This solution to one of the rotation spots may be unorthodox, but it could be a viable option for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2024
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting rotation is very thin right now. Acquiring lefty veteran Marco Gonzales was a major step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. But the Pirates will likely go with an internal solution, at least for one of the rotation spots. It would be preferable if the Pirates acquired at least two starting pitchers, and I would like to assume that they would. But an interesting, but unorthodox solution to a rotation spot would be to piggyback pitchers.
Sure, that may not sound like the most ideal solution, and I agree that I would rather have a normal starting pitcher. I don't think the Pirates will, or should plan like this. But the Pirates do have two arms that could perfectly fit into this sort of role, if they absoutley had to turn to this as a potential solution. That includes left-hander Bailey Falter and right-hander Andre Jackson. Combining these two could get the Pirates six or seven decent innings each time they play.
When Falter was used out of the bullpen as a long relief man, he struck out 13 batters, only walked three, and allowed just two earned runs in 13.1 innings for the Pirates. However, when he was used as a starting pitcher, he allowed 23 earned runs in 27 innings, only struck out 19 batters, walked nine, and allowed eight home runs. These are, of course, small sample sizes, but it’s pretty evident that he’s much better out of the bullpen.
Falter was also significantly better when he faced the batting order once in 2022 compared to the rest of the time. This is a larger 43-inning sample size, but he owned a 2.51 ERA, 3.34 FIP, and 0.95 WHIP. After the first time through the order, he had a 5.27 ERA, 6.01 FIP, and 1.49 WHIP. Meanwhile, his K% dropped from 23.2% to 19.3%, and his HR/9 shot up from 0.80 to 2.60.
Jackson was also very good for the Pirates when he was asked to face the batting order the first time through. In 26.1 innings, Jackson held opponents to just a 1.71 ERA, 2.42 FIP, and 0.84 WHIP. He had a 31% strikeout rate, a solid 8% walk rate, and an HR/9 of just 0.3. But in 17.1 innings after the first time through the order, Jackson had an 8.31 ERA, 7.93 FIP, and 1.56 WHIP, walking more batters than he struck out (10:11 K:BB ratio) and posting an HR/9 of 2.6.
The best example of what Jackson is capable of was shown on September 17th in a game against the New York Yankees. Jackson came out of the bullpen following Colin Selby, who opened the game with two scoreless innings. He faced just one batter over the minimum through the next three innings. Oswaldo Cabrera was the only batter who faced Jackson a second time, and he was sat down twice.
To open the top of the sixth inning, Jackson’s fourth inning of work and the first time he’d open the inning facing the order a second time, he allowed two leadoff hits, the first of which was a single by Estevan Florial and the second being an RBI double by D.J. LeMahieu. While Jackson escaped the inning without allowing any further damage, the Pirates opted to leave him in for a fifth potential inning of work. While he got the first batter of the inning out, he allowed a game-tying solo shot to the next hitter.
Jackson facing the order the first time plus Falter coming out of the bullpen, both for the Pirates, equates to 39.2 innings of work with a 1.59 ERA, 2.93 FIP, and a WHIP of just 0.76. Of course, we are playing a serious game of narrative ball here with numbers like that, and the combined sample size is less than 50 innings. But a combination of Jackson opening games and then Falter taking over after the third inning could be a viable option if the Pirates. I don't think this is how the Pirates should (or will) plan to fix one of the rotation spots, but it is a feasible strategy if they must turn to it.