Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett form a nice threesome at the top of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation, which — with the help of injury issues — ranked near the bottom of the majors last season in WAR and was middle-of-the-pack in xFIP. As for the bullpen, closer Mark Melancon returns from 2014’s mediocre bunch. Another innings horse from last season, Tony Watson, is back. Jared Hughes and Justin Wilson also ate up major innings for the Pirates in 2014, but the former is fighting for a spot in the ‘pen, and the latter was traded to the Yankees in the Francisco Cervelli deal.
The rotation, much like the Reds, looks to have three solid cogs with two question marks. The bullpen appears shaky, especially when you factor in just how good the ‘pen was in 2013.
Projected rotation: LHP Francisco Liriano; RHP Gerrit Cole; RHP A.J. Burnett; LHP Jeff Locke; RHP Charlie Morton.
Manager Clint Hurdle said last month that Liriano will start on Opening Day against the Reds, and will be followed by Cole and Burnett. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Liriano, now 31, has found similar success (being a strikeout machine) in Pittsburgh as he did when he was a 22-year-old All-Star with the Twins. (Quick tangent: In 2006 at age 22, Liriano made 16 starts for the Twins and finished with K/9 rate of 10.7 and an ERA+ of 208. 208!) … The three-year, $39 million contract LirianoÃ‚Â signed last December could be a bargain for the club. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, put everything together after the All-Star break last year. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time for the right-hander to become one of the NLÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top starters. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Burnett turned 38 in January, but he still averaged nearly 92 mph on his fastball last season and was among the NL leaders in strikeout rate. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Locke won a spot in the rotation over Vance Worley, which was mildly surprising. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Morton is a ground-ball machine, but his walk rate jumped last year. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, likely wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve reached the bigs in 2014Ã‚Â if not for Tommy John surgery. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s scheduled to begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. If Locke or Morton (or both) struggle, expect to see Taillon sooner rather than later. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Edinson Volquez, who led Pittsburgh in innings pitched and started the NL Wild Card play-in game last year, received a two-year, $20 million contract from the Royals in the offseason. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The versatile Brandon Cumpton was lost for the year due to Tommy John surgery.
Projected bullpen: RHP Mark Melancon (closer); LHP Tony Watson; LHP Antonio Bastardo; RHP Vance Worley; RHP Radhames Liz; RHP Arquimedes Caminero; RHP Jared Hughes/RHP Stolmy Pimentel.
Tom Singer of MLB.comÃ‚Â believesÃ‚Â Melancon, Watson, Bastardo (who came over from the Phillies in an offseason trade),Ã‚Â Worley, Liz and Caminero are bullpen locks, leaving Hughes andÃ‚Â Pimentel fighting for the last spot in the bullpen. Hughes has a minor-league option left; Pimentel does not. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Melancon (combined 1.87 FIP) and Tony Watson (2.95 FIP) have been dynamite the past two seasons, but could be due for step-back seasons because of overuse: both have pitched more than 70 innings in consecutive years. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Bastardo is a tremendous additionÃ‚Â becauseÃ‚Â he terminates leftiesÃ‚Â (.185 career opponents’ average) with extreme prejudice. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Worley, a ground-ball connoisseur, surprised everyone with his success last year but struggles to miss bats. … Liz, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009 — and didn’t pitch well while he was in The Show — could drawÃ‚Â multi-inning (read: mop-up) duty. …Ã‚Â Caminero only has 19.2 innings of big-league experience. … Pimentel has struggled with walks during his 42 inningsÃ‚Â with the Pirates fromÃ‚Â 2013-14.