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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.

 

IDENTIFYING UNDERVALUED PROSPECTS 

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

Comments

  1. Clemson Travis,

    Good return article. The optimist in me likes what I read.

    The realist in me sees:
    Liriano, who seems to always follow an outstanding season with a poor one
    Gerrit Cole, who has only one dominant HALF SEASON in pro ball and his last year of college
    Charlie Morton, who has never had a stellar complete season in the majors or minors
    Edinson Volquez, who had a 5 & a half ERA with 2 teams in the Majors last season and could have been picked up by any team for a song
    Wandy Rodriguez, whom the Pirates thought would be healthy for the last 2 months of last season

    3 of those guys had Career Years, one is injured, and the other is injured in the head.

    Without looking at my stats pages, I would rank the Mariners starting 5, Tampa Bay’s starters, and Kansas City’s starters, especially if Santana goes back there as rumored, as better than the Buccos. That’s off the top of my head.

    The BMTIB needs to spend some of that new TV money, the attendance money, the concessions moola, and Frank Coonelly’s “top half of local TV contracts” money and go get AJ Burnett back in the fold. Then I will feel comfortable in saying the Pirates have a Top 5 rotation. Move everyone of those starters down one spot with AJ #1 and I’m fine.

    AJ Burnett wants to play. His agent did not attend the Winter Meetings because he was having a Class Reunion.

    The Pirates CANNOT pay AJ inferior money for superior pitching. “Hometown discount” is one thing. “Hometown Thriftshop pricing” is quite another.

  2. NMR says:

    Kansas City? Royals? What year is it?

  3. NMR says:

    Welcome back, Travis. Missed Bucco talk.

    -If healthy, Wandy Rodriguez is the third best starter on this team. Charlie Morton is close behind, but Rodriguez is still the more complete pitcher.

    I would slide the Red Sox rotation into the Top 5. The Atlanta Braves projected rotation also might be a bit better than the Pirates, but they’re counting on two major injury risks without much depth behind them. Braves rotation will also cost about half of what even the Pirates will spend on their thrifty starters.

    Regardless, the Pirates are safely within the Top 10, which is pretty incredible when you think about it.

    -I find it interesting that at least four of the five reasons listed for missing on prospects can be directly attributed to “traditional” scouting techniques. There is a reason no successfull organizations depend solely on the “eye test” anymore.

  4. Groat2Maz2Strangeglove
    December 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Take the sun out of the sky.
    Make Pluto a planet again.
    Put Brandon Phillips in Petco instead of Riverfront.

    In season 2013, Brandon Phillips, not a clean-up hitter, was given the task to drive in runs instead of setting up runs. He produced 104 RBIs. At the same time he fielded at Gold Glove-status.

    He did the job asked. Maybe as the best 2nd Baseman in the Major Leagues.
    His lack of trading partners is not because of declining production, as Sweet Jimmie implied.

    NMR
    December 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    104 RBI still tells us next to nothing about his ability to drive in runs.

    .
    National Mart of Records,

    {I brought the last 2 comments of our responses to Sweet Jimmie’s premise about Brandon Phillips on last thread here, so we do not have to go back and forth between blog entries.}

    .
    MVP Andrew McCutchen’s 2013 RISP line, followed by Brandon Phillip’s RISP line in 2013:

    .282 —— .389 —— .365
    .338 —— .404 —— .469

    1.036 ———— 1.211

    I DON’T like Brandon Phillips. However, he produces with runners on base. And he fields his position better than anyone at 2nd base.

    I’ll take Brandon Phillips’ 104 RBIs and RISP stats any/every day over McCutch’s 84 RBIs and RISP stats.

    Now . . . if you want to pull “a Dejan” on me and tell me “Clutch Hitting” doesn’t matter . . . .

  5. piratemike says:

    I’m really anxious to see how this Volquez experiment works out. If they can harness this wild man it would be really fun. I can just see me watching the game and giggling my ass off but I can also see me screaming at the TV “Huntington, you freaking idiot”, Come on April !

  6. NMR says:

    You know I’ll talk baseball all day, Groat.

    First of all, lets stay on topic that started the discussion. Brandon Phillips is a declining baseball player. And that fact clearly has something to do with his poor trade market. We can debate how much, but it still stands.

    “Now . . . if you want to pull “a Dejan” on me and tell me “Clutch Hitting” doesn’t matter . . .”

    I believe Dejan has only said that “clutch”, as measured by RISP, doesn’t exist. Which is true. Come up with a definition of “clutch” and then tell me how RISP reflects that meaning.

  7. Jim S. says:

    I don’t know if the Bucs’ rotation cracks the top 5, but I’d say top 10 is realistic and the future is so promising. I was with you, Groat, until the KC comment. I don’t see them ranked quite as highly as you do.

    Wandy/Locke is the key for me, and I would not be surprised if we need both of them for much of the 1st half. Like Groat, I just don’t trust (Thomas Alva) Edinson Volquez. Did they just sign him to prove they can fix anyone?

    I can see Straight out of Cumpton getting a handful of starts again this year, and giving us similar output to last year.

    I was not in the Morton camp last year when he came back. His injury history had soured me on him. But, I think he is healthy and confident now, and can be a solid #3 with close to 200 innings. I have become a bit of a believer there.

    Frankie, I think, will be solid though not as spectacular as last year. We’ll see if St. Louis, Cincy and Chicago are as susceptible to LHP as they were last year.

    I see no reason why Cole will not continue to progess and maybe become one of the top 10 starters in the league.

    I don’t see Taillon as having the immediate impact of Cole, but there is no reason why he can’t help this year and develop into a stud in future seasons.

    It would not surprise me if Kingham eventually turns into nearly as good a pitcher as Taillon, though I don’t ever see either of them as being the equal of Cole.

    To me, Glasnow is a beast in the making. I know he is a bit of a wildcard due to the spotty control. But, he seems to be gradually harnessing that control. Also, 13.1 strikeouts per 9 and a .150 BAA (or thereabouts) is not a common thing for any pitcher at an age appropriate level. The upside for him has to rival anyone in MLB.

    Don’t go to sleep on Sadler. We need quality LHP in PNC, and he might be a keeper in time.

  8. NMR says:

    “Did they just sign him to prove they can fix anyone?”

    If you only judge a pitcher by ERA, then sure.

    Otherwise, Volquez is a perfectly viable low cost 5th starter. As is.

  9. Jim S. says:

    Unfortunately, Brandon Phillips pretty much did not hit at all in his other ABs last year, Groat. Don’t those ABs count? There are a lot more of them. I give him credit for hitting with RISP last year. He did a great job there. But, I don’t think that ability can be counted on every year. The vast majority of hitters, over time, hit very similarly overall to what they hit with RISP. So, apparently, the ability to hit in the clutch fluctuates from year to year. That is why a lot of us do not view it as a sustainable ability. The better hitters overall tend to also be the guys who end up hitting well w RISP for their careers.

    Cutch, for instance, has done the following hitting w/ RISP:

    2013 – .282/.389/.365
    Career – .293/.403/.478

    Whereas, in his career in all situations, he is .296/.380/.489. He gets on base more w/ RISP for his career than his overall stats, which I would say is because teams tend to pitch around him w/ RISP.

    Brandon Phillips has tended to hit a bit better w/ RISP for his career than his overall stats and he definitely hit well in those situaitons last year:

    2013 – .338/.404/.469
    Career – .280/.345/.431
    Career all situations – .271/.320/.429

    I’m not arguing that Phillips did not hit well w/ RISP last year. I’m only arguing that guys tend to hit approximately the same in their careers either w/ or w/o RISP if they have enough ABs to be statistically significant.

    My original argument was that Phillips is declining, and MLB knows it. Most teams do not view him as worth the $50 million or so he is due over the next 4 years. The Reds have actively tried to trade him, and even the desperate Yankees opted for the injury-plagued former 2b from Baltimore rather than Phillips. I believe there is a very good chance Phillips will hit nowhere near .338 w/ RISP again this year. I’m not saying it is impossible. I’m just going with the law of averages, and they tend to side with me on this, I believe.

  10. Jim S. says:

    But, he has a career 1.5 WHIP, and has pitched a lot of innings in Petco. I’m not just going by ERA. I’m going by the whole picture. You know me, though. If he pitches well this year, I’ll gladly admit it – as I did with Charlie last year. I just don’t see Volquez harnessing his control. I could see Liriano as a bounce back guy last year, because several years of my eyes had told me he had swing and miss stuff. I know it is risky to trust my non-scout eyes, but I don’t like the idea of giving this guy the ball every 5th day. I see plenty of other options in-house that I would trust from Day 1.

    I do want to be proven wrong, though. I’m wrong a lot, and this would be a situation where I’d love to be wrong again.

  11. Thundercrack says:

    ‘Brandon Phillips is a declining baseball player. And that fact clearly has something to do with his poor trade market.’

    I am no fan of Brandon Phillips. He may be declining but he is also still a very good player. What has to be factored in (and Jim S mentioned it) is his contract. That also has something to do with his trade market. And so may his personality.

  12. Jim S. says:

    Or, is Sadler a RHP who just pitches sort of like a LHP? By that, I mean w/o dominating stuff. I always think of him as a LHP, for some reason.

  13. NMR says:

    You’re right. He has pitched a lot of innings at Petco. 325, in fact, to the tune of a 4.22 FIP / 4.15 xFIP.

    That is a completely viable 5th starter, and I believe it is incredibly optimistic to think the Pirates have a plethora of guys sitting around that could do that over a full season. Which pitchers are you thinking of, if you don’t mind me asking? Maybe we’re talking about different players.

  14. NMR says:

    And fwiw, if you remember my commentary after he was signed, I dind’t have a single good word to say.

    But the reaction of others comparing him to Jonathan Snchez and saying he’s no better than the AAA fodder hanging around Indy is complete hyperbole, IMO.

  15. Cracker,

    Exactly what I said to Sweet Jimmie on previous thread.

    You know, I’ve always liked you!!!

  16. Jim S. says:

    It definitely has something to do with his contract, TC. But, that is not the entire story.

    Phillips turns 33 in June. His last 3 years of slash lines:

    2011 – .300/.353/.457
    2012 – .281/.321/.429
    2013 – .261/.310/.396

    Seems like a decline to me, at exactly the time a guy would normally begin declining.

    Then, there’s Neil Walker. He turns 29 next September, so he is 4+ years younger than Dat Dude BP.

    2011 – .273/.334/.408
    2012 – .280/.342/.426
    2013 – .251/.339/.418

    More consistent for Walker, I’d say. The average took a tumble this year, but he compensated by drawing walks at a higher rate than ever before. I’d say Walker may still be maturing a bit as a hitter.

    Walker also hit in a tougher park, and even though a lot of people want to dismiss that, it is just math. Park variances have a big effect. Put Walker in Cincy and Phillips in Cincy, and things would tilt in Walker’s favor.

    Phillips is owed a fortune, and that alone is a big red flag. But, he’s also not the hitter he was in 2010. Just my opinion, but I’m backing it up with stats.

  17. Dejan argues that “Clutch” does not exist!

    Dejan instead argues that “Lack of Clutch” exists!

  18. Jim S. says:

    I lost track of the other thread, Groat. So, I didn’t see that response. You are definitely correct that contract has a lot to do with his perceived value now, but BP’s hitting has slipped dramatically.

  19. Jim S. says:

    You’re right, NMR. It is dangerous, as I said, to trust my eyes. I always see Volquez struggling, and getting rocked around. I see his velocity slipping. But, the eyes cannot pick up everything. I think my problem is I am treating Volquez as the substitute for AJ, and that is probably not fair to Volquez. He was signed to be a #5. I’d still favor in-house, but it is a good point.

  20. Jim S. says:

    Sorry, I missed your question the first time. Guys I would trust before Volquez as #5 – Pimentel, Taillon, Locke – Cumpton is at least a push vs. Volquez to me.

  21. NMR says:

    You’re gonna have to define “clutch” before we can continue this conversation. Don’t even know if we’re talking about the same thing.

  22. Brandon Phillips has been a Leadoff or # 2 hitter in the line-up most of his career.

    When Ryan Ludwick went down in the Reds’ first series, Phillips was asked to move to Clean-up and produce with men on base.

    His RISP line again was .338 —— .404 —— .469 —— = 1.211.
    He was asked to change his hitting position and style to drive in runs, which he did (104 RBIs, 18 HRs) better than anyone on the Pirates.

    For those like National Mart of Records who believe #1, #4, #6, #8 batting positions are all the same, look at Pedro Alvarez’ and Russell Martin’s splits.

    Sweet Jimmie, now you want to penalize him for doing what he was asked to do by his manager/team?!

  23. NMR says:

    Thought you were very clear in your original post, Jim.

  24. NMR says:

    You aren’t even trying to listen to Jim, are you?

    Lord.

  25. You don’t have to call me “Lord”, National Mart of Records!

    Just call me Mr. Groat2Maz2Strangeglove.

  26. NMR says:

    Haha, you make my day when you’re on here, Groat. I would love to treat you to a beverage some day.

  27. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, NMR. I think Groat and I just are not ever going to agree on this one. And, that’s fine. I like talking baseball with other folks who are equally passionate about it – even if we often don’t agree.

