Strongest Position Group – The Bullpen
Arguments can be made for the starting rotation, catcher, and the outfield. However, the Pirate bullpen is arguably the best in the National League and gets the nod as the team’s strongest position group.
There may not be a better 8th/9th inning duo in the NL, if not all of baseball, than Keone Kela and Felipe Vazquez. Vazquez is quickly developing into arguably the best left-handed reliever in baseball, and Kela was dominant last season with both the Pirates and Texas Rangers. The Pirates bullpen goes much deeper than just these two, though.
Most managers would kill to have an 8th/9th inning duo as good as Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez, let alone to have these two as the bridge men to the back end of the ‘pen. If the Pirates have the lead after the 6th inning, these four give the opposing team little hope. Hell, the Pirates could play a lot of 5 inning games if need be this season. Luckily, due to the starting rotation that should not be the case.
The team’s middle relief appears to be shaping up nicely as well. As you read above, Burdi looked great in Spring Training. He has back end of the bullpen stuff, and will begin the season in a middle relief role.
Despite his struggles in recent seasons, Francisco Liriano still mows left-handed hitters down. Last season lefties slashed just .171/.255/.261 off of Liriano to go with a 22.5% strikeout rate. This should be a great weapon for Hurdle in 2019, especially in a division that is loaded with good left-handed hitters. The 35-year-old lefty should also be a big boost to the team’s middle relief.
The Pirates should also have some good depth options at Triple-A Indianapolis. Geoff Hartlieb turned a lot of heads this spring, and moving to the bullpen permanently should serve Clay Holmes well. Rookie Davis, Brandon Maurer, and Steven Brault are all intriguing depth options as well.