How Did An Injury Force the Pirates Best Decision of the Season?

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Have you heard the term "addition by subtraction"?  In sports, it means your team got better, but not by adding a more talented player, but by losing a less talented one.  In the case I'm discussing today, while I obviously never root for injury, I believe JT Brubaker getting injured before the 2023 season started was addition by subtraction for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

So technically this wasn't a "move" in the very definition of the word.  It wasn't a signing or a trade, but what the Brubaker injury did do was force the Pirates to put Johan Oviedo into the starting rotation.  

I saw tweets and Facebook posts essentially dooming the Pirates because of this injury when it happened.  That surprised me.  Look, I don't want to kick a man while he's down, but Brubaker is not a good Major League starting pitcher.  His career ERA is just short of five and it had no indication it was going to drop.  I wasn't quite sure why the Brubaker injury was such a big deal to the Pirates 2023 season.  Now I'm seeing that it may have been hugely important, but in the opposite direction.

Aside from the very first inning he pitched of this season, Oviedo has been nothing short of the best pitcher of the pitching staff.  And maybe in Pirates' season past that wouldn't be a tough mountain to be the king of, but this year it's quite the accomplishment.  In fact, this Pirates starting pitching staff is on a 9-game quality start streak.  

For those that don't know, a quality start is when a pitcher pitches six innings or more and gives up three earned runs or less in the outing.  It's really just another stat for fantasy leagues and contract negotiations.  Quality starts also do put the team in a position to win.

So aside from that first inning Oviedo pitched on April 3rd in Boston, he has given up just two earned runs in 23.1 innings pitched.  That's an ERA of 0.77.  That's an extremely impressive mark, but it's especially impressive in a season where runs have increased exponentially.  

Even including that inning, Oviedo has just a 2.22 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in four starts.  He has struck out 25 hitters in 24.1 innings, and has only walked 8 batters.  He also worked out of a jam yesterday in a way that made him look much more experienced than just 25 years old, keeping the quality start streak alive.

So it does beg the question, why wasn't Oviedo in the starting rotation to begin with?  While I want to give all the credit in the world to GM Ben Cherington for bringing in Oviedo by way of trade last season, I do believe he has some pull when it comes to roster construction.  So the collective of Cherington, head coach Derek Shelton, and pitching coach Oscar Marin all made the decision to have Brubaker in the rotation out of Spring Training over Oviedo before Brubaker got hurt.

And it's not like they were choosing between Oviedo and Gerrit Cole.  Brubaker has a career ERA close to five, and hasn't particularly shown much reason to believe that it would be coming down this season.  They also weren't choosing between Oviedo and some young stud pitcher like Roansy Contreras that they may want to get more work at the major league level to see what you have in him.  Brubaker is nearing 30 years old.  We know what we have in Brubaker.  And it's not good.

Again, I hate kicking a man while he's down, but the facts are what they are.  Oviedo deserved that spot out of camp.  And it's troubling that it took an injury to force our best starting pitcher, so far, into the starting rotation.  It's good luck, but that it's exactly what it is because it wasn't the original decision made.