I wasn’t following the situation closely, but today’s Doug Fister signing by the Astros might have been the first time I heard Doug Fister’s name mentioned this off-season in a rumor. I have heard his name mentioned often on here, and usually in the form of “why hasn’t Doug Fister been talked about more this off-season?”

There might have been some who would have preferred Fister over Ryan Vogelsong. That probably doesn’t apply to everyone, since I’m sure Fister’s decline in velocity would have raised some red flags. But maybe in place of Fister, there are some who would want to see someone else replacing Vogelsong in the current rotation, such as Mat Latos.

I don’t want to make this an article about replacing Vogelsong, because that topic has been discussed often. Maybe the Pirates end up signing someone else to replace him in the rotation. Maybe they don’t. As I’ve said many times, I think they should. But how did they arrive in this situation to begin with?

The answer lies in their 2015 injuries. The Pirates were fortunate to avoid a lot of injuries to their MLB pitching staff in 2015. A.J. Burnett’s late season injury was the most notable one. Charlie Morton missed the first two months after needing time to work on his mechanics. But outside of that, they were fine with injuries at the big league level, and had J.A. Happ step in to replace Burnett, so that their biggest injury barely impacted them at all.

It wasn’t the same case in the minors. Almost all of their pitching depth options went down with injuries. Nick Kingham looked to be one of the top prospects to arrive last year, but went down in May with Tommy John surgery. Brandon Cumpton had the same procedure during Spring Training. Casey Sadler made a spot start in April while Francisco Liriano was on paternity leave, but was shut down shortly after that and eventually needed Tommy John as well.

Jameson Taillon was the top prospect expected to arrive by mid-season. He was returning from Tommy John, and was just about to get back in real games in early July when he went down for the season with hernia surgery.

Even some of the second half pitching depth options ended up not working out. Angel Sanchez was emerging as a prospect, posting a 2.55 ERA in 60 innings in Triple-A, with a 50:15 K/BB and a fastball that was consistently working in the mid-90s. He, too, went down with Tommy John surgery.

One of the few guys who stayed healthy, Adrian Sampson, struggled and was eventually traded for Happ. The other interesting guy who was healthy was Clayton Richard, who was lost to the Cubs as a free agent when the Pirates had no room for him in early July. He went on to post a 3.43 xFIP in 42.1 innings in the majors.

It all makes you wonder what would have happened if Taillon wouldn’t have had the hernia surgery, or if Kingham wouldn’t have had Tommy John. I’m not sure that Sadler or Cumpton would have been more than depth out of Triple-A, and the same goes for Sanchez, but that played an impact here too. I think if one of Taillon or Kingham were ready, you wouldn’t have seen the trade for Happ, and whichever starter was healthy would currently be in Vogelsong’s spot in the rotation. And who knows? Maybe Happ is their big reclamation project in 2016 without that boost the final two months with the Pirates. But that gets a little too speculative.

If you want a reason for Vogelsong in the rotation, it’s because of the injuries in 2015. They didn’t impact the MLB level last year, but their impact is seen this off-season. It also doesn’t help that the Pirates have two top prospects set to arrive this summer (Taillon and Tyler Glasnow), plus a lot of other talented pitching prospects behind them (Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams). I don’t think that’s a good reason for Vogelsong to be in the rotation, as they could have found a better one year option and even a multi-year option wouldn’t hurt them, since you can never have too much pitching depth.

There is always the chance that the Ray Searage effect could take place here, but I think that’s slim in this case. Vogelsong hasn’t been above a 1.3 WAR since 2012, and at his age it would be way too optimistic to assume he returns to those levels. He’s not a heavy ground ball pitcher, so he won’t benefit from the defensive shifts and infield defense. I think he’d be a great fit for the current bullpen philosophy of having a lot of long relievers who could take over early for the rotation, as well as being the top depth option early in the season if a starter goes down. But that requires another starter to be brought in.

