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  • Michael Simione

A Look Into The Pittsburgh Pirates Rotation

On this rainy day in New York, I sat at my desk wondering what to write. I wanted to pick something I would really enjoy, which of course involves pitching since that is all I do. Eventually, it hit me and I thought why not write about a rotation that really intrigues me. Alas, the Pittsburgh Pirates came to mind and they really are very interesting. With the new staff coming in and a change in philosophy, we could be looking at a few breakouts.

Chris Archer

Chris Archer has been disappointing fantasy baseball fans for years now. After three straight seasons of producing a sub-four ERA, he has now failed to do so for four straight seasons. If you split Archer’s 2019 season into two halves you get a 5.49 ERA with a 5.92 FIP in the first half and a 4.61 ERA with a 3.29 FIP in the second half. While this may stand out, Archer has had an ERA over his FIP for five straight seasons now.

If you look at Archer’s last three seasons you will see he is trending in the wrong direction. His overall xwOBAcon, Barrel%, and dERA (deserved ERA) have gone up every single year. Diving into him pitch-wise, one flaw I see is with his changeup. He used to have a nice 10 MPH difference between his changeup and four-seam fastball, but that has dwindled to a 7 MPH difference, resulting in his changeup’s xwOBAcon to rise. Albeit this is a pitch he doesn’t throw often but it is his third offering which is important. Archer has said he is going back to the pitch mix he had when he was really successful. That plus the new coaching philosophy could help.

What he needs to throw less: Slider

What he needs to throw more: Four-Seam

Overall Projection: 4.05 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Joe Musgrove

Musgrove has gained a lot of hype this offseason, as he seems to appear on every list on twitter. Musgrove does have the stuff to break out and become one of the better pitchers in the league, but a few things do have to happen.

Again, we keep hearing (and hoping) the Pirates are finally changing their pitching philosophy. If you don’t know, the Pirates loved to throw fastballs at the expense of breaking balls which in today’s game clearly doesn’t work. Finally the new regime is saying they will work to their pitcher’s strengths, which means letting them throw more breaking balls.

Musgrove was essentially forced to throw his fastballs, both of which aren’t very good. His four-seam had a .300 batting average against accompanied by a 138 wRC+. His sinker had a .366 batting average against with a 147 wRC+. Meanwhile, his breaking balls all had a .244 batting average against or less as well as a 86 wRC+ or less. His three breaking balls are all pretty tasteful if he can throw them more often we will be looking at the breakout many are expecting.

What he needs to throw less: Four-seam, Sinker

What he needs to throw more: Slider, Changeup, Curveball

Overall: 3.65 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Trevor Williams

Williams relies on weak contact instead of swings and misses, and after a really good 2018 season, he couldn’t seem to replicate it in 2019. His 5.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP last season looks worse on the surface, as he got a little unlucky with a high BABIP (for him) of .303 and low LOB% of 68.5%. We have to really dig into his 2018 and 2019 numbers/pitch mix to really find out what happened here.

First off he seemed to change his pitch mix, in 2018 he mainly threw his four-seam fastball and sinker. In 2019 he went to a four-seam fastball and slider approach which didn’t fare too well. By increasing his slider usage hitters knew it was coming which made it a lot less effective. In 2018 it had a .178 ISO and 79 wRC+ while in 2019 it had a .221 ISO and 121 wRC+. While I don’t usually condone throwing a lot of fastballs and especially not sinkers, I think Williams needs to go back to that. He did a really good job in 2018 pounding hitters with fastballs and then throwing them off with his slider/sinker/changeup all having roughly the same usage.

What he needs to throw less: Slider

What he needs to throw more: Sinker, Changeup

Overall: 4.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

Mitch Keller

Talk about pitchers who have gained a lot of steam coming into 2020! Keller has been talked about probably more than any other pitcher this offseason. While his 2019 ERA of 7.13 is abysmal, all you have to look at is his 3.19 FIP and .475 BABIP to realize this ERA is a fallacy. But this isn’t even the main reason everyone loves him!

His arsenal has the stuff to be one of the best in the league and that really starts with his slider. His slider had a .200 batting average against, .089 ISO, 45 wRC+, and an insane 26.8 SwStr%. The pitch was just straight-up awesome last year but of course, the Pirates had him use it less and less as the season went on. This is why the new coaching regime I mentioned earlier is so important, because a change in philosophy will do wonders for Keller. While the slider is great, the curveball is a solid third offering for Keller. The main worry is Keller’s four-seam fastball which wasn’t good last year (217 wRC+ against). We shouldn’t worry too much though, as it seems like more of a command issue which he can work on. Also to note, it has a decent rise to it and he does throw it around 95 MPH.

What he needs to throw less: Four-seam fastball

What he needs to throw more: Slider

Overall: 3.75 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Derek Holland

The final rotation spot seems to be down to Derek Holland and Chad Kuhl. Holland seems to have the job but don’t be surprised if he loses it quickly. In 2019 Holland had a 6.08 ERA, 6.10 FIP, and 9.8 K-BB%. All of his pitches were hit very hard with wRC+’s of 125, 143, and 117. Holland is also on the wrong side of 30 and it could make sense for them to go with the 27-year-old Kuhl instead.

What he needs to throw less: Four-seam fastball

What he needs to throw more: Slider

Overall: 4.85 ERA, 1.41 WHIP

Chad Kuhl

Chad Kuhl hasn’t had a ton of opportunity in the major leagues this far in his career. In 85 innings pitched in 2018 he had a 4.55 ERA, 12.9 K-BB%, and 1.44 WHIP. He did not get any innings in 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. Kuhl has a sinker that is pretty terrible but what is intriguing is his slider. Much like Musgrove and Keller, if the Pirates let him throw a ton of sliders he might be somewhat successful. In 2018 his slider produced a 40.6 O-Swing%, 49.3 Zone%, and 21.3 SwStr%. If he gets a shot make sure to keep an eye on him!

What he needs to throw less: Sinker

What he needs to throw more: Slider, Changeup

Overall: 4.35 ERA, 1.31 WHIP