I believe that Nick Kingham should still be in the majors right now.
The rookie pitcher has made six starts with a 3.82 ERA and a 3.91 xFIP. Part of that is due to the gem that he pitched in his first start. If you remove that, he’s got numbers closer to league average and the decision to send him down yesterday is a bit more justified.
But I’m looking just at that gem, as well as Kingham’s most recent start, when I say that he should still be up.
I’ve been pointing out a lot this year that the Pirates should be following the strategy of the Astros pitchers. That strategy typically leads to throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking stuff. However, it seems to be as simple as throwing your best pitches more often.
Kingham’s best pitch is his changeup. It has a .356 OPS and a 24.4% whiff rate. His four seam fastball has been effective, with a .613 OPS, but it hasn’t been a swing and miss pitch. His slider has been a swing and miss pitch, with a .680 OPS and a 24.5% whiff rate.
The best approach for Kingham would be an approach where he throws his slider and changeup more often. He threw his slider 32.7% of the time in his debut, while throwing his changeup 4.1% of the time. However, he reduced the usage of the secondary pitches in his following starts, throwing more fastballs, including about 20% sinkers in a lot of starts, with his sinker being neither an effective pitch (.830 OPS) nor a whiff pitch (8.6%).
In his final start, he took a different approach. He threw 25% changeups, 16% sliders, and dropped his combined fastball usage to 48.5%. It was only the second game where he threw fewer than 60% fastballs. It was also his second best start, with the debut being the best start and the other game with reduced fastball usage.
Kingham relied on his changeup and slider 41% of the time, while using the curveball 9% of the time — with the curve also being a good pitch in a small sample size in the majors. The result on the field was two runs in 6.1 innings on four hits, with two walks and five strikeouts.
The Pirates sent Kingham down yesterday to make room in the rotation for Ivan Nova. And it’s not a bad thing to have Nova in the rotation. His ERA is low, but his xFIP ties Jameson Taillon for best on the staff, and his FIP ranks fourth when you include Kingham.
Other than an injury, I feel that Kingham’s best path back to the majors will be when the Pirates make a move with Trevor Williams. That move is going to be difficult for them to make, considering the history from Williams.
He pitched last year in the rotation and had a 4.07 ERA and a 4.49 xFIP. Williams has numbers that are similar this year, but that hasn’t told the whole story.
Williams started off with a 2.29 ERA and a 5.04 xFIP that showed potential regression. That was due to a very low HR/FB rate, a low BABIP, and a high strand rate. Since the start of May he has a 6.06 ERA and a 4.32 xFIP. He actually is due to some regression the other way, but the end result has him around a league average pitcher.
I think that is where Williams ends up, and if I’m putting together a starting rotation right now, I’d have him sixth, with Kingham joining Nova, Taillon, Joe Musgrove, and Chad Kuhl in the starting five.
But Kingham only has six starts, and Williams has come up big for the Pirates in the past. He provided them a reliable starter last year when most of the rotation was struggling. He was one of the best pitchers the first month of the season by the results. And his numbers have fallen since then, to the point where he’s now better than he has been pitching lately. So it’s understandably tough for the Pirates to move him out of the rotation right away.
That means Kingham will have to wait for the next injury, or for the Pirates to move on from one of their starters. My feeling is that Williams should be the guy moved to the bullpen, providing that first option as rotation depth. But the Pirates will probably give him more time to prove he’s better than his numbers over the last five weeks before making a decision like that.
Bradenton is in third place in their division, 5.5 games behind the leader with seven games remaining in the first half.
West Virginia is in fourth place in their division, 5.5 games behind the leader with seven games remaining in the first half.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 7-1 over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates now travel to Arizona for three games, where they will send Joe Musgrove to the mound for his fourth start. He allowed three runs over five innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his last start. The Diamondbacks scheduled starter is left-hander Patrick Corbin, who has a 2.87 ERA in 81.2 innings, with 105 strikeouts and an 0.94 WHIP. He gave up one run over 6.1 innings against the San Francisco Giants in his last start.
