Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 Rotation: A Numbers Game

Brian Burres, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, Brad Lincoln, Paul Maholm, Daniel McCutchen, James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Olsen.

Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, Donnie Veal, Sean Gallagher, Cesar Valdez.

Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris.

What do these guys have in common? They all may get a chance to be a starting pitcher for your Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011.

Hey, the FO must have learned by now that there is security in numbers when it comes to pitching. Last year, the rotation was set going into camp with Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and Kevin Hart. Remember how that worked out?

Morton and his replacement, McCutchen, got bombed; Hart went to the chop shop after being sent down, Ohlie got hurt and it took Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres to more or less come to the rescue, as guys like Dana Eveland and Hayden Penn came and went at a dizzying pace.

In 2009, they started with Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. That staff broke up pretty quickly, too.

Anyway, the Pirates have insurance policies all over this season; they probably have the greatest collection of back-end pitchers in MLB history. There are just two problems: first, J-Mac, Ohlie, and maybe Maholm are the only guys with mid-rotation upside. There is no ace or even #2 arm on the staff right now, and not too darn many #3's, for that matter. So talent is one question.

Problem number two: only five guys can start in Pittsburgh, and one or two others may take up bullpen spots. So that leaves a whole mob of hurlers looking for some work at Indy. Younger pitchers like Owens, Wilson and Morris have to move up, and it's not likely that the Tribe will go to a ten-man rotation to accommodate them all.

To further acerbate the numbers game, Morton, Hart, Ascanio and Karstens are out of options. So are Gallagher and Burres, but the Bucs have them inked to minor-league deals, so at least they're accounted for. The others can be lost if they don't make the cut out of camp.

The Pirates have learned a painful lesson about pitching depth. To their credit, they have addressed it short-term by loading up with guys they can plug in if the situation calls for it, unlike years past. But now, the pressure is on at Indy.

The Pirate evaluators have to determine who they need for big-league insurance while not creating a log jam for the pitchers coming up through the system, and there are quite a few hurlers between Bradenton and Altoona who should be advancing in the system.

Some guys could be moved to the bullpen, like McCutchen, Ascanio, or Karstens, but it will be an interesting challenge for the Pirate brass this year, striking a balance of support for the MLB team and developing the future arms.


WilliamJPellas said...

There's no mystery when it comes to Morton. Why he is even still wearing a "professional" baseball player's uniform is beyond me. I couldn't care less that he is out of options. Oh no, whatever will we do now, sob snif honk. So if it were up to me he wouldn't even be in the conversation. Unfortunately it's not up to me. So, I guess there's at least some possibility that he will make the team out of spring training.

I really liked McCutchen as a gutty gamer type, but it looks like he just doesn't have enough raw stuff to make it in the bigs. He's almost certainly not going to make the team.

So, really, that leaves everybody else. As you said, Ron, this team probably has the greatest collection of 4, 5, and 6 starters that's ever been assembled. At least we won't have to worry about depth this season. Unfortunately it's all mediocre depth. But reliable mediocrity is still better than what we've had since the current regime took over. Hopefully it will be a place to begin, and later in the year we will get a look at two or three kids from the minors, all of whom figure to have more upside than what we have at present.

Ron Ieraci said...

They are deeper, Wil. Still, they're gonna have to winnow out some of those guys to make room for the new wave, I'd think.