  28. Jim S. says:

    I don’t think Phillips was asked to do anything differently when he was shifted to #4, Groat. I think Dusty felt Phillips was the best available candidate to jump in there, plain and simple. If Dusty knew Phillips would suddenly produce better just by being asked to produce better, he would be kicking himself for not asking him that when he was batting #2.

    I have given Phillips credit for hitting well w/ RISP last year. But, I don’t think it had anything to do with batting 4th. He simply hit well w/ RISP last year. There is nothing mystical about it to me. As I’ve said, Phillips, like just about all players, tends to go up and down in that stat from year to year. This is probably so because hitting w/ RISP represents a fairly low % of their total ABs. Therefore, it tends to even out over their careers.

    My biggest issue is perception not equaling reality in my mind. I don’t believe it when “experts” on ESPN or MLB Network tell me a guy is a great player. I think they are lazy, for the most part, and just go by the collective opinions of their peers, rather than actually digging deeper. The prevailing wisdom among talking heads is that Brandon Phillips is still a great player. You will never hear a so-called expert say anything differently about him. I just think the evidence suggests he is on the decline, and the reputation tends to lag reality. Put him in Petco or SF next year, and I doubt anyone would think he is much of a hitter right now.

  29. NMR says:

    I think our only difference is in potential vs. trust, Jim.

    I see those guys you mentioned (minus Taillon, of course) as POTENTIALLY capable back end starters. But I’m not sure any of them can even manage a full season MLB workload. Jeff Locke is the closest to having any kind of a big league track record to judge, and he flat out failed once the innings racked up.

    I would’ve strongly prefered the team sign a guy like Liriano or Burnett who did have that clear lights out ace potential, and we know for a fact given their offer to Josh Johnson that they would have as well.

    But I still do value having a cheap veteran Major League starter, and just hope the team can get more out of him.

  30. NMR says:

    Haha, completely agreed. You and Groat have about as opposite of personalities as it gets on here, but I truly enjoy talking with you both.

  31. Sweet Jimmie,

    I have great respect for your baseball acumen, but if you are saying batting Clean-up is no different from batting #2, then you and I are watching different games.

    #2 batter tries to get on base. #2 Batter tries to move up the runner when Leadoff gets on. #2 Batter tries to work the pitcher to build up pitch count and wear pitchers down. #2 Batter tries to get pitcher to use all his pitches early on, to allow the rest of the lineup to “see them all.” #2 Batter tries to allow Leadoff to steal a base. #2 Batter is like a “setter” in volleyball: sometimes he drills the point but most of the time he is setting up for others. You’ve heard the old baseball phrase, “he’s there to set the table.”

    Clean-up is not up there to take pitches. For Clean-up Slugging % is much more important than OB%. He is there to drive the ball. With men on base Clean-up is expected to drive them home. With the bases empty Clean-up is to drive the ball into the gaps. His batting spot is create havoc. In volleyball, Clean-up is a “spiker” not a “setter.” He “cleans up” what #1 and #2 have set up.

    That’s why so many Clean-up hitters are slow——they are asked to pound, not prance.

    After Ludwick’s injury, Brandon Phillips was asked, verbally or unconsciously, to change his approach to hitting by moving from #2 to #4. They are not the same “just swing at whatever pitch is thrown” line-up options.

  32. Jeff B. says:

    If the Pirates were to resign AJ and all of the other starting candidates were healthy on Opening Day, who do you think would be taken out of the rotation listed above? I don’t think they gave EV $5 million to be long relief. I am of the opinion that the Pirates are no longer persuing AJ.

  33. Obviously you must not have been part of that elongated week’s worth of discussion last off-season on Dejan’s blog, so this statement does not resonate.

    It may have been the best discussion of last winter.

  34. NMR says:

    Brandon Phillips produced the least power of his career last year, as a big bad cleanup hitter.

  35. Clemson Travis,

    Buster Olney’s ranking seems far-fetched without AJ Burnett in the rotation.
    Using Olney’s approach, to what ranking would the Pirate’s rotation rise if Burnett is added to the mix?

    I can’t see Liriano repeating his performance, since his pattern has been to follow bad season after good season.
    Cole and Morton have yet to complete a full season successfully in the Majors (or Minors).
    Wandy Rodriquez could actually be the best pitcher of the bunch IF IF IF he is healthy.
    Volquez is coming off three really bad seasons in a row.

    Seems awfully high to rank a rotation without Burnett that has so many “IFs.”
    Even Ray Searage can’t make chicken salad out of chicken . . . feathers.

