After looking at the hitters a couple of weeks ago, Charlie from Bucs Dugout and I discuss the state of the starting rotation as we head in to Neal Huntington's second winter.
WHYGAVS: Maholm did a great job increasing strikeouts and cutting down on his hits and as a result, he was by far the best pitcher the Pirates had in 2008. Still, I think that the terribleness of the rest of the Pirates' staff kind of obscured the fact that he's still no more than a middle of the rotation guy. He seems perfectly able to give the Pirates 200 decent innings, but counting on him for more than that is raising expectations too high.
Bucs Dugout: Maholm is already better than I ever thought he would be, but he also had a .273 BABIP this year. Given the Pirates' horrid defense, his ERA will probably take a hit next season. Still, I can't complain.
WHYGAVS: I absolutely think he'll probably take a step back next year, but I think the most important thing to note is that his strikeouts this year increased from 5.3 per nine innings to 6.1 per nine. Which is to say that while we're both saying things like "middle of the rotation guy" and "ERA will probably take a hit," he really did show a lot of improvement last year and I'm certainly not denying that.
WHYGAVS: I cautiously feel like he slowly came around after his DL stint and the numbers bear that out a little bit, but even in the second half he's been very hit or miss, swinging from a dominant eight or nine strikeout performance to one where he can't find the strikezone and looks like batting practice. There's allegedly been some interest in him from teams that want to use him as a reliever, but trading him here would feel like selling at an ultimate low point.
Bucs Dugout: I wouldn't trade him either, but I;d try to get him to work on his pitch selection. There isn't anything wrong with his stuff, but I often fail to see the logic in the pitches he chooses. He often throws like he's playing "swing the sledgehammer, ring the bell" at a carnival--as if the point is to show how tough he is, rather than to make outs. He also struggled not only with his control, but with his command; he seemed to give up a whole lot of hits on pitches that were in slightly the wrong location. He can still be a successful starter, but he needs coaching.
Bucs Dugout: I'd be interested to see you investigate that.
WHYGAVS: I don't understand how a pitcher can speed off of his fastball, lose all control of the strikezone, and not be hurt. I don't really know what else to say here. FanGraphs charted his fastball over a mile an hour slower this year and his walk rate almost doubled.
Bucs Dugout: So did his home run rate. I agree; he was hurt. I'm pretty sure we're going to see an article written next March where Gorzelanny says his shoulder (which bothered him in Spring Training, and which Dejan Kovacevic
WHYGAVS: Duke DID finally up his strikeouts a bit this year and on the whole looked a little better than he did last year, but I think my favorite part about his statline this year is this: the team's DER while he was pitching went from .632 to .685. To slighly geek out, according to the Hardball Times, his expected fielding-indepedent ERA was 4.79 in 2007 and 4.81 this year, which means that all that really happened this year was that the Pirates played better defense behind Duke. We're probably too hard on him and he's a serviceable fifth starter when healthy, but I'd love to see someone actually push him a bit for that job next year.
Bucs Dugout: A .685 DER means he still got among the worst defensive support of any starter in baseball. I'm not so familiar with xFIP, but I'll see your geek-out and raise you 3.14159265 geek-outs: What the xFIP appears to be doing is penalizing Duke for the number of fly balls he allowed that didn't turn into homers. Given that Duke is a lefty pitching in a ballpark that's not very friendly to right-handed power hitters and that this is the third time in his career that his xFIP has been markedly higher than his FIP (that is, his fielding-independent numbers without all the adjusting for home runs), I'm not sure xFIP is the best stat to use here. His FIP is a more palatable 4.46. I think he's a decent pitcher and that PNC is a good park for him, but the Pirates' defense is still killing him.
WHYGAVS: I have been out-geeked! What worries me about Duke is that he subjectively seems to get hit harder than the other pitchers in the staff. I agree that a good defense would help him out tremendously, but he still had a BABIP of .327 this year and he's always among the league leaders in that stat (though so is Snell, so maybe I'm off base here) and I feel like some of that must have to do with something he's doing and not something the defense is doing.
Bucs Dugout: Would you believe that not only his groundball percentage, but also his line drive percentage, were better than the league average? I agree; subjectively, he seems to get hit hard. But it might look different if a few more defenders happened to get into the paths of those line drives. He allowed 58 doubles last year, against 829 total batters faced; that's a ton. Given that his line drive percentage is a bit below average, though, I see no reason to exempt Duke from the usual rules that govern pitchers' fates. I still think his defense is pwning him.
