The following is an excerpt from PIRATESGUIDE 2019, a PIttsburgh Pirates season preview book from myself and Alex Stumpf here at Bucs Dugout, among others. This week, the book is on sale for just $14.95 for Paperback / $5.99 for Ebook. See the link below for more details.
Richard Rodriguez might go down as the greatest minor league-deal signing in modern Pirates history. Or, he could be a flash in the pan. A one season wonder.
Whoever said bullpens are volatile was a certified genius.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will certainly hope that their relief unit will continue to mature into one that can resemble their recent salad days of 2013-2015, when the unit put up a combined 10.9 fWAR.
You remember that colorful cast of characters don’t you? Jason Grilli had yet to become a famed author and was continuing his career revitalization that started in 2012. Mark Melancon was content to standby in the eighth inning from 2013 through the early parts of 2014 before finally proving that he could close and Tony Watson was an intriguing power lefty, seemingly light years away from the frustration he would later cause fans.
There were also colorful yet capable characters such Jared Hughes and the good version of Antonio Bastardo. There were hired guns that performed incredibly in Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria. There was another intriguing lefty in Justin Wilson. “Big” John Holdzkom delighted us all with his frame, his palmball and his aw-shucks attitude.
They were all workhorses. And they were (mostly) very capable of serving as either the saviors of some weak-at-times rotations or a hammer that could come in and close doors with ease.
In short, the bullpens from the 2013-2015 playoff years were weapons. And the 2019 version has the horses to outrun them easily, should a few things break right.
Most telling here is that Hurdle trusted Santana with the score tied or the team slightly ahead for about one-third of his appearances. And why wouldn’t he, with the strides that Santana took in 2018?
Santana had a very noticeable drop in four-seam usage as July begann, and those pitches were replaced with a re-emphasis on his sinker to go along with his slider.From that point forward, Santana lowered his ERA from 3.93 on July 1st down to 2.71 before a bad outing in what would be his final game brought it back up to 3.26 at season’s end.
So how do the Pirates replace a pitcher with a verifiable, nasty out-pitch who also seemed to fully grasp how to play that out-pitch off of better fastball command?
Perhaps Nick Burdi could be that guy? Burdi does not exactly inspire confidence, having pitched just 11 innings prior to a late September call up. He struck out two batters in the 1.1 innings he logged, but gave up a home run and walked two. Of course, we can infer absolutely nothing from 1.1 innings, and perhaps the situation amounted to the Pirates’ simply wanting to get an early look at where Burdi is at in a low-stakes environment, but the point remains that he is a great unknown at this point.
His velocity is still there — his four-seam averaged 96.91 mph last season as per Brooks Baseball; his two-seamer/sinker clocked at 97.30 — and many raved about his slider before his surgery. If his slider maintains the bite it reportedly had pre-TJ, he could be an answer to replace Santana.
It might take some gymnastics for the Pittsburgh Pirates to keep Burdi, however. Having only been reinstated from the 60-day DL on September 1st of last year, Burdi has not yet accrued the necessary 60 days of service time that a rule 5 pick such as himself must compile before he can be optioned. It may take carrying an 8-man bullpen for the season’s first month and change before he can be sent down.
Pittsburgh already think highly enough of Burdi to have sent $500,000 in International Bonus Pool money to the Phillies for his rights.
To be completely fair, the bullpen’s current state could be judged on what type of contribution the club gets form Michael Feliz.
As I and others prepared Piratesguide 2019, I have been building out graphics for our player preview pages. When I came to Feliz’s, I was struck by just how down of a year Feliz had when compared against his previous two seasons....
You can read the rest of this piece as well as 23 other insightful works, not to mention complete player previews for every significant player on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster, in Piratesguide 2019, available at Amazon