The Pittsburgh Pirates have many areas to seek improvement, but there biggest need is starting pitching.
Will the Pirates get any return at all from the hoards of pitchers GM Neal Huntington has brought to the ‘Burgh over the last few seasons? Will Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke be able to help next season, and how long will it take fire-balling 2010 draftees James Taillon and Allie Stetson plus 16-year-old Mexican bonus baby Luis Heredia to arrive at PNC Park?
The answers to those questions likely will determine if the Pirates can get back to respectability in the next three or four years.
I know that the Pirates’ pitching has been bad over the years, but I hadn’t realized how pathetic the situation had become until I did a little research.
Let’s start with a quiz. Who was the last Pirate to win 20 games? If you guessed John Smiley in 1991 treat yourself to a box seat at PNC Park in 2011. You’ll have plenty of arm and leg room and won’t have to fight for a vendor.
Since Smiley in ’91, 202 pitchers in the major leagues have won 20 games in a season. And since Todd Ritchie, the last Pirate to win 15 games in 1999, there have been 1,076 pitchers who have won 15. Even worse, Smiley in ’91 was the last pitcher drafted and developed by the Pirates to win 15 games for the Pirates. That’s a span of almost 20 years.
Since then, the three most successful pitchers the Pirates have developed are Bronson Arroyo, Esteban Loaiza and Rick Reed. The trio combined to win 40 games for Pittsburgh with each pitching 3-4 years in the ‘Burgh.
Loaiza was traded to the Rangers in the Warren Morris deal, went 99-86 with seven different clubs over 11 seasons since leaving Pittsburgh. As you may recall, Loaiza won 21 games and finished second in Cy Young voting in 2001.
Reed was released by Pittsburgh and went on to win double-digit games six consecutive seasons, including 15- and 16 games for the Mets and making two All-Star teams.
Even the Royals have had two 15-game winners since Ritchie, including a home-grown Cy Young winner in Zack Greinke. The Nats-Expos franchise has three hurlers, including home-grown Javier Vazquez. Even the pitching-challenged Rangers have seven 15-game winners since 1999, including four from their own farm system.
All four expansion teams have easily outperformed the Pirates; the Rockies (9 15-game winners since 1999, four homegrown), Marlins (6,3) and Diamondbacks (12,1) have combined for 26 pitchers with 15 wins. The Rays (2,1) had two 15-game winners this season in David Price and Matt Garza.
Only the Milwaukee Brewers (1, 1) can match the Pirates’ futility.
At the major league level, All-Star Evan Meek (Rule V Draft) and Joel Hanrahan (Burnett, Morgan deal) have displayed power arms and the ability to dominate the late innings.
But what about the rotation hopefuls acquired? Charlie Morton (McLouth deal), Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen (all in the Nady/Marte deal) have been underwhelming. The faulty foursome had a combined 8-38 record in 76 starts, although Ohlendorf has a chance to to last long term. Top prospect Brad Lincoln won just once in nine starts.
James McDonald, acquired from the Dodgers in the Octavio Dotel deal, won four games by himself in just 11 starts. J-Mac pitched extremely well and will be in the rotation next season along with Paul Maholm and Ohlendorf.
- Injuries have also hit the Bucs. Power arm Craig Hanson (Bay deal) was supposed to be the closer, but he couldn’t hit the proverbial side of a barn door and pitched the last month of the season after being out since April, 2009 because of a nerve condition behind his right shoulder. Kevin Hart and Jose Ascaino (both in the Gorzelanny/Grabow deal) were out all season with arm problems and are marginal at best prospects.
- Huntington said that all of these pitchers were considered major league starters when acquired, but that was a stretch to believe back then and even more so now.
Well maybe the myriad of kids that Huntington acquired and are now toiling in the minor leagues will be the salvation? Think again.
None are considered Grade-A prospects and only one, Locke (McLouth trade), has won 10 games – nine at Class A Bradenton. Locke and Bryan Morris (Bay deal) seem to be the furthest along; both dominated at Bradenton and started well at Class AA Altoona.
Pittsburgh does seem on the right path with Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, but developing pitchers has been a struggle for decades.
Pittsburgh gave up on Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell, but Paul Maholm and Zach Duke just haven’t developed into anything other than bottom-of-the-rotation starters. Brad Lincoln was rushed, the Karstens- Ohlendorf-Morton-McCutchen quartet has been a bust and they’re just isn’t any help on the horizon.
Maybe we can get Todd Ritchie or “Big Daddy” Rick Reuschel back?
About the Author
Written by Jim Keller
I'm a life-long, suffering Pirates fan who is old enough to remember the Lumber Company, the "We are Family" World Series winners and Roberto Clemente, Bob Prince and "Green Weenies." You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @PiratesProperty.