In 2011, Pirate starters pitched 923 1/2 innings. Those innings broke down like this:
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
This isn't great: it's just about 5 2/3 innings per start on the nose. Given that no one on the Pirates' staff showed much durability before 2011, that's not terrible, but as the rotation started to fall apart in the second half the team did the same.
Let's look at this from the perspective of 2012. The Pirates should be able to pencil Morton and McDonald back in for somewhere between 340 and 400 innings. Both guys saw increased workloads at the big league level in 2011, but neither pitched that many more innings compared to their 2010 combined MLB/MiLB totals. Injuries always happen to pitchers, but at this point these guys are relatively safe bets, as youngish pitchers go.
Beyond that, though, what do the Pirates really have? I don't know if I'd count on another 150 innings from Jeff Karstens; I still don't buy his low ERA as progress and I still have questions about his durability (though this is for another post in the future). Giving Kevin Correia another 150 innings is dangerous. Both his strikeout rate and his homer rate are skewing the wrong way and I'd bet on him getting worse before he gets better in 2012. Ross Ohlendorf is probably a non-tender candidate and even if he comes back, he's better suited to the bullpen at this point in his career. Brad Lincoln started off nicely, but I'm not sure how worthy he is of anything more than a fifth starter spot. No one in the minors (not Jeff Locke, nor Rudy Owens, nor Kyle McPherson) will be ready for a big league spot when the season begins. Brian Burres and Aaron Thompson are filler.
Now consider how relatively healthy the Pirates were this year. How many teams get 150+ innings out of five starters? The Phillies didn't even have that this year. The closest the Pirates have come recently is 2004, when they had five guys with 130+ innings.
So here's my question: how do you possibly get back to 900 innings without Paul Maholm? I'm not sure they can get there with him, but this rotation could be a disaster zone without him. As far as free agent starters go, I'm sure the Pirates will make a big offer to Edwin Jackson and I'm sure that he'll spurn them for less money to stay with Dave Duncan in St. Louis (or something similar to this). If the Pirates sign a free agent, it'll probably be some kind of reclamation project like Dontrelle Willis or Scott Kazmir. Not guys I'd count on big innings from. They could swing a trade, but I'm not sure they're in a place yet to be dealing for someone like, say, James Shields, even if they thought they could extend him.
Maholm's not a great starter and I'm not sure he'll be worth $9.75 million, but he is pretty reliable and I just can't see a way the Pirates can build a rotation without the innings he'll give the club.
I think trading for Shields would be an intriguing option--he has club options through 2014, and they're not unreasonable. As far as Maholm goes, I think it depends on what the Pirates will spend on payroll next year and where they think they'll finish. If they want to spend $80 million and are willing to go for broke at the deadline if they're in the hunt, then I can see exercising the option. If the club is hedging their bets at $50 million and pointing their efforts toward 2013, I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense to spend 20 pecent of the payroll on a fourth starter type.
Watching the playoffs last night leads me to believe we have a longggggggggg way to go to get there.
Not sure you can count on consistent production from Morton and Correia when their BAA was over .280. And how can this team improve much next year with such a low quality starting staff? Maholm's option is $9.75mil?!?
I totally agree with the last paragraph in regards to Maholm. He's not great, a number 4 at best, but he fits and eats innings. I find Edwin Jackson intriguing. I saw him pitch for Tampa a few years back and liked his stuff. He reminds me of a more accomplished J-Mac. I wouldn't mind a guy that's had post season success and a no hitter!
Is it Morton's shiny sub-4 ERA or what - he's a back-end starter at best (I was surprised how horrid his ERA+ was this year). Penciling him in as a front-piece of a rotation is ludicrous (although probably unavoidable in Pittsburgh) - he won't strike people out and his biggest attribute was keeping the ball in the park. As far as Maholm - I would bring him back because the Pirates won't find someone better at that price. They won't tempt someone as good for less.
@wkkortas Shields will cost a LOT, though, and dealing with Tampa is scary.
