Ranking the Pirates’ rotation, and how to identify undervalued prospects


MOBILE COMMAND CENTER – With or without you, A.J. Burnett, there’s still a lot to like about the Pirates’ starting rotation. And I think it’s fair to suggest that more than any other component of a team, the rotation is most mission critical in creating success and stability.

I’m not an ESPN Insider, but I’m told Buster Olney ranks the top five rotations in baseball like this (and I don’t think the remaining free agent starting pitchers would do much to change these rankings);


1. Tigers

2. Dodgers

3. Nationals

4. Cardinals

5. Pirates


Assuming Wandy Rodriguez is healthy to start the season — the Pirates expect him to be healthy for the start of spring training — the Pirates rotation projects something like this:


1. Francisco Liriano

2. Gerrit Cole

3. Charlie Morton

4. Edinson Volquez 

5.  Rodriguez


Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton and Jeanmar Gomez will provide back-of-the-rotation depth and Jameson Taillon is on standby beginning in June.


Olney’s ranking of fifth overall might be a notch or too high for my taste without Burnett or another quality proven option but it’s a group of starting pitching options that is envied by most teams in baseball.


Yes, Liriano is a regression candidate. Yes, Volquez is a lottery ticket. And, yes, the Pirates need to see Rodriguez healthy. But full seasons from Cole and Morton, and the presence of Taillon, balance that risk with upside.


This is a staff loaded with solid command, swing-and-miss stuff and the proclivity to produce historic groundball rates.


I don’t have much issue with Olney’s list but here’s where the Pirates rank first: in starting pitching value.


The projected cost of that rotation on Opening Day (minus the dollars from the Astros) is $23 million, or  less than one Zack Greinke ($26 million) in 2014.


*Salary Breakdown: Rodriguez $7.5 million (Astros pay $5.5 million of $13 million), Liriano $6 million, Volquez $5 million, Morton $4 million, Cole $500,0o0.



I missed this piece before Christmas  but Dave Cameron did some exhaustive research on what kind of bias there is among Baseball America top 100 prospect lists.


There’s probably 9,000 words there so if you’re in a hurry here are the findings on why a player like Robinson Cano was never ranked as a top 100 prospect or why some other future stars were ranked low on the list:


1) Ignore draft status. 

One recurring theme was that late-round college selections who performed at the minor league level were often undervalued. A poster child of this is Matt Carpenter, a 13th round pick, who raked but because of his age and lacking pedigree never was viewed as much of a prospect … Jordy Mercer might never be a star but because he wasn’t a first-round pick because he was perceived to be a low-upside college player, perhaps he is the kind of player who is had a bias working against him.


2) Age is just a number. Too often players get pumped up because they’re young for the level or too harshly criticized because they’re a little bit older than the league average age. First of all, it’s not the player’s fault. More importantly, as one of my favorite scouts likes to say, “They don’t check IDs in the batter’s box.”

So maybe the fact that Andrew Lambo crushed minor-league pitching at Age 25 isn’t quite the red flag many of us think or thought it should be.


3) Size is just a number. Or, rather, a couple numbers. But that’s one of the best things about baseball—it takes all shapes and sizes. Yogi Berra was 5-foot-7 and Randy Johnson was 6-foot-10. Willie Mays was 5-foot-10 and Mickey Mantle was 5-foot-11. Babe Ruth is listed at 215 pounds, but he likely weighed more. Pedro Martinez was 5-foot-11, 170-pounds and can compete against someone like Frank Thomas, who was 6-foot-5, 240 pounds.

The Pirates’ pitching prospects, are for the most part, of prototype size, which is still ideal but it’s still interesting to note.


4) Profiles aren’t the be-all, end-all / Believe in the bat.  Another recurring trend with many of the players listed above is that they could hit, but other question marks somewhere in their game—whether it be defensive skills, or a lack of power, or a lack of speed—held them back from being ranked higher. Evaluators can sometimes be too dismissive of players who don’t perfectly fit the standard positional profiles. But hitting ability is the most important attribute for a position player. “If you can hit, you can play,” as the saying goes.

Maybe Alen Hanson can stick at shortstop. ….


5) Control is more important than stuff.

 Nick Kingham has a higher floor than Tyler Glasnow, and his ceiling might not be too far behind, either.


– TS