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Pittsburgh, we have a problem


SOUTH HILLS – This was supposed to be a blog entry recapping the feel-good story that was Gregory Polanco Day at PNC Park. (The Polanco statue to be unveiled next week  on the river walk). Baseball Gods usually laugh at your plans, though. And while it was Polanco’s day at PNC Park, it really become the story of Francisco Liriano’s left oblique.

An injury to Liriano was about the last thing the Pirates needed to see (outside a shoulder injury to Gerrit Cole). The reality is, the Pirates might not see Liriano until late July. The reality is that puts their 2014 hopes on the brink.

*On Sunday, the Pirates placed Cole the disabled list with shoulder fatigue.

*On Monday one of the anchors of the Pirates’ lineup, Neil Walker, had an appendectomy and went on the DL.

*On Tuesday, Liriano’s injury will almost certainly result in a DL trip – and a lengthy one.

According to a 2002-07 study of oblique injuries by the head of the Dodgers’ medical staff, Stan Conte, oblique injuries, on average, cost pitchers 44 days on the disabled list. That’s a late July return for Liriano.

Now Jason Grilli only missed 32 days (only, right?) with a oblique strain earlier this year but he also doesn’t have the workload of a starter. A team can live without a reliever for a bit, not a top-of-the-rotation starter.

The reality is the Pirates are going to be without Liriano – their Opening Day starter – for some time.

That’s tough for a lot of teams to overcome, especially one that’s already dug  a-below-.500 hole. And the club’s real No. 1, Cole, is also on the shelf, though the club is optimistic he won’t miss much time beyond.

What’s left at the moment is Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez, Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke and … Vance Worley?

Yes, Liriano hadn’t been great. But he still has the best swing-and-miss stuff on the staff, his FIP suggests he’s been unlucky to a degree, and the Pirates needed him to regress and return  to his 2013 form to get back in the race.

How are the Pirates to weather this injury storm without outside help? And RE: Outside Help. Have you seen the costs of acquiring stating pitcher? Especially pitchers with years of control?

The Pirates also of course lost AJ Burnett over the winter.

Many, including yours truly, thought they should have brought in a proven rotation arm in addition to Volquez. I thought Scott Kazmir and Doug Fister were excellent acquisitions at reasonable prices.

What might have happened was this: the Pirates were counting on Jameson Taillon also arriving near or on Polanco Day. They were hoping Taillon could be a Cole like top-of-the-rotation force late in the season.

As good as Polanco is and will be it was Taillon who could have provided a bigger impact in 2014.

It is the loss of Taillon and Liriano – and we’ll see on Cole – that has this season on the brink. Polanco might just have to be Yasiel Puig to save it.

– TS



  1. Justin says:

    Do you think this means it’s time for a band aid like Trevor Cahill or Brandon McCarthy… or a TORP under control through next year like Price?

    Sadly, I think the team won’t be in the market for a James Shields at the end of his contract since this season would be so iffy even with him. Getting an ace for 2015 and beyond makes more sense.

    The silver lining of all this could be that Liriano might be re-pricing himself into bucco extension range

  2. macchamp74 says:

    AAA Indianapolis rotation now the MLB rotation. It’s going to be a rough summer ahead unless offense suddenly goes crazy and puts up runs at unprecedented pace.

  3. LeeFoo says:

    Speaking of AJ, he is coming on….He just threw his SIXTH QS of the year last time out (jun 10).

    I think we should trade for him. :)

  4. LeeFoo says:

    Mac…then I guess it is gonna be a rough summer. :)

    Injuries suck. Just ask the Rangers!

  5. Breezy says:

    Liriano hasn’t been much better than a replacement level pitcher even in fWAR which is calculated using xFIP. So to say they’re in trouble for bringing in a replacement level pitcher is a little much and a bit of an overreaction. Cole will be back sooner rather than later and Locke will just stick anyway. The problem with the ‘they should have signed a pitcher’ argument is that Scott Kazmir is very injury prone and will probably end up on the DL this year at some point anyway. Doug Fister was traded by the way of a pretty good prospect arm in Robbie Ray. So unless you want them to spend over $11 million a year for two years on an injury prone 30 year old guy in Scott Kazmir who has started 30 games since the 2010 season, it doesn’t make much sense. Also, you have to convince him Pittsburgh is a better place to pitch than Oakland.

  6. LeeFoo says:

    Problem is: So many teams are a hot streak away from being in the wild card. Plus, so many teams need pitching.

    Ergo, even if you want a Cahill (which I don’t) or a McCarthy (which I do), you are going to overpay.

    And, even then, you have NO idea who you’re getting. Could you imagine if a team had offered us a helluva package for Liriano in the offseason and we made the deal? It would’ve looked good then, but now???

