The Pirates' bullpen has been terrible this season, leading to understandable demands from certain quarters that they designate everyone for assignment and call up a million pitchers from the minors in an effort to change things up. That impulse is understandable, but dramatic changes aren't going to happen right now, and mostly for good reasons. There are perhaps one or two moves the Bucs can make to improve their current bullpen, but for the most part, they're going to have to wait to fix their problems.
David Todd on Arquimedes Caminero:
The idea of DFA’ing a pitcher who threw 75 innings last yr w 3.62 ERA, 3.80 FIP, throws 99 & cost nothing over 15 terrible innings is crazy.— David Todd (@DTonPirates) May 19, 2016
This is, unfortunately, probably right, unless the Pirates have good scouting-based reasons to think the 2015 version of Caminero isn't coming back. But the reasons it's right have to do not only with Caminero but with the situation in which the Pirates find themselves. I wouldn't mind the Pirates parting ways with Caminero if they were loaded with pitchers who are obviously better, but they actually aren't.
The Bucs' bullpen issues extend well beyond Caminero, who's walked 12 batters in 15.2 innings. For the season, the Pirates' -0.9 reliever fWAR is third worst in baseball, and their 4.32 BB/9 is fourth worst. Things have improved a bit in May, but not by much, with a -0.1 fWAR.
The one obvious move I could see the Pirates making right now is designating Ryan Vogelsong, whose signing never made sense and who hasn't done anything to show he belongs. The Bucs could replace Vogelsong with ... well, anyone, really, but A.J. Schugel is an obvious candidate once he's eligible to return.
Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine, but I think we have to be careful looking at the admittedly salivating statistics of Indianapolis' pitching staff. Moving Chad Kuhl to a bullpen role and promoting him might well be a nifty move, but beyond that, there's only so much the Pirates can do, at least with their options from within the organization.
Here's a quick look at everyone besides Schugel and Kuhl who's pitched for Indianapolis this year and has at least 10 innings with an ERA below three.
Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon: It would make no sense whatsoever for the Pirates to promote either player with the Super Two threshold approaching in about three weeks.
Wilfredo Boscan: A journeyman who's best used as starting depth, despite his excellent control numbers this year.
Steven Brault: Hurt.
Curtis Partch: Partch isn't the worst candidate for promotion, but he's always had trouble with control, and it's likely his walk numbers would spike in the majors. Partch has a 3.6 BB/9 at Triple-A the last two years, and a career 7.1 BB/9 in the majors. His control has improved somewhat in the past couple seasons, so it's likely he would limit walks better now than he did with the Reds in 2013 and 2014, but he'd probably still walk a bunch of batters. The Pirates had a similarly hard-throwing, control-challenged reliever in Blake Wood at Triple-A last year and never gave him a shot, even though he pitched well for Indianapolis; the Reds signed him this offseason, and he's issued 14 walks in 19.1 innings.
Jorge Rondon: Has walked 12 batters in 19.2 innings.
Cory Luebke: Already with the Pirates. Dominated Triple-A, which might indicate that he's worthy of more chances at the big-league level or might demonstrate the pitfalls of taking Triple-A statistics at face value, or both.
Frank Duncan: A starter who just got to Indianapolis. His first two outings there have been outstanding, but probably the best course of action with him is to let him continue to develop as a starter.
In other words, I see a lot of strong performances here, but not a lot of obvious solutions to the Pirates' current problems. Maybe the Bucs could promote someone like Kuhl, or perhaps Partch; maybe the Bucs will come to see Duncan as an outside-the-box solution to their bullpen problems. The Bucs could, of course, claim someone on waivers, but there probably isn't anyone out there right now who they'd want. They could perhaps make a minor trade. But the bullpen will probably just have to remain shaky for the next three weeks. That's the main reason they should keep Caminero right now. He has upside, and there are actually surprisingly few pitchers the Pirates might consider promoting who are obviously better, given Caminero's fine pitching last season.
When the Super Two threshold passes, all this will change. I'm not sure how the Pirates will handle the timing of Glasnow's promotion -- he's walked five batters in two of his last four starts, so it's possible they could conclude he needs more work. But I see no reason they shouldn't promote Taillon as soon as they can. When that happens, what I would probably do is bump Jeff Locke to the bullpen. But what the Pirates will probably do is bump Juan Nicasio, whose repertoire would work well in relief. The Bucs' bullpen will clearly look better once Nicasio's in it.
After the draft, of course, the Pirates can focus on improving their bullpen through trades. In a way, it's good that their bullpen is one of their obvious weaknesses. With their low-cost trades for Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria last year, they showed that upgrading one's bullpen isn't all that hard to do at the deadline. It isn't easy to pursue trades right now, unfortunately, since in May most teams don't want to send the message that they're pulling the plug on their seasons, and since pursuing trade help in May is generally perceived to be desperate. But if the Bucs' bullpen is still bad in a month or so, they'll be able to make trades.
There are plenty of things to say about why the Pirates' bullpen is bad -- about how they perhaps didn't do enough this offseason to solidify their 'pen by re-signing someone like Blanton, about why exactly Vogelsong is on the team, about whatever's going on with Caminero. In the end, though, is that there aren't a lot of quick fixes right now, just a number of Indianapolis pitchers who either aren't going to be promoted for three more weeks or probably wouldn't be as good as some of their Triple-A numbers make them look.
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Some of you might wonder why there haven't been any posts from Joshua Choudhury this season. It's because he's left Bucs Dugout, and for the coolest possible reason -- the Toronto Blue Jays have hired him as their manager of analytics. The articles he wrote for BD last year were, evidently, part of what convinced the Jays to hire him. Joshua asked me to relay this information to BD readers at the bottom of a post rather than highlighting it separately, or I would have happily drawn more attention to it, because it's a big deal. Congratulations to Joshua, and here's wishing him the best of luck in the American League.
Some links to Joshua's last couple articles for BD: