Pittsburgh Pirates: Some Ideas to Fix Things

May 13, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) is relieved by manager Clint Hurdle (13) against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
May 13, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) is relieved by manager Clint Hurdle (13) against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

Hello, Bucs Nation. Well, a lot has happened since I posted my last ”State of the Pittsburgh Pirates address” here on RumBunter, so I am going to do things a little differently.

In my previous address, posted about a month ago, I adopted an ”awards show” style to tell you wonderful readers who I thought were the best and worst players the Pittsburgh Pirates were putting on the field at the time. I don’t feel that there was anything wrong with that style, but I feel that here, on June 22nd, there is a lot more to talk about than there was  a month ago, and a lot more obvious things that need fixing. So here it goes.

Before the 2016 season started, many Bucco lovers, including yours truly, expected 2016 to be a bridge into better days ahead. Coming into this season, the team, on paper, did not look as capable as they had in 2015, and with the Chicago Cubs continuing to stack their roster, an NL Central title was wishful, but not a popular thing to expect. Coming in, I expected this club to resemble the 2014 squad that won 88 games as opposed to the 2015 team that won 98. Well, I can tell you that the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates won’t win 98 games. However, I am starting to worry that this team will be more like the 2012 squad that won 79 games. God, I hope I am wrong.

Now maybe this is me overeating to what has been an awful three-week stretch, but as I think about the personnel on this ball club, maybe this team isn’t very good? Let’s break things down.

On offense, everything is pretty groovy for the most part. Sure, Francisco Cervelli  and *tries not to cry* Andrew McCutchen have not been performing well on offense, but everyone else has done their part. Josh Harrison is proving to be a fantastic all-around off baseball player, while Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang and Gregory Polanco are all having All-Star worthy seasons. Meanwhile, John Jaso, Matt Joyce, and Sean Rodriguez have all exceeded expectations offensively.

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However, ever since the calendar turned from May to June, the offense doesn’t look like it has as much pep in its step. But as underwhelming as the offense has been over the past three weeks, it only goes downhill from there. Let’s take a look at the starting pitching.

On the front end of the rotation, things don’t look so bad. Gerrit Cole, while not the Cy Young caliber ace that he could be, is far and away the best pitcher in the Pirates starting rotation, and anybody who would argue that is foolish. If you saw Tuesdays game against the Mets, Jameson Taillon has some serious heat, as well as a curveball that can become one of the deadliest pitches in all of MLB in a short time. Francisco Liriano is off to one of the worst starts of his career, but has shown some signs of promise in his past two outings, so maybe ”Papa Francisco” can turn the corner.

Jon Niese is who he is. He’s far from a star, but he does his job well more often than not, so I can honestly say that there isn’t a whole lot to say about Niese. There is, however, a lot to say about Jeff Locke and Juan Nicasio, and it isn’t good. It’s hard to hold anything against the two, as neither are necessarily supposed to be quality starting pitchers. But the bottom line is that they are not helping this team win games, and that is a problem that needs to be fixed.

But the starting rotation is not the only part of the Pirates that needs fixing. Let’s talk about the bullpen. Now, to be fair, the 7-8-9 trio of Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon have all been, for the most part, adequate. The rest of the guys (Caminero, Lobstein, Luebke, etc.) cause nightmares and ulcers for all die-hard yinzers. The days of Joe Blanton, Jenmar Gomez, and Vin Mazzaro are long past us. The Pirates have minimal bullpen depth, and optioning Wilfredo Boscan to AAA  three weeks ago was a dumb move that has proven costly.

So, what can the Pirates do to improve themselves? The answer could be rushing an AAA pitcher (or two) before they are ready. Tyler Glasnow has been awesome in Indy this season, but he is still, in my opinion, too erratic for the majors at the moment, as his BB/9 rate is an unimpressive 5.0. Chad Kuhl has also been excellent for the Indians, as this season, he has posted a 5-2 record with a 2.54 ERA in 13 starts. Unlike Glasnow, Kuhl knows where the ball is going, as over 71 innings of work this season, he has walked just 16 batters. Of the two, Glasnow has a higher ceiling, but Kuhl could be more big league ready at the moment.

 So, how much is the Pirates front office to blame for the slow start? Well, they could have done a better job this offseason at making sure the starting rotation was something greater than trash. Well, they did not do that. They failed to resign JA Happ, who has done well enough for himself in Toronto. They did not go after any established arms, instead settling for Juan Nicasio.