It should be noted that Latos and Justin Masterson — the two guys the Pirates have been linked to multiple times, even after the signing of Vogelsong — are still free agents. So there’s still a chance that Vogelsong could be bumped, especially with the Pirates currently sitting at $96.5 M in payroll, although I wouldn’t bank on that.

If Vogelsong is in the rotation, then you’d hope for the Ray Searage magic to get the most out of him as possible, while hoping that this year’s top prospects and depth options don’t have the same injury issues as last year, thus resulting in an earlier upgrade. But honestly, if Vogelsong is in the rotation, then the Pirates would have already been late upgrading that spot.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #7 – Reese McGuire. The top 10 countdown continues. If you buy your copy of the Prospect Guide, you’ll get all of the reports, along with our grades, and the reports of the 21-50 prospects and every other player in the system. It’s the most information you can find on the Pirates’ system, and the cheapest price you can find for a prospect book this time of year, especially with the Top Prospect and Annual discounts.

**Starling Marte Rated Second Among Left Fielders, Kang Among Best 3B. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned much this off-season: while the Pirates haven’t added a lot of talent from the outside, they already had a ton of talent on the team. That kind of thing seems to be overlooked every off-season.

**Austin Meadows Ranks Fourth Among the Top Outfield Prospects. This could be an interesting year for Meadows, as he seems to be trending up and getting a lot of attention outside of Pittsburgh.

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94 COMMENTS

  1. With the payroll at 96.5M and record attendance two years in a row, the situation calls for another signing of a starter or a trade for one. That is if the team wants to come out strong and compete and maintain depth throughout the year. The payroll has not increased relative to revenues or the competition, and the starting rotation is not as strong or deep as last year. You can’t bank on both Taillon and Glasnow coming up and performing in June. We could be 10 games under by then with this group of starters even if they all come through spring training healthy.

    • Do you know how many times during the past three off seasons that ” …we could be 10 games under by then ” whiny comment has been put on this site ? Why not wait till then and see instead of crying around about it now ?

      • Leo…have you considered a mild daily laxative? It might improve your disposition and your ability to post something actually responsive and interesting.

  2. Looking at Vogelsong’s BrooksBaseball card today. Some things I found interesting:

    He throws 5 pitches in fairly equal proportions: 4-seam (28%), Sinker (22%), Cutter (20%), Curve (21%), and Change (9%).

    Against righties, the 4-seam, sinker, cutter, and curve all yield good-to-excellent ISO, but the changeup gets hammered (.250) and only gets 5% whiffs. Yet he still uses it 5% of the time. I’d suggest it’s time to ditch the change against RHB.

    Against LHB, the only pitches with reasonable ISO against are the 4-seam (.171) and the cutter (.102). The other 3 pitches all have ISO over .340. (The curve at least has a 15% whiff rate). Those 3 bad pitches are used over 60% of the time. I’m sure you need to mix them in sometimes to keep LHB honest, but they are getting destroyed. So, maybe he could have some more success if he stopped trying to throw his Sinker and changeup, and mixed in the curve to keep them honest.

    I don’t have any idea if this is a reasonable approach to take, but really lefties hammer him (.900 OPS against in 2015), so it can’t hurt to try.

    I’m pasting in his SLG against by LHB by pitch for reference.

    • Nice analysis Arik! I will be interesting to see what adjustments Searage et al have in mind for Vogelsong to increase his effectiveness.

      I’m not sure that you can simply extend last years effectiveness for pitches if you reduce the type of pitches you throw. Reducing the number of pitches makes you more predictable. Could be that his bad pitches just don’t break much and he needs to increase his variety by varying location better.

      • Agreed. I’ve never looked this closely at a pitch mix before and I’m sure there is much more to it than simply not throwing the bad pitches.

        Still, even if he’s a two pitch guy vs. LHB, he might be able to get through the order twice, or turn into a nice bullpen option. He still has good velocity.

