The Pittsburgh Pirates have shown signs that they are improving as a team, averaging over 75 wins in the last two seasons. Andrew McCutchen has established himself as a superstar and the leader of the team with his MVP-caliber season in 2012. A.J. Burnett did a solid job leading the rotation after being acquired from the New York Yankees in the off-season. With top prospects like Jameson Tallion and Gerrit Cole waiting in the minors, the Pirates will have a lot of options with their rotation for the 2013 season.
RHP Burnett had a very impressive rebound season in 2012, going 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA in just over 200 innings pitched. At 36, Burnett has seen his fastball velocity drop from 94 mph in 2009 with the Yankees to 92 mph last year. This diminished fastball velocity has allowed Burnett to improve his control, seeing his BB/9 rate drop from 4.2 to 2.7 walks per 9 innings in the same period of time. Manager Clint Hurdle will need Burnett to carry the rotation again in 2013.
RHP James McDonald may have the best stuff in this Pirates rotation and has a ton of potential, but has struggled with injuries leading to some inconsistencies. GM Neal Huntington said McDonald “battled a little bit of physical issues, which led to confidence issues” in 2012. McDonald went 12-8 with a 4.21 ERA in only 29 starts during the 2012 season. He will try to put everything together for a whole season in 2013.
LHP Francisco Liriano originally signed a two-year deal worth close to $13 million, but a fractured non-throwing arm sustained in a freak accident over the holidays forced the Pirates and Liriano the restructure the deal to a one-year contract worth $1 million with an option for 2014 worth $8 million.
Liriano had a disappointing 2012 season, going 6-12 with 5.34 ERA, including a trade from the Minnesota Twins to the Chicago White Sox. It is unknown if Liriano will be ready for the start of the season, but if so, he will be a key player in this rotation. But if Liriano is not ready, expect LHP Jeff Locke to take his spot in the rotation.
LHP Wandy Rodriguez will pitch his first full season with the Pirates in 2013 after spending the first 7 ½ years of his career with the Houston Astros. Acquired at the trade deadline last season, Rodriguez has made 30+ starts in each of the last four seasons. Healso boasts one the best curveballs in the MLB, averaging 9 runs above average over the last two seasons. Wandy’s veteran experience and durability will be a valuable asset to the Pirates in 2013.
RHP Jeff Karstens showed signs of improvement in the 2012 season, posting a 3.97 ERA in 15 starts with a career low BB/9 rate of 1.5. Karstens has spent parts the last five seasons with the Pirates and relies on batters making contact with a groundball rate of 40.6 percent for his career. He will occupy the fifth spot in the rotation for now, but if either Tallion or Cole becomes available to come up this year, they will take this spot.
Hurdle will have a lot of options for this rotation in 2013. This is just the projected rotation going into spring training–it could look very different come Opening Day and will likely be very different in the middle of the season. Hopefully for Pirates fans, they will get to see one their top prospects come up to the majors and make an impact this season.