Inbox: How will Pirates' rotation look in '20?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans

October 15th, 2019

What do you think the Pirates’ rotation will look like next season? I think they need to figure it out and bring in some new guys because it was a huge disappointment this year.
--Jason T., Pittsburgh

Unless they dramatically change course by aggressively going for it (not likely) or taking part in a full rebuild (also unlikely), I think it’ll be similar to the group you saw this year.

is expecting to return and pitch better than he has thus far in a Pirates uniform. showed he has the durability and stuff to start. It’d be unwise to move on from given what he did before his midseason injury. Top prospect struggled early on, but the right-hander’s peripheral numbers hint at his upside.

I’d tentatively pencil in those four. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chad Kuhl gets a chance to start, though they might be careful with his workload as he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery. is worth another look after the strong stretch he put together. and could be back in the mix as depth options.

The Pirates will almost certainly bring in another Jordan Lyles-type starter -- a pitcher who either had success in the past or finished strong like Lyles did in 2018. Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha comes to mind, and it caught my eye when my colleague Mark Feinsand mentioned former top prospect as a potential non-tender candidate.

They’re obviously missing an ace, namely . They’re unlikely to pay up for free agents like Dallas Keuchel or Zack Wheeler, much less someone like Gerrit Cole. Simply put, they need more out of the arms they have on board. There’s plenty of potential in that group above, but once again, the Pirates could find themselves banking on a lot of “ifs” in their rotation.

Why have the Pirates seemingly given up on starting left-handed pitchers? Sure, they have Steven Brault, but he seems more like an accidental starter than a guy groomed for the role. If you look at the Pirates’ top 30 prospects, there are 14 RHPs and zero LHPs. Is the advantage of having at least one starting LHP an old-school thing that has been disproven by modern statistical analysis? Or are the Pirates just not effective at finding and grooming lefties?
--Sean R.

I wouldn’t say they’ve given up on it. I’d just say they haven’t gone out of their way to put left-handers in their rotation, and they haven’t been particularly effective at finding or developing them.

There aren’t as many left-handed starters coming through the Minors, but there are 10 lefties on MLB Pipeline’s list of baseball’s top 100 prospects. (One of them is Nick Lodolo, a former Pirates Draft pick.) Most of the lefties the Pirates have developed are command-and-control types like Brandon Waddell and Cam Vieaux, who just aren’t as likely to crack the Major League roster (especially the bullpen) as a hard-throwing right-hander.

Should they more actively pursue lefties? Maybe. It helps to have a good lefty at PNC Park, given the dimensions that are less favorable for right-handed hitters, and it never hurts to mix up the looks you throw at an opposing lineup during a series.

But you don’t want to add a lefty just for the sake of having one. You’d rather run out five quality right-handers than the 2016 rotation that included the lefty trio of Jon Niese, Jeff Locke and a declining Francisco Liriano.

Brault could crack the rotation next season, which would give them one lefty. It’d be interesting to see them pursue a left-handed starter in free agency -- even if it’s not Keuchel or Madison Bumgarner. It could be someone like Gio Gonzalez or Brett Anderson.

Who is a good example of a successful young manager? The Phillies thought they had the next big thing in Gabe Kapler and the Mets also got rid of Mickey Callaway after that mess this year. Wouldn’t the Pirates be better off getting an established manager like Buck Showalter or Dusty Baker?
--Andrew J., Washington, D.C.

The most likely internal candidate, Jeff Banister, is 55 years old with past managerial experience. We know they wanted to interview 37-year-old Sam Fuld, who has no coaching experience. Mike Bell, who has a diverse background and a brother who manages the Reds, is also a popular name during this offseason’s round of managerial interviews.

During my travels this postseason, I’ve talked to a few players who said Braves third-base coach/former Rangers manager Ron Washington would be a good fit with this relatively young Pirates roster. The club is going to interview 45-year-old A’s bench coach Ryan Christenson, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In other words: The front office seems to have cast a wide net in its search for Pittsburgh’s next manager -- young and old, unproven coaches and known commodities, everything in between. Considering the club’s complete silence regarding their search and how thorough they’ve been in the past, I’m not ready to rule out anything yet.

That said, there are a bunch of young managers enjoying a ton of success around the Majors. To name a handful: Kevin Cash with the Rays, Alex Cora with the Red Sox, Rocco Baldelli with the Twins, Aaron Boone with the Yankees, AJ Hinch with the Astros, Dave Roberts with the Dodgers and Craig Counsell with the Brewers. Every front office would love to find the next Cash or Counsell.

All of those managers are under 50 years old, and only Hinch had prior Major League managerial experience. Counsell and Boone went from the broadcast booth to the dugout. Cash was a bullpen coach. Baldelli was a first-base coach. Roberts and Cora both served as bench coaches before moving into the manager’s office.

In other words, there is no single blueprint for a successful manager. It just comes down to finding the best philosophical fit with the organization, a personality suited for the long grind of the season and a leader who commands respect in the clubhouse.