Who Should Be The Pittsburgh Pirates Fifth Starter?

Sep 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Drew Hutchison (34) delivers a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Drew Hutchison (34) delivers a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

There is less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. One of the battles in Spring Training for the Pittsburgh Pirates will be the fifth starter spot.

Spring Training is less than a month away, yay! Pitches and catchers will report to Bradenton in 23 days. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, four of their five starting pitchers are pretty set in stone. But that leaves one spot up for competition.

Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Ivan Nova are locks to make the Pirate rotation in 2017. Most likely, Chad Kuhl is as well. However, the fifth spot remains up in the air. And there are a few different ways the Pirates could go about filling this position.

The Pittsburgh Pirates could look to fill internally, add a pitcher through a trade, or add a pitcher via free agency. As for what the best option is, there are multiple factors at play for deciding that. With the cost of what would have to be given up in a trade or the cost of money in a free agent addition being the biggest two.

The Pirates continue to be engaged with the White Sox about left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana. Adding Quintana to the fold would be the best case scenario for the Pirates. A trio of Cole, Taillon, and Quintana would be one of the best in the National League. However, with how high the asking price for Quintana is he may not be traded period.

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As for free agency, there are not very many enticing names left. Additionally, the Pirates already added the player at the top of their free agent board entering the offseason. This came when they re-signed Ivan Nova last month.

However, one name still on the market that intrigues me is right-handed starting pitcher Jason Hammel. The previous three seasons Hammel has pitched for the Chicago Cubs, with a three-month stint in Oakland in 2014 mixed in there. So, Hammel knows the National League Central Division very well.

Jason Hammel has pitched in 91 games, 90 starts, and has logged 513 2/3 innings. In these 513 2/3 innings pitched he has averaged 8.30 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 1.24 HR/9, and he has a WHIP of 1.16. This led to Hammel posting a 3.68 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, and a 5.5 WAR the previous three seasons.

Other than Hammel, there are no free agents left on the market worth pursuing. So if they would not sign Hammel, then, in my opinion, their best bet would be to go with internal options.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates were to fill the spot internally, everyone would want to see top prospects Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow get the first cracks at the fifth rotation spot. However, this would not happen.

Tyler Glasnow showed last year that he is not Major League ready and Nick Kingham is still working his way back from Tommy John Surgery. For these reasons, both of these players will start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

This leaves two internal options. Those two options are Drew Hutchison and Steven Brault. And a case can be made for each. However, in my opinion, the better option of the two is Hutchison.

First off, Hutchison, unlike Brault, has had success in the past as a Major League starting pitcher. Steven Brualt made his Major League debut in 2016 and was not very good. He owned 4.86 ERA, 5.07 FIP, amd a 4.77 xFIP in 33 1/3 innings pitched. He averaged 4.59 BB/9, 1.35 HR/9, and his WHIP was 1.86.

Brault also allowed far too much hard contact last year. His 25.4 percent hard contact rate and 25.7 percent line drive rate allowed were both well above league average. His .306 opposing batting average against was not an encouraging sign, either.

The biggest problem with Steven Brault is that he only throws two Major League quality pitches. These two pitches are his fastball and his slider. This is not going to get the job done as a starting pitcher. In my opinion, Brault’s future is in the bullpen.

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That leaves Drew Hutchison. While many people hate Drew Hutchison and will never give him the chance, he has the tools needed to be a good back of the rotation starting pitcher. And he has been that in the past.

In 2014 and 2015 Drew Hutchison made 62 starts for the Toronto Blue Jays. In these 62 starts he posted a 4.03 FIP, 3.96 xFIP, and a 1.34 WHIP in 331 2/3 innings pitched. He averaged 8.44 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9, and he posted a 3.8 WAR.

These numbers are that of a strong back of the rotation starting pitcher. His biggest issue was allowing too many home runs, however, unlike the American League East, the National League Central is not filled with bandboxes. This alone should help to lessen the home run problem.

Also, Hutchison throws a very good slider. During his career he has held opposing hitters to a .226 batting average and a wRC+ of 78 against his slider. It has also generated a 45.8 percent ground ball rate and a 15.7 percent swing-and-miss rate.

Drew Hutchison has all the tools needed to be a strong back of the rotation starting pitcher. If the season began today, I believe he would be the team’s fifth starter. However, the season does not start today.

I would not the least bit surprised to see the Pittsburgh Pirates add another starting pitcher before the start of the season. If that happens, Hutchison may get shifted to the bullpen. However, since Hutchison is out of options and Chad Kuhl is not, it is also possible Hutchison would make the rotation over Kuhl.