Diary of a long suffering Pirates fan: Here he comes to save the day. The Skenes Debut

Pay no attention to that bullpen behind the curtain
Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

So, some guy named Paul Skenes made his MLB debut on Saturday.  Perhaps you have heard of him. From all the hubbub in the national sports media, you would have thought that this Skenes fellow was some sort of grand wizard savior come riding into PNC Park on his white horse, ready to vanquish the National League Central foes and lead the Pirates to championship glory.  Was this the seventh game of the World Series or a regular season game?  Based on the attention that Skenes commanded from the national baseball media, you could understand if someone was confused. 

After all, had the national media forgotten that, despite the immense talent this guy has, it’s still the Pirates that he plays for.  It’s going to take more than one pitcher to turn around the Pirates even if the pitcher is said to be a generational talent. A wizard, if you will.  But a tortured Pirates fan base has been conditioned to believe that not even Gandalf the White could save the Pirates.

Nonetheless, the Skenes debut was electric. 

He struck out seven in four-plus innings of work.  He pitched out of a few jams.  He threw 17 pitches that registered over 100 miles per hour.  He threw some off-speed pitches that made Cubs batters look silly.

But from a fan's standpoint, what is the most fun about watching Skenes pitch is the movement of his pitches.  He throws curves, sliders and something called a splinker (a cross between a splitter and a sinker).  Those pitches are thrown in between his fastball that clocks in at 100 mph and is seemingly in the strike zone before a hitter can even get the bat off his shoulder.  His slider sweeps across the strike zone while simultaneously dipping to the bottom of the strike zone.  And he throws this pitch at a considerably lower speed than his 100-mph fastballs, such that, when executed correctly, the batters are so far out in front of it, that the only thing they can do is either feebly flail at it, or watch helplessly as the ball sweeps and drops in for a called strike.  It looks like he is throwing a whiffle ball.

Before the arrival of Skenes, it was Jared Jones starts that were must-see TV.  But Skenes tops even Jones.  They are now both must-see TV.

In reviewing Skenes's very abbreviated professional career thus far, it is interesting to note that his won loss record is 0-0.  He started seven games in Indianapolis this year and did not qualify for the victory in any of them.  The Indians were 5-2 in Skenes' starts, so that’s a good thing.  But, it was the Indy bullpen that ultimately was the decider of the outcome of games started by Skenes.

And in Saturday’s game, Skenes got a dose of the reality of what that potentially looks like going forward with the Pirates' bullpen.  Skenes left the game with a 6-1 lead—albeit with runners on second and third.  The bullpen then came in and blew the lead by giving up one hit, one hit batsman, and walking six.  When the inning was complete, the Cubs had scored seven runs on just three hits, all of the runs scoring with two outs, and six of the seven runs scoring on bases-loaded walks.

Welcome to the big leagues Paul Skenes.  Pardon us if this looks more like little league than the major leagues. 

But now that Skenes is here, I’m sure things will turn for the better.  At least that is the propaganda being dished out by the Pirates public relations folks.  Forget the 19-25 start for the 2024 Pirates.  Now that Skenes is here, the Pirates are about to be transformed into the 1969 Miracle Mets.

But there is a teeny tiny problem with that theory.  Have you seen the Pirates bullpen?  Have you seen how recently no lead seems to be safe when the bullpen is called upon to keep a game close?  In his last year at LSU, Skenes pitched in 19 games and got decisions in 15 of them, going 13-2, including winning the deciding game of the College World Series.  By contrast, as mentioned above, in his professional career, he has yet to get a decision in any of his games, despite some gaudy numbers.

The statistic that just jumps off the page from his work in Indy is 45 strikeouts in 27.1 innings of work.  The 0.99 earned run average is not bad either.  But 45 strikeouts in 27.1 innings is insane, potentially Hall-of-Fame-stuff insane if he produces that same strikeout rate in the Big Leagues, which he actually exceeded in his first start.

But Skenes cannot do it alone.  He cannot save the franchise if the bullpen cannot close out a game.  And he cannot save the franchise if the Pirates offense continues to be one of the worst in baseball. 

So the Savior Skenes is at long last here.  Will he save the franchise?  Not if the current bullpen and the current Pirates offense have anything to do with it.  But it is sure going to be fun to watch him try.