Pittsburgh Pirates Still in Desperate Need of Starting Pitching

Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates
Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates do not have very much quality major league starting pitching depth, and another decent starter is a desprate need as of now.

One of the free agents many have pinned to the Pittsburgh Pirates, southpaw veteran Sean Manea has recently signed with the San Francisco Giants. While the team's no. 1-4 starters aren’t terrible with Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller, Johan Oviedo, and JT Brubaker, the Pirates need to find some stability at the no. 5 spot.

As of right now, the three top options are Bryse Wilson, Zach Thompson, and Vince Velasquez. While none are bad options as no. 6/7 starters or spot starters, they don’t present as decent #5 starters. Wilson is arguably the best, and he’d be a barely passable number 5 starter.

After getting recalled in early July, Wilson worked to a 4.39 ERA, 4.98 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP. Wilson only struck out 15% of the batters he faced with a worryingly high 1.54 HR/9. However, he at least didn’t allow many walks. His 4.9% walk rate was one of the best in the league after the start of July. Wilson ranked 15th among all hurlers with at least 80 frames from the beginning of July onward. After adjusting for batted ball luck and other factors outside his control, Wilson pretty much pitched to his ERA, posting a 4.47 xFIP and 4.46 SIERA.

But if a mid-4s ERA pitcher is the best option, that’s very telling of the other two pitchers. Zach Thompson had a 5.19 ERA, 5.30 FIP, and 1.51 WHIP as a starting pitcher in 2022. Vince Velasquez worked infinitely better as a reliever, as he was a 5.26 ERA, 5.20 FIP, and 1.40 WHIP arm when he made appearances out of the Chicago White Sox’s starting rotation.

The issue becomes even more clear when you realize these are the best major league depth options. What happens if someone gets hurt? Do you really want to replace Mitch Keller if he lands on the IL for a week or two with Wilson, Thompson, or Velasquez? One starter is an absolute need, but a second decent starter gives the Pirates a little more, and much needed breathing room. If the Pirates land two decent starting pitchers, they can move Brubaker to the bullpen, giving them that added bit of insruance where if a pitcher does get hurt, Brubaker can move back to the rotation.

While the current options aren’t too pretty, there’s no need to worry just yet. The free agent market still has a handful of decent pitchers available, like Drew Smyly, Michael Wacha, Corey Kluber, Nathan Eovaldi, Zack Greinke, Rich Hill, and Wade Miley. The Pirates don’t need a long-term solution as they have prospects like Quinn Priester, Luis Ortiz, Mike Burrows, and Kyle Nicolas coming up.

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However, one of the free agent options mentioned above would be a better alternative than what any of Wilson, Thompson, or Velasquez could provide. All three would work much better in a long-relief/swingman role rather than a regular starter who gets the nod every five days.