  7. B says:

    they could probably deal to get AJ back the way things are shakin out in Philly, but his regression is very Liriano-esque. I like giving the ball to Vanimal and hoping he can build on his recent turnaround

  8. brendan says:

    At the time you and several others mentioned Kazmir as a potential target. The deal he received, 2 yrs 26M would seem to have been in within the Pirates means–and certainly was a bargain relative to the market. Kazmir has turned out to be even better than expected (how much of that success is augmented by pitching in Oakland I don’t know), like Top 10 pitcher in all of baseball good.

    Also quite good, Phil Hughes, signed for 3yrs 24M. Travis I know you mentioned him often last season and were often derided for doing so but he has indeed enjoyed the sort of post Yankee Stadium rebound that I imagine you and other envisioned. A look at his stats this year compared to last

    K/9 – 7.53/7.48
    B/9 – 0.96/2.59
    HR/9 – 0.84/1.48
    ERA – 3.46/5.19
    FIP – 4.50/2.97
    XFIP – 4.39/3.55

    The biggest difference appears to be fewer walks and thus fewer base runners. Hughes’s FB% last year was 46.5% and this year it’s 44.8%. So not a huge difference. It may simply be since he’s no longer pitching in Yankee Stadium fewer of those FB’s are turning into HR’s.

  9. Nate83 says:

    Both guys would have been leaps of faith. The Pirates don’t take many leaps of faith that cost 13 million per year or even 8 per year. Something tells me they will have to start doing that because the market isn’t going down on these type of players. Too much money in the game. I’ve defended the FO for the most part but at a certain point you can’t sit on your hands anymore and keep saying contracts are over market price because they all will be which really makes that the new market price. The other option is aquiring players through trading prospects and I don’t mean Byrd for our 10th best prospect.

  10. brendan says:

    Potential Pitching Targets

    Brandon McCarthy, mentioned above by Justin might be a good one. His GB% is 55.5. His ERA is 5.13 but his FIP is 3.80 and his xFIP 2.75. His K/9 is 8.2 and his BB/9 1.59. Superficially at least that would be appear to play much better in Pittsburgh. He’d be cheaper to acquire than David Price and the Dbacks are as close to being sellers as anyone.

    Dallas Keuchel would be another obvious target, depending on the Astros disposition. Given the numbers he’s put up and his age relative to McCarthy he’d likely cost more. His peripherals this season back up the numbers however. He leads the league in GB% at 65.4%. His ERA is 2.50, FIP 2.70, and xFIP 2.80. He’s struck out 7.62 per 9 and walked only 1.85 per 9.

    The Astros in general seem to have an approach similar to the Pirates. Ground ball pitchers and shifts. They have 3 SP w/ a GB% above 50% and and 5 who are above 40%.

  11. Nate83 says:

    Breezy well stated about replacing Liriano’s current production. I think the hope was he would be part of the turnaround by pitching more like his 2013 version. I don’t think there is any doubt that the next in line pitcher can possible produce stats close to Liriano’s 2014 stats but instead that they don’t have the upside to be part of solution.

  12. Nate83 says:

    Great info Brendon. Considering the Astros current rebuilding and resent surge in play would they be willing to trade Keuchel or do they see him as a long term piece to the team?

  13. NMR says:

    Last night was the first time in his last SEVEN outings he gave up less than three runs.

  14. Andrew says:

    Astros are not giving up Keuchel, he is not arbitration eligible to 2016.

    I would add in Jason Hammel, as target while not a ground ball pitcher he seems to have found something to keep the walks down. However he is only under contract this season.

    It is really tough at this point to identify which teams with be selling versus holding. Others have said it, I can see a deal for pitching along the lines of the Wandy Rodriquez trade, someone with multiple years of control, middle of the rotation upside. But I don’t have any names at this point.

  15. brendan says:

    I’m not sure that they’d be categorized as leaps of faith. There were strong statistical cases to be made that both Kazmir and Hughes pitched better than their ERA’s etc reflected in 2013 and that they’d excel in more pitcher friendly environments. The average per year salary for Hughes isn’t much more than what they’re paying Liriano this year (6M) or their portion of Burnett’s salary the two years previous. Obviously both of those guys were identified as bounce back candidates for similar reasons.

  16. Nate83 says:

    Agree. Any pitcher traded for would have to be part of the plan going forward and not just help for treading water this year with the hope that the rest of the team figures it. There is just too many issues with the starting staff to make a trade that is for this year only.

  17. NMR says:

    Haha, since when did leaving Yankee Stadium cause a massive drop in walk rate? If you had Phil Hughes second to only David Price in all of baseball, then pat yourself on the back.

  18. NMR says:

    That’s an enormous reach.

