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Can the bullpen hold? Neal Huntington responds


Notes from this afternoon's presser with Pirates' General Manager Neal Huntington

Sustainability of the bullpen

One of the uncomfortable parallels between the 2013 and 2012 Pirates is that much of the success of this year's club has been built upon its bullpen posting historically significant numbers in statistical categories that would seem sensitive to regression. In particular the 2013 bullpen currently has a strand rate of 81.8 percent. If this pace holds, it will be the highest strand rate since the Deadball Era. Interestingly, the 2012 bullpen posted a strand rate of 81.9 percent in the first half. That number dipped to 71.5 percent in the second half (23rd in the MLB).

Similarly, the bullpen is pitching extremely well in the high-leverage situations. They currently have the fourth-best "Clutch" score in Major League Baseball as measured by Fangraphs. The 2012 bullpen ranked second at the All-Star Break, only to 21st in the second half.

In light of these parallels, Neal Huntington was asked what about this year's bullpen made him confident things wouldn't flip upside-down again. His response in full:

The quality of stuff. The quality of arms. Clint's got a lot of confidence in running any number of those guys out there in a winning situation. We don't have the typical 'these three guys pitch when you win; these three guys pitch when you lose, with one swing guy.' Clint's shown confidence to use just about anybody in any situation and that's a great thing to have. We also have depth in our minor leagues.

Anytime you lead the industry in any statistical category there's an automatic expectation for regression. The reality is the very best pitching teams in baseball lead in most of those categories. So while there is some expectation of a little bit of regression, it's not like we're drastically outperforming historical trends or drastically outperforming our indicators. And, sometimes guys outperform their indicators for the season, sometimes they regress to them.

But the nice part is that, as we've shown a handful of times, we've got the depth that can backfill. Maybe not a 100 percent hit rate, but we've got some other options if we have injuries. (For example) We've used 11 starters to this point of time. (We have the depth to) send out a pitcher (Ryan Reid) who I believe gave up two runs in 11 innings and not really think twice about it because we've got guys doing a great job at the Major League level.

We've got to continue to roll. We've got to continue to stay healthy and continue to do what we've done to get to this point. This is a fun group.

Pitch Limit for Gerrit Cole?

Huntington said Gerrit Cole, like all the pitchers on the team, has a pitch limit. He doesn't want any of them throwing to great excess. He added that comparisons between Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole are "not relevant." "There's a huge difference between coming back from an injury and being built up. We fully expect Gerrit Cole to be able to do what Gerrit Cole needs to do to help this club."

The team's approach to this year’s trade market

“We have to be open-minded to anything. Whether it’s a bat, a starting pitcher, reliever, bench help, we have to look to see how we can best help this club” Huntington continued, “Our goal is to exhaustively search for upgrades.”

The Pirates General Manager said that this year’s trade market is “no different” from other seasons in the sense that “if you want to move early, you got to pay more.”

Finally, Huntington observed that it is difficult to find the proper balance between weighing the needs of today with the long run goal of sustainability: “There are many examples of clubs that have pushed too hard for today at the expense of tomorrow, we need to be cognizant of that. At the same time today really means a lot. This is a club we believe in.”

How important is "years of control" as the team looks to add players?

Huntington said that the team has never gone into the trade market with the narrow focus of only adding players they could control: "we've gone into the deadline always looking to impact that team the best we could." However, he added, "Now, when we gave up substantial pieces last year, we wanted years of control in return. It doesn't make sense for us to give up an elite prospect for a two month rental."

Any glaring holes on the roster?

The Pirates General Manager said that there are areas where the team can improve and he is looking to improve them. He does not think there are any areas of desperate need. "We've got guys who we think will have stronger second halves offensively; we got guys who we think can help us in the system. If there is a deal that makes sense for us and allows us to stretch in a reasonable frame, then we'll do it. But, again, we don't have any desperate weakness in our minds."

Team chemistry

Some have pointed to how the trade deadline moves made last season may have upset the team chemistry and played a role in the collapse. Today Neal Huntington said that the current roster is "as tight of a group as he's ever experienced" and that he will remain "aware" of the chemistry issue. At the same time, he said that he is sure that players expect him to do something to make sure "this team wins." How to balance maintaining team chemistry while adding talent "is they line they have to try to walk between now and July 1st."