FOX 43’s Cale Ahearn responded to a tweet from MLB asking if the Pirates have the best rotation in the NL Central with an emphatic NO, adding that they actually have the worst rotation in the division.
I’m here to say Ahearn is flat wrong.
For one, we can pick the Cincinnati Reds out immediately as a rotation the Pirates are clearly better than. I’m a big fan of what the Reds have done overall, but Alex Wood, Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, Luis Castillo and either Tyler Mahle or Anthony DeSclafani don’t measure up to what the Pirates have with Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove and Chris Archer.
The Reds made it a point to improve on a pitching staff that an ERA over 5 last year and while Wood is a solid addition coming off a 9-7 season with a 3.68 ERA, Gray and Roark are much larger question marks. Gray performed well away from Yankee Stadium last year, but expecting him to find consistent success in a bandbox like Great American Ball Park is a tall ask even as he reunites with his former pitching coach at Vanderbilt. Roark doesn’t need explanation; he hasn’t been good in two years and there’s little reason to believe he’ll be anything more than a mediocre innings eater.
Castillo is the most talented pitcher of the bunch, but it’ll depend on which version of him we’ll see as he tries to duplicate his second-half success from last year.
The Brewers and the Cubs both have high-octane offenses, but their pitching staffs lag behind the Pirates’ group.
Milwaukee will be getting Jimmy Nelson back from major shoulder surgery as well as Zack Davies from an injury-riddled 2018 season. Plus, youngster Freddy Peralta could make a leap forward after showing flashes of brilliance last year, but it’s hardly an inspiring group overall with Jhoulys Chacin currently penciled in as the ace.
The Cubs boast a bevy of household names in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana. However, Quintana has struggled since joining the Cubs in 2017, and Darvish carried an ERA of nearly 5 last year before suffering a season-ending arm injury.
The Cardinals have a budding ace in Jack Flaherty and one of last year’s biggest breakouts in Miles Mikolas, but beyond that things could get dicey.
Jennifer Langosch of MLB.com reported Tuesday that Carlos Martinez won’t throw for two weeks as he’s lacking strength in his injured shoulder. Alex Reyes is clearly talented, but has missed basically all of the past two seasons with major arm injuries, and Michael Wacha is a solid innings eater who also deals with durability concerns as he hasn’t thrown more than 180 innings since 2015.
Is any of that enough to say be definitively better than the Pirates’ top 4 starting pitchers? I don’t think so.
Taillon is coming off a fantastic season where he won 14 games, carried an ERA of 3.20 and looks like he could be a workhorse. Williams was abysmal in May and June, but was absolutely dominant in April, July, August and September on his way to a team-best 3.11 ERA. Musgrove, while not having a dominant season statistically, is still warming to the role of full-time starter after making a career-high 19 starts last season and showcased his potential with a 1.18 WHIP.
Archer didn’t have the second half Pirates fans were hoping for last season after the team sent Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz to Tampa Bay to acquire the former ace, but it’s impossible not to like him when you consider he’s slotted into a good rotation and doesn’t have to carry water for everyone else. How Archer settles in after a full offseason with his new team will determine whether this Pirates rotation is good or among the league’s elite.
The Pirates’ 5th rotation spot will likely come down to some combination of Jordan Lyles, Nick Kingham and Steven Brault. While none of those names inspire much confidence, it’s important to keep in mind that, much like the Cardinals with touted prospect Alex Reyes healthy and waiting in the wings, the Pirates have Mitch Keller who is likely to make his debut sometime early this summer.
Keller is MLB.com’s 19th overall prospect. He did struggle in Triple-A last season, but dominated the minor-league ranks up to that point. This year he’ll get a chance to see big-league competition in spring training for the first time, something we’ll all have a close eye on.
At the end of the day, calling the Pirates’ rotation the worst in the NL Central is a far hotter take than saying they could possibly be the best. Pittsburgh’s starters were 4th in NL Central ERA last season, and there’s no reason to think they can’t improve on that with better efforts from Archer and Musgrove this season.
The Pirates may have holes offensively, but the pitching rotation is undoubtedly a strength. If I were betting on it, I’d take the Pirates’ staff over the NL Central field this season.