The Pittsburgh Pirates are failing to field the best starting rotation that they can
Despite being the best starting pitcher the Pirates have had this season, rookie Nick Kingham continues to bounce back and forth between the Major Leagues and Triple-A. His latest bus trip to Indianapolis came on Sunday was he demoted to make a roster spot for Ivan Nova who returned from the disabled list.
In six starts this season Kingham owns a 3.35 FIP which is the best among all Pirate starting pitchers. His 24.3% strikeout rate also leads the staff, while his 4.9% walk rate is the second lowest behind just Nova.
Looking beyond the stats is where you may find the most impressive part of Kingham thus far – his poise. In three of his starts Kingham allowed two runs or more in the first inning. In two of these three starts, these runs scored due to poor defense. Despite that, Kingham then buckled down and pitched a combined 14 1/3 scoreless innings.
Many veteran starting pitchers would have crumbled after opening frames like those. Kingham, however, did anything but in those three starts. Proving he has the poise and confidence needed to succeed when times get tough at the Major League level.
Making room for Kingham in the rotation would not be a challenge, either.
Since the start of May, Trevor Williams has struggled mightily. In his last seven starts Williams has allowed 41 hits and seven home runs in 35 2/3 innings pitched. He has struck out just 17.0% of batters faced, and his ERA in these starts is 6.06 while his FIP is 4.87.
Williams still has minor league options and could be optioned to Triple-A to make room for Kingham in the rotation. The Pirates could also move Williams to the pen, freeing up Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow to be used in more ways than just long relief, and then they could option Michael Feliz, who has seemingly lost the ability to retire Major League hitters, to Triple-A.
Kingham currently has nothing to gain from pitching at the Triple-A level. This season he has proven that is more than ready for the Major Leagues and that he belongs with the big club. Once a pitcher has reached that point, they have nothing left to gain from pitching to minor league hitters.
As the Pirates look ahead to the future, Kingham figures to be a major piece of their starting rotation. Combine this with him already being one of the team’s five best starting pitchers and common sense says he should be in the starting rotation. Instead, he is back at Triple-A gearing up to make a meaningless minor league start. And that is a problem.
Many people question the Pirates’ commitment to winning. Moves such as optioning Kingham to Triple-A when he has been the team’s best starting pitcher this season is why many people have these questions. Regardless of how you feel on the subject, moves like this one are frustrating as hell from a fan’s standpoint.