Jameson Taillon is back. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the strength and courage that took, especially since it was just a five week turnaround from diagnosis to return.
Jamo’s one tough S.O.B.
But it’s a 162 game season, and as incredible as Monday was, it’s just one day. There are 98 more to go and the Pirates are still somehow only four games out of first place. If the starting pitching improves, they might be able to string together a winning streak that catapults them to the top.
Too bad everyone has a different opinion on what that starting pitching should look like. Taillon is a part of the rotation. Ivan Nova and Gerrit Cole are also. Everyone agrees about that. Nobody agrees about who should be the last two.
So let’s check on the status of the pitchers who could be one of the last two Pirates’ starters this year.
Initially I thought Kuhl was going to be the one to draw the short stick and go to AAA when Taillon returned. It’s been a disappointing season for him thus far, posting a 5.63 ERA and averaging about four and a half innings a start. Most of those troubles have come against lefties, who are slashing .333/.415/.651 against him.
There were plenty of scouts who projected Kuhl to be a reliever over a starter, and his skillset does look like it could transition well. He can still be a big league starter, but it at least looks like he has a higher floor than most.
Things may finally look a little up for Kuhl, though. Three of his last four starts have been at least serviceable. He’s also mixing in a curveball, and while it hasn’t been dominant so far, it has not been hit hard yet. That new pitch is important (especially against lefties) because there isn’t enough of a velocity difference between his fastball, slider and changeup. This curve can give some variety.
Kuhl’s job may be on the line if he can’t string together a couple good starts. The Pirates decided talent alone was not enough for Tyler Glasnow. There needs to be results, too. Kuhl is getting a couple extra days of rest before his next start Wednesday. That break may help out in the long run.
If the fifth starter competition this spring was decided solely by results, it probably should have gone to Williams. Instead it went to Glasnow, but Williams broke camp and made the trip north as a reliever. The learning curve was apparent and he had some rough patches transitioning to make more outings that were shorter than he was used to.
He obviously showed enough out of the bullpen to take Taillon’s spot in the rotation, even though he needed stretched out to being a starter again. Now he’s staying in the starting five because he has been the second hottest hand behind Nova the past few weeks. He’s had a couple of clunkers here and there, but he had a stretch of five starts where he logged a 2.83 ERA.
Williams could be even better with a better pitch selection. Fangraphs recently wrote a piece on the most underused pitches in baseball, and Williams’ sinker made the cut. His sinker usage has gone up a little since then, but a few more would probably help.
Williams does not have the same ceiling as Glasnow, Kuhl or even Nick Kingham, but he has looked good as a starter so far. I think his place in the rotation over Glasnow proves that the organization still thinks they can compete this year. If they didn’t, they would put Williams back in the bullpen and just deal with Glasnow’s growing pains. But like Kuhl, we don’t know how long his leash is. Would three or four bad starts cost him his starting job, and if it did, would they demote him or put him back in the bullpen?
Ok, here we go. Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow had moments in his first two months and change as a starter, but it was obviously not enough to make up for the mistakes. All four of his pitches have a negative value according to PitchF/X. He has a 7.45 ERA. The home runs and walks are far higher than the Pirates wanted. There’s a lot more, but you get the point. Outside of his strikeout rate and a decent ground ball clip, it’s pretty much been a disaster.
This tends to happen when you give a 23 year old a job based on his future rather than his present.
I wrote a piece for Pirates Talk Now Sunday about his development, and simply put, there hasn’t been enough to warrant a spot in the majors. And based on Neal Huntington’s comments during his radio show Sunday, he may be down in the minors for a bit.
“Our evaluation will not be based upon time, or a 1.47 ERA or a 4.71 ERA,” Huntington said. “Our evaluation will be based on the things we have asked him to work on.”
Some of the things I suggest he should fix are his follow-through (he takes a giant step to first, the same way Felipe Rivero went to third as a National), finding a more consistent release point and shortening his stride.
I’m adding a quick sidebar for someone who hasn’t played an inning for the Pirates yet.
Perhaps I’m being bit presumptive, but Brault has to make a couple starts with the big club soon. He is killing it in AAA, posting a 2.11 ERA and a 53% ground ball rate. I don’t have a source to back this up, but I believe that if someone in the starting five went to the DL or if Kuhl or Williams are optioned in the next few weeks, Brault would be the guy called up, not Glasnow.
I think Glasnow is best off in the minors for the time being. Brault may be best off getting a chance at the majors sooner rather than later.
SO WHICH TWO?
Dealer’s pick. The Pirates seem to be trying to get the best of both worlds: trying to develop Kuhl through Hell or high water, but giving Williams a shot because he’s pitching well, even if he may be destined for a bullpen job with this team.
If the Pirates start winning and Kuhl keeps struggling, they will probably demote him and go to Brault or pick up an arm in a trade. If they fall further behind in last place and Glasnow shows improvement, Williams will probably be booted no matter how he’s doing (assuming Cole isn’t traded or another spot opens up).
So I guess buckle up for more Pittsburgh baseball purgatory! We’ve been at it since what, November? What’s another couple of weeks…or months…or years…