In which we consider the possibility that maybe the Pirates’ pitching staff will collapse into oblivion after all

With the Pirates’ surge to relevancy over the last month, lots of people (myself included) have tried to quantify their chances of finishing .500/winning the division/winning a wild card/not having the worst record in history over the final 62 games after being in first place through 100. These people (myself included) have generally concluded that one of the reasons that the Pirates might do one of these things is that the pitching staff is less likely to collapse into a super-massive black hole that rivals the galactic center. This not necessarily a poor hypothesis, but I’ve noticed recently that unless AJ Burnett or James McDonald is on the mound, my general feelings about the game before the game begins are, “We’re probably boned.” This is a subjective assessment, but I asked myself last night how I could assure people that I think the rotation will be OK when I think that 60% of it might possibly suck. Let’s investigate.

Here are Erik Bedard’s stats since leaving his start on May 9th with back spasms: 8 G, 43 IP, 44 H, 27 R/ER, 35 K, 20 BB, 5 HR. Important rates: 5.65 ERA, 7.3 K/BB, 4.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, .262/.342/.429 against with a .302 BABIP. Short starts, poor control, fewer strikeouts. This is a bad pitcher.

Since May 10th, Kevin Correia has struck out 19 hitters in 51 innings. He has allowed 10 home runs. Hitters have a .338 OBP and a .505 slugging percentage. Somehow, his ERA is only 4.41 in this span. This is a disaster waiting to happen and I don’t care if you think I’m the boy that cried wolf on this one. I’m right. 

Brad Lincoln made four starts in a row this month. He made it out of the fifth inning in one of them. His one good start was very encouraging, yes, but there are plenty of questions about whether or not he can hack it in a big league rotation.

The ZiPS projections for Jeff Karstens for the rest of the season are a 4.79 ERA/4.55 FIP. He’s still a bit of a wild card based on his injury and no one understanding exactly how he managed to be successful last year. 

Rudy Owens has a strikeout rate of 6.3/9 in Triple-A. Jeff Locke has a strikeout rate of 7.8/9 in Triple-A. Both guys would more or less be stabs in the dark if you put them into a big league rotation.

AJ Burnett is 35 and averaging more innings per start than any year since his first in New York. His groundball rate is 56.8%, when it hasn’t been over 50% since 2007. I’m not saying he can’t keep it up, I’m saying that when a pitcher suddenly pitches differently at the age of 35 than he has in the past, it’s worth noticing and thinking about.

James McDonald is pretty awesome, but he’s thrown 100+ in five of his last six starts and he threw 120, by far a career high, to get his complete game against the Twins. Before July 2nd last year, he threw 100+ pitches in five of eight starts. In 15 starts after that, he did it once. He’s entering his prime, so maybe this won’t be a big deal. Again, though, it’s worth noticing and mentioning. 

I’m not saying that the Pirates’ pitching staff is going to completely implode on itself again, but I am saying that I think that it’s time to reconsider the notion that the Pirates’ pitching staff will be good enough to keep them in contention through the summer. There are a lot of red flags here and even with Karstens healthy I’m not sure there’s nearly as much depth as people thought there was a month ago. 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.