Reviewing the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, we’ll take a look at the starting pitchers.
Looking to build off an impressive rookie campaign (3.22 ERA, 2.91 FIP, and two solid postseason starts), Gerrit Cole was good, but not exactly great, in 2014. We’d probably be looking at it differently had he stayed healthy, but shoulder problems caused him to miss 24 days in June and another 46 in July/August. His low inning count aside, Cole once again showed promise — an excellent 9.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 49% ground ball rate, 3.23 FIP, 3.25 xFIP — and I like his chances of really coming into his own in 2015. The best part? He just turned 24 two months ago and he’s under team control through 2019.
In his second year of a two-year contract, Francisco Liriano was deservedly given the Opening Day nod. The only thing standing between him and another fantastic season: injuries, as usual. Liriano hurt his groin during a spring training game I was at on March 20th; he looked great that night under the McKechnie lights until he was forced to exit early. Frankie made the Opening Day start anyway, but was shaky to start the season. With his ERA hovering in the mid-4.00’s, Liriano made it to June before landing on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
Although he missed a month of action, he came back better than ever. After the All-Star break, Liriano boasted a 2.20 ERA and opponents couldn’t touch him (.193 batting average, .551 OPS). If that isn’t impressive enough, consider he only surrendered more than two runs in two of 14 second half outings — once on August 19th, a 7 ER blowup vs. Atlanta and again in his final start (4 ER at Cincinnati). Take out the 7-run performance and it’s a 1.54 earned run average after the break.
All in all: a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts, backed up by a 3.59 FIP and 3.40 xFIP; more dominant strikeout stuff (9.7 per 9) and worm killers (54% ground ball rate). Similar to Russell Martin, Liriano re-established himself by coming to the Burgh on a two-year deal. He may be considered part of the free agent class’ second-tier, but he could be a bargain if he keeps throwing like he did in ’13 and ’14 and stays moderately healthy.
Vance Worley was, without a doubt, one of the unsung heroes of this year’s team. He really wasn’t given much thought back in March, when the Pirates purchased him from the Twins near the end of spring training. But he went to work with team pitching guru Jim Benedict in Bradenton and eventually turned in some quality starts at Indianapolis (4.30 ERA looks deceiving; was good for a 2.57 FIP, 8.4 K/9 and 0.8(!) BB/9). By the middle of June, the Vanimal found himself back on a big league roster.
With Cole and Liriano on the mend, Worley stuck around and turned in some solid outings. He wasn’t overpowering (90 mph fastball and average of 6 K per 9), but consistently got the job done thanks to his impeccable command and some help from his defense. A few of the more memorable pitching performances were on Worley’s right arm: his complete game shutout vs. Madison Bumgarner and the Giants on July 28th, and his eight-inning shutout performance vs. Milwaukee on September 21st, the final regular season home game. He was a classic example of the kind of pitching depth good teams need to have. No team will keep their rotation healthy and intact all season long; you need these type of guys to come in, and not only stop the bleeding, but also perform. Vance Worley did just that.
Edinson Volquez… unreal. Proof that sometimes we just need to shut up and believe in what the front office is doing.
His success has been talked about at length, and while it may have been smoke and mirrors, there’s no denying what he did in 2014. Kudos to Searage, Benedict & Co. for fixing him up. Volquez was visibly a different pitcher than he had been in the past, showing a more consistent delivery and release point, while refining his repertoire and game plan. He threw some important innings for the Bucs, and his last 12 regular season starts were quite dominant (1.78 ERA). We all know what happened in the Wild Card game, but … yeah.
Fresh off a three-year contract extension signed last December, Charlie Morton was counted on to be an anchor in the Bucco rotation. For someone with an injury history as lengthy as Charlie’s, that isn’t too wise of a strategy. He lasted until August, when we learned he had been pitching through a sports hernia and needed to be shutdown. He re-appeared for one start in mid-September, but couldn’t last. Morton underwent hip surgery on Sept. 26th, which will leave him out of game action for 6-8 months.
Overall, it’s hard to hate what he does & did this year when he can stay on the field — his respectable 3.72 ERA was matched by a 3.72 FIP; he posted the best strikeout rate of his career (7.2 per 9) along with his always stellar ground ball rate (56%). The reality is that he just can’t keep healthy. If he could log even 180-200 innings, he’d be a great asset at the back of a rotation.
Another weird season for 2013 “All-Star” Jeff Locke. He started 2014 in Indianapolis and didn’t stick with the big league club until June. But he filled in when necessary and spent the final four months of the season in the rotation. Once again, glimpses of dominance followed by ultimate disappointment:
First Half (56 innings) — 2.89 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 0.96 BB/9, .232/.259/.343 opponent slash line
Second Half (75.1 innings) — 4.66 ERA, 5.42 FIP, 4.06 BB/9, .266/.353/.451 opponent slash line
Locke’s proved to be effective when he knows where the ball’s going. When he loses his command and starts walking people, it’s game over.
Brandon Cumpton again filled in as a spot starter when necessary. With the exception of a 10-run abomination vs. Los Angeles, Cumpton did a pretty nice job — he bounced back from that terrible start with five good outings in June, posting a 2.97 ERA in over 30 innings.
The problem with Cumpton as a starter is his limited repertoire (fastball-slider), which doesn’t fool many hitters the second/third time he faces them…
1st PA – .247/.333/.286
2nd PA – .357/.378/.440
3rd PA – .290/.353/.435
Wandy Rodriguez deserves no recognition for his six outings, which looked more like batting practice. He was rightfully cut by mid-May, but got the last laugh as he took $13 million from the Pirates and Astros.
Welcome back, A.J. Yes, he had a bad year in Philly, but his 2012-2013 performance and inning-eating was sorely missed in the Pirate rotation. He’ll join Cole, Worley, and Locke as the healthy Pirate starters. Charlie Morton’s status is uncertain for now. Hopefully this is the summer Jameson Taillon can jump to the majors, although he may need more time as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Also keep an eye on Nick Kingham at Indianapolis. It’s looking like the Pirates should sign or trade for another starter, whether that’s Liriano or someone else. They could use a top/mid-rotation guy to fit between Cole and Burnett, and the depth is always necessary.
Next up: we’ll review the bullpen.