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Pirates’ Potential Pitching Rotation to Start 2020

For Pittsburgh, 2019 was not exactly a kind year. They were getting in fights, having unfortunate injuries and even the extended offseason has not helped this team. After finishing in last with a 69-93 record, it may be a while before the Pirates are contending again as the other four teams in the division are all contenders for the division. In terms of their rotation, the Pirates are left wanting.

This is mostly because they will be missing two major pieces of their rotation due to Tommy John Surgery. Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon will miss all of this season and likely some of next season while recovering from the most notable surgery for pitchers. Without both of them, this rotation is going to be lacking in a major way.

Here is a look at what their rotation may be if the 2020 season is not fully canceled due to COVID-19.


1.) Joe Musgrove

This one is pretty obvious considering the team has already announced him to be the Opening Day Starter. That said, in a normal year he would still be fighting for that second spot in the rotation and likely wouldn’t be any lower than a three. Musgrove is still pretty young and finding his way but it is clear that he is the best pitcher in this rotation currently.

Statistically he strikesout about a batter per inning and does a good job at keeping the ball in the ballpark. Also, his walks are pretty low which has helped him have just a 1.23 WHIP throughout his career. This year Musgrove will need to take the next step and pitch deeper into games while being that force the Pirates need.

If Pittsburgh want to have any chance to contend it starts with Joe Musgrove. If he is unable to be that guy then this could be a very long season for the Pirates.

2.) Trevor Williams

Just two years ago Trevor Williams looked like he had a chance to be a top-end starter for the Pirates that not only helped them contend but also contended for some major awards. Then 2019 hit and his ERA jumped from a 3.11 in 2018 to 5.38. There are a few reasons why this might be the case and it is worth looking into them.

For starters he is a flyball pitcher which plays just fine at PNC. That said, he went from only giving up 15 homers to 27. Also his batting average against went from a .231 to a .284. All of this while his walks actually went down. This likely means he was catching too much of the plate when he did miss and those often lead to big bombs.

If Williams can come back to his 2018 level or even just somewhere in between his past two seasons then the Pirates would be happy. In a season where they likely won’t contend, seeing growth in players like Williams is paramount in order to take the next step as an organization.

3.) Mitch Keller

After being the Pirates top prospect for quite some time now, Pirates fans finally got to see Mitch Keller in action. Unfortunately, his freshman season was mired in inconsistency. It seemed as if one game he would be on and the next he would be off. Overall he struggled to keep the ball on the ground and just get outs. Luckily as the season went on he started to figure things out.

It is easy to figure out why Keller did not do much right off the bat. He has a batting average against of .348, a WHIP of 1.83 and until his last three starts he was giving up some major flyball hits. This is not a winning combination. Luckily his strikeouts were there and in September he finally started getting more groundout which resulted in him getting more outs in general.

Keller is a kid who has incredible potential and even struggling last year there were plenty of bright moments. With an extended offseason, Keller should only have had more time to hone his craft at the major league level. Look for him to make major strides as the season goes on.

4.) Derek Holland

The 2018 version was arguably the best season of Derek Holland‘s career. Then he laid a bit of an egg in 2019 where he couldn’t keep the ball in the park and was almost constantly in trouble. This was especially a problem considering he was mainly in the bullpen.

Not only does the 6.08 ERA give this away but also the fact that he was giving up a homerun in almost 25% of his innings pitched. This is not good for any pitcher, especially one that is generally a flyball pitcher.

For Holland, this season is about much more than just getting his groove back, this may be his last chance to have a significant role. He will need to take advantage of the chance to start again and prove that he belongs. If he doesn’t, the Pirates have plenty of young guys that they will be ready to see what they have.

5.) Chad Kuhl

The choice between Kuhl and Brault was pretty tough as they both could benefit from getting major innings. The issue is, Brault is a lefty and might be more useful in the bullpen while Kuhl has been a starter his entire MLB career. With that, Kuhl is honestly a pretty average pitcher, which most teams are happy with having in the five slot in a rotation.

He is a career 4.37 ERA guy who does not give up a ton of homers and while he does not strikeout many batters, he is still capable of getting outs. That said, there are still some worries. Particularly in the walks department where he is giving up close to three walks per nine innings. Also his WHIP and batting average against are not something to write home about.

Luckily, this is the fifth spot in the rotation. Expectations are pretty low for Kuhl and if he can just be an innings eater that keeps the Pirates in most of the games he starts then they will take it.


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