Despite Concerns, Pirates Ranked Among Top Ten Rotations in Majors

On Monday morning, Buster Olney listed his top ten rotations in baseball and he has the Pittsburgh Pirates rated seventh overall(subscription required). The top six ahead of the Pirates are the Mets, who he ranks well ahead of everyone else. They are followed by the Indians, Cardinals, Cubs, Giants and Dodgers. Obviously the list in very NL-heavy, even including the Nationals and Diamondbacks in the top ten.

Olney points out that Gerrit Cole continues to improve, while Francisco Liriano has had three straight strong seasons in Pittsburgh and Jon Niese could benefit from the Pirates’ use of defensive shifts. While Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong currently round out the rotation, Olney notes that there is room for improvement with this rotation when Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon are ready to join the top three starters. I’d point out that they could also improve over Vogelsong before the season starts.

On one hand this ranking is a good thing. It shows that the Pirates aren’t as bad as everyone has made them out to be this winter, while also showing that they should get better as the year goes along. On the other hand, eight of the top nine rotations are in the NL, so there should be a lot of good teams fighting it out this summer for five playoff spots. The Pirates should also do very well when he ranks the bullpens, and their outfield will obviously rank at or near the top.

  • The starting pitching is in shambles despite Buster Olney’s opinion. No JA Happ but Vogelsong and Locke are NH’s version Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain. Pirate fans will be praying for rain.

  • With Ray, Corbin, Miller, and Greinke…Arizona’s rotation grades lower than P’burghs?

    For real?

    Gotta say, I think an argument can be made for Houston being better, as well.

    As far as the Bucs…if Niese bounces back, talent-wise our top 3 stacks up well against the league…but, let’s be real, the 4/5 slots are a pit of despair and holding out hope that two rookies are going to step in and save the day might be a tad too wishful.

  • Did anyone actually read that he rated them that high is due to the improvement the rotation will see with Glasnow & Taillon being added? I completely agree with the naysayers that if Locke & Vogelsong are in the rotation for the full year, this rotation is not very exciting. But even if they don’t add anyone (like Latos) before the season starts, they have upgrades coming md-season.

    • piraterican21
      January 11, 2016 3:36 pm

      Maybe they could add a lefty with a low to mid 90s fb that he could throw to both corners, especially in on righties, a plus change and average to plus slider……..wait we have one goes by the name of Jeff effing Locke. For,all the acalades that seaRage gets this guy has to be his biggest failure, he should be strong 3.

  • If Glasnow and Tallion are legit 1 and 2 starters sooner rather than later, then their ranking could jump to the Mets level.

    • Depends on how soon you consider ‘sooner’. Cole was, at least, as successful in the minors as Glasnow and Taillon…and it took until his third season before he became a dominant starter.

      • Better question would be how long before Glasnow and Taillon are better than whom ever is 4&5th starters. That will be around June.

        • That’s setting a heckuva low bar.

          Even if that’s the case, what’s their inning count going to be?

          Glasnow’s high mark is 124 in 2014.
          Taillon threw threw 147…but that was before two years of injuries.

          Even if they get ten starts at 5 innings per at Indy, I can’t see either of them contributing much more than 100 each at the major league level.

          Both of them should be up against the wall before the season ends…which means, realistically, that is going to limit their impact if the Pirates are able to reach the post-season.

          • That bar was for year one. When Cole came up I don’t think anyone thought he would win the CY Young. You want 500, and keep you in the games through 6 innings.

            I would personally disagree w the inning limits. I would assume they get called up around June 10th. If they reversed planed their arrival they may only pitch 3/4 innings in May and June. If they get around 10 June and do well, that would be roughly 15 starts. See what happens, I still don’t see how Chicago was ranked higher than us. We have better pitching now and better pitching enroute and much better bull pen.

            • I really don’t understand where you’re coming from…

              First, the low bar I was talking about was you saying they would be better than Locke/Vogelsong. Those aren’t exactly high standards…but, as for Cole…

              Sure, he set did very well when called up. And, conversely….

              Pitcher 1:

              8-16, 5.59 ERA

              Pitcher 2:

              9-21, 4.76 ERA

              ^^^^^That, right there….

              Those are the lines of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine after their first two seasons in the majors.

              Heck, who’s this guy?:

              5-5, 4.26 ERA

              That’s Clayton Kershaw after his first season in the majors.

