2012 in Review: Starting Pitching

Veteran A.J. Burnett was a mentor for James McDonald and the starting rotation.

The Pirates’ starting rotation once again carried the team into July with a winning record, only to falter in the second half.

The top six starters in 2012:

Wins Losses ERA IP
A.J. Burnett 16 10 3.51 202.1
James McDonald 12 8 4.21 171.0
Kevin Correia 12 11 4.21 171.0
Erik Bedard 7 14 5.01 125.2
Jeff Karstens 5 4 3.97 90.2
Wandy Rodriguez 5 4 3.72 75.0

Other pitchers to make starts: Charlie Morton, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson.

*Note that Correia and J-Mac have identical ERAs and innings pitched. McDonald also finished with the exact same ERA and innings pitched as he did 2011.

If you just looked at these numbers, you’d think that the starting pitching did a fairly decent job.  The weird thing about the Pirates’ starters this year this that they were so dominant for the first four months of the season that when they fell apart in August and September, the numbers pretty much evened out.  As a whole, though, this staff was much better than expected.  A.J. was unreal, Wandy came in at the trade deadline and was solid, J-Mac was one of the top pitchers through July, and Karstens continued to get better despite missing a large chunk of the season.  There are still a few uncertainties heading into 2013, but the starting pitching shouldn’t be a huge concern next year.


Pirates Mid-Season Report Card

With the All-Star break upon us, it’s time for the annual breakdown of how the Pirates have done in the first half.  It’ll be broken down into a few different categories, along with individual players, with grades for each one.

Starting Rotation

2011’s first half pitching performance was what kept the Pirates afloat for so long, and it was pretty much a given that the 2012 staff would be even better with the additions of Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett.  No one really knew what to expect with the bullpen, other than Joel Hanrahan.

James McDonald: This guy has been awesome to watch.  He’s without a doubt the ace of the starting rotation this year.  A.J. has definitely been somewhat of a mentor for McDonald this year, and has really helped him reach his full potential.  He’s among the league leaders in just about every relevant pitching category, and should definitely be in the Cy Young talk if he continues his success in the second half.  Alll three of his losses this year have come when the Pirates have gotten shut out.

Stats: 9-3, 2.37 ERA, 110 IP, 100 K, .196 opponent batting average, 0.97 WHIP

First Half Grade: A+

Erik Bedard: One of the major offseason acquisitions for the Bucs this year, and Opening Day starter.  The oft-injured lefty signed for $4.5 million, and most people were expecting him to be hurt by the end of the year, and were just hoping to get anything they could out of him.  He posted an ERA of 3.00 in April and May combined, but was just 3-5 due to little to none offense support.  He missed a start with a back spasms injury in early May, and June/July have been a disaster for him.  His ERA skyrocketed to 4.80 as he posted an ERA of 6.94 in those two months.  Whether it’s an injury or not, something has gone wrong for Bedard and he’ll become the fifth starter when the rotation is rearranged in the second half.

Stats: 4-10, 4.80 ERA, 86.1 IP, 78 K, .269 opponent batting average, 1.49 WHIP

First Half Grade: C-

Kevin CorreiaAlthough he’s gotten a ton of hate and criticism this year, Correia has pitched well for his role – a fifth starter.  He’s not going to blow anyone away with a fastball, but he’ll pitch well to contact and move the ball around.  He’ll give up a few runs a game, but the Pirates are always still very much in the game when he leaves.

Stats: 5-6, 4.34 ERA, 91.1 IP, 35 K, .264 opponent batting average, 1.30 WHIP

First Half Grade: B-

A.J. Burnett: The trade to bring in the veteran may be the best acquisition Neal Huntington has made in his time with the Bucs.  After missing the first two and a half weeks of the season with a broken orbital, A.J. made his debut with the Pirates on a rainy Saturday night.  He loaded the bases in the first inning with no outs, but stranded all three runners and went on to throw seven shutout innings.  Right away he came in to Pittsburgh and showed what he could bring to this team – a veteran leader who would bring a certain poise to the starting rotation.  At one point he’d won 8 consecutive starts.  He’s been nothing but awesome to watch, and had it not been for a rough start against the Cardinals in May, he would have an ERA of 2.59.

