The Boston Red Sox have just eliminated the Houston Astros from the playoffs and are advancing to the World Series. They finished the regular season with the best record in baseball at 109-54.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are currently leading the series against the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2. One more win for the Dodgers, and we’ll get to see a Boston-Los Angeles World Series matchup. Just what we all wanted.
The Red Sox lead the entire league in payroll (according to Spotrac) with $228,398,860. The Dodgers were 3rd in total payroll with $199,582,045. The Dodgers haven’t advanced to the World Series yet, so it’s worth mentioning that the Brewers are 22nd in total payroll with $108,982,016.
The $228,398,860 in payroll gave the Red Sox the ability to roll out an opening day starting rotation of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brian Johnson. The $199,582,045 gave the Dodgers a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, and Hyun-jin Ryu.
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of the last decade. Chris Sale likely would have won the Cy Young Award if he had pitched in enough innings to qualify for the award. David Price might not be in his prime any longer, but he’s still an excellent pitcher. Both teams have their fair share of high-end talent.
But despite having a combined payroll of $427,980,905, their opening day rotations weren’t star-studded top to bottom.
For example, the team that will for sure be playing in the World Series, the team with the highest payroll in the league (by nearly $23 million), had built a rotation that used Brian Johnson, Nathan Eovaldi, and Drew Pomeranz 35 times. Despite the uncertainty around these 3 guys, the Red Sox starting rotation still managed to have the 4th best ERA- in the league at 84.
Let’s loop this all back around to be relevant to the Pirates. Obviously, the Pirates leading the league in payroll won’t happen during my lifetime, which will lead to glaring holes in the roster at times. But heading into 2019, there is no hole in the starting rotation.
I made a poll on Twitter the other day asking whether or not Ivan Nova would be a Pirate at the start of spring training. It turns out 57% of people think that Nova will not be on the Pirates roster.
Will Ivan Nova be a Pirate on March 1, 2019?
— Cannonball Corner (@CannonballCrner) October 16, 2018
If the 57% of you are reading this right now, I’ve got some bad news for you. Ivan Nova will be back next year.
I’m personally a huge fan of upside. I would essentially always take the high risk/high upside player over the low risk/low upside player. If Chad Kuhl was healthy, I would gladly take him over Ivan Nova as the Pirates #5 starter. But he’s not, and the Pirates don’t really have any other in-house options that are obvious upgrades over Nova.
The Pirates rotation is basically set for next year. Chris Archer, Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, and Ivan Nova should be the opening day rotation. The top 4 in the rotation looks pretty solid. Chris Archer has the upside to be a top of the rotation guy, Taillon and Williams both posted ERAs in the low 3s, and Joe Musgrove’s could easily improve upon his 2018 season. There is certainly some doubt around some of these guys. Will Archer take a step forward, or will he have another 4 ERA season? Will Williams be able to match his 2018 season and have a low 3’s ERA, or will he match his 2017 season and have a low 4’s ERA? Will Joe Musgrove improve and will he be able to stay healthy?
All of these are valid questions. The backend guy, Ivan Nova, certainly has some questions surrounding him as well. But what team’s 5th starter doesn’t have question marks?
Let’s take a look some of the playoff teams’ starting pitchers this year. Here is a graph that takes the 6 playoff teams that made it past the Wild Card round. I’ve taken all of those teams’ starting pitchers throughout the year, filtered them by pitchers with at least 10 GS, and then filtered that down to the 20% of pitchers with the highest ERA. Using 10 GS is an arbitrary number, but I had to pick something, and I feel that 10 starts is a good number to use for this. Then, I used the 20% highest ERA’s. I chose this simply because, in theory, the bottom 20% of the league are the #5 starters of the league.
I feel like this must be stressed. Ivan Nova is a perfectly fine #5 starter. He is boring, and sometimes frustrating (though I’d argue Hurdle is what makes Nova frustrating, maybe more on that at some other time). But he’s fine. Acquiring another pitcher would be awesome, but this team is currently without a shortstop, right fielder for a few months, has a catcher that has some serious issues, and could use upgrades at both corner infield spots. Acquiring pitching would be great, but this team has other holes to fill first.
The Pirates could make the playoffs with Ivan Nova at the #5 spot. He’s not good enough to trade for, and he’s not bad enough to trade away. His contract is right in line with what he deserves, and Pirate fans should embrace him for who he is, rather than what they wish he was.
Fun Fact: Ivan Nova is #6 (3.99) and Jeff Karstens is #7 (4.14)!
Lowest ERA among Pirates starting pitchers with at least 200 IP since 2000:
AJ Burnett 3.34
Gerrit Cole 3.50
Trevor Williams 3.53
Jameson Taillon 3.63
Francisco Liriano 3.67
( ?) 3.99
( ?) 4.14
— Cannonball Corner (@CannonballCrner) October 18, 2018