              Who’s this guy?:

              8-11, 4.49 ERA

              That’s Jeff Locke last year.

              Is Kershaw’s rookie year that much better than Locke?

              Would you have taken Glavine or Maddux’s debut over Locke?

              Who’s this after two seasons:

              13-28, 4.99 ERA?

              Zack Grienke.

              How about this?:

              9-18, 5.20 ERA

              Dallas Keuchel.

              Am I making my point? Not all prospects are going to take off immediately…no matter how damned good they turn out to be.

              As well, Taillon and Glasnow aren’t being held down for Super Two reasons…they’re being kept back because they’re simply not ready. Hopefully they will be ready to get a taste of the majors in June…perhaps they won’t. We’ll see. But what’s going to get them to that point is pitching. I really don’t think, if they still have things to work on, the tact is going to be to let them pitch 10 three inning games, then expect them to hold their own against major league hitters.

              As well, if you want to use the date of June 10, okay. That doesn’t give them 15 starts each. That’s about the 1/3 mark of the season…which means there would be 20 starts for each of them.

              If you’re expecting 6 innings/start, that’s 120 major league innings on top of what they pitched in the minors. Both would be setting new career highs…against much better talent they’ve ever faced…and Taillon would be doing it after a two-year layoff.

              If you’re going to limit their major league innings to keep them from burning out…now you’ve got another issue. Let’s say they’re kept to 5 innings/start…that’s asking a heck of a lot of the bullpen. Two out of every five games they’re expected to pitch four innings? Plus the 2-3 innings they’re going to pitch in the other three games?

              I think these guys are going to be fine in the long run…sure, we can hope they’ll both be #1’s, but a #1 and legitimate #3 wouldn’t be the end of the world. Assuming they’re going to step up in competition, increase their workload, and immediately contribute to a contender is some real rose-colored glasses kind of stuff.

  • I don’t see how they put the Cubs up that high, unless he factored in run support. Last year Lester was above average but not great. JA was unhitable for half a year, I highly doubt he will be that good for that long. Even in the play in game it was some great defensive plays that saved that game for the Cubs.

    The cards are the cards they will always have a good rotation. Only knock on them could be Molina if he isn’t catching all year that’s a different team.

    The Buccos have the best possibly bc of the guys coming up, but I agree w the article it would be nice to another starter to replace Locke so he could go to the pen.

  • Looking at the teams that are ranked right behind them, it makes me feel like something was in Olneys Wheatie’s to rate us that high. All of the top ten teams all have at least two dominant starters like the pirates but they also all have a legitimate 3 and a decent if not good 4 and 5. We don’t and at this point shouldn’t be in the conversation until we add a real 3 and vogelsong is not a starter.

    • What’s the difference between Vogelsong (part 2) and Happ when they both came onboard with the Pirates? They both seemed to be at the same skill level when / are joining the Bucs.

      Happ was crap and looked what Happ-ened. He made all doubters feel like a sap.

      Vogelsong seems to be an older version of Happ and basically is singing the blues when it comes to his pitching ability. Though, he’s had a lot of time to work with the Bucs this offseason, which could turn into a nice surprise. They don’t turn everyone around and I feel like they’ve done more with less.

  • “It shows that the Pirates aren’t as bad as everyone has made them out to be this winter…”

    To me this shows that the Pirates rotation is exactly as bad as most have made them out to be. This isn’t 2010. Being worse than the contenders yet better than the rebuilding teams isn’t a goal anyone should be shooting for.

    • If we take his list as true, being “worse than the contenders” on that list still puts us very much in the overall “contenders” category.

      You’ve got those 5 teams for 5 spots, meaning our rotation is just outside playoff likely caliber. Which still, as i see it, means we can contend so long as our other parts arent lacking a ton in comparison to those listed teams. Particularly STL, whose offense i think is very similar if not slightly less “upside” than ours going forward.

      All in all, if we are 6 with Vogelsong thats a lot better than what most have been saying (like, “we have 2 good arms and 3 back end SPs).

      • Two good arms and three back end starters is *exactly* what the Pirates have.

        • Not according to Buster. And im not saying i agree with him, but this discussion being a notion of Buster’s list means in his view, saying like that arent near true.