However, John Jaso, David Freese, and Matt Joyce are all off-season acquisitions. And don’t think for one second that getting rid of Neil Walker made this team worse. Josh Harrison is better in most categories than ”The Pittsburgh Kid”, and it’s not his fault that he didn’t grow up sitting in peanut heaven at Three Rivers ‘N At. While we are on the topic of Walker, the real ”Pittsburgh Kid” is Billy Conn, former Light Heavyweight champion of the world and, with all due respect, a greater credit to our city than Neil Walker. God rest your soul, Billy Conn.

Back to the Pirates. I would say that looking back at this off-season, Neil Huntington did an average to good job of shaping this team for the season ahead. One thing that bugs me, however, is that the team has not done nearly enough to bolster its struggling bullpen. I’m no big league executive, but I can’t imagine that trading for a middle relief pitcher would require too much effort. Think about 2015. In 2015, the Pirates were able to acquire Joakim Soria from the Tigers for nothing more that a single prospect in shortstop Jacoby Jones.

Soria was stellar with Detroit, saving 23 games, and they were able to get him for a relatively small price. The Pirates were able to acquire Joe Blanton from Kansas City for Cash Considerations and Blanton ended up being a big arm for the Bucs down the stretch. Relievers come with a cheap price tag, but what reliever should the Pirates acquire? How about Vance Worley?

After the Pirates let Worley walk (which was a mistake), ”The Vanimal” has done quite well for himself with the Orioles, pitching mainly out of the bullpen. In 17 appearances for Baltimore, Worley is 2-0, has an ERA of 2.66, and a WHIP of 1.35. Worley is currently on the DL with a groin injury, but his stint should not last any longer than the 15-days that he is scheduled. The Orioles do not plan on making Worley a staple in their starting rotation, but they are a contending team, which makes it a little harder to buy from them.

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However, Kansas City was a contending team when they traded away Joe Blanton for a cup of Rita’s Italian Ice, so I don’t think that Worley will be that difficult to bring back into the fold. The question is, should the Pirates acquire Worley, would he fit better in the bullpen, or in the starting rotation?

Ok, so I’ll contradict myself a little by saying the Vance Worley should be inserted into the starting rotation upon his arrival, leaving Jeff Locke or Juan Nicasio (I don’t care which one) out the door. Worley had a solid season with the Bucs in 2014 and had proven to be a reliable starter. But this would also mean still needing a boost for the bullpen. Enter, Tony Sipp

The Houston Astros aren’t either contenders or pretenders. They are very similar to where the Pirates are at right now, and, as I said before, It doesn’t take a Branch Rickey level baseball mastermind to trade for a short reliever. Sipp would fit with the Pirates like a glove. In Houston this season, Sipp has posted a 3.22 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 29 games.

Here is a number to pay attention to; in those 29 games, Sipp has thrown in 22.1 innings, a strong indicator that he is a specialist. Sipp is a specialist who throws the ball with his left hand, which could make him a fantastic compliment to a man who has experience playing the role of the right-handed specialist in Jared Hughes.

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That’s about it. Both are relievers who like to throw ground balls and get out of tight situations. Adding Sipp to the pen would also take pressure off of Hughes and, in my eyes, would give the Bucco bullpen a huge boost. AJ Schugel has done an OK job in a short relief role, but he is a right-handed, and besides that, I think the Pirates need somebody more established. Sipp could be that guy; if the price is right

So, long story short here is what needs to happen for the Pirates to surge over the next three months.

  • Cutch starts hitting like Cutch (or at least not like Tike Redman)
  • Frankie starts pitching like Frankie (or at least not like Jimmy Anderson)
  • They bolster the rotation (Worley? Kuhl? Glasnow? All of them?)
  • They bolster the bullpen (Sipp! Sipp! Sipp!)

Those three things, along with the rest of the offense going like it is right now, would be a huge help to a team that needs one. Baseball is funny. All it takes are a few chips to fall in place to get the party going. Will these changes happen? God, I sure hope so. If I can come up with some trade ideas by sitting on my butt and typing on a keyboard, there’s not telling what Neil Huntington could have up his sleeve. And if we the fans are pissed at the way our boys are performing right now, then you can bet the front office is too. They will make some changes. I just hope one of them involves Tony Sipp.