Stats: 10-2, 3.68 ERA, 93 IP, 79 K, .248 opponent batting average, 1.30 WHIP

First Half Grade: A

The other three pitchers to make starts this year are Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, and Brad Lincoln.  Lincoln has only made 5 starts (mostly spot starts) and has been knocked around as a starter.  Morton made 9 starts, going 2-6, but is now on the DL after having Tommy John surgery.  Karstens has made six starts, missing most of the first half with an arm injury, and then getting re-injured in his rehab assignment.  He’s 2-2 with a respectable ERA, and has shown signs of the success he had last year.


Joel Hanrahan: Yet another impressive first half, to go along with his second All-Star selection.  He’s been lights-out from the back of the bullpen, and has only blown 3 saves.  Whether or not you agree with the closer role/save stat, Hammer has been exciting to watch.

Stats: 4-0, 2.38 ERA, 23/26 saves opportunities, 35 K, .169 opponent batting average, 1.12 WHIP

First Half Grade: B+

Juan Cruz: After not allowing a run in his first 17 innings, Cruz has regressed slightly, but still has good numbers and is effective in the back end of the bullpen.

Stats: 1-1, 2.76 ERA, 3/3 save opportunities, 32 K, .297 opponent batting average, 1.60 WHIP

First Half Grade: B-

Jason Grilli: Man, this guy has been absolutely WIRED in the setup role.  The veteran has easily been one of the best relievers in the league, and there was certainly a strong argument for him to make the All-Star team.

Stats: 1-2, 1.87 ERA, 1/2 save opportunities, 54 K, 14.44 K/9, .145 opponent batting average, 0.95 WHIP

First Half Grade: A

Jared Hughes: Classic example of an underrated bullpen workhorse.  Pirates blogger North Side Notch calls him a “baller” and he’s definitely been interesting to watch.  His intimidating style on the mound has helped him put up some impressive numbers in his 43 innings pitched.

Stats: 2-0, 2.09 ERA, 1/1 save opportunities, 21 K, .222 opponent batting average, 1.14 WHIP

First Half Grade: A

Tony Watson: While not a typical “lefty specialist”, Clint Hurdle has used Watson in some huge situations against lefties, and has done nothing but get them out.  He’s picked up a few cheap wins, and his high ERA may be skewed because most of the runs he gives up are in meaningless situations.

Stats: 4-0, 3.81 ERA, blown save, 21 K, .237 opponent batting average, 1.23 WHIP

First Half Grade: B-

Chris Resop: For as much flak as Resop gets, he’s been a decent innings-eater.

Stats: 0-3, 3.35 ERA, 1/1 save opportunity, 31 K, .256 opponent batting average, 1.42 WHIP

First Half Grade: C-

Brad Lincoln is the last part of the bullpen.  While he’s made a few starts, it’s clear that his home is in the bullpen, where he’s been successful as both a long reliever and a late inning stopper.  He’s been pretty electric, which shows that he may more useful in short inning situations, rather than starts, where his stuff starts to deteriorate after a few innings.

Note: FanGraphs and MLB.com each have different sets of stats, and some of them differ.  Opponent batting average and WHIP may not match up exactly. 

Position Players

Before breaking down each player individually, it’s important to remember that this team was on pace for a historically bad offensive season, hitting just .228 in April, despite Cutch hitting well above .300.  They were dead last in just about every offensive category, including runs, with 58.  They plated 147 runs in April/May, and made a complete 180 as as a team, scoring 146 runs in June alone.  Obviously part of the improvement is that the offense is simply “regressing/improving to the mean”, as there was no way that they could be that bad. Just about everyone’s stats have evened out now, and the horrible first two months were cancelled out by the raking they did in June and July.