    • Or it could be the fact that his age has caught up with him. I can see Nicasio possibly being the placeholder in the rotation until either Glasnow or Taillon comes up.

  3. In short I think the only role for vogelsong that makes sense is to fill the Blanton role. Bullpen long man spot emergency start and can go multiple innings. Being in the rotation is a huge miss for the Pirates. No other way to put it. There’s still a chance he does move to the Blanton role if the bucs sign another starter late.

    Hoping Ryan is serviceable bridge to Glasnow is not the best the bucs could’ve done all limitations notwithstanding. “Hope is not a strategy”.

    • Yeah, I am sure that NH and the rest of the organization are just operating on hope. Get serious, really.

      • I do not blindly criticize all things front office and ownership as many do That said if Ryan is in the rotation despite better affordable options available in the market then it is a “hope” strategy in my opinion. And it is wrong in my opinion.

  4. What doesn’t makes sense to me is if you are going to get a bum like vogelsong, y not get a bum that is actually a ground ball pitcher. At least then he is helped by shifting and the much improved defense you have now at the expense of any power in the lineup. I can understand the strategy they are using a placeholder pitcher although that is not a potential playoff contender strategy and I think it is foolish. Unfortunately they are not even giving their own foolish strategy thebest chance to work using a flyball pitcher like vogelsong. If in anyway the bullpen/glasnow/taillon tire, get injured, or falter, you are guaranteed to lose and/or not have a chance at playoffs.

    • Very, very much agree with you here.

      Some on this site seem unwilling to accept that Voglesong, and even Niese to an extent, *are not* like the previous successful reclamation pitchers the Pirates have target even though Neil Huntington himself has said as much. His own words!

      Even after a hypothetical 15 or so sub-3 ERA starts, nobody is giving up value for a 39 yo Ryan Vogelsong, nor would the Pirates consider extending him. Seems odd to settle on a guy with such little upside, especially when he doesn’t come with really much less risk.

    • Happ didn’t really fit the model either nor did Worley, I’m not saying that is a good comparison it is just convenient.

      The commitment was $2 million, they aren’t beholden to Vogelsong. He has a sinker he can throw inside, and get him to stop striking and walking batters at the same rate out of the stretch and you can get some back end innings.

  5. I take some solace that Vogelsong’s velocity has improved since 2013, and possibly the Pirates can figure out whey he was one of the worst pitchers from the stretch last season.

    The Pirates let Wandy Rodriguez after 6 starts, so Vogelsong’s impact if terrible, won’t be large. It would be nice to push him to long relief. Who are the Pirates’ early season depth option out of AAA?

    • Or Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum are the reasons the Giants spent 200 million on starting pitching this off season.

      • The lack of anything approaching the quality of Taillon and Glasnow is the reason the Giants spent $200m on pitching this offseason.

        • And a few days ago you were saying the expectations of Glasnow and Taillon were unreasonable.
          Need to work on keeping your opinions straight, buddy.

          • No, I can just walk and chew gum at the same time…

            The expectations that Glasnow and Taillon will immediate contribute enough to turn the club into the elite team needed to contend for the Central Divison are unreasonable.

            I have no illusions of that happening. I’ve fully accepted 2016 as a “re-tooling” year; good enough to have a shot at the wild card, while also breaking in a bunch of young talent.

              • The only pitching prospect potentially better than Glasnow is Giolito and even when McCullers was a prospect, he was behind them. Giolito and Glasnow I think are the only 70 rated pitchers in the minors. They both come with best pitchers in the game expectations and their first starts will probably be widely televised.

                    • Sorry, thought you were saying both of those pitchers are expected to be two of the best pitchers in the game…best prospects, sure (although most do not seem to have Glasnow as the second best SP), and *potential* to be some of the best in the game, but *expecting* that outcome is too much, IMO.

