The Pirates Starting Rotation: Is This Really It?

jbdemers
Aug 16, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 16, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /
facebooktwitterreddit

The Pirates rotation behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano is looking pretty thin.  Fans are scratching their heads.  The 3-4 & 5 guy triple threat of Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jeff Locke, as Stephen J. Nesbitt at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently wrote are unlikely to “scare anybody“.

Even a cursory look at their statistics from last year highlights part of the problem.  They were all double digit losers with respective earned run averages over four. Check it out:

Jon Niese, 9-10 for the New York Mets, 4.13 ERA
Ryan Vogelsong, 9-11  for the San Francisco Giants, 5.07 ERA
Jeff Locke, 8-11 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4.49 ERA

Not exactly confidence inspiring. Not surprisingly, the court of public opinion hasn’t been kind to the Pirates when it comes to starting pitching.  The loss of J.A. Happ hurt the team tremendously when he signed a 3 year, $36M deal with the Toronto Blue Jays back in November.  But why did Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington let him go?  Apparently, it was just an error in judgement.

Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington.Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington.Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Seemingly Huntington admitted the error yesterday to  Rob Biertempfel at the Tribune Review.  Sometime as the talks with Happ dead ended, Huntington had reached the conclusion that were “reports of there being a ton of starting pitching available”.  However, with Happ gone, Huntington found out “there’s never enough [starting pitching] to go around”.  Oops.  Goodbye Happ.  Hello Jon Niese.

But maybe the starting rotation isn’t quite set yet. RumBunter’s own Chris Kucharski gave us a nice breakdown of the free agent starting pitching still available.

What about top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon joining the rotation?

Waiting in the wings of the starting rotation are Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. It seems widely agreed upon that both of them will see major league service some time during the 2016 campaign.

Glasnow is not quite ready, according to reports.  He’s got control issues, even though his velocity has improved. At 6’8” the repeat-ability in his delivery is the root of his control issues.  Read the latest about Glasnow at Pirates Prospects.

Taillon was once thought ready for MLB back in 2014 but that season ended with him needing Tommy John surgery.  2015 brought a healed Taillon but then he was felled again by injury -this time requiring hernia surgery. Now, supposedly, 2016 will be his year.  We finally might get the chance to see that high 90s fastball, and nasty curveball that the prospect pundits have been raving about.

The same prospect pundits rate both Glasnow and Taillon as having “top of the rotation” potential. MLB Columnist Richard Justice had them both on his list of rookies who will impact the pennant race. But what will the future hold for them in 2016?  How much Vogelsong and Locke will happen before these guys see the daylight?

Locke, Niese and Vogelsong.

It’s hard to imagine that Jeff Locke’s downward spiral will continue.  Locke, once an all-star in 2013, has not benefited from the so-called magic touch of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage.   The southpaw is still only 28 years old. With Glasnow and Taillon, on the horizon and his 1 year contract in hand – this season should be the motivation Locke needs to not slip further.  Locke, conspicuous of his position on the bubble had this to say about his position in the rotation “There are some staples in there, and there are some question marks in there, too,” Locke said. “Once we get toward the end of camp, we’ll see how things fall out.”  as told to Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review.

Aug 16, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke. Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 16, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke. Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

Vogelsong put in time last year with the San Francisco Giants from both the bullpen and as a starter putting up a 4.76 ERA.  At age 38, he’s nearing the end. The Pirates are looking for the needle in haystick here: a turn around year from an aging pitcher.  You know A.J. Burnett style.  Vogelsong will get $2M base salary.

Niese, a 29 year old southpaw, has a career trajectory that doesn’t seem as downward.  He walks guys to the tune of 2.7 per 9 innings, but his ERA just two seasons ago with the Mets was a 3.40.  Niese landed $9.5 million for one year – with two option years.

It seems likely that J.A. Happ will be remembered as the one that got away for the Pirates.  Exchanging Charlie Morton for Ryan Vogelsong in the rotation looks to be an equal swap.  Niese looks like a quantifiable downgrade from Happ. Jeff Locke will remain Jeff Locke for the time being and hopefully stop his skid.  Glasnow and Taillon probably wont be on the team until the season gets started and someone implodes.  Net, net – it is possible that the Pirates rotation will be similar to last year.  If Locke improves and/or one of the Glasnow-Taillon duo find success – things could look pretty darn good.

facebooktwitterreddit