I was going to write yesterday about the decision for the Pirates to outright Drew Hutchison off the 40-man roster, although there really wasn’t any news there. The Pirates didn’t call Hutchison up in September, despite paying him $2.3 M this year, and despite him being on the 40-man roster. That said all that needed to be said about Hutchison’s future with the team, and outrighting him just sped up the process of cutting ties (although he won’t be a free agent until the end of the season).
The Pirates didn’t get anything from Hutchison, outside of some bad starts last year, and a failed experiment during Spring Training. He produced in Triple-A, and looked like a depth option, but was never called up. I’m not going to rehash the Francisco Liriano trade for the ten millionth time in the last year, because it’s not new right now that Hutchison hasn’t provided value in return, and that the only value the Pirates got was shedding salary.
Instead, I want to look at the reason the Pirates didn’t give Hutchison a chance this year. My original thought was that this was another case where they added a player and just never gave him a real chance to see what he could do. That’s not completely true, as Hutchison did have a chance last year, and had another shot in Spring Training. But he put up good numbers in Triple-A this year, and that wasn’t enough for a call-up.
But when you look at the Pirates’ season, there really weren’t any opportunities for Hutchison to get called up. The Pirates didn’t have a lot of good fortune across the board this year, but one area where they were helped was with the health of the rotation.
Heading into September, the Pirates had only used six starters the entire season. They did have one “injury” of sorts, although I’m not sure if that’s the term to describe Jameson Taillon’s cancer. This led to Trevor Williams entering the rotation, and Williams stuck around when Tyler Glasnow left the rotation due to performance issues.
The rest of the season was Gerrit Cole, Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, and Williams. The Pirates didn’t get top of the rotation results from any of those players, but they also didn’t see anyone pitching their way out of the rotation. They did have some struggles in the second half, and have been giving guys like Ivan Nova some rest, with Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow getting those extra starts in September. Going back to Hutchison, I don’t think I’d be starting him over Brault and Glasnow for the additional starts needed.
The Pirates don’t really need Hutchison going forward. All five of the current starters are under control for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, as is the case with Brault and Glasnow. They also have additional rotation depth in Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, and Tyler Eppler. That provides ten rotation options going into the 2018 season, with eight of them under control beyond 2019.
There is no issue of depth for the rotation heading into the 2018 season. That’s a good thing, because they will need depth going forward, not being able to count on the good fortune they’ve seen this year. Most years they use at least eight starters in a good year, and double-digit starters in a normal year. That’s what they need to plan for in 2018, and they have that, even without Hutchison.
The issue going forward for the Pirates will be the quality of the rotation. Their overall rotation wasn’t bad this year. They rank about middle of the pack in ERA, and rank just outside the top ten in xFIP and WAR. They didn’t have anyone pitching bad enough to leave the rotation, which is why they didn’t need the depth. But they also didn’t have anyone pitching like a top of the rotation guy, which is why they didn’t have a top ten rotation.
They’ve got top of the rotation candidates for 2018 in Cole, Taillon, and Glasnow as a long shot at this point. They also have Nova as a candidate for more than league-average performance. But I’m not sure that the rotation issues next year are as simple as going with those four guys and expecting everyone to improve on their 2017 production. That will be a big thing to focus on for the Pirates this offseason, as I’m not sure this team can contend going forward with middle of the pack results from their rotation.