Trevor Williams Making a Strong Case to Stay in the Pirates’ Rotation

NEW YORK – Last night I wrote about the choice the Pirates have with Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl. Both starters are struggling in the majors right now, and while the Pirates improved to 26-31 with today’s win, they’re not looking like a team that could be a strong contender this year. That complicates things when you realize that keeping Glasnow and Kuhl in the majors lowers their chances to contend.

So the choice is either to send them down to work on things in the minors, going for a lower probability chance of contending this year, or keeping them up to work on their issues in the majors, focusing more on the long-term.

There’s another factor that complicates this matter, and that is how well Trevor Williams has been pitching lately in the rotation. After a rough first outing against the Dodgers, Williams combined for a 3.32 ERA and a 4.44 xFIP in his previous four starts. Today he followed that up with seven innings, giving up one run on seven hits, with three strikeouts and two walks as the Pirates won 11-1 over the Mets.

“The only game that he didn’t pitch well was the first one,” Clint Hurdle said after today’s game. “Just the overall execution and command of his stuff has been really good.”

Williams doesn’t have the upside that Glasnow or Kuhl have, so he doesn’t project as a starter over those two in the long-term. But there’s something to be said for results, and seeing what a guy can actually do. If expected upside was the only thing that mattered, Adam Frazier wouldn’t have received a chance to play himself into being a top bench option, and the top starting option off the bench when an injury occurs. Frazier has reached his expected upside of a super utility player, and may be in the process of out-performing that. Who is to say that Williams can’t do the same?

Jameson Taillon will be returning soon, which means the Pirates will have to open a spot in the rotation. Williams was the replacement for Taillon, but with the way he’s been pitching, he definitely has earned more starts. The only question is which struggling starter do you take out of the rotation? Or do you go for upside, let Glasnow and Kuhl work it out, and move Williams back to the bullpen until he is needed again?

Hurdle declined to comment on any decisions, but did note that there’s always an evaluation process going on.

“He’s done what he’s been asked to do,” Hurdle said. “Everything gets evaluated every time a guy touches a ball and goes out there. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Williams will get at least one more start before Taillon returns. After that, the Pirates will have their difficult decision to make.

The Offense Heats Up

The Pirates went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position yesterday. They capitalized on those opportunities today, going 6-for-12, and taking advantage of a few Mets errors to score a few unearned runs. It was a big turnaround for the offense, leading to their second double-digit run game in their last three games.

The hope for the Pirates is that this will allow the offense to heat up. Some of the top performers from today have been stepping up frequently the last few weeks. Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison are looking like a dynamic pair at the top of the lineup. John Jaso has been hot at the plate since early May. David Freese may be showing signs that he’s getting back into form after his injury. Jordy Mercer has shown a hot bat lately.

Then there’s Andrew McCutchen, who Travis Barnett wrote about today, noting some signs of optimism. McCutchen had three hits today, making hard contact, and hitting his ninth homer of the year. He’s been fantastic since returning and batting sixth overall. The Pirates could certainly use his bat, and more performances like they saw today and on Friday going forward.

Harrison Feels Fine

Josh Harrison was hit in the back of the calf with a pitch today, and was lifted for Max Moroff later in the inning as a pinch runner. Harrison said after the game that he will be fine, but that his calf got tight during the game right after being hit. Considering the score, there wasn’t much reason to keep him in the game. And with an off-day on Monday, it doesn’t seem he will miss any time.

  • runningfrog
    June 6, 2017 8:20 pm

    I’m not alone in thinking Glasnow eventually winds up in the bullpen. Much as you hate to pull the trigger on that too soon, letting him get some confidence back in the bullpen might not be awful, and the right side of the pen has been awful this year.

    Glasnow’s second time through the order he has a 9.87 ERA and a .370 BA against. Let him go out there and rear back with the fastball and curve and start striking people out again.

  • With Williams performance in the rotation and Hutchison/Brault pitching well in Indy, it can’t hurt to send both Kuhl & Glasnow to AAA. First, it may be a wakeup call to both of them if its mental. Second, it can send the message to the rest of Pitts bench that management isn’t just playing for next year .. that performance really does matter.

  • Darkstone42
    June 5, 2017 4:19 pm

    I think you either send just Kuhl down, whose mechanical problems are likely easier to fix, but whose upside is smaller, or you send both down and also bring up Brault. I’m just not sure Glasnow’s the sort of pitcher who can really work through what he needs to against AAA hitters. I’m not sure they’re good enough to let him know if he’s making the right adjustments. Kuhl’s style is more likely to show up in the minors and give an indication of his readiness.

    If you only send Kuhl down, and he looks like he’s figured it out, you can bring him up for Glasnow if Glasnow is still struggling, especially if they’re still within reach of a playoff spot at that time.

  • I’ll take a Kris Benson season out of Glasnow right now…

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 5, 2017 12:50 pm

    Williams most certainly pitched well yesterday….in past games he would seemingly pitch one too many innings and get roughed up on third turn through a lineup, but not yesterday. He’s earned another start or two too see if he can really stick.

  • to me this decision is fairly easy. One: Williams stays in the rotation. Performance counts and he is a good young pitcher. Two: IF Glasnow is getting frustrated and it seems to me he may be then send him down for a break to work on things at AAA away from the spotlight. He will be back as soon as he gets something together

    I just think that unplugging for a bit can do Tyler some good and that is something the pirates have been know to do

  • Tim, is it possible that this being the final contract years of Hurdle and NH — coupled with a mediocre division so far — leaves less of a leash with both Kuhl & Glasnow? For these reasons, as long as the team is somewhat within daylight of .500, I don’t see management viewing this as a rebuilding year. If both SP’s struggle in the next outing, I’m wondering if it’s possible we see a shakeup where both of them are sent down and Brault / JT called up

    • GreenWeenie
      June 5, 2017 8:23 am

      Understand your point, but this really isn’t a rebuilding year. The infield outside of Bell is all veterans. The outfield would have been all veterans if not for the Marte suspension. They should be trying to compete.