                    • Okay, apparently using the term “expectations” ventures into the realm of hyperbole with you. Yes, the potential is there with them. With potential comes expectations. I should’ve include Urias too. They are widely considered the best pitching prospects in baseball. My original basis for comparison was McCullers vs Glasnow. McCullers was generally 50-75 before he was called up. Glasnow will enter this year in the top 10 for the 2nd year in a row and top 20 for the 3rd year in a row. Sure, there’s a lot of risk due to his size and inconsistent command but I’m almost more excited to see his debut than I was Cole’s.

      • The biggest problem the Giants had was Matt Cain not producing anything, and Peavey being ” meh “, don’t kid yourself.

        • I believe it’s the Giants and their three banners that aren’t kidding get themselves.

          But Glasnow and Taillon are going to be awesome and healthy workhorses right from go.

          Please. I got a blownup bridge in Pittsburgh to sell you.

        • This is correct, you don’t spend $40 million/season in free agency because your back end guys were poor the previous season.

          The Giants had a rotation of Bumgarner and then very little.

          • I guess the genius doesn’t agree with us. He knows more than the people who work in the industry and/or cover MLB on a daily basis.

      • You wouldn’t be giving away six starts. Looking at recent debacles Wandy Rodriguez, the Pirates were 2-4 in games he started the Pirates were 1-3 in games Jonathan Sanchez started. Replacing either would a league average performance would be a one game swing. No player is going to cost a team three wins, let alone six.

        • so combined they were 3 and 7- our winning percentage was what, around .600 for the year…? so that’s approximately 3 games, not six. Sorry- we cannot afford to give 3 games away. I stand corrected

  6. Best case scenario for me is Volgesong sits around 4.00 ERA and gets taken out every fifth inning until Glasnow and Tallion are ready.

    • if the rosters get expanded to 27- sure that will work. But unless you are planning on Taillon and Glasnow coming in July and bailing out a dead “long” side of the bullpen by pitching 8 innings every time out, it isn’t going to work

  7. Rearranging the deck chairs so to speak. I think that those injuries last year may have an impact this season and next season. Only on the positive side. The Searage Magic is hoping that it works on Locke.

      • Most importantly, he likely avoids throwing his slider (thus not developing it in season much at all) and becomes a 2 pitch pitcher trying to get outs any way he can.

        Confidence is needed, but for him development of that 3rd pitch is key to any SP future. Invest in the future by getting this kid 3 average or better pitches.

        • The irony in BuccosFan pushing another one of his tired narratives here is that “investing in the future” is *exactly* why Vogelsong is in the rotation.

          If we’re all being honest here, Vogelsong is nothing but a placeholder. A guy that’ll hopefully eat enough non-awful innings until one of the prospects is ready to take over. His presence is highly unlikely to be even the slightest barrier – either financially or performance-wise – in front of Taillon, Glasnow, or anyone with a pulse entering the rotation.

          *Somebody* has to pitch every 5th day.

          • I agree. The odds are at this stage in his career, he’ll tire considerably after about 120 innings anyways but he could still provide some solid innings early in the year. How many teams have 2 pitching prospects the caliber of Taillon and Glasnow this close to the majors or the caliber of pitching they have in AAA and AA in general… I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I think the Bucs AAA rotation is better than some of the worst ML rotations. We gripe about the back end of the Bucs rotation but most rankings I’ve seen still consider the Pirates to have one of the ten best rotations in baseball.

            • I, personally, won’t go as far as rationalizing the state of the Pirates rotation; good relative to non-contenders does nothing for me, and the sad state of the current rotation quality after their excellent #1/2 combo is exactly what has them rightfully rated behind the teams they’ll truly be competing against.

              But I do generally agree that a strategy where leaving holes in the 25-man so that top prospects can have a path is something the Pirates will always need to do in some form or another, and Taillon/Glasnow are certainly worthy.

