It’s the best time of the year.
Opening Day is only a day away and as the Pittsburgh Pirates get set to open the 2013 season, I conclude my trip around the diamond with a stop in the bullpen.
The bullpen was a strength of the team for most of 2012, as the Bucs had one of the best bullpens in the majors. The eighth and ninth inning combination of Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan were light’s out. The mere fact that the Bucs did not lose a game that they had the lead after seven innings until the last week of the season spoke to how much of a weapon that their bullpen was.
That’s a luxury that they don’t have any long as not only is Hanrahan gone, but Brad Lincoln still needs replaced. Clint Hurdle never found a suitable replacement for Lincoln after he was dealt at the trade deadline and that led to some of the late season problems.
With that being said, let’s take a look around the pen and project exactly how these guys will fare in 2103.
Jason Grilli: Pitching in the ninth inning is a lot different than pitching in the eighth inning, as many pitchers have found out. Grilli turned in a All-Star like first half last season and even though he had some bumps in the road, it’s nice to see the 36-year old back in black-and-gold this season.
However they are showing a lot of faith in Grilli’s ability to close. We will see how confident they are after a few blown saves.
Grilli has earned the opportunity though and should be fine, but Mark Melancon will be next in line if he falters.
2013 Projections: 2-5, 31 SV, 70 IP, 85 K, 3.25 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Mark Melancon: Melancon is coming off of a terrible season in Boston, but still has a live arm. Despite a 6.20 ERA a season ago, his strikeout rate was up, while his walk rate was down. Many of his problems came as the result of home runs, which PNC Park should cure.
If he rebounds, he is a nice grab for the Bucs, as I expect him to get some save opportunities this season. I mentioned in my starting pitchers preview how James McDonald was the X-factor of the rotation, well the same goes for Melancon and the bullpen. If he is strong out of the gate, then the Bucs have a chance to have a good bullpen. If he is not, I hate to see how bad this pen could be.
2013 Projections: 4-3, 10 Sv, 71 IP, 64 K, 3.26 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Tony Watson: Watson has turned into a reliable lefty out of the pen. Hopefully Hurdle doesn’t have to overuse him in 2013.
2013 Projections: 4-4, 65 IP, 60 K, 3.60 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Wilson gives Hurdle a second lefty out of the pen for a change, which is a big deal as he can play matchups more often. He has a live arm, but we will see how his control holds up and if he can handle the strain of a full big league season.
2013 Projections: 2-4, 45 IP, 40 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
Hughes is coming off of a very good rookie season and I look for him to continue that and play a major role in the Pirates bullpen. If Melancon falters, I can see Hughes moving into a late inning role.
2013 Projections: 4-3, 74 IP, 60 K, 3.41 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Leroux can be used as an emergency starter if needed. He’s a guy who has a live arm and one that the Pirates like. He’s another question mark though as we don’t know how he will hold up through a full season.
2013 Projections: 3-5, 70 IP, 60 K, 4.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
It was a bit of a surprise that Gomez made the team over a guy like Ryan Reid, as it looked as if Reid had pitched his way onto the team. Gomez gives Hurdle another option if he needs a starter. The 25-year old didn’t have a great spring, nor did he have a great 2012, where he posted a 5.96 ERA in over 90 innings of work. He must have shown something though to make the team
2013 Projections: 2-6, 75 IP, 55 K, 4.80 ERA, 1.45 WHIP
Say what you want about Hanrahan, the guy got the job done. It may have been a bit nerve-wracking, but “The Hammer” saved 76 games in 84 opportunities during the last two years. It will be awfully difficult to replace that production.
With that being said, trading Hanrahan wasn’t a bad thing, but the timing was curious as they could have gotten a better haul from him at the trade deadline last year or maybe even at this year’s deadline. But we all know how finances played a role in things, so it is what it is.
With that being said, the Pirates bullpen was a real weapon a season ago. Looking at it on paper, it’s shaky at best heading into 2013.
The one thing I will give Neal Huntington credit for is the fact that he has been able to piece together a pretty good bullpen every season, but to say that this year’s pen will equal or even come close to that of last season would be wrong.
This pen is likely to struggle and that is something that Hurdle really hasn’t had to deal with too much during his tenure in Pittsburgh.