First Pitch: What the Pirates Should Do With Happ When Burnett Returns?

Right after the trade deadline, I called the moves made by the Pirates “potentially brilliant.” When I wrote the article, I knew it would receive criticism. I knew the term “potentially brilliant” would be mocked. I knew that, even though I never said the moves were guaranteed to be brilliant, I would never hear the end of it if they turned out to be horrible moves.

We’re now about a month beyond the trade deadline, and while that’s not enough time for a final verdict, it’s safe to say that the Pirates’ trade deadline is looking close to the brilliant side of things. Coincidentally, the amount of mocking of that article from the start of the month has gone way down lately.

They added Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria to the bullpen. The bullpen in August ranks first in the NL in WAR (1.7), WPA (3.34), shutdowns (31), and has the fourth fewest meltdowns (6). Soria and Blanton have played huge roles there. Blanton has an 0.59 ERA and a 2.53 xFIP in 15.1 innings of work after being claimed off waivers. Soria has a 2.61 ERA and a 3.64 xFIP in 10.1 innings after being acquired for JaCoby Jones.

The offense saw the additions of Aramis Ramirez and Michael Morse. Ramirez was acquired for Yhonathan Barrios, and the main goal was filling in the third base position until Josh Harrison returned. The offense has been decent from Ramirez, and the defense has been horrible. He didn’t look like a great starter, but will be a good option of the bench the final month of the season. Morse was added for Jose Tabata, and has done well against lefties in the first base platoon, posting a .440 OBP this month in a very small sample of 25 plate appearances. He has also provided a big boost to the bench, which looks very strong with the returns of Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison.

But perhaps the biggest steal came with the addition of J.A. Happ. The Pirates needed a starting pitcher to replace A.J. Burnett, and they needed one on short notice. While the best starting pitchers were going for top 50 prospects, the Pirates landed Happ for Adrian Sampson, who will likely be a Major League starter in the future, but is a Grade C pitching prospect and far from the returns for other pitchers who were traded at the deadline.

As I wrote tonight, Happ is giving the Pirates exactly what they need this month. That article includes a chart that shows Happ as having the best xFIP in August of all the traded starters, and one of the best ERAs. This includes his horrible first outing with the Pirates. Basically, Happ is looking like another Pirates reclamation project, and it only took two weeks of work with Ray Searage for him to do a complete 180.

Happ’s success also brings up an interesting scenario: What happens when A.J. Burnett returns?

Happ seemed like a short-term option who would move to the bullpen when/if Burnett was able to return healthy. The Pirates will learn a bit more about Burnett’s progress when he throws a bullpen on Tuesday. But if Burnett does return, the Pirates would be best keeping Happ in the rotation and sending someone else to the bullpen. The best option looks to be Jeff Locke at the moment, as he has been struggling once again in the second half.

Things could change in the future. Happ has three great starts, and is looking much better than expected. That doesn’t provide a guarantee that he will continue this success. But if Burnett were to return today, Happ would have done enough to remain in the rotation over Locke. We’ll see if that holds true when Burnett actually does return, and whether the Pirates will stick with Happ over Locke.

**J.A. Happ is Giving the Pirates Exactly What They Need This Month. My live game report from Miami, with some interesting charts on how good Happ has been relative to the rest of the Pirates’ rotation, and the traded starters around baseball.

**Prospect Watch: Hinsz Struggles Through His Outing, Five Hits For Kramer. Kevin Kramer is really starting to break through at the plate. The interesting thing is that he remains at second base, despite an opening at shortstop. His future is probably at second base with all of the shortstop prospects around the same level, and he’s going to need plenty of offense for that position.

**Despite Offensive Struggles, Elias Diaz Eyeing September Call-Up. Ryan Palencer looks at the offensive struggles Elias Diaz has seen, along with what he’s doing to try and get a call-up to Pittsburgh in September.

**2015 DSL Pirates: Twelve Players to Watch. John Dreker recaps the best prospects in the DSL this year, which is always one of the best Pirates international articles of the year.

**Morning Report: A Hidden Gem in Bradenton’s Bullpen. John Dreker profiles Isaac Sanchez, who is having a good season in Bradenton.

  • Locke sits

  • One thing that I’ve come to feel more and more strongly is that in these blog postings emotion clouds reasonable thought and rationale and perspective are rarely present.
    I was on the Happ wagon from the start, and lord help me but I’m going to swing a leg up on the Locke wagon too.
    We’re still talking about a kid who isn’t even into his arb years yet. He’s done more as a pirate than Maholm did in all his years making an all-start team. He’s actually improved his velocity over the past three years pretty consistently hitting 94 this year and he’s got the arsenal of required pitches that have the required nasty factor. He just hasn’t put it all together in one year yet. So yea, a little like Pedro but not. He’s basically Happ back in Philly. Patience is still required for some arms – not everyone is Harvey, Syndergard, Cole, Glasnow. I for one still think there is upside for Jeff, and that upside is consistency that comes with experience.

  • What’s Searage’s salary? Can we quadruple it? Seriously though, I’m beginning to get concerned that he will get poached for a manager job pretty soon. He’s proven himself time after time to be an absolute genius.

    • I don’t know if anyone is going to poach Searage for manager, but some club could offer a buttload more money. It does bring up the issue of succession. Who among coaches in the system is apprenticing behind Searage/Benedict to become the next pitcher whisperer?

  • With next weeks divisional road trip, the Bucs are off on monday and Locke is due to start tuesday. I think Locke should be skipped so that Cole can start on Tuesday at Milwaukee and then start again on sunday at St. Louis. Otherwise, our road trip to St. Louis will be Happ, Morton, & Locke. Skip Locke, move everyone up a day and have Cole, Frank, & Happ against Milwaukee and Morton, Locke, & Cole at St. Louis.