    I foresee Jeff Locke playing an important place in the rotation eventually. (at least he was “luckier” than Wandy or Volquez last season.) I LOVE that famous statistic: LUCK!

    How do you see these “rankings” changing with or without AJ Burnett?

  36. 104 RBIs.

    .469 Slugging % with guys in scoring position.

    .873 On Base + Slugging % with guys in scoring position.

    Fulfilling the job of a Clean-up hitter.

    Don’t let the facts get in your way: you’re on a roll!

  37. NMR says:

    One thing I’ve noticed that is consistant in your analysis is that you never seem to be as “realistic” with other team as you are with the Pirates.

    I can easily come up with as many or more “ifs” for the teams you listed as better than the Pirates rotation. You just don’t seem to take that into account.

  38. I’m also tougher on my own kids than on other’s kids, as a coach and as a parent.

    I expect more of the strong than the weak.

    I expect more of the intelligent than the stupid.

    Compare the rotation of the Nationals, the Mariners, the Braves, Tampa Bay, the Dodgers, the Athletics, the Cardinals, the Rangers, the Angels, even the Royals or the Reds or Orioles, head-to-head with how Travis has the Pirate pitchers listed above.

    I see the Pirates listing 3 guys coming off Career Years (can a “Career Year” be duplicated?!), one guy coming off serious arm injury, and one coming off 3 seasons of abject failure. You are right———since I expect more of the strong than the weak, I should be cutting the Pirates staff a break. They look awfully weak without AJ Burnett moving them all down a notch and making them stronger.

  39. 21sthebest says:

    Our rotation looked awful heading into last season and that seemed to be the consensus as I recall.

    You just never know.

  40. The job of the General Manager is not to HOPE things turn out rosey.

    So far he has lost his #1 rotation Pitcher and replaced him with a “maybe #5″ if Locke doesn’t beat Volquez out.

    He has lost the lefty part of the platoon at 1st base, a lefty who has twice followed a bad season at the plate with a stellar one. The General Manager has replaced that platoon with NO ONE, unless one wants to count a career Minor Leaguer who has had exactly 1/2 season of success at the AAA level and who has NEVER played 1st base regularly, including right now in the Winter Leagues. Can one expect the 15 homeruns and 67 RBI that Garrett Jones produced in a down year from a rookie who barely hit that many playing full time in half seasons at AA and AAA last season? Can one expect even those “down season” stats that Jones produced from Lambo?

    Or we could let Gaby Sanchez and his .215 average against righthanders play fulltime.

    But, you’re right, Clemente’s the Best. You just never know!

  41. 21sthebest says:

    I never said a GM’s job is to hope. I’m not at all worried about losing Jones but where are you seeing his 67 RBI’s last year? I see 51.

    And you’re only looking at what we lost. You seem to be assuming that returning players will play the same. If Pedro, Cutch, Walker, Marte, and Jordy improve as a group and/or each one improves individually, I won’t be surprised. I could see a .3 – .5 runs per game improvement and if that happens, this team could really explode. And I still like the rotation even without Burnett. A rotation that went 16-9 when both Burnett and Wandy were injured.

  42. Steelkings says:

    Oh boy! I come back from the Christmas break to this. Awesome! Let me jump in here.

    Pitching Staff Rankings:
    A lot of people on this blog spend a lot of energy using stats to define what a player has done or is going to do. Its the human element that intrigues me.

    1. Francisco Liriano
    2. Gerrit Cole
    3. Charlie Morton
    4. Edinson Volquez
    5. Wandy Rodriguez

    Which one of those guys has the ability to stop a Losing streak? Who can the team absolutely count on? I’m looking for the bull headed battler. Tuesday night your starter gives up a run an inning. Wednesday your starter gets bombed. The bull pen is getting abused a little. You need to be able to hand the ball to someone whom will allow the team to exhale a little. To be a great staff you need a few STFD guys. If you resign AJ you have 2 of them, with the possibility of a third one in Cole. Without AJ you have one. And that pressure is increased on that one to the extreme without AJ. AJ makes Lirianos job easier and vice versa.

    If the Pirates dont bring AJ back, this thing could blow completely apart. I do not see a top 5 rotation without him.

    Brandon Phillips:

    Great glove, solid bat. Cincy is 100 miles from Indy. Lot of Reds fans here. The human element in this is that Phillips is known as some what of a lousy teammate. Just as much as the money, I think the Reds are trying to deal away the attitude.

