Pittsburgh Pirates in review: The starting rotation.

Welcome to a brand new offseason series: Grading the Pittsburgh Pirates! This is part one of a four-part series breaking down each section of the 2018 Pirates. We’ll take a look at what went well, not so well, best games, and grade each individual’s season. We’ll kick off this series with the rotation.

Jameson Taillon

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
32 191.0 22.80% 5.90% 0.298 3.20 3.46 3.58 3.7

 

Before this season began the big question was: “Does Taillon have what it takes to become the ace of this staff?”. He’s answered that question with an emphatic “Yes”. Jameson was tied for the league lead in complete games, 19th in ERA, and 21st in WAR. He struggled in the early months but was able to effectively introduce a slider into his repertoire. In the second half of the season, he had a 2.33 ERA and never saw his ERA rise above 3.40 after May. Jameson was the anchor of this rotation and gave the Pirates a chance to win when he pitched.

  • Worst Outing: April 19th at the Philadelphia Phillies. 1.2 IP, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, and 4 H. This was the start of a brutal start stretch where the questions began to fly about Taillon’s legitimacy as an ace.
  • Best Outing: June 1st at the St. Louis Cardinals. 8.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, and 3 H. Yes, Taillon threw a complete game in Colorado but he also gave up 10 hits and was able to manage the damage. Instead, let’s go with the domination against a division rival. This start was also the turning point of Taillon’s season.
  • Season Grade: A. Sure the season started rough but Taillon settled down, provided innings, quality starts, and eventually became the ace he needs to be for this team.

 

Trevor Williams

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
31 170.2 18.00% 7.90% 0.261 3.11 3.86 4.54 2.5

 

Wow….just wow. Trevor had to earn his spot on this rotation in the spring. When he did, he was one bad start from giving Tyler Glasnow another shot. Williams was looked at squarely as a fourth or fifth type starter. He’s now an extremely solid three, if not number two starter. He finished the season with a better ERA than Taillon, had a second-half ERA that was only beat by assumed AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. He gives a consistent six innings almost every start. Williams is Mr. Dependable. He doesn’t blow guys away with crazy stuff, instead, he’s a legitimate pitcher. Using his spots and setting up hitters. Honestly, his best comp is probably Kyle Hendricks. Without a doubt, he’s the surprise of Pittsburgh’s season.

  • Worst outing: July 6th vs the Phillies. 2.1 IP, 5 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, and 5 H. One run for every hit is not a good way to pitch if you give up more than two hits. It seemed like perhaps bad Trevor was back after a couple games of good Trevor. After this game, bad Trevor never came back.
  • Best outing: September 22nd vs the Milwaukee Brewers. 6 IP, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K,  and 0 H. Not Trevor’s longest or most dominant start, it was his most impressive. He managed to keep the eventual NL Central Champs contained at a time when the Pirates needed a miracle in order to stay alive in the playoff race.
  • Season Grade: A+. Yes, he was bad in the first half but the second half makes up for it. Even in his bad starts, he ate innings and this transformation could very well carry over to next season.

Joe Musgrove

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
19 115.1 20.60% 4.70% 0.294 4.06 3.59 3.92 2.1

Joe didn’t start the season on the right foot due to injuries. His first appearance wasn’t until May. Musgrove’s season has been up and down. He never really found consistency and wasn’t able to finish the season healthy. Joe showed flashes of great pitching but also bad pitching. That being said he never allowed more than five runs in a start and was good for six or more innings on all but his worst days.

  • Worst outing: June 23rd vs the Arizona Diamondbacks. 4 IP, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, and 8 H. His second four-inning start in a row.
  • Best outing: May 25th vs the Cardinals. 7 IP, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, and 5 H. His first start was, unfortunately, his best one. It was his first of two, scoreless starts and was domination from start to finish.
  • Season Grade: B- The Pittsburgh faithful knew Musgrove wasn’t going to be some great pitcher but they would’ve preferred a little bit more. He struggled at times but he was good for innings and was more than capable of putting together really good stretches of pitching. His last two starts inflated his ERA from 3.75 to 4.06. That may have been early signs of the injury that ended his season early. The jury is still out on Joe….

