The Pirates Rotation Depth Has Taken a Huge Hit Lately

The Pirates have taken a hit to their starting pitching depth over the last few weeks. Jameson Taillon — who was nearing the end of his Tommy John rehab — will have hernia surgery next week. Casey Sadler went down with a forearm strain. And the Pirates recently lost Clayton Richard to the Cubs, due to a clause in his deal that allowed him to sign elsewhere if a team was willing to put him on their active roster.

This isn’t a new trend. It started in Spring Training when Brandon Cumpton went down with Tommy John surgery. It continued during the season when Nick Kingham had the same surgery. Vance Worley struggled and lost his spot in the rotation. When you add in Taillon, Sadler, and Richard, that gives six depth options that are currently not options.

The Pirates still have a few options that have stepped up. The dream at the start of the year was a Triple-A rotation that included Taillon, Sadler, Cumpton, Kingham, and Adrian Sampson. The latter is still around, but struggling lately. Meanwhile, the Pirates have had a few other guys step up as options.

“We’ve taken some dings and dents in the process,” Neal Huntington said about the early season struggles. “We’ve got one of the hundred pitchers that had an ERA under 4 and threw more than 100 innings last year sitting as our sixth guy in the bullpen right now in Vance Worley. We’re going to get Casey Sadler healthy. [Radhames] Liz has gone down and pitched well in his two starts. Angel Sanchez another. We’ve got guys. Chris Volstad earned his way up here, but we didn’t have the need quite the same. It doesn’t have the same name recognition as Taillon, Sadler, or Richard, but we have guys that are available if the need arises.”

Ryan Palencer wrote earlier this week about how Radhames Liz has looked, noting that he’s sitting in the upper 90s as a starter, and has been looking a lot better in that role than he did as a reliever earlier in the year. Huntington noted that the Pirates are still evaluating whether Liz can be an option for them in the rotation.

“Obviously, he had success in the [Dominican Republic] as a starter, and he’s been a starter for the majority of his career. He’s been effective in his two starts,” Huntington said. “We’ll play it by ear. We put him in the rotation to build him up. We wanted to address some mechanical challenges, but we also wanted to get him confident in his frame of mind, and he’s done well. We’ll see where we take it from here.”

As for Richard, Huntington mentioned that the goal for the Pirates was to get him back to the majors, primarily with them, but if not with the Pirates then with someone else. That happened with the Cubs, and Richard had a strong debut on Saturday. I detailed earlier in the year about how Jim Benedict was re-working Richard’s mechanics using his old football days. Obviously that work hasn’t paid off for the Pirates, but the entire experience could help them down the line with the next reclamation project.

“We have a lot of people that poured a lot of time and effort into Clayton, and he did a great job himself,” Huntington said. “In a perfect world, it would’ve worked out here but we were happy with the makeup of our bullpen. We felt it was best to honor our commitment to him. The Cubs made an interest of having him in the big leagues, and we honored that. He obviously had a very nice start yesterday. We’ll see what happens with him over the course of time, but hopefully, that will pay itself back to us by guys in Clayton Richard’s situation will want to come here because they recognize that if they get to the big leagues with Pittsburgh, that’s fantastic, but our staff can help guys get back on track, and we’ve done that successfully.”

The Pirates have seen their rotation depth depleted. They appear to still be putting a lot of stock in Worley, despite his early season struggles. Chris Volstad and Radhames Liz are two guys who could hopefully receive the same reclamation magic that Richard got. They liked Angel Sanchez enough to give him a shot in Spring Training, and he has been fantastic in both Altoona and Indianapolis. And if Adrian Sampson rebounds, he becomes the top depth option and the top pitching prospect who could arrive in Pittsburgh this summer, in the event of an injury. There are some depth options remaining, but not nearly the quality that the Pirates expected to have at the start of the year.

  • I think John already made this point, but what does it say about the opinion of the rest of the league when the Pirates were forced to trade Richards to a division rival also in the Wild Card race for next to nothing?

    Logic would dictate that if the Pirates had literally any other option, they would’ve taken it.

    If Tsuyoshi Wada doesn’t have to go on the DL a week ago Richard would still be a Pirate. He won’t be in the Cubs rotation a day longer than Wada needs to return from injury.

  • I find bothersome the somewhat cavalier attitude that Huntington makes in losing Richard to the Cubs? Huntington seems to be saying, OK, we lost him, but what we did for him WILL help us get more pitchers who believe the Pirates can help them reclaim their top productivity?

    Horsefeathers! We just lost a decent pitcher who seemed on the verge of helping us win? And we got nothing but a bit of cash in return? Surely there’s a better way to protect a potential investment that looks promising, such as Clayton Richard, than waiting around for the rival Cubs to get him for next to nothing?

    Other teams ARE watching the Pirates develop pitchers because they can’t match the setup Huntington has put in place. Let’s start getting a little bit smarter about covering our rear ends with players like Richard, who might just come back to haunt us for awhile.

    Anybody remember the young Taiwan lefty the Brewers stole last year? While wishing him well, no Pirate fan wants to wake up some morning to see him winning in the Milwaukee starting rotation either.