  43. Steelkings says:

    @ Groat
    With Wandy, Martin, Liriano, Volquez, Grilli and Barmes becoming unrestricted in 2015, and Sanchez the following year, well thats a problem. 3 of your top 5 in the pre-pre-pre season starting rotation are going to get paid or go elsewhere. NH will be faced with the choice of replenishing with free agents or bringing up a few solid pitching prospects. Or a combo of both.
    How do you bring up prospects, even in their natural maturation process and maintain strength in your farm system? How can you justify buying expensive free agent starters? Usually over priced.
    My guess here is that NH is holding his money looking to extend one of those three. Same with Wandy. If the elbow looks strong they will look to add a year. Someone in that rotation is going to get extended. You have to wonder if NH wishes he extended AJ in July?

  44. Steelkings says:

    @21

    %%%And I still like the rotation even without Burnett. A rotation that went 16-9 when both Burnett and Wandy were injured.%%%

    Remember 2 years ago when Burnett, McDonald, Corriea, Karstens, Badard and Wandy was the rotation. I can almost remember exactly how it happened.
    It started August 20th. The only starter that could string together wins was Wandy Rodreguez. It ended September 28th. During that stretch of games the Pirate starters won 9 games.During that same stretch they lost 16 games. The team was a collective 9 – 27. They had losing streaks of 4,4,7,5,and 4. Of the 9 wins Wandy had 5 of them. He was the only STFD guy on the staff. Thats what happens when you only have one or two solid pitchers.

    That was the season before last. I think the world of Cole. And I think Liriano will have another solid staff leading type year. But I am not sure Cole wont wilt a little during the mean months as the no# 2 starter in the rotation. I dont think as much about guys coming off arm injuries. I dont like to hang my hat on the next guy out of AAA. Burnett is intensely important to this rotation. With him Volquez can struggle and the team will still be successful. Without AJ volquez becomes extremely important.

  45. Jim S. says:

    We’ll agree to disagree on Brandon Phillips, Groat. But, I always like sparring with you on these issues.

  46. King of Steel,

    I rarely agree with every point someone writes, especially long posts.

    I with you on every word above!!!

  47. Jim S. says:

    I guess I’m one of those people who try to use stats to define what a player has done or is going to do. Seems logical to me, and to every organization in MLB. The best way to predict what a soon-to-be 32 year old hitter will be is to look at what he has done in the recent past and project from there. It is not 100% perfect, but to me that’s a lot more reliable barometer than making some gut feeling about every decision. If all you have to do is say Brandon Phillips has a great glove and solid bat to win the argument, what a nice world that would be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

  48. Sweet Jimmie,

    I DON’T LIKE Brandon Phillips!!

    Yet I have to admit he did a tremendous job as a fielder and as the Clean-up hitter {Spiker} last season for the Reds.

    The Pirates desperately need a Clean-up hitter to produce like that. 104 ribbies!

  49. Jim S. says:

    Make that “soon-to-be 33 year old player.”

  50. Jim S. says:

    Yes, Groat, the Pirates can use a better #4 hitter. They can use better offensive production, in general. It helped the Reds offense that Choo and Votto both got on base at a rate that is in the top 10 in MLB. That creates a lot of opportunities for a #4 hitter.

    But, I have already conceded that Phillips hit well with RISP last year. We’ll see if he hits anywhere near that well this year. I will say again that there is a reason the Reds are actively trying to trade Phillips, and that they have not yet found a trading partner. He makes too much money, now and for the next 4 years, for a player with declining skills. Even teams that routinely take on excess payroll have been reluctant to take him. I don’t think all of that is because he’s a clubhouse jerk.

  51. 21sthebest says:

    Steelkings,

    I’m glad Bedard, JMac, Karstens, and Correia are gone.

  52. 21sthebest says:

    +1

  53. Jim S. says:

    I would love to keep up this discussion with you, Groat. But, I have somewhere I have to be shortly. I think you’ll appreciate this. I have to take my 12 year old son to his club’s indoor facility for some BP! There’s no substitute for putting in the reps. Enjoy the day!

  54. Steelkings says:

    Brandon Phillips makes 12 mil, then 13 mil, then 14 mil.
    Jay Bruce makes 12mil, then 12.5 mil, then 13 mil. — (One of the best hitters in the NL)
    Joey Votto makes 14 mil, then 20 mil, then 22 mil then 25 mil.

    Brandon Phillips 32 Years old.
    Jay Bruce 26 years old.
    Joey Votto 30 years old.

