The Pirates haven’t had the best results as a team over the last month. Exactly a month ago, they were 26-17, and in first place in the NL Central. One month later they are 35-35 and in fourth place in the NL Central, after climbing back to .500 with back-to-back wins against the Reds.
That 9-18 stretch is horrible. But during that time, the Pirates have seen a big positive trend from their pitching staff, which should lead to better results in the future.
I’ve written a lot this year about how the Pirates need to adjust away from throwing so many fastballs for the sake of throwing fastballs, and take on a strategy more like the Astros where their pitchers are throwing more breaking balls, which tend to be their best pitches.
The Pirates traded Gerrit Cole to the Astros, then saw him adopt this strategy, which helped lead to him putting up numbers that he never touched while in Pittsburgh. They saw Charlie Morton revive his career in Houston with the same strategy. But they were still having their pitchers throw over 60% fastballs, and typically around 20% breaking stuff, when the Astros pitchers were typically around 35-40% with the breaking stuff, and closer to 50-55% with the fastballs.
The Pirates are starting to change their ways, and it is leading to results.
Chad Kuhl threw his slider 34% of the time on May 28th, and with his curveball included he threw a breaking pitch 39.8% of the time. In his three starts since, Kuhl has thrown breaking stuff over 40% of the time in each start. His fastball usage is around 50%, and he has switched to throwing his four seam more than his sinker in the last two starts. He has a 2.70 ERA during that time, although his 4.54 xFIP suggests he was lucky during the stretch. That said, his xFIP over the last two starts was below 4.00, which is a good trend.
Then there’s Jameson Taillon, who added a slider in mid-May, and started throwing the pitch a lot in his May 27th start. In his four most recent starts, beginning with that May 27th start, Taillon has thrown his breaking stuff 44.3% of the time, while significantly dropping the usage of his sinker. His results during that stretch have been a 2.73 ERA and a 3.32 xFIP.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that all of this started right after Joe Musgrove joined the staff on May 25th. Musgrove has thrown a fastball 49.6% of the time, while throwing his breaking stuff 35.7% of the time. He also throws his changeup 14.8% of the time. Musgrove has posted a 2.16 ERA and a 3.82 xFIP in his four starts with the Pirates.
This trend hasn’t reached Ivan Nova or Trevor Williams, who are both still using their fastballs over 70% of the time. The bullpen is also largely throwing fastballs over 60% of the time, although Edgar Santana has started throwing his slider a lot more in recent weeks, while lowering his fastball usage below 60%.
The Pirates are seeing encouraging results from their top three starters with this new approach. It shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s an approach that was working for the Astros. They saw two of their former pitchers go on to have better results with Houston under this approach. And when you look at the core idea of the approach — throw your best pitches more often — it’s easy to see why it would work.
The problem over the last month has been more about the offense and the late inning guys in the bullpen than the rotation. The problems with those groups aren’t going to continue at their current levels, and when they rebound from the recent slumps, they will help boost a new approach from the key members of the rotation, which will only help the Pirates as a team moving forward.
And perhaps some of the other pitchers will notice the success that Taillon, Kuhl, and Musgrove are having, and will change their approach as well.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 6-2 over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday afternoon. They will now send Joe Musgrove to the mound for his fifth start. He allowed two runs over six innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks in his last start. The Reds scheduled starter is right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, who has a 5.40 ERA in ten innings, with 11 strikeouts and a 1.90 WHIP. He gave up two runs on ten hits in five innings against the St Louis Cardinals in his last start.
The minor league schedule includes Eduardo Vera getting his fourth start for Altoona. He went seven innings in each of his first three starts since being promoted from High-A. He has gone at least six innings in each of his last 11 starts. Indianapolis starter JT Brubaker has a 2.49 season ERA between Altoona and Triple-A, with 61 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. Fourth round draft pick Aaron Shortridge makes his pro debut for Morgantown. West Virginia starter Gavin Wallace has walked two batters in his last 31 innings. Bradenton is on their All-Star break. The DSL Pirates have off on Sundays.
MLB: Pittsburgh (35-35) vs Reds (25-45) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Joe Musgrove (2.16 ERA, 23:5 SO/BB, 25.0 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (35-31) @ Columbus (34-32) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: JT Brubaker (3.13 ERA, 26:22 SO/BB, 37.1 IP)
AA: Altoona (34-28) vs New Hampshire (39-28) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (2.57 ERA, 13:1 SO/BB, 21.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (33-29) vs Clearwater (31-34) 6:30 PM 6/18 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (37-28) vs Delmarva (34-32) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Gavin Wallace (3.49 ERA, 37:8 SO/BB, 56.2 IP)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (0-2) @ Mahoning Valley (2-0) 4:05 PM
Probable starter: Aaron Shortridge (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
DSL: Pirates1 (6-7) vs Dodgers Guerrero 10:30 AM 6/18 (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (4-9) vs Tigers2 10:30 AM 6/18 (season preview)
From Nick Kingham’s near perfect performance on Thursday night, his last strikeout of the game.
6/16: Tyler Eppler placed on Temporary Inactive List.
6/15: Jung Ho Kang assigned to Indianapolis.
6/15: Pirates sign Travis Swaggerty
6/14: Pirates release Luis Cadet and Jess Amedee.
6/14: Pirates sign Antonio Gonzalez.
6/13: Pirates sign Enrique Santana, Bladimir Susana and Domingo Gonzalez.
6/13: Pirates sign nine draft picks.
6/13: Oddy Nunez activated from the disabled list. Jess Amedee assigned to Bristol.
6/12: Jerrick Suiter placed on Indianapolis disabled list.
6/12: Pirates sign three draft picks.
6/12: Enny Romero assigned to Bradenton on rehab
6/11: Pirates sign seven draft picks.
6/11: Jung Ho Kang assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
6/10: Ivan Nova activated from the DL. Nick Kingham optioned to Indianapolis.
6/10: Jacob Stallings recalled from Indianapolis. Adam Frazier optioned to Indianapolis.
6/9: Jackson Williams added to Indianapolis roster.
6/8: Richard Rodriguez placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas.
6/8: Mason Martin assigned to Bristol. Jesse Medrano assigned to West Virginia.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one of the best hitters ever. Before we get into the players, there is one trade of note. Two days after the Pirates traded away Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin in 1892, they traded away the player they got in return for him. Cub Stricker was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles for pitcher Adonis Terry. Stricker never even played for the Pirates, but he was a valuable trade piece, as it brought Terry to replace Galvin in the rotation. The new pitcher won 18 games and put in 240 innings the rest of the season.
The players born on this date include pitcher Bennie Daniels, who was a member of the 1960 World Series champs. He started his time with the Pirates in 1957 and played four seasons with the club. Also we have Joe Bowman, who put in five seasons in Pittsburgh from 1937-41, and Zeb Terry, who played shortstop for the team in 1919.
Finally, we have Pete Browning, an outfielder for the team in 1891 and the man who is known as the original Louisville Slugger. Browning hit .341 during his career, collecting 1,646 hits in only 1,183 games. He won three batting titles during his career, including the only one in the Player’s League, which was a league loaded with talent, that only existed during the 1890 season.