    • That’s a good idea and if that happens the writing is pretty much on the wall for Locke at that point.

      • I’d be rather surprised if Hurdle hasn’t at least considered that.

        • Seems like they’ve been very willing to switch up the rotation both this year and last when an off day presents a chance to get the TOR on regular rest.

          • They did this once but my memory is escaping me. I think they moved Liriano up.

            • They moved it around after the ASG, they also skipped a Happ start due to an off day. I believe they moved it late last year due to an off day as well.

    • I can see doing that. I guess it would be too much to ask to have Frankie pitch one of the Busch games. As long as Holliday is out of the lineup, Locke should do OK there. But IMO Frankie is the guy you want pitching at Busch.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 25, 2015 10:22 am

    As of today, Happ would have to replace Locke in the rotation….who then gets let go or sent down is the tougher question….

  • I would need to see a lot from Locke in the next few starts or an injury to see anyone but Locke removed. He’s shown his flashes but he just can’t seem to hold it together for more than about 2 months. I can’t speak to any mechanical adjustments because I’m far from an expert at that but just look at how many base runners he allows. He’s playing with fire almost every time out and can’t get out of the sixth most nights.

    • His flashes won me over, but eventually I’ve come to realize that they’re never going to be consistent ‘flashes’.

      • That’s how I feel about Pedro. Locke and Alvarez play because there’s no one to replace them right now and they’ve shown those flashes which justify the repeated opportunities. I’ve always thought the ability was there for both but they’ve just never made it work over the long haul. For me, Morton is just on the other side of that bridge (for now) and I’m hoping he stays there. He needs to stay healthy to do so though.

  • Serious question – I’ve always associated a meltdown with my 4 year old son. How do you measure a meltdown vs. a blown save? Does it have to do with the number of runs given up? Non save situations?

  • weltytowngang
    August 25, 2015 9:13 am

    Happ is pitching so well, why take him out until he falters? BTW the Pirates currently have 3 LH in the rotation. Never thought I lived to see the day!

  • Tim: As I was watching I was wondering if any team made a better move at the deadline for a SP than Jay Happ, and you answered that for me. When he keeps the ball down, he can be a solid pitcher and the one earned run in the last 3 starts is fantastic. Blanton and Soria have helped in an obvious manner, but possibly even more in that they have allowed the bullpen to spread the workload.

    And while we are busy straining our arms patting ourselves on the back about pitching moves, we always have the Antonio Bastardo signing that will bring us all back to reality.

    • Success vs fail rate is slanted toward one side a ton. Reality is if the team signs 5 arms, 4 work out better than they should

      • Yeah, excuse me while I administer the requisite lashings over trading a marginal prospect for a replacement level second lefty middle reliever.

  • Could they just keep all 6 pitchers as starters and go to 6 man rotation to ease the workload before the finals begin?

    • I could see them skipping a start for someone in the next week or so. But a full time 6 man, probably not.

      • You are probably right that they won’t go to the six man rotation, but I think it would be a great idea to give Cole and Liriano a little extra rest in advance of the October playoff season.

      • Possibly Cole if anybody.

  • Let me be the 1st to eat some crow. Since that 1st start he’s been nothing short of amazing. Locke on the other hand is unwatchable.

    • A six man rotation means that the Pirates would have to take extra steps solely to keep Locke in the rotation, which is the last thing that they should do. Locke has no business being in the rotation and probably not even on the roster

  • Happ>Locke. Biggest no-brainer since Reagan>Mondale.

    • You better hope there isn’t a photo lurking somewhere of Happ sticking his head out of a tank.

      Happ has been terrific thus far. I hope whatever he’s found continues vs NLC opponents, against whom he hasn’t done well historically. Locke has significantly better numbers vs our division than Happ. We’ll know more shortly.

    • ugggh, Scotie. The beginning of the unravelling of America’s Democracy. That’s what Reagan and Bush and Cheney brought; trickle down upon you and me.

      • Is that rain I’m feeling?

      • You got it NorCal.

      • Scott Kliesen
        August 25, 2015 1:01 pm

        First off, America is not a democracy, it’s a Republic. Second off, I’m not interested in engaging you in political debate.

      • I found that you can chart your own course regardless of who’s in office. Im also aware that both parties don’t truly represent the average American. Blaming one and not the other isn’t being objective and that creates the divide in this country

    • Hey good job inserting a political reference for no reason and insinuating a political preference. No chance that ends badl….wait it already elicited a response.

    • Stupid analogy. Better fit in the Trib Live, no one there will mind.

      • Scott Kliesen
        August 25, 2015 12:59 pm

        I didn’t make the analogy to agitate Liberals. I made it because as you may recall Reagan beat him in 49 of 50 states.

        If you’re still garnering ill will about an election from 30+ years ago, that’s a you problem.

        • Then why bring it up here if you don’t want to argue about it with ” Liberals ” ? Like I said, it fits better on the Trib Live. Go argue that crap there or on Red State or Townhall.

          • You’re getting upset for no good reason Leo. I was attempting to state the decision between Happ and Locke is really a simple choice, just as Americans in 1984 made clear in the Presidential election.

            I was in no way trying to engage in a political discourse on a baseball message board.

          • Take it easy slugger. Did you lose your union job under Reagan? Why the hate?

        • Leo is probably a big fan of Media Matters. It is funny how he carries a grudge from 31 years ago. Everything is Reagans or Bushs fault. Wouldn’t you think if the Dems were so great, they’d win every election?

      • 12 to your 2. Looks like you lose .

        ScottK>Leo Walter: popular vote landslide.