Andrew McCutchenMVP! MVP! MVP!  It’s clear that this guy is a legitimate MVP candidate, considering the Pirates would be completely lost without him.  He single-handedly carried the offense through April, keeping the team afloat along with the great pitching.  While everyone else has had their ups and downs, Cutch has consistently raked all year, and now leads the league in batting average, and the NL in slugging percentage.

Stats: .362 AVG, .414 OBP, .625 SLG, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 14 SB

First Half Grade: A++++++++++

Garrett JonesThe plan from at the start of the season was to put Jones and McGehee in a platoon role.  Both had horrible starts to the season, and that never worked out.  They have however, found a situation that works along with Pedro.  Jones is one of the guys that really turned it on starting in June, and his numbers have improved.  While he’s not the stereotypical cleanup hitter, he still provides some decent pop from the 1B/RF spots.

Stats: .268 AVG, .290 OBP, .507 SLG, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 2 SB

First Half Grade: C+

Neil WalkerNeil was hitting .256 on June 26th, and has gone on a tear since then to raise his average over 30 points.  He’s been shuffled around the lineup, but has driven in a bunch of runs wherever he’s hit.  The home run power isn’t quite there this year, but he’s been hitting a ton of doubles.  He leads the team with 21, and has been really productive at the plate the last few weeks.  One other part of Neil’s game that might go un-noticed is his defense.  While he’s not a natural second baseman, he’s really come a long way to improve his defense since being drafted as a catcher.  Each year he’s improved, and this year has shown that he could be one of the best defensive second basemen in the league.

Stats: .291 AVG, .357 OBP, .417 SLG, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 7 SB

First Half Grade: B+

Casey McGeheeMcGehee, along with Jones really turned it on after the end of May.  The first two months of this year were really disappointing, especially for a guy who could really help this offense out if he hit.  While his numbers still aren’t great, he went on a hot streak in late June, which was a key part of the team’s success.  If he continues to improve, he’ll get more playing time, especially against lefties.  His defense has been pretty average, although every once in a while he’ll make a ridiculous play down at the hot corner.

Stats: .252 AVG, .328 OBP, .408 SLG, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 1 SB

First Half Grade: C

Rod Barajas: Rod was brought in to be solid defensively, hit for a low batting average, and hit home runs.  His defense has been pretty average, especially with all of the stolen bases allowed, and he hasn’t hit a ton of home runs.  He’s missed some time with an injury, but his role as the veteran team leader has really gone a long way.  You can tell he’s  respected in the clubhouse, and has done an awesome job with the pitchers.  Some of the pitchers’ early season success should definitely be attributed to Rod (and McKenry) for being able to call good games and handle the staff.  Rod’s relationship and history with Burnett has been one of the main reasons A.J. has been able to turn his career around in Pittsburgh.

Stats: .217 AVG, .284 OBP, .378 SLG, 7 HR, 18 RBI

First Half Grade: C-

Michael McKenryThe Fort is an interesting guy.  It’s impossible to not like him, despite what he does on the field.  He was mainly the backup for the first two and a half months, getting limited playing time.  But when Barajas missed a few games with a leg injury, McKenry took advantage of his playing time.  He hit .306 in June, and his knack for clutch homers off of nasty pitchers continued.  Defensively, he’s been fine behind the plate.  The amount of stolen bases against Barajas/McKenry is alarming, but part of the blame also goes to the pitchers for not holding runners closer.

Stats: .252 AVG, .328 OBP, .524 SLG, 7 HR, 18 RBI

First Half Grade: C+

Clint Barmes: Oh man, Clint Barmes.  There isn’t much to say other than 2012 has been a very disappointing season for Clint.  He just isn’t hitting, and has struggled to get to and stay above the Mendoza Line all year.  His defense hasn’t been great either, as he’s booted a ton of balls.  It’s hard to be positive about him, but at least he brings some veteran experience to the team.  And hey, it can’t get much worse from here.

