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Four Loaded Pitching Questions: Let’s have a conversation about the pitching staff

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Good morning Bucs Dugout. I hope everyone is hanging in there as we wait for this lull between meaningful baseball and the start of football season to pass. We have our first two college football games of the season tomorrow night, so there’s something!

Anyway, I published an article called “Off Day Conversation: Three Thoughts and an “AMA” just over two weeks ago, and it got some pretty good traction/feedback. So, I figured I would revisit that format for some more thoughts/questions about this team (big picture, of course) followed by some open dialect from you all. Let me know how you feel about this kind of approach in the comments below.

When I started really thinking about topics to stir up, I kept coming back to pitching. I feel (and I think a lot of us feel) that the majority of the lineup will recycle into next season, and with another year of development and maybe some contributions from up-and-coming minor leaguers, the offense SHOULD be able to hold its own. However, my feeling on the pitching staff keeps wavering... like a lot.

So here’s some of the questions that are rattling around my brain about this pitching staff (and of course a new manager and/or pitching coach could affect this, but I don’t open that can of worms here). Feel free to agree, disagree, or anything in between. I’ll be around the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon to jump into the conversation and answer any questions you have for me as well. Here we go!

What the hell is going on with Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove?

Towards the end of last season, Williams and Musgrove were looked at as the glue that could hold our rotation together. It’s so important to have those consistent, middle-of-the-rotation arms that you could lean on throughout the year. However, they’ve been anything but that over the past month. I won’t go too in-depth with numbers here, but Musgrove has three starts of five or more earned runs in his past six outings, and Williams was horrendous leading up to the All-Star Break, solid for three starts, and now he’s been bad again over the past couple of weeks.

Can we rely on these guys as glue pitchers going into next season? If not, I get the ominous feeling that the Pirates rotation is in deep trouble, especially without Jameson Taillon.

Can Steven Brault be a reliable cog in the Pirates rotation in 2020?

Well, if the previous question is as ominous as I framed it, then he might have to be. Brault has quietly been fantastic since regaining his starting job at the end of May. He had a small injury stint in July and a minor hiccup allowing four runs to the Cardinals on August 11th, but outside of that he’s allowed three runs or less in every start. Not to mention we get outings like the one last Saturday against Chicago where he shows glimpses of high-strikeout potential. I also love his athleticism and defense, and his competency with the bat is a nice plus.

Squid is getting paid just about the minimum, and if the season ended today I can’t see a scenario in which he’s not penciled in as a starter for this club come next April.

Did Chris Archer throw his last pitch for the Pirates?

I’d like to think the answer to this question is no. And if I had to put money down on one side, I would favor that one heavily. The Pirates and GM Neal Huntington can’t really afford to let another pitcher out of their grasp only to watch him dominate for another team again. Then again, it would be painful to pick up Archer’s 10+ million dollar contract just to watch him flop around and get hammered much like he did leading up to August.

The severity of the injury will play a big part, I think. But if there are no red flags, I think the Pirates have to hope that the three starts we saw in August leading up to the injury are replicable, and high-strikeout upside Archer can return to being a solid starter in the MLB for this club.

Can this bullpen be really, really good?

Based on the question marks we have for most of the rotation at this point in time, the bullpen is going to have to shine if the Pirates want to make the postseason for the first time since 2015. There’s a solid chance that Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, Richard Rodriguez, and Kyle Crick all return to this bullpen for 2020. All but Vazquez have had rough patches, Crick’s probably the most worrisome, but I have faith in all of them in some capacity as strong, back-end arms. Clay Holmes and Michael Feliz are wild cards who have shown glimpses of being good, longer relievers in the past. We also have to remember that we should see Nick Burdi, Edgar Santana, and Chad Kuhl back in 2020.

It’s probably far-fetched to ask for the best-case scenario from all of these guys, and we may not have them all on the roster by the time Winter Meetings come to a close, but that’s a lot of pretty exciting names. Can the Pirates get back to having their bullpen be the foundation of their success in 2020?

All right, that’s all I got for now. That’s plenty to get us carried away leading up to first pitch at 7:05 tonight. Let me know what you think in the comments! I’ll be around most of the day. Let’s go Bucs!