2012 Pittsburgh Pirates—Who Is in the Pen?
By Joe Luchok
The use of bullpens may have changed more than any part of baseball in the past 50 years. The 1960 Pirates had only two relievers who pitched in more than 27 games. Roy Face with 68 and Fred Green with 45. Joe Gibbon pitched 27 games and the next highest was Jim Umbricht with 17. Last season the Pirates had Joel Hanrahan with 70, Daniel McCutchen with 73, Jose Veras with 79, and Chris Resop with 76. Tony Watson, who did not come up until June, pitched in 43 games.
When I wrote about the bench I thought they might take 11 pitchers north but the latest I hear is it may be 12. That would remove a bench position and would probably send Matt Hague to Indy.
The Pirates have more starting pitchers than they need. It seems pretty certain Burnett, Bedard, McDonald, and Morton will be in the rotation. The other three starters are Karstens, Correia, and Lincoln. All seven are could make the team with a couple of them pitching out of the pen. Lincoln is the only one who is not a lock to go north.
The Pirates have 26 other pitchers in camp and Hanrahan, Grilli, and Resop are near locks. That leaves 23 pitchers for two spots. First lets knockout the ones with little chance to go north: Locke, Morris, Welker, McPherson, Owens, Wilson, and Cole. That brings us down to 16 for two spots. Now let’s look at the rest. Several have experience with the Pirates.
Daniel McCutchen was the long reliever last season and used heavily He pitched pretty well but lacks the pitches to be a late inning reliever. Last season he threw the most innings out of the pen. He has two options left so he could be sent to Indy.
Evan Meek looked like a potential closer after the 2010 season but injuries derailed him last season. Spring is his time to prove he can still pitch like he did in 2010. Meek has two options left so he could be sent to Indy.
Chris Leroux had excellent stats in limited work last season with 24 strikeouts in 25 innings and an ERA of 2.88. Leroux has no options so Pirates would have to put him on waivers to send him down.
Tony Watson was used frequently after he came up and he had some good outings and some bad outings. Working for him is that he is a lefty but working against him is that he has three options left.
Daniel Moskos should change his name to Much Maligned as he will be forever linked to Matt Weiters. Of course Moskos had nothing to do with being drafted so high. Moskos only has 59 innings in AAA and his first try there in 2010 was a disaster. He threw 24 innings with the Pirates last season with an ERA of 2.96 but he gave up 29 hits in 24 innings. He is a lefty but most likely will start the season at Indy.
Jared Hughes was a starter until last season when the Pirates moved him to the pen in Indy where he did well and came up to Pittsburgh in September. If he makes the team he could replace McCutchen.
That brings us to last 10, mostly free agent signings:
Juan Cruz has 11 seasons in the majors. Last season had 3.88 ERA in 46 innings with Tampa Bay. He would have to excel in the spring to make the team.
Doug Slaten has six years in the majors and has pitched well at times. He has a 3.60 ERA over 137 innings. He is a lefty and a good spring could give him a shot at going north.
Brian Tallet has nine years in the majors and his stats are not as good as Slaten’s. He is a lefty but would have to outperform Slaten to have a chance to go north.
Daniel Cabrera has six seasons in the majors with a career ERA of 5.10. He is a righty and a big longshot to make the team.
Michael Crotta was the surprise out of spring training last year as he went north the team. He started well, then was hit hard, then injured in May. He’s not likely to repeat his spring training surprise.
Ryota Igarashi has one very good stat, 67 strikeouts in 69 major league innings. As a righty he is a longshot to make the team.
Logan Kensing is another pitcher with good strikeout numbers and not much else. He would have to excel in the spring to have a shot at making the team. As I was writing this I got word that Kensing was injured in his first bullpen session, making it even less likely he will make the team.
Shairon Martis is a starting pitcher with below average stats in 2 major league seasons. The Pirates are very unlikely to have a spot for him.
Jo-Jo Reyes is a starting pitcher with career record of 12-26 and a career ERA over six. As with Martis , there is no place for him on the team.
Tim Wood was resigned by the Pirates in November and is probably headed to Indy.
Even with all the pitchers who have little chance to make the team the Pirates will have some difficult choices to make. Some of the choices will work themselves out in the spring. With pitchers already going down on other teams, there is also enough depth to make a trade, either one of the excess starters or a reliever like Leroux.
Clint Hurdle has stated he would like to have two left handers in the pen and is very likely to take at least one. That decision should come down to Watson or Slaten.
If Evan Meek shows he is back to form he is likely to take the remaining spot in the pen.
If no trades take place I see the 7 man pen as Hanrahan, Grilli, Resop, one of the excess starters, Watson or Slaten, Leroux, and Meek. They could go as they did last season and start with no lefties in the pen but that seems unlikely. Injuries and trades could alter this, as could poor performance in the spring. Since Brad Lincoln has an option left there is good chance he will start the season at Indy.
The change in bullpen use over the past half century makes having good arms there more important than ever. Closers rarely go more than one inning and rarely pitch more than a couple of days in row. As Bob Lemon, former player and manager, said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the two most important things in life are good friends and a good bullpen.”