Why Don’t Pirates Starters Go Deeper into Games?

Almost every day, I get asked this question and most of the time I brush it aside. It’s obvious right? They aren’t good enough. Well, that’s certainly part of the equation but as with almost every aspect of this beautiful game, it’s not that simple. Today, let’s dive in and really try to answer the question.

I want to avoid generalizations, because I don’t believe this to be an organizational choice. So the best way to handle this is to go through the starters and talk about why each has struggled to go deep into games.

Joe Musgrove – For one thing Joe hasn’t been healthy most of the season. In his first couple starts he as every starter wasn’t stretched out and on top of that Joe has a tendency to experience a bad inning. This leads to short starts. In his first game back, he pitched 3 innings and was sent back out for the fourth before running into issues. There are no minor leagues for pitchers to rehab, so it makes sense he wouldn’t be ready to go deep.

Mitch Keller – Everything I said for Joe, but even less actual pitching. the plan is said to still be for Keller to pitch again this season, but if he can only go 3 or 4, I’d just hold him until Spring at this point, why bother.

Trevor Williams–Trevor is stretched out. He could give you 100+ pitches and he’ll battle every inning. Problem is, more often than not, it only gives him 4 or 5 innings. Williams is the type of pitcher who needs to nibble, he doesn’t have swing and miss stuff in the zone and when he intentionally misses the zone, it starts too close to out to begin with to induce many chases. Williams is not going to go deep for any team he pitches for, it’s just not him.

Derek Holland– If you’re looking for one who could go deep into any game he starts; Holland is your guy. That doesn’t mean he’ll exit with a 4-3 lead, but he chases contact, sometimes that leads to 5 homeruns in the first inning, sometimes that leads to 6 innings of serviceable work. He’s stayed healthy and built up his pitch count but at the end of the day he is what he is, a journeyman bullpen arm with the ability to spot start.

JT Brubaker – JT himself is coming off a season of injury and wasn’t stretched out to start in the early going. Now that he’s had three starts the leash should be a bit longer but in his last game, he battled through a really tough inning that crushed his pitch count. He’ll get there.

Cody Ponce – I mean, he’s had two starts and one of them was a 6-inning masterpiece for a rookie. Last night he went only 4 but it’s in there. Much like JT he wasn’t stretched out to start, but he can give you length if his pitch count is kept under control. He too will get there.

Steven Brault – Came out this Spring looking to build on his strong second half to 2019 and wound up getting injured. This entire season he has been on strict innings restrictions. I’m not a doctor, but they seem to be handling him with kid gloves. Sure, he’s had some stinker outings, but for the most part, when he’s been pulled, I felt he had more in the tank. I guess this boils down to trust the doctors.

Chad Kuhl – Recovering from TJ is no joke. Pushing too hard too fast can spell disaster. That said, I think the restrictions are just about gone at this point. Now he just needs to put it together and get deeper, but the journey has been more responsible than he has.

I’m not breaking news here, these guys have all had one reason or another, but as a staff, they don’t have anyone who is going to go 7 consistently. It’s easy to watch other teams have guys going 7 or 8 every game and wonder why we can’t have nice things too, but keep in mind, those guys are facing the Pirates lineup.

This has been a weird year, and if you want to think of this as organizational failure, that might just be fair. This club sent every pitcher home with a plan, and according to them, each and every one came back for Spring 2.0 having fulfilled said plan. We watched the Indians come right at us with pitchers hitting 100 pitches in the exhibitions, so clearly their plan involved starting pitchers, you know, pitching.

At the end of the day, add it to the list of things that need to improve big time in 2021.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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