    Votto (3hole) (.305) (24 HR) (73 RBI)
    Phillips (4 hole) (.261) (18 HR) (103 RBI)
    Bruce (5 hole) (.262) (30 HR) (109 RBI)

    Look at it this way. If Phillips is a salary dump then they are dumping the wrong guy. If its a aging veteran thing in hopes of acquiring prospects they are selling the wrong guy. In both regards, that’s Votto. He’s going to be a 31 year old 1st baseman making 25 million for the next three years. Talk about a handcuff. Votto’s the type of guy who this season could make a contender a champion.

    Its obvious to me that Phillips is a guy who they just want no part of in the future.

  55. cmat0829 says:

    A few thoughts from 70 degree Phoenix:

    1) Pirates rotation. No reason not to think this is a strength of our team and a legitimate playoff contending rotation. Is it top 5? top 10? or much lower as some opine? WHO KNOWS. But in my opinion it is a stretch to proclaim this to be much weaker than the top 10, but I’m sure folks will use a combination of doomsday and stats to proclaim that. I think it is also a stretch to say this rotation is ‘rock solid’ without question marks…

    Of course no one knows if regression, lack of progression, injuries, etc. are in store during the season. The same can be said of other rotations also. To me, signing AJ would be a very good thing for a multitude of reasons. But let’s not forget that it was AJ getting shelled some in August and September and of course the implosion in Busch in October.

    2) Brandon Phillips: Make no mistake the Reds are shopping him hard, and also make no mistake teams are not buying him. Those are facts.

    3) 1B platoon. Strikes me as funny, very funny, that some continue to criticize the Pirates for letting JONES go… seems I recall reading a lot of blog fodder last summer that was (1) SCREAMING FOR LAMBO TO GET A CHANCE TO PLAY and (2) SCREAMING FOR JONES TO GO TO THE BENCH. Sorry, I can’t ” go there ” now to support any type of reasoning that Jones should have been re-signed.

  56. Jim S. says:

    We definitely agree that they don’t want Phillips as part of their future, Steel.

  57. Steelkings says:

    @21
    ++++I’m glad Bedard, JMac, Karstens, and Correia are gone.+++++

    Whats the difference? Morton started that year in the rotation. Arm injury. J Mac is the Liriano of the group. He was lights out the year before. Karstens/Correia = Locke/Morton. I seriously fail to see how expectations should be different.

    I’ll give you this though: 9 teams in the NL were over .500. # in the NL central. Milwaukee, Cincy and Saint Louis. That trend however is going the other way. Milwaukee and Cincy got worse in the off season and Chicago didnt get any better. So theres that.

  58. 21sthebest says:

    I have confidence in 4 of those 5 to stop a losing streak.

  59. 21sthebest says:

    Steelkings, I think there’s a big difference between our rotation now and our rotation in 2012.

  60. Steelkings says:

    @ CMat

    70 degrees? Go play golf…..

    1. AJ was getting shelled by the end of the 2012 season as well. But its not about what you do in August and September as much as it is about getting to August and September and having it still matter.

    3. Adam Lambo hit .228 in 92 at bats. He did not hit a HR in Winter ball. 27 game and he started 15 at first. He committed 2 errors at first and 1 in RF. So….I’m excited about the prospect of him playing 1st in Pittsburgh. ( Sign Sheldon!) I think its more likely he will be playing RF……..In Indianapolis.

  61. Steelkings says:

    1. Francisco Liriano
    2. Gerrit Cole
    3. Charlie Morton
    4. Edinson Volquez
    5. Wandy Rodriguez

    21…an average Charlie Morton could easily turn out to be the best in the rotation. If Lirianos trend continues and he has a lousy year, and maybe a truly untested Cole doesn’t pan out as expected, and wandy’s arthritis comes back, (which it has a tendency to do), and Volquez is….well, Volquez. Thats a lot of “What If’s ” for a top 10 staff.

  62. 21sthebest says:

    But I don’t have the same if’s and maybe’s Steelkings. In fact, I have a lot of confidence that Charlie, Liriano, Cole, and Wandy as a group will do as well as they did last year. Liriano’s so called trend is nothing but just that to me. He’s coming off of a really good and healthy year and still at a good age. I have high expectations for him.

  63. Updated Venezualan Winter League baseball stats:

    Yesterday Andrew Lambo went 0 – 2 with a strikeout. He was pinch hit for in the 5th inning of a game his team was leading by at least 3 runs. He played right field again, beat out at 1B by the famous Gilder Rodriquez.

    Lambo’s average is now .216 —— he has 21 hits in 97 at bats. He also has 11 walks and 30 strikeouts.

