Pirates Move Juan Nicasio To The Bullpen

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

After spending the first three months of the 2016 season in the starting rotation, Juan Nicasio has been moved to the Pirate bullpen.

The story of Pirate Spring Training this year was Juan Nicasio. Nicasio pitched 24 innings, allowed just one run, and struck out more batters than innings pitched. These results led to Juan Nicasio winning a spot in the Pirates’ starting rotation to begin the season.

In April, Juan Nicasio continued to pitch well for the Bucs. Nicasio made five starts and posted a 3.33 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and a 3.84 xFIP in 27 innings pitched. Despite averaging 4.00 BB/9, Nicasio was alloing just 1.00 HR/9 while also averaging 9.67 K/9.

Since April however, Juan Nicasio has been a totally different pitcher. In 36 1/3 innings pitched in the months of May and June Nicasio has a 7.68 ERA, 5.76 FIP, and a xFIP of 4.74. Furthermore, Nicasio strikeout rate has dropped to 8.92 K/9 while his home run rate has risen to 2.23 HR/9 the past two months.

As a result of his struggles in May and June, Pirate manager Clint Hurdle announced to day that Juan Nicasio has been moved to the Pirate bullpen. The bullpen is a better role for Juan Nicasio, because he really only has two Major League quality pitches. These pitches are his fastball and his slider. 

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The fact Juan Nicasio features just these two reliable pitches is the reason for his struggles, in my opinion. Early on Juan Nicasio was able to make it work because the league had yet to adjust to him. However, as more film of Nicasio began to circulate and as batters began to face him more often the struggles started to pop up in a big way.

Last season, Juan Nicasio proved he can be a reliable reliever. In 58 1/3 innings pitched out of the Dodger bullpen Nicasio averaged 10.03 K/9, 0.15 HR/9, and he had a 2.83 FIP. Furthermore, Nicasio’s fastball averaged a career best 95 miles per hour last season. There is zero doubt in my mind that pitching out of the bullpen led to this increase in velocity for Nicasio. A pitcher will pitch differently out of the bullpen, because length and stamina is not nearly as big a deal as it is when starting a game.

With Juan Nicasio now being moved to the bullpen full-time, the Pirates will need another starting pitcher. Well, at least until Gerrit Cole returns from the disabled list. My guess is that we see right-handed pitching prospect Chad Kuhl take Juan Nicasio spot in the rotation on Sunday night.

Kuhl is currently scheduled to pitch for Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday, so he could easily be moved back one day. With Gerrit Cole not ready to return from the disabled list yet, and Wilfredo Boscan unable to return from Triple-A until July 2nd at the soonest, Kuhl is the most logical choice. The only other option for the Pirates would be to try to piggyback long relievers Kyle Lobstein and A.J. Schugel on Sunday night.

Next: The Pirates Should Start Chad Kuhl On Sunday

Regardless of what the Pirates doing with Juan Nicasio’s rotation spot moving forward, they made the right decision today by moving Juan Nicasio to the bullpen. Nicasio’s stuff is better suited for the bullpen, and he should help to improve a Pirate bullpen that has struggled all season long. Furthermore, Juan Nicasio was not doing his team any favors as a starting pitcher so removing him from the rotation is a plus as well.