MLB Preview: What To Expect From the Pittsburgh Pirates' Starting Pitchers
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In 2008, the Pirates fielded perhaps their most potent offense since the days of Bonds, Bell and Van Slyke. Anchored by Jason Bay and augmented by career years from Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth, the Pirates appeared to be making progress towards that elusive winning season.
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh was able to cancel out a formidable offense with a thoroughly awful pitching staff. Forgettable names like Yoslan Herrera, Jon Van Benschoten and Jason Davis all took the mound as starters for the Bucs that season.
At the trade deadline that year, GM Neal Huntington made controversial trades that dismantled the offense in an attempt to bolster the pitching staff and add depth to the farm system. These trades have had a large effect on the makeup of the club this year.
While the pitching staff is not a major strength for the team, there is reason to believe that it is improving. If nothing else it is far better than the 2008 staff that humiliated themselves on a daily basis.
Let's see what to expect from Pirates starting pitchers in 2011
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A former first-round pick, Maholm has been a steady and unspectacular mainstay on the Pirates staff since his major league debut in 2005. With a lifetime record of 47-59 with an ERA of 4.48, Maholm may unfortunately be the best starter the Pirates have ever taken with their first-round pick.
Maholm is a decent innings eater who will keep the Pirates in games. He rarely misses a start but is usually ineffective after the 6th inning.
This season will likely be similar to every other season of Maholm's career. Expect 8-10 wins with an ERA in the mid 4's to low 5's. 200 Innings are not out of the question but any more than 120 strikeouts would be a surprise.
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Ross Ohlendorf stands as proof that wins are meaningless when it comes to evaluating a pitcher. With a record of 1-11, Ohlendorf was the butt of many jokes after winning his arbitration case against the Pirates that will net him a raise of over $1.5 million.
While his record in 2010 may tell a different story, Ohlendorf's 4.07 ERA and WHIP of 1.38 are worthy of his salary. His K/BB ratio is near 2.0 for a career and was at 1.88 last year despite the fact that he struggled with control early in the summer.
I expect Ross to rebound with a nice year. If he can stay healthy and keep his control, his record should come around.
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As I eluded to in my previous story, McDonald is coming off a big year with the Pirates and is susceptible to the Pirates curse that has struck down many promising pitchers to come through the Steel City. Just a week later he left a spring training start with discomfort in his side. Details are vague at this time but the injury may cause him to miss some time.
In his starts so far this spring, McDonald has been knocked around and struggled with control. While I find spring training performances to be relatively useless, I am concerned about McDonald's 2011 season.
Expect McDonald to take a small step back this year. He was unable to live up to expectations in Los Angeles even though he was surrounded by a much better team. I hope McDonald can build on last season and become the No. 2 starter that the Pirates desperately need but he's far more likely to fortify the bottom of the rotation for the next few years.
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When the Pirates decided to non-tender Duke this past offseason, the fanbase was divided. On one hand, Duke is a former All-Star who had been a mainstay in the Pirates rotation since his impressive debut in 2005. On the other hand he routinely ranks among the highest in the league in dubious stat categories such as losses, hits and earned runs.
Most of all, fans were concerned about who would fill the void left by Duke. Who out there could reach his level of inconsistency and mediocrity? GM Neal Huntington answered that question when he signed Kevin Correia.
Correia spent last year with the San Diego Padres where he went 10-10 with a 5.40 ERA. These numbers would be pedestrian anywhere but the fact that they occured in the cavernous Petco Park is cause for concern.
At one point in time, Correia was a moderately successful relief pitcher/spot starter with the San Francisco Giants. Many of his struggles seem to have come on when he was moved to the rotation.
At best I can see Correia putting up numbers on par with his decent 2009 season when he had a 3.91 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 2.22. At worst he will be among league leaders in losses, hits and earned runs. Basically, he's a right-handed Zack Duke.
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Charlie Morton is a talented pitcher. With a fastball that tops out in the mid 90s, a great curveball and a decent changeup, many thought the Pirates were getting a future staff ace when Morton was acquired from Atlanta with Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez for Nate McLouth. Unfortunately, it has not worked out well for Morton thus far in Pittsburgh.
Morton was awful in 2010 posting a 2-12 record with an ERA of 7.57. He struggled early in games and rarely made it through the opposing lineup twice without getting shelled.
In 2011, Morton will be in competition for the final spot in the starting rotation much to the chagrin of Pirates fans. After all, it's hard to get behind a guy who routinely took the teams out of games before they could really get started. He admitted that many of his problems last season were mental. This admission caused many fans to be concerned about his ability to handle the stress of being a Major League pitcher.
Fans have never been on Morton's side. Moving fan-favorite Nate McLouth was not a popular move in Pittsburgh. Despite the fact that McLouth failed to hit over .200 last year with Atlanta, his popularity in Pittsburgh is still high among the casual fans. Because of this, Morton has always been saddled with the moniker of "That bum we got for McLouth."
I, however, predict that Morton may be on the brink of a breakthrough year. He ended his tumultuous 2010 season with an ERA of 4.26 after being recalled in late August. He has the ability to succeed at the major league level. If he can stay on track mentally, Morton may finally win over Pirates fans.
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Despite the majority of opinions on Charlie Morton, it is hard not to root for him to get the not at 5th starter over Scott Olsen. Prone to confrontation, Olsen has clashed with teammates, coaches, fans and law enforcement throughout his career
A once promising lefty, Olsen's career has gone downhill over the past few seasons. A torn labrum took much of the life off of a fastball that once reached into the mid 90's. Many thought he would be an integral part to the Florida Marlins renniasance by anchoring a rotation with Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Instead he hopes to beat out Morton as a fifth starter.
If Olsen doesn't make the starting rotation, he could join newcomer Joe Beimel as a left-handed option out of the bullpen. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on March 1st, Olsen said that a move to the bullpen wasn't discussed with him and eluded to the fact that he would not be open to relief duty.
Olsen is toxic and his relationship with the Pirates may already be beginning to sour. If the Pirates get off to a slow start, expect Olsen to react negatively. He may still have some talent but until he matures, Scott Olsen has no place on a Major League roster.