          • It looks to me that we might agee that they would be happy getting around 20 league average starts out of RV, and then around 10 + out of any 2 from a combination of JT, TG or even Kuhl, Brault or Williams ( who nobody mentions )

            • I’ll quibble ever so slightly with that number of starts…I truly believe they’re smart enough to go with more upside potential if they were looking for ~20 starts. I think they’ll manipulate the rotation as much as they can such that the 5th spot gets ~10-12 turns through early/mid-June, at which point they’ll let one of Glasnow or Taillon rip (assuming expected developmental progress).

              But generally speaking, I absolutely agree with what you said.

              • Or they will sign another marginal starter and go 5 innings max with 4, 5 an 6. Great flexibility prior to TG or JT and after they arrive as well given they will be on a pitch count.

              • That is probably a better estimate. What I was thinking was that if the got something like 10 or more quality starts they might try to get up to 20 turns out of him and delay the younger guys as long as they can.

          • Yes, someone has to pitch the 5th day and I would rather it be someone who is part of the future of the team – and can grow and improve over time – not a mid-30s, broken down starting pitcher who will be here for one year at best…not to mention, who costs the team a lot more than a Glasnow, Kuhl, fill in the blank…
            For the money we’re giving Vogelsong, Morse, Rodriguez, and Stewart combined, what quality starter, LH reliever, or platoon first baseman could we have signed? Those 4 combined are probably in the $15-20m range – we could have had Kazmir for that, and filled in the other spots with younger and cheaper players.

            • It sounds like you want to have your cake and eat it too.

              You seem unable to accept the risk of promoting a prospect, both to the success of the current team and development of the prospect.

              Completely fair to question overall allocation of funds, but that most certainly *does not* buy Scott Kazmir; that buys *one year* of Scott Kazmir.

              • Agree with you here NMR. Can’t believe some of the discussion going on here… either “it’s just money” or “just call up the prospects”. Neither is a good way to move forward for a club like the Pirates. Would we all like to have free spending ability like the Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, Angles etc? Kind of takes away the strategy though and i like that aspect of what the PBC brings to the table.

            • Why do you always seem to ignore the fact that there’s a CBA in place where service time and arbitration eligibility are affected by when a player is called up? The fact of the matter is if Glasnow is called up too early, we lose a year of control of him when he is in his prime.

            • i am wrong here… Vogelsong is 3M. If he makes his incentives then this discussion is moot and he has outdone your expectations and things are good. Rodriguez is 2.5M and Stewart is 2.5M so that puts us at 8M without knowing what LA is kicking in for Morse. No way that hits 15 to 20M… and i guess replacing these guys would cost nothing as well.

            • But again, its insanely more tough to “grow and improve” in terms of developing a pitch when you are in the majors and purely trying to get outs. His slider isnt getting near as much pure development work in the majors as it would in AAA.

              He’s a two pitch guy who pitches to contact at this moment. He’s part of the future, and that’d be a great reason to want him to be better developed than currently once he takes the step to the majors. He needs more than 2 pitches to be useful in the majors over 5 innings.

            • Check your math. Vogelsong is $2M with a very complicated incentive structure that he is unlikely to trigger. Rodriguez is $2.5M, Stewart is $1.35M. That adds up to $5.85M. Even if you went with Hanson (or Moroff) and Diaz at the super-utility and backup C roles, that only leaves $4.4M for your pitcher. That’ll get you 8 starts of Scott Kazmir.

              As for Morse, his salary (less the amount LA is kicking in) is what the Pirates would have had to pay Tabata for 2016 anyway. It’s a sunk cost that was committed to back in 2011.

              Vogelsong being here for one year at best is a feature, not a bug. No sense in blocking better pitchers, as I think you would agree.

              And, as has been brought up multiple times, bringing up any of the 3 AAA SPs to start the season will cost WAY more in the long run.

              You don’t have to like the Vogelsong or SRod deals (I don’t), but you do have to be realistic about the options this team has.