Stats: .204 AVG, .227 OBP, .298 SLG, 4 HR, 22 RBI

First Half Grade: D

Pedro AlvarezIt’s been known for a while now that Pedro will be a pretty streaky hitter.  He definitely showed that in the first two months of the season.  He was hitting just .203 after April, but has really turned it on since.  He hit .262 in June, with 7 bombs.  Not only is the power stroke coming, he’s having more productive at-bats where he doesn’t fall behind 0-2 every time.  He still isn’t hitting lefties well, but he’s having more success against them as the season goes on and is starting to square the ball up.  Even more impressive than the mammoth shots he hits are the clutch two-run singles up the middle on 3-2 counts he hits off of lefties.  The last month has been very, very encouraging for Pedro. Not sure what else you could ask for on the defensive side.  He’s got an absolute cannon, and makes some pretty spectacular plays.

Stats: .231 AVG, .307 OBP, .478 SLG, 16 HR, 50 RBI

First Half Grade: B-

Alex Presley: Presley’s first half has been pretty disappointing.  He’s your prototypical leadoff hitter, but his first two months he just wasn’t getting on base.  A short trip to Triple-A really helped him turn it around, as he’s improved since.  He missed the last few games of the first half with a concussion, which hopefully won’t set him back at all.  If the Pirates can get Presley to consistently find ways to get on, he can really be a threat on the bases with his speed.

Stats: .242 AVG, .276 OBP, .395 SLG, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 8 SB

First Half Grade: C-

Jose Tabata: Jose is probably the most disappointing player in 2012.  His bad numbers speak for themselves.  He can’t drive in the easy runs, and can’t hit for any power.  He’s been caught stealing nine times, and has made countless other baserunning mistakes.  Despite having the best outfield-arm on the team, his defense also hasn’t been great.  He doesn’t take great routes to balls, which has a lot of fans questioning his effort.  It’s just ridiculous to question how much effort he’s putting in to the game.  Clearly he cares, and if anything, he puts too much pressure on himself to perform.  Regardless, he needs to improve offensively.  He was sent down to Indianapolis in early July to work on some things, and hopefully he’ll find some success.

Stats: .230 AVG, .295 OBP, .341 SLG, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 8 SB, 9 CS

First Half Grade: D

As a whole, the 2012 Pirates (first half, at least) have been nothing short of incredible. They’ve overcome a horrible offensive start to the season to get to 11 games over .500 at 48-37.  They have the fourth best record in the league, and of course are in first place.  How this team is winning with a starting shortstop barely hitting .200 is beyond anyone, but they’re finding ways to score, especially with the long ball (they led the league in HR in June/July.)  This has been the most exciting Pirates team since 1992, and we can only hope it continues on through September.

Team First Half Grade: A

Go Bucs

Two Pitches Not Enough for Lincoln

The Pirates have needed Brad Lincoln to make some spot starts with the injuries to Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens. Lincoln was very effective in seven appearances out of the bullpen, and sported a 0.63 ERA entering his first start against Miami. He’s made three starts this season; here are his numbers from each:

5/14 @ Miami 6 4 2 2 1 3
6/6 @ Cincinnati 4 6 5 5 2 5
6/12 @ Baltimore 4.1 9 4 4 1 3
TOTALS 14.1 19 11 11 4 11

As you can see, Lincoln has not been too sharp in his last two starts, after a solid outing in Miami. Overall, he’s at 11 runs on 19 hits in 14.1 innings pitched as a starter. He had success in the bullpen, and here’s a possible reason why: he’s been relying on just two pitches (fastball and curveball). When making a relief appearance of just an inning or two, you can get by with a sharp fastball and effective off-speed pitch. However, if you start pitching four, five, six innings in a game, the hitters will eventually adjust to your pitches, catch on to your tendencies, etc. Here’s how Lincoln has mixed up his pitches this season:

