The Looming Pittsburgh Pirates Bullpen Decision


Sep 12, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle (13) looks on against the Chicago Cubs during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates need to make a change, and it’s a big one.  Last year the bullpen was a strength, it’s a weakness right now.  The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen decision won’t be easy. The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen was the envy of the National League last season.  It nearly got them to the NLCS.  But that was last year, the Pirates bullpen is now reminiscent of teenage arsonists when they come into a game.

Bullpen changes will take some difficult conversations, some careful timing around Jason Grilli’s book signing schedule, a close look at the numbers and a team mentality.  But it’s a must do.

The Bucs continue to lead the league in EFL, or extremely frustrating losses.  The team has the talent and the mentality to get it done, but every three days it has a loss that is frustrating and rather easy to pinpoint.

It’s simply not enough to just shrug off the failures of the relief corps any longer.  Earlier in the season, Neal Huntington called the bullpen mortal after a season of being immortal.  It’s true, I guess, but the phrases can simply be replaced with average, or even below average now.

Last night was yet another Pirates textbook definition of a loss.  The team showed poor execution at the plate with runners on base, hideously ran into out-after-out on the base paths, and the same old bullpen inefficiency.

The hitting with runners has been a challenge all season, but is improving.  The base running is an easy fix, but it seems against Clint Hurdle’s style to do so.  The immediate solution is making some moves within the bullpen.  A change is never easy, but it’s needed for the Bucs.

Apr 6, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson (44) pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It will be interesting to see how it happens.  Right now, it’s apparent Tony Watson needs an expanded role out of the bullpen.  The Ice Man needs to face the biggest and baddest the opposition has on a nightly basis and Hurdle will need to piece meal the rest of the pen around Mark Melancon.  As you know, Vance Worley is out of options.  He would be a very interesting bullpen arm after the rotation returns from injuries.

On with the frustration from last night, the Pirates gave away an early run to Johnny Cueto and the Reds, but battled back to grab the lead behind Josh Harrison’s big offensive game.

Brandon Cumpton repeatedly looked like he was nearly ready to collapse on the mound, but he kept getting out of jams and kept the Pirates in the game, until the bullpen collapsed once again.

Justin Wilson has an ERA of two touchdowns in the month, and his xFIP on the season is now 4.07.  (Velocity Pitch fx Fangraphs) Billy Hamilton got the Reds party started with a two strike bunt single, and two hits later, it appeared like the Reds had put the game out of reach.     Wilson is having a really rought month.

But the Bucs rallied back to tie the game.

Mark Melancon looked strong in his inning of work, saving the Shark Tank a complete failure on the evening.  Clint Hurdle went to his closer to keep the game tied in the top of the ninth and it failed again.  Jason Grilli fell behind two balls and no strikes to Todd Frazier–he gave in and threw a fastball.


I think the failure to get ahead in the counts, more than anything has lead to Grilli’s decline–and jump in home runs allowed in 2014.

So anyway, the Reds had grabbed a 6-5 lead.

But the Pirates still had an opportunity in the bottom of the ninth against Aroldis Chapman.  The hero was nearly Clint Barmes who crushed a ball to the wall.

Nearly the hero.

The team nearly knocked out Johnny Cueto who seemed to throw 150 pitches, but couldn’t because the Bucs were just 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.


Nearly just isn’t good enough.  It’s time for changes.