  19. Nate83 says:

    Kazmir has too much of an injury history to commit 13 million in my opinion. It’s coming up aces for Oakland right now. I wasn’t against Hughes for 2 years but 3 seemed a little on the risky side for me but as I said they may have to start taking some risk because that is what the market is dictating.

  20. brendan says:

    I’d think it depends on what the Astros timeline for contention is. I’d imagine they view 2015 or perhaps more likely 2016 as the beginning of that window. If they could move Kuechel for a top prospect I suspect they’d do it.

    But that said I wouldn’t be psyched about the Pirates giving up one of their top prospects for Kuechel. However as much as 2013 was a sellers market 2014 appears to be developing as an even better sellers market. With the exception of the Cubs, Rays, Dbacks, and a few other teams nearly everyone is at least a few games over or under 500 and won’t be sellers anytime soon. If this continues I’d imagine the cost to acquire players will be pretty enormous.

  21. brendan says:

    I obviously wasn’t suggesting Hughes walk rate projected to improve outside of Yankee Stadium. But rather than his FIP and xFIP suggested he was a better pitcher than the results he’d accrued in recent years. Obviously his improvement thus far has exceeded expectations but there were tangible reasons to expect that he would improve elsewhere.

  22. brendan says:

    I don’t see where the reach is. Both guys projected to be better in 2014 in the right circumstances, which is why they were cited as targets last season and last offseason. The risks in terms of salary aren’t much greater than they were for Liriano or Burnett, particular when you account for salary inflation.

  23. brendan says:

    I’d advocated Kazmir as an option but also noted that he was entirely out of MLB a few years ago. But really there wasn’t and likely won’t be a pitcher anywhere close to the Pirates price range who doesn’t come with a fair amount of risk of one sort or another. It’s ultimately on their pro scouting to determine which of those risks are worth taking.

  24. Andrew says:

    Kazmir was like Josh Johnson, a good option for a smaller market team because his price was suppressed because of the injury risk. If you want sure things you are going to have to pay.

  25. Nate83 says:

    Them bringing up Singleton and Springer before Super 2 (in Singleton’s case they signed a contract) makes me think they are in the win as many games as possible and show the fans we are maximizing our wins mode. I’m not sure I agree with it. Their ideal situation is playing towards 2016 but the GM isn’t treating it that way.

  26. Nate83 says:

    13 million isn’t in the Pirates price range and that if he even would have considered the Pirates a better option then the A’s. Martin remains the biggest outside free agent contract ever for the Pirates at 8.5 million per year. Until they prove otherwise I will assume they will not go over 2 years or 10 million per year.

  27. Andrew says:

    Keuchel is one of the best 10-15 pitchers in baseball right now and under team control through 2018, that is something the Astros are going to hold onto. This Astros team is not a 110 loss team and not that far away, yes their is still work to do, but they are in more favorable position than say the Phillies or D-Backs.

  28. This is a simple irrefutable fact: Scott Kazmir, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, and Bartolo Colon all signed 1 or 2 year deals for less per year than the Pirates best offer that was reportedly made to AJ Burnett.

  29. This is a simple irrefutable fact: Scott Kazmir, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, and Bartolo Colon all signed 1 or 2 year deals for less per year than the Pirates best offer that was reportedly made to AJ Burnett.

  30. The Astros also have a nice hoard of cash. They are in position to lock up guys like Keuchel.

  31. Jim S. says:

    I don’t believe Keuchel is going anywhere unless the Astros get “wowed.” The Bucs are not in the wow business when it comes to trade offers.

  32. NMR says:

    Kazmir already had his bounce back year in 2013, and Hughes has never posted a FIP below 4.50. It takes actually being good before to be a bounce back candidate like Liriano and Burnett.

  33. NMR says:

    The average radius of the Sun is 695,508 km (109.2 x that of the Earth) of which 20–25% is the core.

  34. NMR says:

    Never posted a FIP below 4.50.

    That’s really what your looking for?

  35. NMR says:


  36. NMR says:

    I also continue to find it interesting that Travis is so risk-averse regarding pitcher injuries but loves Scott Kazmir.

  37. NMR says:

    Named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus is the second largest terrestrial planet and is sometimes referred to as the Earth’s sister planet due the their similar size and mass.

  38. Nate83 says:

    I don’t even know if that is accurate because Kazmir’s deal was 13 per and I thought the best offer made to AJ was something like 12 and it was only for 1 year. I think all those guys except Kazmir had been gone by the time they lost AJ. Haren is the only 1 year contract in that group. All 4 contracts are a higher per year then any outside free agent the Pirates have ever signed. I’m not saying I agree with them not spending more just pointing out why those guys may have not been options. Timing being the number one reason. If AJ leaves earlier I think Haren and Hudson would have both been pitchers they may have persued.

  39. NMR says:

    Well, Haren specifically said he wouldn’t sign anywhere but the west coast, and the other two guys are older than dirt. So yeah. Big misses there.