Pitch Frequency
Fourseam 53%
Sinker 10%
Curveball 36%
Changeup 2%

As a reliever, you can find success with a fastball, curveball, and the occasional sinker or changeup. However, you really cannot expect to have much success as a starter if you’re only throwing two pitches. The Pirates top three starting pitchers, A.J. Burnett, James McDonald, and Erik Bedard, all feature multiple pitches in their repertoire and mix them up effectively. Here’s a look at all three’s pitch frequencies (numbers courtesy of Brooks Baseball):


Pitch Frequency
Fourseam 38%
Sinker 23%
Curveball 29%
Changeup 10%


Pitch Frequency
Fourseam 41%
Sinker 20%
Slider 20%
Curveball 15%
Changeup 4%


Pitch Frequency
Fourseam 31%
Sinker 26%
Cutter 5%
Slider 1%
Curveball 28%
Changeup 10%

Lincoln throws just two pitches over 10% of the time, while Burnett (3), McDonald (4), and Bedard (3) all do it with a higher amount. To maximize your effectiveness as a starter, you must keep hitters off balance, and equally distributing at least three pitches is a good place to start. In Lincoln’s case, it’s really only going to be a fastball or curveball. For Burnett, he could throw you a fastball, sinker, or curveball. J-Mac could give you a fastball, sinker, slider, or curveball. Bedard could toss a fastball, sinker, or curveball, like A.J. You can only keep hitters guessing for so long, and if you’re only featuring two pitches while going multiple innings, the batters will most likely catch on.

If you need a reason for how a reliever can get away with just two pitches, look no further than closer Joel Hanrahan. Check out his frequencies this year:

Pitch Frequency
Fourseam 75%
Slider 25%

That’s it for the Hammer; just a fastball and slider. With 415 pitches this year, he’s thrown 311 fourseamers and 104 sliders. Obviously he can get away with a large amount of fastballs since he throws so hard, but he can also use the slider when he needs it. Jared Hughes is another example of someone who’s featuring two pitches out of the ‘pen, neither of which are fastballs. Hughes is 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA this year; here are his frequencies:

Pitch Frequency
Fourseam 3%
Sinker 84%
Slider 11%
Changeup 3%

Hughes heavily relies on his sinker (360 of 431 pitches thrown), and uses his slider just 11% of the time. Of his 431 pitches, he’s used a fastball and changeup a combined 23 times. Hughes is a solid example of an effective reliever with just two pitches in the repertoire.

Back to Lincoln; here’s a progression chart of his ERA over all 16 of his appearances, both as a starter and reliever:

Key Points:
3 – ERA jumps to 1.29 when he allows his first run of the season
7 – ERA down to 0.63 after four straight scoreless bullpen outings
8 – ERA up to 1.33 after giving up two runs in Miami
14 – ERA down to 1.04 six straight scoreless bullpen outings
15 – ERA up to 2.40 after giving up five in Cincinnati
16 – ERA up to 3.15 after giving up four in Baltimore

Lincoln has been effective in the bullpen, as 11 of his 13 relief appearances have been scoreless; he’s allowed just two runs out of the ‘pen. However, his starts haven’t been nearly has effective, and has increased his ERA because of it.

This being said, Brad Lincoln and the Pirates have a decision to make. Either he needs to develop/rely on a third pitch more (probably his sinker) and become an effective starter, or he needs to stay in the bullpen and rely on his fastball/curveball combo. Obviously a 3.15 ERA is not bad, but it could grow if he continues to give up runs in his starts. Clint Hurdle verified that Lincoln will indeed be making his next start on Sunday in Cleveland. But if Lincoln is not effective for his third straight outing, he could be headed back to the bullpen. If Jeff Karstens doesn’t have any more setbacks in rehab, he may be back on the mound next week for the Bucs.

Spring Training Update: Week 1

Sunday, February 19 – Saturday, February 25

Sunday 2-19
– Pitchers and catchers reported on Sunday and participated in their first workouts of the spring.

