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Theoretically, The Pirates’ 2019 Pitching Staff Is Already In Place

Chris Archer will be better in 2019 for the Pirates.
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When confronted with a large project, it’s always a good idea to split it into smaller pieces if you can. That way you can focus on completing sub-tasks with more efficiency. Plus, I always like to check things off a list.

In essence, Neal Huntington can check ‘Assemble Pitching Staff’ off his 2019 Pirates whiteboard. His work at the trade deadline solidified what is looking like his strongest pitching staff (from spots 1-12) of his entire tenure. Sure, he’s had Gerrit Cole/A.J. Burnett/Francisco Liriano provide dominant seasons. He’s had Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, and Mark Melancon provide dominant seasons, too. But each rotation and bullpen has had some lesser lights in it from time to time.

Pitching variance from year-to-year can provide whiplash to fans and GM’s alike, but the 2019 squad looks exceedingly competent and deep. So deep, in fact, that some familiar faces may be moved in the offseason to bring in help in other areas.

The rotation looks like it has this configuration:

  • Jameson Taillon
  • Chris Archer
  • Trevor Williams
  • Joe Musgrove
  • Ivan Nova *

The bullpen’s configuration:

  • Felipe Vazquez
  • Keone Kela
  • Kyle Crick
  • Edgar Santana
  • Richard Rodriguez
  • Steven Brault
  • Chad Kuhl *

Those top five guys (Vazquez, Kela, Crick, Santana, Rodriguez) all have K%’s over 20%, with Vazquez/Kela/Rodriguez surpassing the 30% mark. That’s a dominant trio that doesn’t have to worry about shifts or launch angles; they’ll take care of the problem themselves.

Now about those asterisks next to Nova and Kuhl. Some ill-informed Pirate sites will repeatedly mention that Ivan Nova is terrible. He’s not. He’s a very competent back-end starter. I have him in the rotation, but I could see him on the trade market this offseason to a pitching-needy team.

In that case, Chad Kuhl could come back into the rotation. However, I have concerns about his arm troubles. Forearm tightness is typically a precursor to Tommy John surgery and rest doesn’t magically fix ligaments. That said, if the Pirates trade Nova AND Kuhl needs surgery, the Pirates can still plug someone like Nick Kingham into the rotation.

Let’s talk about Kingham and a few other pieces that may not fit this puzzle at first glance:

Nick Kingham

Kingham is out of options after this season. Heck, he was out of options this season, but the Pirates lobbied for him to get an extra option due to his medical issues.

Kingham probably pitched the single greatest game by a Pirate pitcher this season and it was in his Major League debut, to boot. On April 29th against the Cardinals, Kingham took a perfect game into the 7th inning. It was the game of his life and it was his first one in the Majors. It’s pretty much all downhill from there anyway.

He’s had a 1st inning problem, as documented by Alex, and it has continued even since that article was published. Kingham is lugging a 4.70 ERA/5.18 FIP mix around his neck for the season. Next year is his age-27 season, so it’s not like he’s a young guy with all this room for growth. The mortar is fairly well-set on Kingham at this point.

Dovydas Neverauskus/Clay Holmes

Both of these guys have been human gas cans when they’ve come in from the bullpen this year. With the players ahead of them (and behind them in the minors, like Jesus Liranzo), I’d like to see the Pirates move these guys in a deal that at least clears up 40-man roster space.

Both of them have one option remaining, so it wouldn’t hurt the Pirates to stash them in Triple-A, but I just don’t think they’re any good. These kind of arms are always laying around on the waiver wire or can be replicated in a team’s own minor league system.

I could have put Tanner Anderson in the heading, too, but he seems destined to be outrighted off the 40-man roster so I didn’t want to belabor the point.

Nick Burdi

The Pirates took Burdi in last year’s Rule 5 draft. It was a move I really liked, even though he was recovering from surgery. A Rule 5 pick needs to spend 90 days on a Major League roster or else the team has to offer him back to his original team.

Burdi arrived with the September callups, so that means 30 of his 90 days will be used up this month. The Pirates need to keep him up with the Major League team for 60 days in 2019 or else he’d be eligible to return to the Twins or then be run through waivers.

