As strong as the Pittsburgh Pirates' pitching staff has performed so far this season, it continues to have one distinct weak link.
Wednesday night, Kevin Correia took the hill for the Bucs, allowing five runs on 10 hits while walking and striking out one batter each in six innings of work. It was the ninth consecutive appearance for Correia in which he failed to record a quality start.
Correia's lack of production is bringing down the performance of the starting rotation as a whole, as his 5.59 FIP is nearly a point and a half higher than the closest Pittsburgh starter. His K/9 has reached a career low (Correia has not struck out more than four batters in any game this season) without any improvement in his walk or strikeout rates.
Correia's early 2012 performance is indicative of his overall decline since joining the Pirates prior to the 2011 season. Despite putting up strong counting stats during the first half of 2011, which actually earned him a spot on the All-Star team, Correia struck out significantly fewer batters last season than he had with the Padres during each of the two years prior.
After outperforming his peripherals early in the season, Correia regressed sharply in the second half of 2011, leading to a 4.79 ERA, which closely mirrored his FIP. Correia has actually had a somewhat similar start to 2012, buoyed by an opponent's BABIP below the Mendoza line in half of his 12 starts. But as Correia's most recent poor outing showed, the Pirates would be wise not to wait for the regression they know is coming.
General manager Neal Huntington's decision is made easier by the fact that the Pirates have two strong Triple-A performers waiting in the wings in Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens.
Locke has been more dominant this season, striking out 8.2 batters per nine innings, but either would be a clear upgrade over Correia at this point. At worst, either pitcher could provide an improvement in the No. 5 starter position until Jeff Karstens returns from injury, while simultaneously creating some trade value for themselves.
One of the strengths of the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates is their pitching depth, both at the big league level and in Triple-A. Huntington should take advantage of this depth and remove Correia from the Bucs' starting rotation immediately.