        • I really can’t for the life of me understand why everyone is so low on Neise when he has a profile very similar to the reclamation projects everyone is clamoring for…if Neise were signed on a one year deal as a bounce back candidate, everyone would be applauding the move as shrewd. He may very well be a number 5 starter this year. He may very well also put up j.a. happ numbers. I am not a locke supporter and while I think Vogelsong will prove capable if uninspiring, I think there’s plenty of reason to argue this

          • Maybe because Jon Niese absolutely *does not* have a profile very similar to what everyone is looking for?

            Niese looks nothing like BUrnett, Liriano, Volquez, etc…and no other than Neal Huntington has said as much.

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          January 11, 2016 4:04 pm

          If anyone considers the likes of Locke, Vogelsong, and Niese as anything but backend starters, I’d like to hear their rationale….At their respective stages of their careers and their most recent seasons and performances, how can any of those guys be considered more than a #4 or #5 – at best? Come on….lets be real…

          • The rationale for me is comparing them to other guys the pirates brought in to be number 3 guys (Neise in particular….I’m not arguing locke or Vogelsong have business in a big league rotation). Aj last year, liriano, volquez, all guys coming off years with worse numbers than Neise.

            • Niese doesn’t have any of the statistical traits shared by Burnett and Liriano (K-rate, xFIP < ERA), and nowhere close to the pure stuff of Volquez.

              You couldn't find more different pitchers.

              • Not arguing, I’m legitimately asking…how does Neise compare to Happ along those lines?

                • Niese had a -0.02 xFIP-ERA difference last year; essentially saying his actual ERA was exactly in line with what it would be if all “noise” in home run rate, strand rate, BABIP, etc were removed.

                  Happ had a +0.49 difference, suggesting his actual ERA was upwards of a half run more than what metrics suggested it should be.

                  Niese also had a 14.7% K-rate, compared to 19.8% with Happ.

                  • That is all in line with what I would’ve guessed but I’m too lazy to look it up. Thanks! haha

          • I realize you are beyond further consideration, but, have you ever done a side-by-side of Jon Niese and Wei Yin Chen. In Chen’s 4 years in MLB from 2012 thru 2015, he has a Total WAR of 9.6. In Niese’s best 4 years from 2011 thru 2014, his total WAR was 9.6. Amazing. I realize Niese did have an off year in 2015 with only a 0.9 WAR, and that is a concern, but do not ignore the previous 4 years. Niese is 29; Chen is 30. Chen has already turned down a QO from B’more, and is a Free Agent; Niese is under club control for up to 3 years at a very reasonable amount.

    • Agree 100%.

      • Anyone saying this rotation flat-out stinks should be laughed out of the room. Cole>Liriano alone probably puts them in the upper half of rotations around the game.

        But at least *I* have been grading relative to the competition, and in that view, this is damning with the faintest of praise.

        • Yeah, not “stinks” exactly but it puts us on the outside looking in as far as playoff hopes go. The frustrating (yet also hopeful) part is that it doesn’t need to be this way by the time the season starts.

          • Even if it is the rotation to start the year it won’t be the rotation at the end. I hope they sign a 3. But if they don’t, Vogel song will still be above .500 by mid June.

        • Only way this rotation turns out to be as good as Cubs or Cards is if Glasnow sets the world on fire. Pirates screwed up by not adding a solid replacement for Burnett. The Mets #5 is better than the Bucs #3 right now

      • piraterican21
        January 11, 2016 3:31 pm

        If that is what they have for the whole year, yes is uninspiring. Adding arms like Glasnow, Taillon, and others changes my perception favorably

    • I think the bullpen, offense, and improved defense offset some of that. A hopeful full season of Kang and Polanco breakout will help alot. A healthy Cutch and an improving Marte will help too.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    January 11, 2016 1:26 pm

    Considering the following:

    “The top six ahead of the Pirates are the Mets, who he ranks well ahead of everyone else. They are followed by the Indians, Cardinals, Cubs, Giants and Dodgers. Obviously the list in very NL-heavy, even including the Nationals and Diamondbacks in the top ten.”

    It doesn’t make me feel much better – especially with Cards and Cubs in our division. Hooray, we have the third best rotation in our division!!

    • I’d put the Bucs’ rotation behind the rotations of the Dbacks and probably the Nats. But I like our overall team much better than either of those teams, and also better than the Dodgers and Mets.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        January 11, 2016 2:12 pm

        I may agree with you on those teams, but i don’t agree with that regarding the Cubs and Cards, which is the more immediate concern…

  • That Buster Olney…he’ll take a lot of heat from half of the Pirates fans for putting the Buccos on that list…lol.