The Pirates And Their Chance To Be Aggressive With The Rotation


The Pittsburgh Pirates are pushing their starters back a day and starting Clay Holmes tonight against the San Francisco Giants.  With the way the schedule lines up, the Pirates have the opportunity to be aggressive in their starting pitching matchups.

With the starters just coming off a series at Colorado, Clint Hurdle and the Pirates are pushing the starters back a day and using Clay Holmes tonight in San Francisco.  The club will enter the game four games back of the Braves, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks, all of whom are tied for the second wild card spot, with 46 games left to be played.  Their playoffs odds are 14.8 percent according to Fangraphs, 8.5 percent according to Baseball Prospectus, and are 14 percent according to Five Thirty Eight.

The club is more likely than not to miss the playoffs, but with being four out and having six games left with the Braves, nine left with the Brewers (who lead the wild card, five up on Pittsburgh), and six with the Cardinals (a half game ahead of the Bucs), the Pirates can try to be aggressive with who they throw and starting Holmes tonight lines that up.

The club’s top three starters using PECOTA’s rest of season projections are Chris Archer (3.23 ERA), Jameson Taillon (3.41 ERA), and Joe Musgrove (4.14 ERA).  Ivan Nova projects at a 4.39 ERA and Williams a 4.31 ERA, but Nova will likely give the rotation more depth.

Using Holmes tonight provides this potential.  Below is a look at the Pirates next 21 games over the period of 24 days; the three columns represent before adding Holmes, what the rotation would look like using the new rotation based on days, and then what the rotation would look like while keeping the pitchers on four days rest.  The gold on the dates represents the wild card teams they are chasing and play:

Date OpponentOld StarterNew StarterBased off 4 days rest

In the case of the far left column, the Pirates only get a combined six starts out of Musgrove, Archer, and Taillon against the Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, and there are 12 games against them.  Half the games would be started by the top three starters, but the Pirates could do better.  The middle column, assuming the rotation is set up by games and not days, the Pirates can get seven starts from that trio.  But take it a step further, the Pirates can maximize the usage and potentially get eight starts from that trio in those 12 games by using the off days.  The key becomes Trevor Williams getting skipped, but he would gain a valuable spot on and aggressive push.

By skipping Williams, who in the case of based on four days, would not pitch for 11 days between his start on August 18th and then August 30th.  Williams has experience out of the pen, and with the solid back four of Edgar Santana, Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, and Felipe Vazquez, Williams could shoulder the load if a starter gets bounced early.  Or, in this case, which could be important, Williams could fill a valuable role allowing Clint Hurdle to be ultra aggressive early in games.

If the starter is struggling early on and his first plate appearance comes with runners on, what better time to try to swing momentum and score runs by pinch-hitting for the pitcher.  Williams would provide valuable insurance, knowing he can give you length and he’s had some success this year, 3.88 ERA, and limiting him to say innings 4-7 could help.

Other important issues regarding the rotation are that the Pirates can also build in an extra day of rest with their starters in order to maximize the usage of their three top starters in the four important wild card races.  Between Musgrove’s start on August 22 and his next available one on August 28, there would be five days of rest, one more than the accustomed four.  Archer, who could start on August 25th could either pitch August 30th on regular rest, or get an extra day off to start the Braves (team who has the wild card two spot) series on August 31st.

If the Pirates keep maximizing (column three), the club would get 16 starts after September 2nd (Pirates have three more off days after that) by the Archer, Taillon, and Musgrove trio.  By column two it’s 15 starts, so maximizing would gain an additional two starts (29 of 46 in column three, 27 of 46 in column two).

Maximizing all the way through to keep Archer, Taillon, and Musgrove on regular rest would also set up for the potential of a Musgrove (who could start on September 27) and Archer (who could start on September 26) be on either regular rest (Musgrove) or five days rest (Archer) for the Wild Card Game on October 2.

Next. Pirates Week In Review: 8/3-8/9. dark

Williams plays the role of an extended starter, allowing Hurdle to be aggressive early in games with any starter, especially when rosters expand to 40 in September.  The Pirates gain extra starts by their three best pitchers, and they can also utilize them against the clubs they are chasing for the wild card.  By starting Holmes tonight, the Pirates can begin to utilize this rotation going forward in the hopes of making it back to the postseason.  The club hasn’t historically done this in the past, at least not to this extent, but with the off days (six left) now is the perfect time to try it and reach for the postseason.