Pittsburgh Pirates: Who Will Replace Chris Archer in the Starting Rotation?


Pittsburgh Pirates’starter Chris Archer will miss all of 2020 after undergoing surgery. So who is next in line to take over his rotation spot?

A little over a week ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost right handed starting pitcher Chris Archer to thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. You can read more about that here. Archer is now set to miss all of the 2020 season if it is played. Obviously, the veteran right was a lock for the rotation. He along with Mitch Keller, Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams and off season signee Derek Holland were most likely going to make up the team’s starting five.

However with an empty spot in the rotation, who will take over the final spot if the season gets started? Well, on the MLB roster, Chad Kuhl could be the next in line for starting duties. Kuhl is returning from Tommy John Surgery that kept him out most of 2018 and all of 2019. Since his debut in 2016, Kuhl has shown promise, but has so far put up unimpressive numbers. Through his 313 career innings, the right hander has a 4.37 ERA, 4.30 FIP and 1.42 WHIP.

Kuhl has a career strikeout rate of just 20.4% and walk rate of 9.2%, resulting in an overall mediocre 2.21 K/BB ratio. Home runs have also been an issue with a career 1.1 HR/9. ERA predictors haven’t been kind to him as well with a 4.61 SIERA, 4.52 xFIP and 4.94 DRA. But looking at his pitches, Kuhl has some real potential. He can get his fastball up into the mid-to-upper 90s, and is in the top 96th percentile of curveball spin rate. He has even drawn some comparisons to Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler in terms of his velocity and movement.

Left-handed pitcher Steven Brault also represents another potential starter to take over the final spot. Brault, like Kuhl, also made his debut in 2016, and has mainly served as a swingman through his career. 35 of his 89 career games have been starts. But he doesn’t have the same potential Kuhl does. Brault has a career 4.88 ERA, 4.80 FIP and 1.57 WHIP in 273 innings. He also has a 5.01 DRA and 5.14 DRA.

Brault has below average spin rate on both his curveball and fastball, both sitting in the bottom 10th percentile. He also hasn’t been great at limiting free passes with a career 11.3% walk rate. Brault did have a stretch in 2019 where he was a fairly effective starter. From May 29th to September 1st, the lefty posted a 2.84 ERA, and a 3.46 FIP with a .672 opponent OPS. But he only pitched 69.2 innings and missed nearly all of July because of injury.

One of the Pittsburgh Pirates offseason minor league signings could be a potential under the radar signing in lefty Robbie Erlin. Despite his sub-par looking career 4.57 ERA, Erlin has a strong 3.51 FIP, has posted an expected ERA below 3.00 in two of the past four seasons he has played, and has a career 3.84 SIERA and 3.86 DRA.

Erlin is a high-end control pitcher. He has allowed walks at a 4.3% rate in his career and has a sub-2.00 BB/9, sitting at 1.8. Although he doesn’t strike out that many batters, he still sits just below 20% at 19.1%, his opponent average exit velocity sits almost exactly at average at 87.6 MPH. A former top prospect in the early 2010s, Erlin could be a solid fill-in for the last rotation spot.

Prospect wise, aside from Keller, the Pittsburgh Pirates do not have that many MLB ready options. But they do have a potential starter in JT Brubaker. Brubaker is the team’s 25th best prospect per FanGraphs.

When he has been healthy, Brubaker has been pretty effective. In 2018, Brubaker split innings between Double-A (35 innings) and Triple-A (119 innings). In total, he had a 2.81 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and a 3.20 FIP. Although not a big strikeout pitcher with a 20.2% strikeout rate, he only allowed a walk rate of 6.8% and eight home runs.

Although he only pitched 27.2 innings in 2019 (21 at AAA, 6.2 at Low-A), Brubaker still allowed just seven earned runs, struck out 24, walked eight, and gave up two home runs. Aside from 2019, Brubaker is quite durable. It’s the first time he failed to reach at least 129.2 innings in a season since 2015, the year he was drafted. In 2018, he averaged about nearly 5.2 innings a start.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates also have a few other internal options in James Marvel, Hector Noesi, and Brandon Waddell, but none of them are considered front runners for the final spot. More like just depth pieces. The Pirates could also look for another starter through trade like making a salary dump trade for an innings eater such as Mike Leake. The free agent market is pretty barren, but they could sign a veteran that has seen success in recent years after struggling in 2019 like Clay Buchholcz, Andrew Cashner, Marco Estrada, or Jason Vargas as more depth.