One of the biggest factors in the success of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates was the depth of their starting pitching. Despite losing Wandy Rodriguez for most of the season and A.J. Burnett for a month in the middle of the year, the Pirates continued to get solid starting pitching all season long. The Bucs sent twelve different starting pitchers to the hill in 2013. Few teams can boast that kind of depth. The Pirates look nearly as deep in 2014. Their second tier of starting pitchers might be the best in baseball. The five guys that start the season in the rotation at AAA Indianapolis are arguably better than a handful of major league rotations.
How much depth are we talking about? Let’s take a look at some of that depth. Unless Rodriguez is unable to start the season, Jeff Locke will probably be sent to Indy to begin the year. Locke had a sensational first half of 2013 and even earned an all-star berth. He struggled in the second half, but there is no question that he is a major league caliber pitcher. Brandon Cumpton made five spot starts with the Bucs last season. He posted a 2.05 ERA in 30.2 innings in the majors. Phil Irwin missed most of last season with an injury. Now he is healthy, and he too has made a spot start in Pittsburgh. The other likely starting pitchers for the Bucs’ AAA affiliate are highly rated prospects Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham. Taillon made the jump to AAA at the end of last season and acquitted himself well in half a dozen starts. He should be fully baked and ready for the majors by July. And this is just the depth the Pirates have stashed in the minors. In the bullpen long relievers Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel are options to be spot starters. Gomez started eight games for the Bucs last season. The 24 year old Pimentel has been a starter throughout his minor league career.
So the Bucs have many capable arms for when a pitcher from the five man rotation goes down. Notice I said “when” and not “if”. It is a near certainty that all this starting pitch depth will be tested again this season. The one real area of concern with this staff is durability. Only one starter on the team has ever thrown 200 innings in a season. Guess which one?
Because the only pitcher on the Pirates squad that has ever posted 200 IP in a big league season is Wandy.
— Rich (@shamtown) February 27, 2014
I don’t have a lot of confidence that 35 year old Wandy Rodriguez coming off an elbow injury is going to get anywhere close to 200 innings. And the other veterans on the staff don’t inspire much confidence to get near that mark either. Here are the three year averages of innings by the veteran starters in the rotation.
|Edinson Volquez||154 Inn|
|Francisco Liriano||150.2 Inn|
|Charlie Morton||112.2 Inn|
|Wandy Rodriguez||153 Inn|
The only starter that appears to be durable and capable of going deep into games is Gerrit Cole. But at this early stage in his career it is doubtful the Pirates will ride him much beyond the 185 innings he pitched between Indy and Pittsburgh last season. Even if Cole does get to 200 innings the rest of the starters are going to fall well short of the work load needed to give the Pirates sufficient innings for the season. Last year the Pirates’ starting pitchers threw just 925 innings. That is less than 6 innings per game. They really need 30 or 40 more innings from their starting pitching this year to keep the bullpen fresh. So 960 innings is a good target. The five pitchers projected to make the rotation out of camp are probably going to fall in the vicinity of 200 innings short. That is if things go reasonably well. Given the track record Volquez, Morton, Rodriguez, and Liriano I believe reasonably well is a lofty expectation. However, the Pirates do have the arms in reserve to weather the storm. At least we think so.