Pittsburgh Pirates: The Next Reclamation Project?

Sep 29, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (31) throws a pitch during the first inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (31) throws a pitch during the first inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates still need a starter, even after signing Ivan Nova.  There are rumors swirling with the Pirates connected to Jose Quintana, but that still seems like a dream.

The Pirates operate on a small budget, whether you agree or disagree with their view of running a professional sports team, it’s just what they do.  The club values long-term success over a short-term bubble.  They value their prospects because of the minimum six years of control, with three coming at league minimum.  It’s why we have seen the Pirates buy low on pitchers they view as likely being strong acquisitions for the Pirates.

The team has had their success with some of these pitchers, primarily AJ Burnett (twice), Francisco Liriano (before dumping him), Ivan Nova, Edinson Volquez, and JA Happ.  But they’ve also had their failures in Jon Niese, Jonathan Sanchez, and Erik Bedard.

The Pirates currently don’t have a “reclamation” type pitcher on their roster, unless of course Drew Hutchison fits that mold for you.  This would go against their typical rotation, even with prospects Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham looming in Indianapolis.  There is still a vacant spot in the rotation, that as of now looks like it will be Drew Hutchison or perhaps maybe Steven Brault.

That fifth starter will join Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, and Chad Kuhl.  Kuhl can be hit or miss, potentially best fit for the bullpen, but to start the season, he is more than fine to be the Pirates five starter.  But the Pirates can still upgrade and fulfill the last spot in the rotation. Hutch’s best spot could also be in the bullpen, and Brault still could use some time developing an out pitch in Indianapolis.

This leaves the Pirates, with a weak free agent class remaining, to trade for a starter.  Quintana would be perfect, as he is an incredible pitcher with an affordable contract.  But we’ve never seen the Pirates make this move.  This could lead the Pirates to trade for a reclamation project instead.

Yordano Ventura
Sep 30, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura (30) delivers a pitch against the Cleveland Indians during the second inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports /

Yordano Ventura

The biggest name that would fit would be Yordano Ventura, which was written about a couple days ago.  Over the last two years, Ventura has a 51.1 percent ground ball rate in 349.1 innings.  He’s been just league average, 101 ERA- and 100 FIP- since 2015, but he still brings good stuff to the table.

Ventura has a 19.9 percent strikeout rate and a 9.0 percent walk rate in his last two years. His perceived velocity on his two seam fastball in 2016 was 95.35 mph compared to just league average of 92.07.  But his spin rate of just 2094 rpms was below the league average of 2156 rpms.

But with a crazy high ground ball rate, and just a 2.5 percent home run rate fits the mold. He is coming off of a season in which he posted a 103 ERA-, 109 FIP-, a 17.7 percent strikeout rate, and a 9.6 percent walk rate.  This down year in 2016, combined with a clear attitude problem, could make Ventura available.  He is signed through 2019, his age 28 season, rather cheap, and he has two options for 2020 and 2021 for $12 million each.

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Pair of Birds

The next two are teammates on the Orioles, and are both coming off of disastrous seasons, which would fit the mold of the Pirates buying low.

Ubaldo Jimenez is signed through next season at $13.5 million.  Ubaldo is coming off of a 2016 season, in which he posted a 126 ERA-, fifth worst among the 94 pitchers to toss 140 innings, and a 101 FIP-. But he did get ground balls at a rate of 49.0 percent.

Over the last two seasons, Jimenez has produced a ground ball rate of 49.1 percent in 316 innings, and has a ERA- of 109 and a FIP- of 96, indicating he was the recipient of some bad luck.  His deserved run averages have been 3.19 and 4.14 in 2015 and 2016, and his DRA- have been 86.2 and 100.3 respectively.  He was much better in 2015, but Jimenez is still a low-cost buy back candidate that, although is not the prettiest name or eye-popping, that the Pirates could target.

Wade Miley, a teammate of Jimenez, is also coming off a season in which he was a train wreck. The southpaw tossed a 5.37 ERA and a 4.45 FIP in 166 innings, good enough for a 130 ERA- and a 105 FIP-.

He doesn’t strike out many hitters, just 18.4 percent over the last two years, but he has only walked 7.3 percent of those hitters.  In the 359.2 innings since 2015, his 117 ERA- and 100 FIP- are not eye-popping, especially with the low strikeout numbers, but he does have a 48.1 percent ground ball rate.

His four seam fastball is below average in terms of both velocity, perceived velocity, and spin rate, which is a huge negative.  But, even with a below average heater, Miley has still been rather unlucky.  His DRA was 3.54 in 2015 and 3.55 in 2016, with a DRA- of 92 and 91.1 respectively.

This can be partially attributed to throwing to catchers who were poor pitch framers.  In fact, in 2015, 124 of his innings he threw to catchers who posted a season total of -41 calls, and in 2016, he threw 142.1 innings to catchers who posted a season total of -184 calls.

Francisco Cervelli would help in that, as he is an excellent framer, and being a southpaw who gets ground balls would be a welcomed addition to PNC Park.

Next: Pirates Need To Ditch The Closer Role

In Conclusion

Ventura possesses the most potential and the biggest name of the three, but Miley and Jimenez provide a veteran arm, something the Pirates seem to love to have.  Jimenez and Miley were two of the worst starters in ERA, but they only have one year left on their deal, Miley at $8.9 million with an option for 2018.

The latter two will not cost much in terms of prospects, and the Orioles would likely eat cash in the deal.  They aren’t the prettiest of names with the prettiest of numbers, but when the Pirates likely miss out on Quintana, ultimately leading the Pirates to their annual bargain shopping, Miley, Jimenez, and Ventura could come up as targets.

*Numbers from fangraphsMLB, and baseball prospectus