The Pirates, What Are They Not Seeing?

Over the years the Pirates have traded away a number of pitchers, mostly for economic reasons. It seems that every time one of those pitchers’ leave, there is a dramatic upturn in their performance. At least this seems to be the impression that I have. Like many things, sometimes what you feel, is not always what is actually happening. I also wanted to know if there were some exceptions, and I did find a couple. What started all this, is the recent performance of Clay Holmes, who is now with the New York Yankees, but more on him later. To make things simple I used Baseball Reference’s ERA+ as the standard to compare pitcher’s performance while with the Pirates and after they left. ERA+ takes a player’s ERA and normalizes it across the entire league. It accounts for external factors like ballparks and opponents. It then adjusts, so a score of 100 is league average, and 150 is 50 percent better than the league average. ERA+ is a comparison number, so the higher the number the better the pitcher’s performance. I started with the year 2012 and started comparing the pitchers the Pirates had, and what happened after they left. I did find out that up until Clay Holmes, this was basically a starting pitcher phenomenon. Most relief pitchers for the Pirates seemed to perform about the same after they left.

We begin with Charlie Morton. He spent 7 seasons with the Pirates, having only one above average performance of 109. Once he left the Pirates his ERA+ went 113, 133, 144, 87, and 132. The below average performance was the Covid season of 2020. This year so far, he is having a below average season, but it is not over yet. Once he left the Pirates he became 30% better than the average major league starter. Gerrit Cole was the Pirate ace and his best year 2015 he had an ERA+ of 149. His last year with the Pirates he was right at the 100 number. His next 5 seasons including this one, his ERA+ ran, 144,185, 151, 133, and 137. He became one of the best pitchers in baseball and has the contract to prove it. Jameson Taillon looked like he may be the first exception and may still be. He had 2 good years with the Pirates with ERA+ of 123 and 122. He has been sidetracked by 2 Tommy Johns surgeries and was just a league average starter for the Yankees last year. This year he is heading into stud mode with an ERA+ of 166 after 10 starts. Tyler Glasnow in 2 and 2/3 seasons with the Pirates never had an ERA+ of over 100, although he came close with 99 in his first year. Once he got to Tampa Bay it was almost an immediate transformation. He, too has been sidetracked with Tommy John surgery. When healthy he had ERA+ of 98, 248, 100, and 133. Here are few other comparisons with Tampa Bay being first Wins, 17,3. ERA 3.16, 6.50 and BB per 9 innings 2.8, 5.8. Joe Musgrove spent 3 seasons with the Pirates and seemed to be making some nice progress. He had ERA+ of 97, 97, and then a nice 117. Going to San Diego he made a slight improvement to 122 last year, but this year he is another stud in the making, with an ERA+ of 236. He threw a no-hitter last year and almost threw another his last start. There are a couple of exceptions. Jeff Lock and Trevor Williams each had some good periods, but never did much with the Pirates, or after they left. Chad Kuhl got off to a good start with the Rockies after being horrible with the Pirates last year, with an ERA+ of 88. So far this year it is 147. Time will tell on that one.

Then, there is the amazing case of Clay Holmes. Holmes pitched for the Pirates for 3 seasons and did not see much action at all in 2020. He pitched 119 innings for the Pirates. He was traded to Yankees last year near the trade deadline. He has since pitched 54 innings for them. We will dig a little deeper into hiss stats. Here are his main stats for the Pirates. ERA 5.56, S0/Walk ratio 1.45, Whip 1.638, and ERA+76. Now for the Yankees and hold on to your hats. ERA 0.99, SO/Wall ratio 8.86, Whip .732 and ERA+ 415. Too bad you cannot capitalize numbers. He is like 5 to 6 times better on 3 of the stats and his Whip is cut by more than 50%. Good grief. I watched him pitch the other day and apparently, he has developed a 100-mile per hour sinker. When he was traded, I could not believe that the Yankees wanted him and were willing to give up what they did. They obviously saw something that the Pirates did not see and have been rewarded by having the most dominate reliever in baseball. I do not know if he can keep this up but up to this point, it is mind boggling.

What is the explanation for this lack of knowing or developing pitching talent? There can only be 3 possibilities. One may have nothing to do with Pirates. These pitchers all went to better teams, especially better fielding teams, and this in turned made these guys all have much better pitching stats. That could be a factor especially with some of the border line cases, line Taillon and Musgrove. The second reason could be that the Pirates just have a very poor developmental staff and just don’t know what the hell they are doing on the pitching side of things. I like this explanation the best. This does not seem to happen with the position players they lose. They have lost a lot of good position players from economics, but they just seem to perform as expected, and no one seems to perform way over the top. Jose Batista comes to mind, when he went to Toronto, but that was a good while back. The scariest explanation is that these players know that the Pirates are really not trying to win or succeed, and they only put in minimal effort toward their own performance, hoping they will be able to go to a contender. Ball players are not stupid. The Pirates have had some of the worst management teams in all of baseball and this current one in particularly does not want to win, this year, with all the goofy moves they have made. They have cost some of their top players millions of dollars by not promoting them to the big leagues this spring. When these players went to the minor leagues, they did not put out the best efforts. Some call this a lack of maturity. I call this telling your boss, try sticking it to somebody else. I am not costing myself an injury that might end my career. Pitching is what wins all the marbles. It is the one aspect of the game you have to pay for. It is very difficult to develop it. You have to know what you are paying for and what you are giving up. It looks like the Pirate brass haven’t a clue.

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