Part 2: Who Makes the Grade? – The Pitching Staff
The midway point of the season has come and gone. The Pirates sit at 53-35, just 2 ½ games behind the Cardinals. Recently, I took a look at the position players. Now, I turn my attention to the strength of the team, the rotation.
Gerrit Cole – A
Gerrit Cole has emerged into what the Pirates envisioned when they drafted him first overall in the 2011 draft. He is clearly the ace of this team for years to come and one of the best pitchers in baseball. His 2.30 ERA puts him in the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball. Some of Cole’s success is due to him using his slider 10% more than he did last year and opponents are hitting .172 off of it. He still needs work on his changeup, but it’s hard to complain about his results.
A.J. Burnett – A
Burnett has said this is his last season. What a way to go out. He’s an All-Star for the first time in his career and, man, he deserves it. We all know the story, he left the Pirates, had an abysmal year with the Phillies and returned to Pittsburgh for one final year. Neal Huntington likely thought he was getting a number 3 starter when he signed Burnett. He’s gotten that, and more. Burnett has the 2nd lowest ERA among starters. He probably isn’t going to continue at this pace, but he’s been worth every penny to this point.
Francisco Liriano – A-
Lost in the greatness of Gerrit Cole and resurgence of A.J. Burnett is how good Liriano has been. His strikeouts per 9 innings is the highest it’s been since his 2006 All-Star campaign and his walk rate is his lowest since 2010. The only concern with Liriano is his lack of durability. He threw 161 innings in 2013 and 162.1 in 2014. When healthy, he’s a very solid number two starter. As long as Liriano stays healthy the Pirates top three pitchers have the ability to carry them deep into the postseason.
Charlie Morton – B-
Morton is what he is, a back of the rotation starter. When he commands his sinker and curveball he can be dominant, but his inconsistencies limit him. He actually hasn’t been bad this year. His ERA is largely inflated due to one start in Washington. Morton has an ERA of 2.63 if you throw out the disaster on June 21st and six of his nine starts have been quality starts. Morton is an adequate number four or five starter for a contender.
Jeff Locke – C
Jeff Locke is frustrating, but he’s an average fifth starter. His strikeouts are up this year and he isn’t nibbling nearly as much as he did in 2013 and the second half of 2014. Locke struggled in the beginning of the season, but he has been better in his last three starts allowing 2 earned runs over 18 innings. If the Pirates decide to get a starting pitcher at the deadline Locke would likely be the odd man out. If not, he will be when the Pirates go to a four man rotation in the postseason. For now, he is serviceable.
Bullpen – B+
Having the third best ERA in baseball gets this group a B. The back end has been phenomenal led by Mark Melancon, who bounced back after struggling early on. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes have also been great. Vance Worley has been okay as a long reliever and Arquimedes Caminero has been solid in middle relief, but the Pirates could use another middle reliever. Antonio Bastardo is maddeningly inconsistent and the last spot is currently taken by minor league journeyman Deolis Guerra. They could use some help to avoid overuse with Melancon and Watson.
SCB Pirate Blogger
Graphic source: ESPN