The Pittsburgh Pirates Need To Shake Up Their Bullpen

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Tony Watson has struggled immensely in recent weeks. Due to this, it is time the Pittsburgh Pirates shake up their bullpen.

On July 30th the Pittsburgh Pirates traded closer Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals. In return the Pirates received left-handed reliever Felipe Rivero and left-handed pitching prospect Taylor Hearn. The Pirates then moved Tony Watson to closer.

At the time, this seemed like a safe move for the Pirates to make. This is because dating back to the start of the 2013 season Tony Watson had been one of the most dominant relief pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. In 268 1/3 innings pitched during this stretch Watson averaged 7.92 K/9, 1.98 BB/9, 0.57 HR/9, and he had a 2.08 ERA and a 3.04 FIP.

At first, the Tony Watson as closer was working out for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, since August 15th Watson has been horrible. Due to this, it is time for the Pirates to shake up their bullpen.

In his last 9 2/3 innings pitched Watson is averaging 5.59 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, and he is allowing an abysmal 3.79 HR/9. Due to this Watson owns a 5.59 ERA, 8.22 FIP, and a 5.11 xFIP during this stretch. Worst of all, Watson’s velocity is down this season.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates’ new closer should be Felipe Rivero. Rivero has a plus fastball that averages nearly 96 miles per hour, and he also has a near un-hittable change up. Overall on the season Rivero has a 3.23 FIP, 3.58 xFIP, 81 strikeouts, and a 1.24 WHIP in 68 innings pitched.

As a member of the Pirates, however, Rivero has been even better. In 17 1/3 innings pitched for the Pirates Rivero has 26 strikeouts, a 1.38 WHIP, he’s only allowed one home run, just three earned runs, he has a FIP of 3.15 and, a xFIP of 3.37. To put it simply, Felipe Rivero has been dominant with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Felipe Rivero is under team control through 2022. So, even though a designated ‘closer’ is one of the dumbest things in all of baseball, Rivero is the Pirates’ closer of the future. And that future needs to be now.

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When it comes to setting up for Rivero, I would not use Tony Watson. Personally, I would demote Tony Watson to low leverage situations for the remainder of the season. The three primary set up men I would use are A.J. Schugel, Antonio Bastardo, and Juan Nicasio.

In 52 innings pitched as a rookie this season A.J. Schugel has been awesome for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Schugel is averaging 7.96 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 0.69 HR/9, and he owns a WHIP of 1.04. This has led to Schugel owning a 3.19 FIP and a 3.75 xFIP this season.

Personally, I believe Schugel has been vastly underused by the Pirates this season. On top of his great numbers Schugel throws a ridiculous change up. This season opposing batters are hitting just .081 off of his change up with a .129 wOBA and a -14 wRC+. I would like to see Schugel used in more high leverage situations and I’d like to see that starting now.

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Antoino Bastardo from the New York Mets in exchange for Jon Niese on August 1st. This came after the Pirates lost Bastardo to free agency this past offseason. Since returning to Pittsburgh, Bastardo has been money for the Bucs.

In 13 1/3 innings pitched as a Pirate this season Bastardo is averaging 9.45 K/9, 4.05 BB/9, he’s allowed just one home run, he has a WHIP of 1.13, and he has held opposing batters to a .188 batting average. This has led to Bastardo posting a 2.70 ERA and a 3.38 FIP as a Pirate.

Jun 16, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Juan Nicasio (12) delivers a pitch against the New York Mets in the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 16, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Juan Nicasio (12) delivers a pitch against the New York Mets in the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /

Finally, there is Juan Nicasio. This season Juan Nicasio was moved to the bullpen on June 26th. Since June 26th Nicasio has been the Pittsburgh Pirates’ best reliever.

In 40 innings pitched out of the bullpen Nicasio is averaging 12.38 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, just 0.45 HR/9, and he owns a 1.28 WHIP. Nicasio’s ERA as a reliever is 3.15, his FIP is 2.40, and his xFIP is 2.76. Juan Nicasio has also generated a 54.1 percent ground ball rate as a reliever, while holding opposing hitter to a .255 batting average.

If anyone other than Felipe Rivero is going to ‘close’ for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it should be Juan Nicasio. Nicasio has a power fastball that sits in the high 90s and a wipe out slider. Both of these pitches play up in a relief role. Hence Nicasio being a dominant reliever.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen needs a shake up. Tony Watson needs removed from high leverage situation and replaced with the four pitchers discussed above. All four of these pitchers are under team control for 2017 and will be the core of a potentially deadly bullpen. And at this point, the Pirates, unfortunately, need to start playing for 2017.