The Powerful Perplexing Pitching Puzzle of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Brad Lincoln. Trendsetter.

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff has done very well in 2012.  It’s been a big reason the Pirates have a winning record.

Pitching coach Ray Searage deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround of the pitching staff.  The Pirates have made some agressive moves in acquiring some talent that had the skills, but needed some type of help of one kind or another.

AJ Burnett needed a scenery change.  James McDonald needed someone to believe in him.  Nobody wanted Erik Bedard except the Buccos.  All of the stories you’ve heard before.

The puzzle that has been created is interesting.  One could even say its the envy of many teams in MLB.  Why couldn’t the Yankees make it click for A.J. ? The Dodgers would love to have JMac back.  Why didn’t the Red Sox just keep Bedard?

But there is one burning question we have had for a considerable time.  No, it’s not whether the staff will run out of gas like it did last year.

It’s this:  When will first-round pick Brad Lincoln start throwing a third pitch more consistently?  Going into the start on Sunday, we were really curious why Brad Lincoln wasn’t relying… wasn’t trusting his changeup.  Here is what we wrote:

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Maybe it’s that Lincoln doesn’t trust his changeup?  We’ve heard that comment when talking with some Bucs executives in the past.  We always trusted that the changeup was coming into shape for Lincoln, but he simply wasn’t trusting it.

But let’s not get confused as some people did on twitter.  It’s not like he hasn’t relied on the changeup in the past:

Look back at September 12 last season – the Bucs got a 6-5 victory.  Guess what pitch he threw most after his fastball?   You guessed it the changeup.

The outing wasn’t perfect.  He allowed eight hits in 5.1 innings.  But he gave the team a chance to win by getting three whiffs and six sniffs on his changeup which he threw 17 times.  Ten of the 17 were strikes!  Lincoln also mixed in 16 curveballs.

Look back at September 24 last season -  the Bucs grabbed a 5-1 victory over the Reds in that game as well.  Lincoln mixed in nine changeups in that game.

Again, the outing wasn’t perfect as Lincoln walked four, but he also struckout four and gave up just two runs.  He fired nine changeups.  Eight were strikes getting six whiffs along the way.

If Brad Lincoln is going to have success as a starter, he must throw a variety of pitches with good location.  We all know that fact.  But we found it ridiculous he got the start and relied on just two pitches for the first place Pirates.

It’s obvious to us that Lincoln doesn’t like throwing his changeup; he’s only thrown a handful of them this season–about 2%.  We get why–he loves his curveball.  But why – when the Bucs brass knows all of these facts about Lincoln – would he be allowed to make starts for the club?   We trust Lincoln can figure it out, but we all realize that he shouldn’t be doing it in the starting rotation.  He should do it in the bullpen.

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So Lincoln goes out on Sunday and makes a solid start, even flirts with a no-hitter for a bit against the Detroit Tigers.  He gives up a bomb to Melky for the only run allowed in the game and gives up just two hits.

For all that, Lincoln is rewarded with a spot in the bullpen.

Jeff Karstens comes out and gets beat harder than a zombie on The Walking Dead by the Phillies (and thanks to some help from shoddy fielding by his teammates.)   So, the rotation now includes Karstens and Kevin Correia, who has been doing his damnedest to keep his spot.

The strong start from Lincoln firmly puts pressure on both Karstens and Correia to prove they deserve to hang onto a spot.  The strong opening to the season by starters in AAA also adds pressure, although it seems unlikely to have an immediate impact on either Karstens or Correia.

The pitching is a tough puzzle for us, sort of like the ones with all the tree leaves on it your Mom used to work on.

The Pirates have great options that look like they might fit in the puzzle -Lincoln, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson – hell, anyone in that AAA starting staff looks like they could fit at the big league level.  The Pirates staff has strong anchoring corners like A.J. Burnett and James McDonald, but how long can they be this strong?   How long will the Bucs go without getting a win on the road when Bedard starts?

March 24, 2012; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) talks with starting pitcher James McDonald (53) after he pitched seven innings against the Houston Astros at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

 

It’s really hard to believe the dynamic duo of McDonald/Burnett will hold up at this level for the remainder of the season.   But consider this: did you really think Bedard would make it to his 15th start?  The Pirates don’t typically get such luck.  Bedard made 15 starts in all of 2009.  Bedard made 15 starts in all of 2008.

The more we consider the puzzle,  Brad Lincoln might be a key piece.  Ray Searage was on 93.7 The Fan this morning (links below) and said he threw the changeup more in his outing on Sunday.  It’s true.  Lincoln threw seven changeups.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it about doubles the number he threw all season.

Just look at the results….six of those changeups went for strikes.  Lincoln looked like a different pitcher with the changeup.  Maybe someone will make him work on it more while he is in the pen.

It’s hard to finish the puzzle right now.  But we are willing to bet the current rotation of Bedard, McDonald, Burnett, Correia, and Karstens won’t be the rotation at the end of the season.

March 5, 2012; Sarasota, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Justin Wilson (61) throws in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. The Pirates defeated the Orioles 10 - 3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

We would love to see Justin Wilson and his strong whiffabililty in the rotation.  He has struck out 81 batters in 80.2 innings in AAA.  Currently, he still needs to improve in getting right handed batters, as they have caused the most  damage against the lefty.

Of course, Rudy Owens could be up here at anytime.  A couple veteran pitchers to consider might be Reyes and VandenHurk.

Reyes is battling back from an injury, but VandenHurk has been a project for the organization.  Neal Huntington mentioned the fact that several people in the organization have wanted to get VandenHurk on the squad.  The Bucs GM said some adjustments have been made and it has been a success for the 6’5″ right hander.

Everywhere you look the Pirates have some pitching options to fit into the puzzle.  It’s obvious the Bucs pitching is a strength for the team.

It will be very interesting to see what arms get moved for the offense as the trade deadline approaches.

Ray Searage interview.

Topics: Pirates Photoshops, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Pirates Blogs

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