WHYGAVS: He's really Zach Duke from the right side. His strikeouts, line drive percentage, everything with the Pirates was very similar to Duke's, albiet with a smaller sample size. I'd throw him into the mix for the rotation next year, but I think he's potentially the second least useful player the team acquired in its two deadline deals, and since Craig Hansen was involved in those trades that's not a good thing.
Bucs Dugout: It's not, but I like watching Karstens pitch; you can see him plan when he sets batters up, much the way you could see Duke plan at the beginning of his career. (Hopefully this doesn't mean he'll have to spend the next three years in free-fall.) Unfortunately, Karstens is another pitcher who isn't going to do well in the long term until the Pirates improve their defense. He only struck out four batters per nine for the Pirates this year; he can do a bit better than that, but he'll still have to rely on fielders to make outs for him.
WHYGAVS: 134 walks in 520 1/3 minor league innings, 29 walks in 64 1/3 major league innings. Until he gets his walks under control here, he's going to have a lot of trouble. From what I saw of him with the Pirates, he got hit pretty hard. I think he deserves a longer look in the rotation, but my hopes aren't terribly high.
Bucs Dugout: One problem was that when he first was called up, he was throwing his fastball around 94 MPH. Then a couple starts later it was down around 92. Shortly after the trade, he was throwing 99 MPH in the minors. This is far too big a disparity to be explained away by pointing to persnickety radar guns. Ohlendorf has admitted he tired down the stretch. I'll be interested to see what he can do at the beginning of the season, when his arm is fresh. If he really throws 99 next year--I'm dubious, but still--he could surprise people, because he has a good breaking ball.
WHYGAVS: He walked a lot of hitters in his short stint in the rotation before his injury, but besides that he was pretty decent for a scrap-heap pickup. Still, he's been mostly shut-down since mid-June with shoulder problems, besides one short start at an attempted comeback, and that's a bad sign. I don't expect much, if anything, from him next year.
Bucs Dugout: Me neither, frankly, and I think the Bucs should be grateful they got anything from him this year. He barely struck out more batters than he walked, and that wasn't just because of the shoulder; he never had an impressive month in the K:BB category, even at the beginning of the season, when the shoulder was supposed to be healthy. There were times when he had a low ERA, but we should take a step back: he had a 5.26 ERA this year, and it's been years since he did anything interesting in the minors. There's nothing here.
WHYGAVS: 99 strikeouts and 18 walks in 118 1/3 AAA innings this year at the age of 25. That's a bit old for the level, but it's time to get him in the rotation and I assume he's going to be given every chance to take a spot next spring.
Bucs Dugout: I don't see why he shouldn't. He was drafted at a relatively old age and hasn't spent much time in the minors, so his upside may be better than his raw stats indicate. He also works hard. He has more upside than most of the other pitchers on this list, frankly, and I think he's a good bet to provide solid innings in the rotation next year. He'll allow a ton of fly balls, but he'll eventually benefit from the presence of the other McCutchen in the outfield, and PNC suppresses homers. Between the three pitchers they acquired and Jose Tabata, the Xavier Nady trade could really end up looking good for the Pirates. The Jason Bay trade may not, which is ironic given the way most analysts graded the two trades at the time.
WHYGAVS: As scrap-heap pickups go, I'm much more interested in a guy like Barthmaier who may have struggled with the Pirates, but had a very nice breakthrough at the age of 24 in AAA with pretty good ratios all around. I'll watch him get shelled a million times before I have to watch John Van Benschoten again. He should probably get a shot at the rotation in the spring.
Bucs Dugout: Yeah, he was an excellent pickup, as minor signings go. I'm not worried about the three major league starts; the last two came after he had several weeks off. The year he had in the minors was in the same vein as the years he had in 2005 and 2006, when he was a well-regarded prospect in the Astros system. 2007 simply looks like a glitch in an otherwise functional program. He can be a useful back-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Neal Huntington's trades at the deadline have been much maligned, but his additions of McCutchen, Ohlendorf, Karstens and Barthmaier (the last being a free talent acquisition, of course, not a trade acquisition) may well prevent the Pirates from having a 100-loss season in 2009. The offense next year will be worse, but the pitching will be a bunch better, if only because there will be no reason for the Pirates to stick with a Gorzelanny or, in the bullpen, a Franquelis Osoria, if they don't perform.
WHYGAVS: Well, I think we could probably do a whole different conversation on Huntington's trade deadline deals at this point ... but yeah, at the very least Huntington's moves should have prevented the need to cycle Van Benschoten and Herrera through the rotation again.