have a cost controlled decent option. They have done fine, not great, but fine at SS. And they clearly have gone all in on IFers in the recent few drafts.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 10, 2015 12:28 pm

    More than needing our first 3 starters to continue their quality pitching, we need to score some runs….

    • An offense that seems to struggle against the better pitchers and a defense that is good – but not great then add in some really poor base running at times and you have a team that has a half a dozen losses – most of them early in the year – that it shouldn’t. I still think a trade for a RH power bat needs to be made – the Cards can be caught – but a bold move is needed.

      • Depends on how close you actually wanna look at how we do against “better” pitchers. We lit up Harvey, gave Arrieta a loss, roughed up Martinez at one point. All rather solid pitchers, the first two having excellent years.

        • Luke- good point, but i do want to point out that, that start from Harvey was the beginning of a 4 or 5 start slump where he pitched awful. I guess a better way to put it- is good pitchers whom are on our game against us, we have litle chance of beating because we don’t even put the bat on the ball. When we do get base runners, we usually aren’t even competent enough to move them over by making a productive out. Again, im not saying most other teams are great at doing that either, but if we want to be the best and not only make the playoffs, but win, we need to do that

          • So we dont get to count certain good outings because the guy sucked after that? Well thats fun with excuses.

            The entire post is absurd, its basically “when an ace pitches his best, he is tough to hit” yes, thats accurate for any team. Go ahead and explain away us hitting Lynn well….thats Lynn with a sub 1 ERA in his last like 3 starts.

            • Not sucked AFTER. Started sucking at that point. Yeah, Lynn pitched like CRAP, he had no command of his fastball which was obvious to anyone watching the game, he was doing his Jeff Locke impression, trying to pitch on and off the corners and getting whatever calls he could. Had Lynn pitched well, we would have likely lost like we have lost in the last 2 years when he pitched and pitched well. Who are you to say my post is absurd exactly?

      • Bold move = Johnny Cueto.
        PNC would embrace him after the dropped ball and propel his already upper echelon confidence into the stratosphere.

        Bold move = Cole Hamels
        Phils pick up a portion of the contract and we toss em Meadows, Barnes and Taillon and move on

        Guaranteed return either way.

        • No chance we give up a future TOR starter and a potential all-star outfielder for 2 months of Johnny Cueto, Fortunately…

          • Think that package was for Hamels. Haha.

          • Potential all star outfielder? You are stretch Armstrong on that one. There is literally no indication that he will be an ann-star outfielder at this point in his development. He has some tools, but he is old, and always hurt and still raw.

        • Neither can hit much.

          • Agreed. I

          • Sorry. Posted too early. I actually replied to wrong post but does not change my opinion. My big idea is that it’s time to move for a game changer and no one can guarantee me that Taillon, Meadows or Barnes will ever pan out. I’m fairly confident Hamels will help us win at the major league level now. No WAR no FIP no TOR, just common sense. Do it. Just do it.

            • Yes, Hamels would help us at the major league level now. But I do not see how Taillon is much of value to the Phillies since he on the DL and Meadows is, honestly, just too promising even for him being in A-ball for me to want to give up when we do not have a lot in the way of bats. I do not think we match up that well with the Phillies because our area of “strength” would, likely, be the OF and middle infield.

        • Taillon won’t be traded on the DL, so that trade is impossible

        • Don’t know why after one loss we are ready to trade away the future. Still have been on an incredible run. Only real concern is probably Alvarez especially when Harrison and Marte return.

          • The problem is that Harrison, when healthy, is a good piece of our offense and he’s out, basically, the rest of the year. I mean the end of August?…we also have no real depth behind Kang for the 3B position, unless of course you would move Rodriguez there.

            • He’s out 7 weeks. Thats a late August return. Thats in no way the rest of the year or even “basically” the year since we do play games in September.

      • SMH at this one. You just described about 29 of 30 MLB offenses. Great job !

        • Darkstone42
          July 10, 2015 8:43 pm

          I was thinking the same. That’s what makes good pitchers good pitchers. Offenses struggle against them.

          And tonight we tagged Lynn for more runs than innings.

      • RIght handed power bats are only valuable if they aren’t pull hitters given our ball park, and there isn’t exactly an assembly line creating these players at the power hitting righty factory

    • Agreed. 6th worst BA and 3rd fewest HRs in the National League. Belting out five measly hits over 9 innings is not going to get the job done.

      • “6th worst” is a terrible way to phrase that. Its either misleading on purpose to drive an agenda or lazy. 6th in the NL (15 teams) is slightly above average. We are .002 away from STL. And 2 HRs below STL, so its clearly possible to hit as PIT has and lead all of baseball in wins.

        And batting average isnt the end all be all of hitting. wRC+ puts us at 7 in the league and 4 points away from STL. So not a prolific offense, but the slightest bit above league average.

        • You don’t need to hit as much if you play flawless defense and baserunning nearly every game- unfortunately, we aren’t that team and won’t magically become that team before October.

          • Congrats, you point out a ton of negatives all year. Ill see you in September when the team makes the postseason and ask “was that fun!!!” and you’ll have hummed and hawwed and disliked chunks of this team. Im fine with this offense, content with the defense, and thrilled we are one of the best teams in baseball.

            • What the hell are you even talking about? You argue about everything, whether it’s good or bad. If you want to play devils advocate everyday to make yourself feel better, then go ahead. This is forum to talk about baseball. We will make the postseason, I have little doubt of that- who cares. We have already done that the last two years, its time to take it to the next level. Being in a 1 game playoff at the end of the year is not really my idea of postseason. Part of being a champion is to see your flaws, pick out the areas where you can realistically improve internally and externally, and try to hide the rest of them as much as possible. I wasn’t the one complaining about Mercer or Harrison or walker for 3 months when they were struggling, or saying to dump Caminero, or send Hughes to AAA at the beginning of the year…….we all have players we like and we don’t, its what being a fan is all about man.

      • Yeah, the Cardinal’s measly 6 hits ( one hard hit ball ) barely moved the scoreboard.