    • I vehemently disagree. Pirates have earned a reputation of being able to fix what ails previously successful pitchers. This reputation will reap fruit in the form of guys like Liriano, Melancon, Burnett, et al. It’s impossible in today’s game to keep all of them in the organization, but they will certainly keep the best.

      Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.

    • JayhawkDuke
      July 6, 2015 8:10 am

      The Brewers released him last month

    • Actually, “the young Taiwan lefty the Brewers stole last year” (Wei-Chung Wang) put up a 10.90 ERA and a 7.69 FIP for the Brewers, likely damaged their chances of making the playoffs by taking up a bullpen slot that they needed for a better pitcher, and is currently in high A after passing through waivers showing that no other team wanted him. If a Pirate fan wakes up some morning to see him winning in the Milwaukee starting rotation, that morning will probably be in 2018.

    • “Anybody remember the young Taiwan lefty…?”, says guy who can’t remember said pitcher.

  • I DVR’d the Richard start and I wasn’t impressed…Very average FB, with little to no movement, secondary pitches are nothing to write home about. Seems very hittable and has no K pitch. He sees a good team and it will not be good. I trust NH’s ability to judge a player more than the armchair GM’s.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      July 5, 2015 8:46 pm

      Two words – Frieri, Pimentel

      • Too long of a list to name the success stories. If you have a list of 2-3, thats sad. We have a list of cast away guys we made into all star closers as long as that.

      • You should change your moniker to BucsCRITICstuckinMD.

      • Liriano, Burnett, Melancon, Worley, Caminero, Guerra, Holdzkom say hello!

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 5, 2015 7:55 pm

    The Pirates obviously could not do anything about the injuries – Cumpton, Taillon, Kingham, etc. But, they didn’t have to trade Richard. They could have put him on the 25, in place of Lombardozzi, Hernandez, or Bastardo – and he and Worley could have both provided some spot starts and long to mid relief.

    Bastardo has been awful and would have not been a loss – and Worley and Richard would have given them some protection against prolonged Morton meltdowns or Locke inconsistency.

    • You sign a pitcher as a starter to a contract with an opt-out clause, and just before the out clause kicks in you stash the guy in the bullpen, in order serve as effectively the 7th starter. That would appear to do some damage to negotiating in good faith.

      You have to look past the here and now, it really worth trying to screw a 4 K/9 pitcher in order for him to serve as the 7th starter, if it damages your ability to sign players to similar type deals in the future.

      Richard isn’t even good, I don’t care about AAA ERA in 55 innings, a month from now this will be an non-issue. And it will be on to the next outrage.

    • Dude, this isn’t April. Bastardo was bad early this season, but he’s been very good over last couple months. The HR he gave up in Det last week was a good pitch that happened to get crushed by one of the best hitters in their lineup. He has been far from awful.

      Clearly Pirates brass thought it was best thing for him and the organization to let him go fulfill his goal of starting in MLB again. The street cred they gain for showing they care about players even at expense of organization is worth more in future value than loss of Richard in the present.

    • Hernandez: No options
      Bastardo: 5 years of MLB service and can decline MiL assignment

      So you’re really saying they could have put him on the 25 in place of Lombardozzi. Where he would share duty with Vance Worley, who has thrown a total of 12 innings in the last month. And shortened the bench to four (Hernandez, Kang, Stewart, Rodriguez). And if Marte is day-to-day (or anyone else gets a minor ding and goes day-to-day) you’ve effectively got a three-man bench. How would you feel when they’re sending Cole up to pinch hit because they’ve used all their position players? At least they’ve got Clayton Richard stashed in the bullpen in case they lose two starters to injury, right?

  • Give Richards a contract and see what would happen. Why would you spend time and money on an asset and give him to a rival. Makes no sense. Give him a MLB contract as insurance.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      July 5, 2015 7:57 pm

      Agreed – it was just an unnecessary loss of an investment that they made in rebuilding Richard from the ground up. He was just about ready to pay some dividends – instead give him the division rival for nearly nothing.

      • Yeah im sure his 4 K/9 in AAA was really wowing everyone. I mean, his track record of past performance is….bad. His stuff in AAA was very uninspiring. He wont be able to strike out 3-4 guys per 9 in the bigs and be better than Locke.

  • Liz being on a 1 yr, 1M deal hopefully he continues to pitch well and starts to get deeper in his starts. The stuff is there, no question. He obviously has the most upside of the remaining depth.

    • I’d like to see what Liz could do in place of Morton/Locke.

      • Morton has one or two subpar starts and people are already calling for an unproven commodity? Locke just came off a 8 IP shutout innings start. Gosh, some people can’t be pleased.

      • You do remember Liz pitched well enough to get DFA’d earlier this season, right?

  • The Pirates, rightly, seem to be skeptical of what value Adrian Sampson can bring to the rotation, especially at the moment. I’d much rather prefer to give starts to Worley first, perhaps Liz second, and, if that doesn’t work, look to the outside. Sampson isn’t an option, now and, likely, in the future. He’s just not near the prospect that Pirates-centric sites deem him.

    • I agree 100% at this point in time.

    • I got interested when he carried that new-found swing-and-miss into the second month of the season, but it doesn’t seem like that was actual sskill development.

      I’m not quite as harsh, overall. I think Sampson will be fine depth, just no more than the Brandon Cumpton’s of baseball hierarchy offer.