The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates won games with elite pitching and defense. The plan for 2014 was supposed to be the same, but so far, that plan isn’t exactly going well. When a team is built around what is expected to be dominant pitchers, with less emphasis placed on offense, it can’t afford to have a middle-of-the-pack pitching staff. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Pirates have right now.
In 2013, the Pirates’ pitching staff as a whole produced an amazing 3.27 ERA which ranked third behind only the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. Much of the Pirates’ success last season could be credited to an elite 52.5 ground-ball percentage from their pitching staff and a dominant bullpen which had a 2.89 ERA.
This season, the story hasn’t been the same. The starting pitching has been horrid, ranking 21 out of the 30 teams with a 4.33 ERA. As an entire staff, the Pirates rank 13 with a 3.72 ERA, but that is because the bullpen has been just as good as it was last season, with a 2.47 ERA.
If the starting pitching can get back to even close to what it was in 2013, the Pirates will be fine. The problem with that is that it is far from a guarantee that the starters can do so. Charlie Morton has looked excellent at times, but he tends to have a horrible inning that makes his start look bad. Lefty Francisco Liriano has never had good back-to-back seasons, and so far in 2014, there are signs that he won’t be the same pitcher that he was last year. Wandy Rodriguez has been getting hit hard and he isn’t fooling opposing hitters. He is missing his spots and his velocity is down. The combination of age and injuries appear to be winning the battle against Rodriguez.
Luckily for the Pirates, the Edinson Volquez experiment has worked so far, but will it continue? His command has been excellent, but he has a track record of being horrible. If you would have told me that the Pirates’ ace in 2014 would be Volquez, I would have cried because that would have meant their pitching would be terrible.
Fortunately, the baseball season is still very young. There is still plenty of time for the Pirates to turn things around. Getting better, more consistent performances from Liriano and Morton will be the biggest factors. Expecting much from Rodriguez, at this point, would be foolish.