      • what if Vogelsong gets hammered every fifth day, and we lose game after game when he starts?
        Kuechel suffered through some growing pains as a younger pitcher in the majors, and it does not appear he was permanently scarred.
        Kids like McCullers did pretty well last year, as did Severino for the Yankees, Nola for the Phillies (on a horrible team as well), etc, etc. I could list quite a few. News flash – sometimes young pitchers do quite well as starting pitchers, even if they are not considered a “finished” product.
        This type of thinking is what cost us the division last year – as the team stubbornly kept Locke and Morton in the rotation until the bitter end…over the last 2 months of 2015, what was our record in games those two started?

        • Lets not forget that Keuchel pitched 134.1 innings in AAA, where Kuhl has yet to throw a pitch. Makes no rational sense to have Kuhl in the rotation when they break north. I believe Locke was 15-14 in his starts and not sure about Morton, but I think he was around the same.

  8. I would be curious to know where the Pirates rank in TJ surgeries for their prospects…I would have a hard time imagining another farm system with as many MLB or near MLB ready arms that have been plagued as bad as Pittsburgh.

    Would be an interesting study, albeit with lots of legwork…

  9. Personally, I am hoping and praying that Juan Nicasio gets stretched out and takes RV’s place.

    As for Latos, after seeing what Fister got (12 mil?) and what NH said (“The heavy lifting is over…we’re done….paraphrased”), his ship has sailed.

    We’ll get Masterson, only if it is a minor league deal, a la, Arroyo. No way is NH spending any more of Bob’s money on a starter.

  10. Kept waiting for the positives to begin, sort of like “here is what you guys are missing about Vogelsong”?

      • OK, so he is not – cannot find the proper words, but let me try a few things to possibly look at with him. He has had much better ERA numbers in the first half of the season in 4 of the last 5 seasons (the other he was injured most of the season). And, during his best seasons of 2011 and 2012, he threw the 2 seamer much more often than he has during the last 2 seasons which were not that good.

        • He’ll probably do fine for the first 10 to 12 weeks of the season, after which no one will miss him when he is replaced by Taillon or Glasnow.

    • There are no “absolutes” but I think the reality is you have to find random exceptions to that statement Tim made about it being too late not being true.

    • the problem here Brian is that we NEED the help early year, not later. signing a pitcher at the end of spring training, that will then take 8 weeks in extended ST to get ready completely voids the whole point in having him to begin with. Hell, by that time we’d have the extra year of control and could bring up Taillon or Glasnow- we NEED the pitching help day 1 in camp, getting on board with our philosophy, working with searage to help them rebuild their mechanics, etc. – otherwise que jonathan sanchez part 2

  11. I’ve wondered if they’re planning the minor league arms as the upgrades and they don’t want to clog things up so to speak. They spent a lot in the bullpen, for them anyway, and they could be viewing this as somewhat of a cushion for any early season struggles. There’s still time so I’m not going to panic. Not to mention they seem to be successful whenever they sign these guys, so I’ll sit back and let it play out.

    • This is pretty much my interpretation of the moves so far too. My big problem is that it’s a shaky enough strategy to begin with and will be an absolute disaster if either of the top two goes down for any extended period of time.

    • They spent a lot on bullpen arms that they will not put in the game unless they are ahead- hardly helpful when you have decreased your offense at the same time that you’ve reduced your starting pitching skill. You will not see Feliz ever in a game they are behind- you won’t see hughes either unless it’s tied or within a run in a high leverage situation……..we know watson and melancon won’t be in behind……..so how does the bullpen depth help? You can’t have the same 3 relievers pitching 3 days in a row when locke, vogelsong, and niese are getting crushed 2 out of three games every week (i know i’m exaggerating here guys just go with the rant)

  12. Rearranging the deck chairs so to speak. I think that those injuries last year may have an impact this season and next season. Only on the positive side. The Searage Magic is hoping that it works on Locke.

    • My hope is that Taillon and Glasnow are both ready and replace Locke and RV by midseason. I see Glasnow coming up earlier than Taillon though.

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