This early in the Pirates' season, the offense has been awful, but the rotation and the bullpen have pitched pretty well for the most part (certainly above average as compared to the rest of MLB). I doubt that anyone would dispute that.
However, as good as Pirate pitching has been (5th in ERA out of 30 major league teams), I had a nagging suspicion that the rotation was being "underworked." So..... I checked out average pitches per start for all major league teams, and was NOT surprised to find the Pirates not only well below average, but dead last..... and by a significant margin. Here are the average pitches per start for all major league teams:
103.7 Tampa Bay
99.9 San Fran
99.4 NY Yankees
98.9 NY Mets
97.5 Chi. Cubs
94.8 Chi. Sox
94.0 LA Angels
93.3 San Diego
89.4 Kansas City
86.6 St. Louis
85.0 LA Dodgers
It's still a small sample..... but I see these numbers as a looming problem. I believe Pirate starters should be pitching deeper into games. Hey, I know there are "reasons" for their low numbers, e.g.:
- AL teams need not pinch hit for their pitchers; hence pitches per start in the AL should be higher than for NL teams. (That higher bias for AL teams is obvious from the numbers above..... but the overlap between leagues is just as obvious.)
- The Pirate offense has been so putrid that Hurdle has needed to pinch hit "early." (There's something to that for sure, but how much difference should it make?)
- The Pirates have starters coming off injuries, and those pitchers need to be protected. (Yes, but probably no different from many other teams)
- Are there other reasons?
At any rate, despite those reasons, it seems inappropriate to me for the Pirates to be dragging so far behind the rest of baseball, especially in view of the starters' performance to date. I submit that excessive "babying" is just as bad as overworking starters..... and the pattern of "early" hooks results in lack of stamina for our starters and overwork for our bullpen..... AND the kind of collapse which the Pirate pitching staff exhibited in 2011.
Since I'm still hoping for the offense to find itself, I would hate to see a repeat of that pitching collapse in 2012.