    Unfortunately, Lambo has been unable to hit a single homerun in those 108 plate appearances. His slugging % is around .320 and his OPS is around .616.

    0 HR — .216 — .296 — .616 . Pretty good against AA type pitchers for a non-1B that Bucs project as the platoon 1B

    But wait!!! Here’s something interesting:
    Lambo hits lefties at a .364 clip—9/33—and a .515 Slugging %
    Lambo hits righties .at .141 clip—9/64—and a .225 Slugging %

    There’s the lefty hitting platoon slugger to throw in against righthanded pitchers Bucs have been looking for!

    The Venezuela Winter Beisbol League regular season ends tomorrow, December 29. So Andrew Lambo has 2 games left to buff up those stats and learn to play 1B.

  64. Steelkings says:

    Me too, actually. My only beef is that the what if gap closes greatly if they sign Burnett.

  65. Nate83 says:

    All I know is I hope all this Brandon Phillips talk finally gets people to stop complaining about the Tiger Bullpen discussion. Don’t you three know that talking about other teams is prohibited?

  66. Jim S. says:

    Wait until we get started on the Cardinals new starting 8, Nate! :-)

  67. Jim S. says:

    I believe they have made their final offer to AJ, Jeff. If he suddenly decides to accept it, which is very unlikely now IMO, they’ll gladly take him back. I agree with you that EV was signed to be #5. If he doesn’t get it done, there are internal options. But, I don’t think they trust the internal options at this point and EV probably represents a bit of a security blanket in that he does tend to show up every 5th day and should get us 5-6 innings most starts.

    I agree, though, that the $5 million seemed high to me. I also took it as a commitment to a spot in the rotation when the season starts.

    Some like EV more than I do, and I hope they are right.

  68. Jim S. says:

    Cole is “truly untested,” Steel? Didn’t he pitch well in the playoffs after dominating the NL in his last half dozen starts or more of the regular season? He did that at 22. I’d say he is about as sure a thing as any Pirates starter since Doug Drabek going into this season.

    I agree that Liriano will likely not dominate as he did last year, but do you really think he will have a lousy year? I’d say the odds of him being solid are a lot greater than for him being lousy.

    I sure hope you are wrong.

  69. Nate83 says:

    The problem is they still see themselves as legitimately being really good. They don’t think they are a tier below the 2 or 3 elite teams in the NL. They are not interested in what gives them the best return and will keep them competitive for years to come. They think they can still win without Phillips but not without Votto.

    Many teams hold onto their teams much longer then their window for being really good actually is. I have to imagine it is hard for a team like the Reds who have come so close to admit that maybe it is time to cut bait and start again with a new crop of players. They very well could suffer through 3 or 4 rough years instead of just having 1 or 2 of them.

  70. steelkings says:

    Jim, you have to consider the human element again. There is a huge adrenaline rush when pitching in the playoffs. Can he maintain that dominance in mid May? Thats the unproven part. Anointing him as another Drabek at this point is silly.

    I agree with you completely on Liriano. Burnett would take some pressure off him.

  71. Jeff King says:

    There is no way Bucco management is thinking Lambo is the answer at IB. It is merely GM-speak to attempt to drive down value of guys like Davis, Smoak, Moreland.

  72. joel says:

    I remember Volquez pitching against the Pirates some time ago and he had good stuff. I am sure the Pirates have tape on him and have compared it to more recent years. They most likely spotted what the problem [s] are and are confident they can correct the problems before they agreed to a 5 mil payout. He is a keeper and will put someone in the bullpen. Hopefully Morton !!!! The two pitcher I could not stand to watch were Morton and Karsens.

  73. Jim S. says:

    I didn’t annoint him another Drabek, Steel. I said he is about as sure a thing as any Pirates starter since Doug Drabek going into this season. That is mostly an indictment of the last 20 years of Pirates baseball. I agree with you if you are saying that no 2nd year pitcher is a sure thing. But, he is not “truly untested.” He stacked a bunch of great performances on top of each other down the stretch, in the heat of a playoff race, then pitched well twice against the best offensive team in the NL in its home ball park. I think there is a lot to be optimistic about regarding the progress made by Cole late in the season.

    I’ll say it another way. He has more talent and upside, by far, than any Pirates pitcher in the last 20 years. There are not many people who are not predicting big things for Gerit Cole, and I am not limiting that to just the Pirates organization.

  74. Grumiester says:

    It occurs to me that with all of the big arms, currently on the staff, that one name is being over looked. Justin Wilson is young, throws high 90′s to 100, with a great upside. He should at least get a look see for a starting job.

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