Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen was quietly among the best in baseball. They ranked ninth with a 3.28 ERA, and were better than the vaunted Kansas City Royals bullpen. The trio of Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes were almost as dominant as the Royals own bullpen Cerberus, making entering the seventh inning with a lead to be a virtual guarantee for a victory.
However, it may be foolhardy to expect such a performance from Melancon, Watson and Hughes next year. While Melancon certainly looks like a truly dominant closer, there my be question marks elsewhere in the bullpen. Watson appeared in a National League high 78 games last season, and while he did not display any signs of wearing down, that usage could be a concern.
Hughes, meanwhile, may have produced far better numbers than he should have. While Hughes posted a 1.96 ERA and a 1.088 WHiP, his Fielding Independent Pitching predicted an ERA of 3.99. Hughes is also a year removed from posting a 4.78 ERA and a 1.656 WHiP, leading to a 19 game stint in the minors.
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With that possibly being the case, the Pittsburgh Pirates will need to find a reliever to step up. While the Pirates should be able to depend on Mark Melancon and Tony Watson next season, they may need to find someone for the seventh inning. Someone in the Pirates middle relief corps will need to step to ensure the bullpen does not have a misstep from last year.
Perhaps the two best bets for the Pittsburgh Pirates to step in should Hughes implode would be Antonio Bastardo and Stolmy Pimental. Bastardo has had an interesting tendency to struggle in even numbered seasons, posting an ERA around the 4.00 range in 2010, 2012 and 2014. However, in odd numbered seasons, he has been quite effective, posting a 2.64 ERA in 2011 and a 2.32 ERA in 2013. This is an odd numbered year, so hopefully that trend will continue.
Pimental did not exactly impress during his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, posting a 5.23 ERA and a 1.531 WHiP in his 32.2 innings of work. He also struggled in the minors, making relying on Pimental seem to be nothing more than a wish and a prayer. However, he has performed much better since the beginning of the 2013 season, and may become a viable reliever not that he had a season to get his feet wet in the majors.
There is no such thing as having too much bullpen depth. The Pittsburgh Pirates may be glad that they have such options if the back end of the bullpen begins to struggle.