    • Despite their record, being this close to 1st place demands they do what they can to win the division. After TW outing yesterday, it’s clear he provides team better chance to win than TG & CK right now. I personally think if TW is kept in rotation when JT returns, than TG is demoted.

    • No, because I don’t think either person has to worry about their contract.

  • GreenWeenie
    June 5, 2017 7:01 am

    I’ve seen enough of Glasnow and Kuhl. It’s like watching Groundhog Day with those two. Send them down if possible. It’s not fair to the team, especially if someone in AAA can be a #5 and actually give them a few innings without blowing up.

  • Taillon is scheduled to start Wednesday at AAA I think. That means pitching at the ML level 7 days from now at best, meaning all 3 of Williams, Kuhl, and Glasnow will get at least one more start. Glasnow is still only 23 – if he goes back down, can the Pirates avoid him getting the necessary 172 days to start the service Clock? If so, that would be my vote. He has gotten enough MLB exposure to know what work he has to do to get prepared for 2018. And, who knows what might happen as we near the trading deadline.

    They are all fairly close, and I agree that Kuhl and Glasnow have the bigger upside, but Williams is getting it done right now.

    • It is often said that your roster is made up of the best 25 players. Does that mean you go with a wing and a prayer developing players at the major league level. Demoting Williams to the bullpen would be contrary to that. But also if your GM thinks carrying several middle infielders at the start of the season is more important than carrying a 4th outfielder, well then, there’s that.

      • The number of AAA/AAAA MI’s is a joke. There are trades that can be made, but not like the deadwood the Pirates picked up. Who has more trade value to a contender – Marte or ‘Cutch? And, if Kang has not entered and then continuously re-entered the “Betty Ford” clinic of South Korea, we better look for another 3B.

        The 3B of Cincy (Suarez) is having a career year, but Nick Senzel already has 21 doubles at Hi A and they need not hold that kid back. He should be promoted soon, with the possibility of getting to the majors in 2018. Some teams push their college players they draft in the first round.

    • Glasnow entered 2017 with 64 days of MLB service. If they send him down for 64 days of AAA this year, they’d gain the vaunted extra year of control. In case he ever does figure things out….

      • And, that year – if he gets his crap together – could be a very expensive year! Is NH reading this? We held back a 23 year old MI first round pick at AA after an excellent year in 2016, so this should be almost an automatic reflex reaction for NH.

  • 1.5 back of the cards, 4 of the division. Jamo coming back Williams looking like someone who can be counted on in last two spots. If this is what the offense can look like consistently not out of the division race by any means especially if they can take one or two in Baltimore and rack up wins against the Marlins.

  • I just read an article by Dustin Dopirak that stated Williams focuses on the stretch in his side sessions because “those are the most important pitches of the game.” Tim’s article mentioned his fip which made me wonder if that might explain why Williams outperforms his fip and Glasnow underperforms his. Glasnow hasn’t focused on his stretch and while his consistency in the stretch has gotten better.
    As a result, Williams bears down with men on and Glasnow implodes. Maybe Glasnow could go down and pitch out of the stretch every other inning whether he needs to or not.

    • piraterican21
      June 5, 2017 10:15 am

      I think is a lot simpler than that, although you made a good point. Williams throws strikes and keep the ball in the ground. He will have games where he will give up lots of hits since those ground balls will find holes, but also lots of DP. Coming out of ST it was clear to many that TW should had won the 5th spot over TG. Now it should be clear to everyone.

      • I was one of those guys. Things have gone for Glasnow & Williams pretty much how I expected. I believe Trevor has that “little extra something” mentally that will make him a solid #4 option over his career.

        Glasnow mos def CAN learn to throw strikes, hold runners on, consistently throw his change, in AAA.

  • I don’t see the problem here? Chad Kuhl needs to go down in favor of Trevor Williams. Kuhl will pitch in the majors, but he’s not ready now. Glasnow on the other hand, has too high a ceiling to send him down. Glasnow has mastered AAA. There is no AAAA! In last place, the Pirates have to give Glasnow on the job training this year if he can maintain a 4.00 something ERA with the knowledge that just around the corner this kid could be the next Randy Johnson!

    • “…if he can maintain a 4.00 something ERA…”. Wouldn’t he first have to get to a 6.00 ERA (currently 6.97), then a 5.00 ERA and then a 4.00 ERA? High ceiling or not, he hasn’t delivered.

      Glasnow has yet to show he can go deep into a game. He throws a lot of pitches, mostly balls. No doubt, he will stick. As things stand right now, he looks like a middle reliever (and not a good one).

      Hopefully your faith in him (as so many others have) will result in an ace sooner rather than later. In the meantime we can all hope for improvement.

      • The real problem is you send him to AAA and he does the same thing basically but no one can get hits off of him at that level so his ERA winds up being sub 2 but nothing really changes except he gives up next to no hits. For his minor league career he has only allowed 297 hits, but has allowed 246 walks, and struck out 645 in 500 career innings. I think he needs to learn in the majors because that is the only level he has ever pitched at where he has been challenged by hitters.

        • If someone is struggling to hit the catchers mitt they sure as shine can work on it in AAA. Learning to do that and handling MLB hitters and base runners all at once is a formula for disaster. I think some of these guys would benefit from trying to hit the same spot on a wall consistently. The crawl before walk approach.

  • Speaking of rotations, Miami’s projected starters in PNC Park this weekend vs the Bucs are as follows: . . Friday – Vance Worley , . . Saturday – Straily . . . Sunday – JEFF LOCKE.