And in any case, Maholm IS worth $9.75 million. He's a 2-3 WAR pitcher and if each win is $4.5-$5 million, well, he's worth it. The options aren't going to be throwing Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke into the fire, which I could at least understand, it's going to be giving more innings to Brian Burres/Aaron Thompson types.
@schuleg Morton's at least reliable because of the groundballs. He's not going to be much better or worse than he was in 2011, I don't think, but if he can throw another 170+ innings he'll be worth a rotation spot. He's not an ace by any means, he's just one of the better pitchers the Pirates have right now and one of the few guys I feel at least somewhat OK with giving a bunch of innings to in 2012.
@whygavs Shields will cost a lot after 2014, but he has team options through then---$7 million next year, $9 million in 2013, $12 million --which are pretty reasonable. I would agree that $9.5 million is what a pitcher of Maholm's abilities are worth as a rule, and he has value if the Pirates if the Pirates plan to be and act like contenders; you think guys like Maholm are a dime a dozen until you don't have one. That said, if the Pirates are going to play it close to the vest with a $50 million payroll and point toward contending in 2013 or 2014, they have better ways to spend that money--say, as part of a Cutch or Walker extension--than on Paul Maholm.
@whygavs He is reliable if people catch his groundballs. If the defense regresses to any extent, he loses his value. Plus, it's not a certainty a second full season as the Halladay clone will be successful - certainly Morton had a rougher second half (for any number of reasons). His continued presence in a starting rotation is damning with faint praise, at best, the quality of the pitching staff at this point.
It wouldn't be to placate that crowd, but an examination of the quality of the division. If you see a team that can be as good for a whole season as it was for the first half, then adding a few strategic pieces would seem worth it. If not, then the slow plod to something maybe can continue (in 2014 if and when some of the bonus babies actual become productive major league players). In the meantime, the team may see a window close as the other teams re-organize (replacing Pujols and Fielder potentially).
As far as payroll - why 80 million? Is that a specific number to attract free agents or to acquire players in trade? Yes, the Pirates need help at C, 1B, 3B and say RF. Yes, the Pirates need 2 good SPs. Can internal options fill those spots - I'd argue no, but for argument's sake whittle that list down to a good SP and C and one corner. Now it starts to look tempting...
@schuleg I'd agree that there is some opportunity there--I don't think there are any great teams in the Central now, and there's a possibility that 88 wins or so could possibly win the division next year. Still, the Pirates as they are currently constructed would have to have to significantly increase payroll next year to somewhere in the $80 million dollar range. Given the current economics of the game, I don't think that's a figure the Pirates can handle year in and year out; they're going to have to pick and choose their spots to go for broke, and I would suspect the front office doesn't see 2012 as one of those spots. As you say, you could talk yourself into that (and I understand you're not advocating that), but I hope NH and company don't go that route simply to placate the .500 Or Bust crownd.
That depends on how the front office views the NL Central and if the team is closer to the first half or second half in terms of competency. It's not like there is a dominant force in the NL Central. I'd even argue that a window may be opening sooner than some may have forecast if Pujols and Fielder sign outside the division. Houston is a mess, Milwaukee is spent if Fielder leaves and the Cubs are the Cubs (even with new and improved management, that team is poorly constructed). Only the Cards and Reds present obstacles, but how formidable are they (especially Cincy)?
I'd argue that you could easily talk yourself into a win-now mode if the post-All-Star Break cratering was determined to be an aberration. I'm not agreeing with that sentiment, but it's there.
@whygavs Agree with you on Shields; trading a big package for him would be part of a "win now" scenario, and it's hard to see the Pirates as in a place to roll the dice on 2012.
@wkkortas re: Shields -- By costing a lot, I meant that Tampa Bay is going to extract a king's ransom for him if they deal him this winter. Probably more than we'd be willing to pay.
As for Maholm, I'm not viewing it as money either spent on McCutchen/Walker or Maholm. They're going to try and push the payroll up to a certain level this year (like it or not, I don't think they can field a 95-loss team with a $45 million payroll in 2012 now that they have the fans at least somewhat hooked), and I think that picking up Maholm's option for one year is one of the best ways to spend money that will likely end up being spent anyway.