Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates Bullpen Not Befitting a Contender

For the third time this week the Pirates bullpen was beaten late. Earlier in the week Justin Wilson and Ernesto Frieri gave up walk-off home runs to the Cardinals in back to back games. Those were jarring losses, but nothing compared to last night’s melt down that saw the Pirates blow a 5-1 lead against the Reds. The Bucs were seemingly in control with just 8 outs to go when Pedro Alvarez airmailed yet another throw into the stands and gave the Reds some life. Tony Watson came on in the 8th inning to hold a 5-3 lead. For the first time in a very long while Watson came up short. The Reds rallied for 3 runs and the Pirates were stung with yet another loss due to a bullpen implosion. This game marked the 15th blown save for the Pirates’ bullpen this season. That matches the total from the entire 2013 season.
So what is wrong with the bullpen this year? To some degree this was expected. Just about everyone believed the Pirates were due for some serious regression with their bullpen this season. Bullpens are notoriously volatile and the Pirates’ 2013 relief corps pitched over their heads. They were going to fall back to earth. The hope was they could at least make a soft landing, but no, they’ve crashed and burned. But regression and bad luck are not the only culprits. In fact they provide an excuse for the other problems that are wrong with this staff. It is time to question the roster management of the bullpen. Entering the season Jason Grilli and Bryan Morris were being tabbed for prominent roles in the bullpen. They faltered and were jettisoned in trades. Addition by subtraction many would call those deals. The only “help” coming back in those trades was Ernesto Frieri. Frieri has been a disaster since donning his Pirate uniform. The team has openly talked about mechanical adjustments Frieri needs to make. Plain and simple, he is a project. That really isn’t something a contender should be wasting time with. They need options in the bullpen that the manager can trust. It is hard to justify carrying one relief pitcher on the major league roster that is a project, but the Pirates have actually allocated another roster spot all season to a pitcher that is a work in progress. That would be the seldom used Stolmy Pimentel. Pimentel was activated from the disabled list on June 11th. Since then he has appeared in just five games and none of those five games was the score close. Twice he entered games with the Pirates leading by at least 5 runs. The three other games he pitched since returned from the DL the entered with the Pirates trailing by at least 3 runs. Clint Hurdle won’t even let Pimentel sniff a leverage situation. He has basically been treated like a Rule 5 draft selection. He is on the roster not because he can help the club, but because the team wants to retain his rights.
The Pirates simply cannot continue to carry two pitchers in their bullpen that are projects. They need arms that can help bolster what has been the achilles heel of the 2014 team. The sad part is they actually have an internal option that they are refusing to turn to. Vin Mazzaro is currently toiling at AAA Indianapolis with a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 innings this season. I know Mazzaro is not a great pitcher, but he did well for the Pirates in 2013 posting a 2.81 ERA, and Hurdle trusted him enough to pitch him in far higher leverage situations than what he has been willing to use Pimentel in this season. In 35 of Mazzaro’s 57 outings last season the score was within 2 runs. If the Pirates were serious about carrying the best 25 players then Vin Mazzaro would be on the staff and Frieri or Pimentel would be out. This Pirates bullpen as currently constructed is not befitting of a contending team. A contender needs more than three reliable bullpen options, and it can’t be wasting spots on two pitchers that should not be trusted outside of mop up work. It is time for GM Neal Huntington to address the bullpen before it is too late.

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