Perhaps the biggest reason the Pittsburgh Pirates had the success that they had in 2013 was the outstanding starting pitching they received pretty much all season long.
Needless to say that hasn’t been the case so far in 2014 as the Pirates’ starting pitching hasn’t just been one reason for the Pirates abysmal start it the season. It has been the main culprit.
A year ago the Bucs finished fifth in all of baseball with a 3.50 ERA from their starters. This season, through 45 games (prior to Thursday night’s win), they rank 26th with a 4.60 mark.
However, it gets much worse for the Pirates starters.
They’ve won a league worst five games. That’s right, the Pirates starters have done the near impossible and have won only five of their first 45 outings, four of which belong to Gerrit Cole.
While starting pitchers really shouldn’t be judged by decisions as wins and losses are out of their hands on most nights, posting a 5-20 mark says a lot.
They often aren’t going deep into ballgames, as their 262.0 innings pitch ranks only 23rd in the majors and has more times than not taxed the Pirates bullpen.
The strikeout to walk ration hasn’t been good either as the Bucs starters have struck out just 203 batters (25th) and walked 82 (19th). Throw in the fact that they own a 1.33 WHIP (19th) and the league is hitting .268 (20th) against them and you can see why this staff has underperformed.
Finally the long ball has hurt this Pirates staff in a major way, as they have allowed the fourth-most homers in baseball (36). Much of that can be put on Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez, but it is still a problem nonetheless.
Coming into the season I was scared to death of this Pirates rotation and with good reason as I often wrote that every starter had major question marks coming into spring training.
Francisco Liriano has never put back-to-back big seasons together in his career. You knew Liriano would regress, but to be sitting here towards the end of May with an 0-4 mark, 4.86 ERA and eye-opening 1.45 WHIP is a major problem.
Will Liriano turn things around? It is hard to answer that question positively right now.
Charlie Morton could be the best pitcher on this Pirates team right now, yet he sits at 0-6. Morton has looked dominant at times and his 3.45 ERA and 1.23 WHIP back that up. Yet a couple bad innings here and there have doomed him, as has the lack of run support.
Morton has thrown the ball good enough to make you believe that his fortunes will turn around. Judging by his career to date, you never know which Morton you are going to get on a given night, but Morton has shown enough to make you confident in him.
Second-year pro Cole has been fine with a 4-3 mark, 3.84 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He’s had some growing pains here and there but every time he takes the ball he gives the Bucs a chance to win.
That brings me to Volquez, who was pitching fairly well as I wrote this Thursday night. However while Volquez came out of the gates pitching well his first five starts in April, he has been lit up like a Christmas tree his last four starts prior to Thursday and owned a 7.88 ERA during the month of May.
That makes Rodriguez’s 6.75 ERA look good. Rodriguez was counted on to be the veteran presence on the Pirates staff and give them innings. That didn’t happen obviously, which raises the question of how much the Pirates miss A.J. Burnett.
Burnett hasn’t been great in 2014, but his 3-3 record and 3.32 ERA would sure look good in a Pirates uniform right now, even though he has walked 30 batters already to go along with 50 punchouts.
Even if you think he wasn’t worth the money the Phillies paid him, it’s hard to argue that Burnett isn’t missed right now.
In the end, it is still early and the Pirates starters have time to turn things around. The good news is that the Bucs still have time to make up ground in the National League Central.
However, they have no chance to do so if the starting rotation doesn’t turn things around in a hurry.
To this point they have failed this franchise.
If they don’t get it fixed soon it is going to be a long summer.