Ivan Nova

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
29 161.0 16.70% 5.10% 0.288 4.19 4.57 4.28 1.1

Ivan is always going to be a bit of a conundrum, you never know if you’ll get the guy who can go the distance or the guy who lasts three innings. While he never went the distance this year, he did provide some value. The good news is that Pittsburgh no longer needs to rely on him as a top or even mid-rotation starter. Thanks to the addition of Chris Archer, Musgrove, and improvement of Williams, Nova can bring up the rear. Ivan had a great month in June (1.75 ERA) but wasn’t consistent enough to have a good season. For the most part, he got stronger and better as the season wore, improving on his ERA from July onward. However, when he was bad it was not pretty. The man known as Super-Nova is probably gone.

  • Worst Outing: May 8th at the Chicago White Sox. 2.0 IP, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 6 H. Two innings and five runs against one of the worst teams in baseball? It doesn’t get much worse than that.
  • Best Outing: April 26th vs the Detroit Tigers. 8.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 6 H. This was the closest Nova got all year to going all the way. He was in complete control throughout. Unfortunately, this would be the peak of his season.
  • Season Grade: C He is the same pitcher he’s always been in Pittsburgh, capable of really bad and really good starts.

Chris Archer

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
10 52.1 26.70% 8.00% 0.328 4.30 4.00 3.53 0.7

 

The biggest acquisition in recent Pirate memory had a season that could be split into two halves. When Archer first came over to the Bucs he struggled mightily (6.45 ERA in his first month). He couldn’t make it through the fifth inning. Some of his issues could be blamed on bad luck but he was giving up a lot of very hard contact to left-handers. Chris finally flipped the switch on September 1st, throwing his first quality start in a Pirates uniform. He ended the month of September with the 29th lowest ERA in the league (2.70), around guys like Kyle Freeland and Stephen Strasburg. Whether his improvement was due to pitching adjustments from the coaching staff or just trusting his catchers, there is hope that perhaps Pittsburgh made the right call in trading for Archer.

  • Worst outing: August 26th at the Brewers. 4.0 IP, 6 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, and 7 H. Chris gave up two early homers to lefties in this one and was his second start in a row that only lasted four innings. The good news was that this was the last truly terrible start for Archer.
  • Best outing: September 19th vs the Kansas City Royals. 7.0 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, and 6 H. Sure it was against the lowly Royals but this was the kind of game fans had been waiting for from Archer. It was tied for his longest outing of the season and it was just good to see him dominate and build some confidence before the season ended.
  • Season Grade: D- and B. The two months of Archer’s time as a Pirate were so drastic that he had to have two grades. The good news is that Chris ended the season on a high note and it seems he may developing trust with the coaches and catchers. That’s a really good sign for 2019.

Looking Forward

As a whole rotation, there were a lot of ups and downs. For the most part, the staff kept the team in a spot to pull out a win. Over the course of the season, the staff graded out as a completely average. However, it’s pretty clear that the rotation did their best work in the second half. In the second half, the rotation produced the eighth lowest ERA (3.48) and had the fourth lowest in the last month (3.20). Quite a few players have seemed to turn the corner this season, which is great news for 2019. This is a rotation to watch.

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Author Details
Content Contributor for the Pittsburgh Pirates , The Armchair All-Americans LLC
I grew up in the only hilly part of Indiana, an unholy place where Reds, Cardinals, and Cubbie fans all live in semi-harmony. The first 20 years of my life were abysmal as I never got to see a winning season from my beloved Pirates. Today I live in bliss as I allow my baseball addiction to take over every aspect of my life.
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Content Contributor for the Pittsburgh Pirates , The Armchair All-Americans LLC
I grew up in the only hilly part of Indiana, an unholy place where Reds, Cardinals, and Cubbie fans all live in semi-harmony. The first 20 years of my life were abysmal as I never got to see a winning season from my beloved Pirates. Today I live in bliss as I allow my baseball addiction to take over every aspect of my life.
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