Obviously losing Gerrit Cole and Francisco Cervelli has been a huge blow, but injuries aside one glaring deficiency shows up. The starting pitching has been horrendous.
One of the best stats to measure a pitchers worth is FIP (fielding independent pitching). The idea of FIP is to give a better picture of a pitchers true performance. ERA has too many variables outside the pitchers control to give a proper estimate of a pitchers true worth. FIP takes all the stats a pitcher can control like K's, walks, hbp etc and assumes league average defense. Here is a good measuring stick.
Now lets look at the FIP leaders.
Top 3 qualified starters
- Clayton Kershaw 1.68 (WOW!!!!!!!)
- Noah Syndergaard 1.92
- Jose Fernandez 1.98
I always snicker at people who dismiss new stats because more times than not they prove what many people already know. No matter how you measure it, Kershaw is in a league of his own. He is essentially worth the equivalent of two aces.
Here is a link to the top 30
Until this year the Pirates have had good luck turning pitchers around that had historically high ERA's (Burnett, Volquez, Liriano). They would buy low on such players realizing that their FIP or XFIP was much lower than the actual ERA. Add in the Pirates extreme shifting and many of these pitchers would go on to have career years.
This year has been a different story for the Buccos. Regression can be a bitch sometimes and the Pirates are getting it from 3 guys currently in their rotation.
Of qualified starters the Pirates currently have the 2nd (Jon Niese), 3rd (Francisco Liriano) and 18th (Jeff Locke) in worst FIP standings. Basically what this is saying is that these guys have been terrible even with good defense behind them.
For the Pirates to get back in the race they need Liriano to find his control. This had been an issue with him before, but during his Pirates tenure he would counteract that with high k rates. Now he is walking guys then giving up crucial homeruns.
Jeff Locke will likely be replaced at some point this year by Tyler Glasnow. I'm assuming Jon Niese will be give the whole season to right the ship, or else the Pirates will decline the team option next year.
The unfortunate part in all this is that the Pirates will do little to try and improve the team this year. The Cubs have about a 95% chance of winning the division. It really makes no sense to trade minor league assets to make the run at the second wild card. As Pirate fans know the wildcard is a crazy coin flip situation in which you will likely run into an ace type of pitcher. The last three years we've faced Cueto, Bumgarner and Arrieta. Trading a minor leaguer to get bullpen help doesn't help you much against those guys.
The silver lining in all of this is that maybe the young pitchers help the Pirates get back in the race this year. If not, the Pirates can trade all of their expiring contracts to supplement the core for next year.
Thanks for reading.