Pittsburgh Pirates Season Preview: A look at the starting pitchers

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With the Pittsburgh Pirates ready to kick off the 2013 season, I continue my trip around the diamond with a look at the starting pitchers.

If there is one major cause for concern on this team, it’s with the starting rotation.

Mar 4, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) against the Philadelphia Phillies during a spring training game at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Back-to-back years now, the Pirates pitching staff has gotten them off to good starts, but haven’t been able to put together a full six months as they have played a major role in two consecutive collapses.

Will this year be different?

On paper it is hard to think so.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the 2013  starting pitchers.

Starters

A.J. Burnett: Burnett was simply outstanding a season ago, both on the mound and as a locker room presence.

On the mound, his walks were down while his strikeout rate remained high. He also got a ton of ground balls, something he had success with early in his career.

With that being said, I expect to see some decline in his effectiveness this season, although his numbers should still be good. Through 14 years,  Burnett has never really put back-to-back dominant seasons together. If anything, it would be nice to see another “Sit the @#$% Down” moment from Burnett this season.

2013 Projections: 13-9, 189 IP, 170K, 3.95 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Wandy Rodriguez: While I expect a slight drop off from Burnett, I actually expect Rodriguez to be a little bit better.

After a slow start from Wandy after being acquired from the Houston Astros, Rodriguez really pitched well down the stretch for the Bucs and may have been the team’s best pitcher when the season ended.

Much will be made about his strikeout rate dipping to a career low, but he pitched smarter and threw strikes, reducing his walk rate from 3.25 in 2011 to 2.45 in 2012.

He is reliable when it comes to health and you know what you are going to get from the guy every fifth day. Rodriguez won’t be spectacular, but will be very good.

2013 Projections: 11-7, 190 IP, 150 K, 3.80 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

James McDonald: Here’s where the questions start for the Pirates rotation. Will McDonald be the All-Star caliber pitcher we saw the first half of 2012 or the guy we saw implode during the second half?

That makes him my x-factor for this team. If McDonald performs, then the Pirates have the chance to be pretty good. If he doesn’t, well it likely will be 21 and counting.

This team needs him to be good in a big way. He has the stuff to be a top of the rotation guy, now comes the time where he has to deliver.

His career 4.10 ERA isn’t pretty, but has a decent career strikeout rate of 7.78.

When projecting McDonald, I tend to think he was nowhere near as good as he was in the first half of 2012, but also nowhere near as bad as we saw in the second half of the season. For him to put it all together, he has to eliminate the control issues that plagued him the last couple months of 2012.

2013 Projections: 12-8, 188 IP, 165 K, 3.95 ERA, 137 WHIP

Jonathan Sanchez: When he was going well with the San Francisco Giants, Sanchez was a guy I always liked, despite his control issues. However he is coming off the worst season of any pitcher this century, posting an 8.07 ERA last season with the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies.

On the bright side, Sanchez looks healthy.

On the negative side, he is  guy that has had exactly one good major league season (2010) and control issues are always a problem.

It would be nice if Sanchez can put it together, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The saddest part is the fact that he is the best option the Pirates have this long into Neal Huntington’s era. Something has to be said for that. I wouldn’t expect him to last very long in the rotation.

2013 Projections: 4-8, 100 IP, 90 K, 4.85 ERA, 1.65 WHIP

Jeff Locke: I am actually a little higher on Locke than most people and think he can be a decent fifth starter for the Pirates. He has a good makeup and as long as he is throwing strikes, Locke will be fine.

This is his opportunity to show what he can do. If the Pirates give him a full season, I think he can surprise, but I don’t expect him to get a full look as he will be out of the rotation come June, even though I feel he is a better option than the likes of Sanchez, Jeff Karstens and Francisco Liriano.

2013 Projections: 6-6, 90 IP, 85 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.45 WHIP

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