Pittsburgh Pirates Position Grades - Starting Pitchers

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It won't be an easy road for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.  While I do believe success is within the realm of possibility within the next 2-4 seasons, I do not believe we are there just yet.  There is simply too much youth on this team as of now, but that’s okay, because it looks like very talented youth. 

However, instead of just assuming this particular 2022 roster isn’t talented enough for success yet, let’s work through the position groups together over the next week or two.

You can find all of Antonio's position group gradings as they roll out over time here: 

Pittsburgh Pirate Grades

Starting Pitching - D

If I’m being honest, this edition, and the bullpen edition that will come out tomorrow, were purposefully saved for last.  I have been dreading writing this one.  I feel like I have been somewhat positive to this point with the hitting position groups, which you can access by clicking the link above.  And that is because I do believe the Pirates will put some runs on the board this season.  I really like the way their lineup is shaping up if everyone can stay healthy.

However, I think the pitching will prevent the Pirates from winning any more than 70 games this season. I am lower on some arms that some fans are higher on, and I think I’m even lower than most fans on some of the arms everyone is rightfully low on.  It’s a bad pitching staff right now.  No ifs, and or, buts about it. 

JT Brubaker

The Opening Day starter was announced for the Pirates this week, and it will be JT Brubaker taking the mound on Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Brubaker is difficult for me to evaluate.  He has the frame to be a decent starting pitcher at 6’3, 185 lbs, and he has shown flashes of great pitching.  Unfortunately, it just has not translated to prolonged success so far. 

Brubaker started off last season on a very good foot.  He had a sub-4.00 ERA as late as June 26th.  There were some bumpy starts in there, including back-to-back starts in May where he gave up 5+ earned runs.  But he looked like a decent third or fourth starter. 

Then July hit, and Brubaker could not keep the ball in the ballpark.  In his next 10 starts, he gave up 2+ homeruns in six of them.  The Pirates finally shut him down at the beginning of September with a season ERA of 5.36, brining his career ERA to a 5.24.  That 5.24 career ERA is what he will bring to the mound on Thursday.  Hopefully he can have an equally good start to the season as he did last year, but there’s a reason it took until 26 years old for this guy to debut.  I don’t think he’s much more than a 4th or 5th starter on most bottom half rotations in the league.

Jose Quintana

The Home Opener starter was announced to be Jose Quintana.  If the year was 2016, I’d be rushing over to the Rivers Casino to bet Pirates Moneyline for the 4:12, April 12th start.  The Pirates are really leaning into the 412 theme, I guess as an attempt to win back the hundreds of fans their PR moves continue to turn away. 

Quintana hasn’t been a good pitcher since the Chicago Cubs acquired him from their crosstown rival, the Chicago White Sox, in 2017.  The lone left-hander of the Pirates rotation, unless Dillon Peters snags that 5th spot, was picked up for cheap this past offseason.  I believe the hope is he can turn into another Tyler Anderson that the Pirates can deal at the deadline for more prospects.  If not, he’s only signed on for one-year, $2 million, so there’s really no risk. 

However, Quintana’s last couple of seasons, combined with his poor performance so far in Spring Training, do not forecast a good season for Jose.  I don’t think he’ll last much into June if Roansy Contreras stays sharp down in the minors.  Although, the options of major league ready talent in the pitching department this season are limited to say the least.  Hopefully he can at least hold the Cubs to a manageable amount of runs next Tuesday at PNC Park.

Zach Thompson

Zach Thompson, slated by some to be the 3rd starter for this Pirates rotation, could actually be just that – a 3rd starter.  He was drafted out of high school by the Pirates in 2011 but didn’t sign.  Thompson was then drafted by the White Sox in 2014.  It has taken him quite a while to make the big leagues, and that’s certainly a cause for concern.  He debuted with the Miami Marlins last season at 27 years old.

However, in his cup of coffee so far in the league, Thompson has started 14 games and relieved in 12 more.  He has a 3.24 ERA, and 1.21 WHIP.  Those are decent numbers, especially among this pitching staff.  He also has had a decent Spring Training so far, giving up just three earned runs across nine innings pitched while striking out nine hitters.  I don’t know what to think of Thompson, because it took him so long to reach the major league level.  But now that we’ve worked through his numbers together, I think he could be serviceable. 

Mitch Keller

The man who should have received either Opening Day or Home Opener honors is Mitch Keller.  He’s the one pitcher saving this group from a failing grade.  Now, I don’t take much stock in the offseason bullpen sessions that floated around social media.  Nor do I take too much from Spring Training numbers.

However, the progression Keller has shown coming into this season warrants some cautious optimism.  He looks great out there on the mound right now.  He also ran into some trouble, and instead of crumbling like in the past, he battled and limited the damage.  That’s progress for Keller.  

Could he give up an opening inning homerun in his first start and completely go off the rails from there?  Definitely.  But right now, I am cautiously optimistic about Mitch Keller.

The Rest

The 5th starter spot could go to one of either Wil Crowe, Miguel Yajure, Bryse Wilson, or Dillon Peters.  None of these options are great, with Yajure having the highest ceiling.  Some still have Yajure projected to be sent down, but he posted on his Instagram yesterday that he will be with the team Opening Day so who am I to question him. 

It looked like Bryse Wilson’s spot to lose coming into Spring Training, and he did his darndest to lose it.  In 11.2 innings this spring, Wilson has given up nine earned runs on 14 hits, including two homeruns.  He also walked seven batters.  If this truly was a tryout for the 5th spot, he failed it. 

So we’ll see who gets that 5th spot.  Crowe and Yajure are still inexperienced, so I don’t want to come to a conclusion on them too early in their careers.  I just don’t think any of these options are very good going into this season.

So that’s it.  Like I said, brutal.  The only pitcher that may excel is Keller.  The rest are just filling the spots until the reinforcements are experienced enough to take their place.  At least Pirate fans who typically sit in the outfield will get plenty of souvenirs this summer.