Pirates 2021 Seasons: The Starting Rotation Showed Little Sign of Hope

If there is one starting pitcher who gives me hope for the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s Tyler Anderson.

The left-handed free agent addition put up a 4.35 ERA in 18 starts with the team, before being traded to Seattle for two prospects.

That’s not a great result. The league average was a 4.27 ERA, and the best prospect in the return was Carter Bins, who profiles as a backup catcher in the future. But, it’s what you’d expect from Anderson in a good year, and it came at a value for one year and $2.5 million.

Pirates’ General Manager Ben Cherington has shown an ability in the past to spot low and middle tier free agent talent, and more pickups like Anderson will help the Pirates to assemble a contending staff.

They’re going to need players from within to step up. That hasn’t been a strong point for the Pirates in the past. They haven’t shown an ability to consistently develop good pitching prospects into good MLB pitchers.

Objectively speaking, we’ve yet to really see that under Cherington.

It’s only been two seasons, and one of those was a pandemic shortened year that impacted the second year. Still, name one pitcher who has produced anything close to expectations.

There are a lot of pitchers who I like on this team, and who I could see in a future contending rotation. Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker, Bryse Wilson, Miguel Yajure, and Wil Crowe and Max Kranick as back-of-the-rotation options.

Of those players, Bryse Wilson was the only one who had an ERA under five, clocking in at 4.91 in 40.1 innings.

You have to strain to find reasons for optimism with this pitching staff.

Mitch Keller had a 6.17 ERA, but a 4.30 FIP. If his .388 BABIP normalizes, he could be a league-average pitcher right now, just like Anderson.

JT Brubaker had a 5.36 ERA, but a 4.00 xFIP. His 22.4% HR/FB ratio was ne of the highest on the team, and he’s an above-average starter with a more normal long ball rate.

Everyone else in that above group shows numbers that back up their well below-average ERA results.

The Pirates have talent to work with. I believe they could get at least three average or better starters from the above group, with either Keller or Brubaker emerging as a strong fixture in a contending rotation.

To get there, we’d have to see development that hasn’t existed in Pittsburgh since they exploited the short-lived advantage of finding ground ball pitchers and backing them up with a strong infield defense and strategic shifting.

This game can’t be won without strong pitching.

As a team, the Pirates finished last in the NL in ERA, and second-to-last in FIP, xFIP, and fWAR.

They have a lot of ground to make up, and the problem with just focusing on prospects who have yet to arrive is that we have no indication those results will be any better than these results. And these results don’t look like a big change from the previous disappointing results.

The rotation is the area where the Pirates can make up the most ground to go from a first overall pick contender to an MLB postseason contender. They can make up the most ground in the rotation through internal development.

For more on the 2021 starters, check out Wilbur Miller’s breakdown.

For a look at who is on the way from the minors, read my article today over at Pirates Prospects.