  40. Kazmir got 2 years and $22 million. That is $11 million per. The point was the Pirates felt they could go to $12 million for AJ. I’m guessing that was their limit. I understand why they might not have gone with any of these other guys or been able to sign of any them (age, unwillingness to play in the east, unwillingness to take just a 1 year) but all were at least in the price range and pitching well this year. Pirates too often get a pass for not landing a player or a pat on the back for just making an offer. I’m just pointing out some pitchers that perhaps they should have had more interest in and aggressively pursued. And if the timing of AJs decision impacted the Pirates’ interest or lack there of then shame on Neal Huntington for allowing himself to be held hostage like that.

  41. Jim S. says:

    I think you can throw in Hudson as a guy who would not have come here. He wanted Bay Area or Atlanta, I think. Once the Giants were interested, that deal was done immediately. Plus, he’s going to be 39 next month and was coming off a serious injury. That 2/23 deal from SF really looks like it is paying off, but there was a lot of risk there.

    BTW, what a great pitcher he’s been in his career. Reminds me a lot of Doug Drabek – only better.

  42. brendan says:

    He did technically, but I assume you’re only looking at his seasons as a SP in which he accumulated a substantial number of appearances–at least something close to 30–which is fair.

    I wouldn’t have necessarily made the case for Hughes myself, but thought that Travis did so pretty persuasively last year and so far he appear somewhat prescient. I’ll let him further articulate the basis for that case. But I’d imagine he was likely looking at his home roads splits, which both in terms of his career and certainly in terms of 2013, suggested he was much better away from Yankee Stadium.

  43. Nate83 says:

    Everything the A’s and Giants did this off season is looking awesome. Baseball is crazy. It’s rarely the Cano, Fielder or Josh Hamilton signings that makes a great season for a team. It always seems to be second tier signings. The A’s get rid of Grant Belfour who was awesome for them for the last two years and the guy is horrible now. They pick up some players that have question marks and they are lights out. It’s not much different then Liriano and Martin last year for the Pirates. They could have just as easily picked up Josh Johnson and look like fools.

  44. brendan says:

    You’re correct. I mentioned 2 yrs/$26M above, which was wrong. It’s 2 yr/$22M

  45. brendan says:

    I’m not sure how much we’re arguing semantics. You’re current that “bounce back” which implies a degree of previous success. So perhaps let’s say they’re candidates for improved performance or something to that effect.

    Kazmir’s underlying numbers suggested he pitched better than his ERA, etc suggested and that the ceiling for Kazmir 2.0 might be higher than what we saw in 2013.

    Hughes never had come even close to fulfilling the promise of his pedigree but as I mentioned below his splits suggested there was a reasonable chance he might be better outside of Yankee Stadium.

    Risks both. But aside from the most elite and consistent pitchers–Felix for instance–there’s pretty significant risk across the board when considering SP. There was a reasonable chance Hughes and Kazmir might pitch like #5 starters. That wasn’t out of the question. But there was also reason to think they might pitch like #3 starters. The Pirates decided to primarily go with what they had. Which was a risk as well: assuming Liriano could come close to being as effective as he was in 2013, that Wandy could pitch, etc. They chose to take on those risks, for reasons that are understandable, they didn’t require additional $ and years of commitment.

  46. brendan says:

    Ian Kennedy, perhaps another name worth considering.

    K/9 – 9.45
    BB/9 – 2.08
    ERA – 3.63
    FIP – 2.94
    xFIP – 3.02

    He’s signed to a 1 yr $6.1M deal at the moment.

  47. The Gunner says:

    Yep – AJ hasn’t been that effective lately. Last night’s QS was his first in quite a while. The BMTIB probably doesn’t really want him anyway.

  48. Donald says:

    As a kid who had to cheer for the Phillies a lot growing up because the Pirates realistically had no chance to compete, I believe in Vance Worley. I might feel better about him than Liriano in 2014.

    Trade for David Price and Ben Zobrist, please!

  49. HebnerRuled says:

    Good News – Mitch Keller signed with Pirates (announced on sports segment of local Iowa news tonight).

  50. JB says:

    I hate the word regress used in a positive light: return to a former or less developed state.

  51. LeeFoo says:

    my sarcasm was missed I see….6 QS out of 14 starts?

  52. brendan says:

    My last comment from a day or so ago, seems to be stuck in “your comment is awaiting moderation” purgatory.

    Certainly not the end up of the world, but thought I’d mention it in case anyone else had run into this,

  53. Francis Smith says:

    I’ve seen Puig. . .and Polanco ain’t no Puig!

  54. Steelkings says:

    Is Travis on vacation? Did the Pirates put him in the bullpen? Has he been sent to Indy?

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