The minor league schedule includes Adam Oller starting for Bradenton. He made his first start of the season last week after Cam Vieaux was promoted. Oller tossed five shutout innings on just 61 pitches. Indianapolis starter Alex McRae has 51 strikeouts and a 1.50 GO/AO ratio in 56 innings, though he also has the fourth highest walk total in the International League and his 1.68 WHIP is the 37th highest among 39 qualified starters in the league. West Virginia hasn’t named their starter, which has been going on for too long now. It could be Ike Schlabach if they leave him in the rotation after he threw five shutout innings last week in a spot start. Altoona has off today.
MLB: Pittsburgh (32-33) @ Diamondbacks (35-29) 9:40 PM
Probable starter: Joe Musgrove (1.89 ERA, 17:5 SO/BB, 19.0 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (32-28) vs Toledo (37-23) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex McRae (4.82 ERA, 51:29 SO/BB, 56.0 IP)
AA: Altoona (29-28) @ Binghamton (34-28) 6:35 PM 6/12 (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (1.93 ERA, 8:1 SO/BB, 14.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (31-27) @ Florida (26-33) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Adam Oller (1.69 ERA, 15:5 SO/BB, 16.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (31-28) @ Augusta (35-26) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
DSL: Pirates1 (3-4) vs Red Sox2 10:30 AM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (1-6) vs Royals2 10:30 AM (season preview)
From Indianapolis, Jose Osuna rips an RBI single
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.
6/6: Samuel Reyes added to West Virginia roster. Evan Piechota promoted to Bradenton.
6/6: Eric Wood placed on disabled list. Jerrick Suiter added to Indianapolis roster.
6/6: Cam Vieaux promoted to Altoona. Jake Brentz assigned to Bradenton.
6/6: Oddy Nunez placed on disabled list.
6/5: Yoel Gonzalez released.
6/5: John Bormann added to West Virginia roster.
6/4: Pirates released Andrew Walker and Linse Carvajal.
6/3: Cam Vieaux promoted to Altoona. Garrett Brown added to Bradenton roster.
6/3: Austin Coley placed on disabled list.
6/2: Tyler Gaffney promoted to Altoona. Mitchell Tolman assigned to Bradenton.
6/2: Reymundo Pena released.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, two played significant roles with the team and one played a significant role for the team. Starting with second baseman Dave Cash, who played for the Pirates from 1969 until 1973. The Pirates signed him as a fifth round draft pick out of high school in 1966 and it didn’t take long for him to make it to the big leagues. During the championship season of 1971, he played 123 games, which was his high while with Pittsburgh. Cash hit .289 during the regular season, then had a .421 average during the NLCS. He struggled during the World Series, going 4-for-30, but the Pirates won it in seven games over the Orioles. After the 1973 season, he was traded to the Phillies for pitcher Ken Brett. Cash ended up making the All-Star team three straight years in Philadelphia.
Also born on this date was outfielder Frank Thomas, who played for the Pirates from 1951 until 1958. He hit .275 with the Pirates, belting 163 homers and driving in 562 runs in 925 games. His home run total ranks eighth in team history. Thomas was part of a big trade that helped the Pirates win the 1960 World Series. In 1959, he was dealt to the Reds in a trade that brought back Smoky Burgess, Don Hoak and Harvey Haddix. During the 1958 season, he finished fourth in the MVP voting and made his third All-Star team.
A late addition to the former players born on this date, infielder Brock Holt, who played for the 2012 Pirates before being sent to the Red Sox in the Joel Hanrahan/Mark Melancon deal. He isn’t included in the link above, which was written before he made the majors, but I’m pretty sure you know who he is anyway. He made the All-Star team as a utility player in 2015, but a concussion in 2016 has sidetracked his career. He seems to be doing well in limited time this season, so that’s good news for him.