Manager Clint Hurdle talking with the pitchers and catchers before their workout

 – A.J. Burnett passed his physical and MLB approved of the deal, finally making it official.

Monday 2-20
– The Pirates placed Rule 5 pick Gustavo Nunez on the 60-day disabled list, clearing him off the 40-man roster. The move made room for RHP A.J. Burnett.

– Burnett threw his first bullpen session as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates:

– First overall draft pick Gerrit Cole also made his spring debut:

(Video by PG beat writer Michael Sanserino)

Tuesday 2-21
– A few notable pitchers that threw bullpen sessions on Tuesday: Joel Hanrahan, Erik Bedard, Evan Meek, James McDonald, etc.

– In addition to bullpens, pitchers also began working on bunting and fielding.

New Bucco SS

 Wednesday 2-22
– Notable pitchers that took part in bullpen sessions: A.J. Burnett, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, etc.

Andrew McCutchen arrived at Pirate City and got some work in:

Thursday 2-23
– No bullpens scheduled, just drills and batting practice for pitchers/players.

– Team president Frank Coonelly arrived in Bradenton, but it’s been reported that he was charged with DUI after an arrest in December.

– More bad news came on Thursday for the Bucs: Ryan Braun won his appeal and will not be suspended. Even though we don’t play the Brewers in our first 50 games, it still makes a huge difference in the division.  

Friday 2-24
– First official full squad workout for all players.

– Pitchers threw live BP to hitters. Top match-up was the group featuring Joel Hanrahan and James McDonald throwing to Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley.

– Andrew McCutchen taking BP:

(Video by Kristy Robinson of Pirates Prospects)

Saturday 2-25
– More live BP, highlighted by Jeff Karstens, A.J. Burnett, Kevin Correia, Gerrit Cole, etc.

Bob Nutting addresses the team

– The Pirates added two games to their spring schedule. They’ll face the Twins in a ‘B’  game on March 10, as well as the Netherlands international team on March 12.

The Bucs kick off their exhibition schedule next Saturday at 1:00 vs. the Blue Jays in Dunedin. 40 days until Opening Day in Pittsburgh.

Go Bucs

Pirates Player Profile: Erik Bedard

Erik Bedard
Age: 32
Birth Place: Navan, Canada
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 200 lbs.
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

Career Stats:


2012 Projections:


Canadian-born southpaw Erik Bedard was drafted in the 6th round of the 1999 MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles. He made his major league debut in April of 2002, and stuck with the Orioles for four seasons. In February of 2008, Bedard was sent to Seattle in a deal that included Adam Jones and George Sherrill. At last season’s trade deadline, he was shipped to the Boston Red Sox as part of a three team deal. The Pirates signed him this offseason to a 1 year, $4.5MM contract.

Bedard features a low-90s fastball, a change, and a curveball which he heavily relies on. Bedard’s main problem is staying healthy and reliable for the entire season. He made 33 starts in 2006, which is the only year Bedard has been able to stay in the rotation for the entire season. His best season came in 2007 when he went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA for the O’s. He lost his chance at a Cy Young that season when he was shut down with an oblique strain in August. Bedard pitched decently for the Mariners from 2008-2011, but was again plagued with injuries. His injuries included shoulder problems, a torn labrum, knee strains, and lat strains. Late last season, Bedard pitched well for the Sox until he got hurt in September, leaving him with mediocre stats for his few days in Boston.

The Pirates picked up Bedard for a pretty good price, considering he didn’t have arm trouble in 2011 and there weren’t many lefty options in the free agent market. Obviously, there is concern since he is so injury prone. It shouldn’t be too big of a problem if he flames out because we signed him for a decent price. However, if Bedard stays healthy and pitches well, he could easily emerge as the ace of the Pirates staff. He has good stuff and will be the first Pirates starter in a while that can actually strike batters out, instead of relying on the defense. We named Bedard a “player to watch” in 2012, and we’re excited to see how he does. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and contribute to the Buccos rotation.

Go Bucs