The Pittsburgh Pirates Starting Rotation Needs Help

DENVER, CO - JULY 23: Starting pitcher Ivan Nova
DENVER, CO - JULY 23: Starting pitcher Ivan Nova /

With the July 31st trade deadline just a week away the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves 3 games out of first place in the National League Central, and in need of rotation help

All season long the National League Central has been incredibly mediocre. Due to this, the Pittsburgh Pirates were able to remain in contention all season despite being a team with many warts. Now, 99 games into the season, the Bucs find themselves just 3 games out of first place.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a team that still has many warts. However, the one area where the warts are most noticeable is in their starting rotation. The reason for this is that nothing is more important to a Major League Baseball team than their starting rotation, and the Pirate rotation simply is not good enough.

The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is just a week away. This gives Pirate general manager Neal Huntington seven days to find help for the team’s starting rotation, and that is help that the Pirates dearly need.

Right now, the Pirate rotation is a real crapshoot outside of Jameson Taillon. While Gerrit Cole should still be trusted as one of the best power arms in baseball, that does not take away his home run woes this season. Trevor Williams is rounding into a very good middle of the rotation arm, but he still has just a strong 13 start stretch on his resume.

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Gerrit Cole has been plagued by the long ball all season. He has allowed 20 home runs in 120 2/3 innings pitched this season. This comes after allowing just 36 home runs in his first four Major League seasons. That said, Cole has the second lowest walk rate of his career, a strong strikeout rate of 8.06 K/9, and his 23.6 percent soft contact rate is the best of his career. There is no reason not to expect Cole to anchor the Pirate rotation down the stretch.

Cole owns a 3.04 ERA and a 3.40 FIP in his past seven starts. This came after a poor four start stretch that he owned a 2.84 ERA and a 3.62 FIP prior to. There is no reason not to expect Cole to anchor the Pirate rotation down the stretch.

Trevor Williams first start of the season was an utter disaster. In 13 starts since then, he has been nothing short of reliable for the Pirates. He has allowed 72 hits, 5 home runs, and has walked just 16 batters (1.98 BB/9) in 72 2/3 innings pitched in these starts.

Williams has averaged 6.32 K/9 during these 13 starts, he owns a 3.47 FIP, and his soft contact rate during this stretch is 24.7 percent. Overall this season, Williams owns a 25.2 percent soft contact rate which leads the National League.

Ultimately, Taillon, Cole, and Williams should be trusted as a strong top three. The Pirate rotation goes off a cliff after these three starting pitchers, however. It is due to this that the team needs starting pitching help.

A big reason for the instability of the Pirate rotation is the recent struggles of Ivan Nova. Prior to the season, the Nova inked a new 3-year contract with the Pirates. Unfortunately for the Pirates, this contract is starting to blow up on them.

In his past 15 starts Ivan Nova has pitched 95 2/3 innings. He has allowed 110 hits, 16 home runs (1.51 HR/9), and he is averaging just 5.27 K/9. Nova’s inability to miss bats has amplified during this stretch, and he has allowed a 33.0 percent hard contact rate.

Nova owns a 4.42 ERA and a 4.78 FIP in these 15 starts. After a strong two months to end last season with the Pirates and a strong April this season, Nova is regressing back to the pitcher he always was in New York. And a 4.41 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 1.14 HR/9, and 6.70 K/9 starting pitcher is not going to help a team win their division. There were reasons I did not want the Pirates to re-sign Nova this past offseason, and those reasons are starting to show.

Finally, there is Chad Kuhl. While Kuhl has excellent stuff and an absolutely explosive fastball, he has been extremely up and down this season. Hence his 4.91 ERA, 4.04 FIP, and 4.61 xFIP this season. Kuhl has a ceiling of a strong middle to back of the rotation arm in the long run. Right now, however, the Pirates need a rotation upgrade.

The Pirates could look for internal help. This help could come from Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, or from Tyler Glasnow returning to the Major League rotation. However, if they were comfortable going this route it probably would have already.

Over the course of the next week the trade market will start to heat up greatly. In fact, the starting pitching market has already begun with trades of Jose Quintana and Jaime Garcia. Teams such as the Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Oakland A’s, Philadelphia Phillies, and San Diego Padres are in sell mode and will have starting pitching available in the next week. More teams will enter sell mode in the next seven days.

In past seasons, Neal Huntington has done a good job of adding starting pitching help at the trade deadline. Wandy Rodriguez in 2012, J.A. Happ in 2015, and the aforementioned Ivan Nova a year ago have all been added at trade deadline’s past and gone on to help the team that season. Hopefully, Huntington can find rotation help once again.

Who, exactly, should the Pirates target in trade talks? Well, we’ll have more on that tomorrow.

Next: Pirates Head to San Francisco for 3

The Pittsburgh Pirates have an excellent shot at winning the National League Central division. In order for this to happen their starting rotation must be better the rest of the season. The best way for this to happen is for Neal Huntington to make a trade in the next week. Hopefully, Huntington can find the Pirate starting rotation help in the next seven days.

*- All stats are from before the Pirates game against the Giants on July 24th