Burdi has the same kind of strikeout profile as the top guys in the Pirates’ bullpen. He could be a find for them at virtually no cost. But I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to keep him on a roster, especially for a team that seems like it could be a division contender in 2019.


With the pitching side of the equation fairly set, Huntington can focus all his energies on improving the terrible infield. If you like Adam Frazier at 2B, that means “only” 1B, SS, and 3B need addressed. If the Pirates can get two legitimate options in free agency or a trade, they can grind it out with one of the Newman/Moran/Bell trio.

There’s plenty of money available in payroll capacity. The GM has assembled an amazingly deep rotation and bullpen. The outfield should be set with Dickerson/Marte/Polanco. Catcher looks fine with Cervelli (if healthy) and Diaz. Just fix the players on the dirt.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

6 Comments on Theoretically, The Pirates’ 2019 Pitching Staff Is Already In Place

  1. Ethan Hullihen // September 7, 2018 at 8:20 AM //

    Sorry Kevin, but allow me to be picky.

    Holmes and Neverauskus will each have one option left after the season. They each used one last year and this year.

    As for Burdi, I don’t believe he’s offered to Twins first, but has to pass through waivers first, allowing another team to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements before Twins get him back.

    • Phillip C-137 // September 7, 2018 at 2:58 PM //

      Ethan, the rules clearly state a Rule 5 guy has to be offered back to his “starting team” first, at a cost of $25,000. If they don’t want him back then he goes through the waiver process.

      • Ethan Hullihen // September 7, 2018 at 3:52 PM //

        I was strictly going from memory, but after reading, I still think I’m right…

        From The Official Professional Baseball Rules Book, Rule 6(a):

        (a) RESTRICTIONS. From the date of selection to the close of the subsequent Major League championship season, no player selected in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Selection Meeting shall be released or directed to perform for or otherwise transferred to any Minor League Club until:
        (1) the player has received a 15-day trial period during spring training;
        (2) Outright Assignment waivers have first been granted on the player ?s contract in accordance with Rule 10 (Major League Waivers) (see, e.g., Rule 10(e)(5) (Restrictions on Waiver Requests)); and
        (3) outright assignment of the player has then been offered to and rejected by the Major or Minor League Club from which the player ?s contract was selected.

        From Glossary(

        Not every club will make a selection, but those that do pick a player must pay $100,000 to the club from which said player was selected. Rule 5 Draft picks are assigned directly to the drafting club’s 25-man roster and must be placed on outright waivers in order to be removed from the 25-man roster in the subsequent season. Should the player clear waivers, he must be offered back to his previous team for $50,000 and can be outrighted to the Minors only if his original club does not wish to reacquire him. A Rule 5 Draft pick can be placed on the Major League disabled list, but he must be active for a minimum of 90 days to avoid being subject to the aforementioned roster restrictions in the next campaign.

        I thought this was the case because you’ll often see a Rule 5 player waived, be picked up, then the new team has to keep the player or offer them back.

  2. Sec.143RowMSeat24 // September 7, 2018 at 1:56 PM //

    Do you think Kuhl would go straight back into rotation? Does he have any options left? Do they start him in the rotation in AAA yo make sure he’s still a viable starting option?

    • Kevin Creagh // September 7, 2018 at 2:20 PM //

      If Nova were to be traded, yes. If not, he could be in the bullpen if they had lingering concerns about his arm. I’ve long felt he could be a dominant 2-inning reliever.

  3. Phillip C-137 // September 7, 2018 at 3:51 PM //

    “Pitching variance from year-to-year can provide whiplash to fans and GM ?s alike”

    That is well said. History is replete with guys who “had it” and then through age, injury or the vagaries of existence “lost it”. About this time last year George Kontos looked like the 7th inning man for 2018. (That plan didn’t age well.)

    So while it appears the Pirates have a solid 5 BP arms, (with assists from Brault, Burdi, Schugel, Turley(?) and a host of other possibilities) that’s a bunch of guys the Pirates are counting on to keep performing.

    Personally, I would have no issue with trading Archer, Kuhl or Nova if the return was right. Then I’d sink or swim with Kingham/Keller, just like has been done with Kuhl the last 2 seasons.

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