On Tuesday, the Pirates traded Ivan Nova to the Chicago White Sox for 19-year old pitcher Yordi Rosario and $500K of international bonus pool money. He’s a fringe prospect at best (35 FV by Fangraphs), so this is probably the last time you’re going to hear (or remember) his name. The trade was to move Nova’s $9.1M to give some financial flexibility, every Pirate fan’s favorite term, for the team in the offseason.
Neal Huntington immediately placed a bet in Vegas on Jordan Lyles for 1 year/$2M. Lyles is only 28, but he’s been around forrrrevvvver, at least to me. The former 1st round pick of the Astros in 2008 has 768 innings under his belt as a back-end starter and swingman. Lyles re-invented himself to a degree with the Padres last season, as he recorded his highest swinging strike rate of his career at 10.3%. Lyles de-emphasized his fastball and slider in 2018, throwing more curves and changes.
He got waived and picked up by the Brewers in early August. Lyles did well for the Brew Crew, but not good enough to warrant picking up his $3.5M option for 2019.
In discussing Lyles, Neal Huntington has said that he’s a candidate for the rotation. Considering that Taillon-Williams-Archer-Musgrove are all near locks, that means Lyles is the 5th starter. Right ? Well…
#Pirates might consider using an opener in rotation next season, per GM Huntington
? Rob Biertempfel (@RobBiertempfel) December 11, 2018
Hell, yeah. Let’s go full Rays!
Lyles might be the 5th starter, but it was never specified how long in the game he would be starting. As young grasshopper Alex Stumpf so adroitly pointed out last summer, Nick Kingham is not very good at the beginning of games. His full-season stats bear out that the 1st inning was not kind to the now out-of-options Kingham.
In 15 games where he pitched the 1st inning (i.e. starts), Kingham’s ERA was 8.40. The batting line against him in the 1st was .333/.454/.565 (999 OPS). In essence, every batter that faced Kingham in the 1st inning was hitting the equivalent of Mookie Betts did for the full season.
But in the 2nd and 3rd innings, Kingham’s ERAs were cut in half to 4.05 and 4.15, respectively. His batting lines against were .204/.291/.429 (719 OPS) in the 2nd and .250/.339/.521 (860 OPS) in the 3rd. Those aren’t enough to alert the Cy Young voters, but it’s respectable enough for a 5th starter.
In contrast, Lyles was very good in the first three innings last year. His ERAs were 2.25/2.08/4.00 in albeit very small samples of 8 innings each. Likewise his batting lines against in innings 1-3 resulted in OPS figures of 788, 520, and 736.
So what if the Pirates go with the tandem look of Lyles-Kingham on the 5th day ? Lyles goes 2 or 3 innings, Kingham comes in for 2 or 3 innings, and then the bullpen has to vacuum up 3 or 4 innings. Not ideal, but if the Pirates are more open to skipping the 5th spot here and there it could be even more manageable.
Some other Pirate sites will lead you to believe that Ivan Nova was terrible and this move was addition by subtraction. I disrespectfully disagree. Nova was slated to be a much better than average 5th starter. His $9.1M salary made him Pirate-expensive for that role. In an offseason where it appears the Pirates have to sell to raise monies to spend, it was either going to be Nova or Francisco Cervelli’s salary on the block. I’m glad they kept Cervelli (for now) as I’m not enamored of the depth behind Diaz at this point.
The Pirates may be going experimental with the opener concept, but the Rays put it to excellent use last year. To win a baseball game, you need to get 27 outs. It doesn’t matter how many pitchers it takes to get there.