Article By: Jim Falbo | @BuccoSharkTank
For my first series of articles I will do a brief position by position analysis of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Francisco Liriano was named the team’s opening day starter. He was signed last off season as a reclamation project, and the results were outstanding. Liriano improved his command, increased his groundball rate, limited home runs, and was the Pirates best starting pitcher throughout most of 2014. Liriano’s strong 2.92 FIP and 3.12 xFIP suggest that his successful 2013 was sustainable .
2013 stats 162 IN, 3.02 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.11K/9, 3.52 BB/9, 50.5GB%, 3.0 WAR
Gerrit Cole capped off his impressive rookie campaign by pitching like an ace during the stretch, going 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA, with a 1.06 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 over his final 5 starts. The key to the increased strikeouts and performance was Cole’s ability to use his wipe-out hard slider, curveball, and occasional change-up as to compliment his plus-plus fastball as out pitches. If Cole continues to improve, he could be the Ace of the staff by mid season.
2013 stats 117.1 IN, 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.67 K/9, 2.15 BB/9, 49.1 GB%, 1.3 WAR
Charlie Morton rebounded from 2012 Tommy John surgery, to become a stalwart in the Pirates rotation. Morton was able to use his “electric stuff” to induce batters into a MLB leading 62.9 GB% among P’s who threw 100+ innings. Morton struggles with LH hitters as they battered him for a .314/.427/.422 line, whereas he neutralized RH hitters at a .222/.263/.286 clip. If he develops a way to get LH hitters out, he could see even more improvement in 2014. Altogether, Charlie should thrive on the mound as the Pirates continue to deploy their innovative infield shifts.
2013 stats 116 IN, 3.26 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.59 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 62.9 GB%, 0.5 WAR
Wandy Rodriguez was having his usual solid year for the Pirates in 2013, when elbow soreness knocked him out after just four batter in a June start. The soreness was later diagnosed as arthritis, and Wandy missed the rest of the year. If Wandy can pitch without elbow discomfort, he will provide a solid anchor in the rotation as he averaged 199 IN/yr of above average performance from 2009-2012. It’s worth noting that the Pirates plan to expand their innovative defensive shifts to the OF, if this is successful Wandy stand to gain the most, as he’s the biggest FB pitcher in the rotation.
2013 stats 62.2 IN, 3.59 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 6.62 K/9, 1.72 BB/9, 42.3 GB%, 0.2 WAR
Edison Volquez was probably the most divisive acquisition among fans by the Pirates this off-season. In 2013 he led the NL in ER (108) and posted the highest ERA (5.71) of all of the 81 SP’s who qualified for the MLB ERA title. So why in the world did we sign him for $5 million? The advanced metrics point that Volquez was much better than his traditional stats indicated. He posted a 4.12 FIP and a 4.07 xFIP, much closer to a lg average performance than to lg worst. So why the huge discrepancy? Bad luck seems to be the answer, his .325 BABIP (4th worst in MLB) was unsustainably higher than the 2013 MLB average of just under .297, also his LOB% was unsustainably low at 64.5%, (2nd worst in MLB) whereas the lg norm in 2013 was 73.5%. So what does all that tell us? Due to the extreme BABIP and strand rate, he is an excellent candidate to regress to the lg norms, and be at least lg average in 2014; that’s a huge plus out of the #5 spot. Also to be noted, is that according yo his PitchFX, he has changed his pitching approach. He now attacks hitters with a 2-seam fastball, trying to induce ground-ball outs, whereas before he tried to overpower hitters with his 4-seam fastball. This willingness to adapt also appealed to the Pirates, I suspect Ray Searage will help Volquez redirect his career, although expectations should be tempered by his unsightly career 4.8 BB/9.
2013 stats 170.1 IN, 5.71 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 7.5 K /9, 4.07 BB/9, 47.6 GB%, -2.4 WAR
Jeff Locke represents the one of the greatest assets in the system, rotation depth. At some point he WILL be needed in Pittsburgh, but barring injury, will likely break camp with Indianapolis. When Locke gets back to the MLB, he needs to be more aggressive in the strike zone, too often he was passive and fell behind in the count, leading to a high BB/9 rate (4.5) high early pitch counts, and short outings. Locke led the NL in BB, issuing 84, if he can approach his career minor lg BB/9 rate of 2.5 he can develop into an effective back of the rotation pitcher. Despite his high walk ratio, his 4.03 FIP and 4.19 xFIP confirm that he was effective as the 5th starter in 2013. Those same numbers suggest that expecting another season with a 3.52 ERA would be a stretch, as his .278 BABIP should regress to the lg mean.
2013 stats 166.1 IN, 3.52 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 6.76 K/9, 4.55 BB/9, 53.2 GB%, 1.1 WAR
Depth options for 2014: Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, Phil Irwin, Jeanmar Gomez, Stolmy Pimentel, maybe Nick Kingham, Casey Sadler…and eventually Jameson Taillon!