The Pirates’ 2011 Rotation

Many of the Pirates' most exciting pitchers are still in the minor leagues, so the team's 2011 rotation does not project to be strong, relative to the rest of the league. Within a few years, Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris, Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia could join Brad Lincoln in a potentially loaded rotation, but that isn't about to happen immediately.

For now, the Pirates have a less electrifying group, including non-tender candidate Zach Duke, the struggling Paul Maholm and a number of organizational arms that probably won't have major roles on the next great Pirates team. But it's not yet time to look too far ahead: here's how Pittsburgh's 2011 rotation will look.

Zach Duke has been a mainstay in the team's rotation for years, but he has posted a 5.24 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 heading into his final season of arbitration. He earns $4.3MM this year and could make $5MM or so in 2011, so Duke is a non-tender candidate. The lefty has been unlucky, so Pittsburgh could keep him around and hope for a rebound season.

Paul Maholm has a 5.43 ERA with 4.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 and would be another non-tender candidate were it not for the extension he signed in 2009. Mahom will earn $5.75MM next year and will likely start for the Pirates.

Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf, two products of the 2008 deal that sent Xavier Nady to the Bronx, are both injured, but both have turned in respectable seasons. Karstens has a 4.88 ERA in 19 starts with just 2.0 BB/9 and Ohlendorf had a 4.07 ERA before hitting the disabled list with a shoulder strain. Karstens will go to arbitration and Ohlendorf, a possible super two, may qualify as well. Both will definitely be cheap in 2011 and will presumably have the chance to make the team's rotation.

Brad Lincoln and James McDonald have both had up and down seasons. The Pirates let Lincoln start the year in the minors, where he pitched to a 4.12 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. He struggled to match that production in the majors and may stay in the 'pen for the remainder of the month. Lincoln has the upside of a number 2-3 starter, according to Baseball America, but the Pirates have been cautious with the right-hander so far, so they're probably not going to rush him into the major league rotation next spring.

McDonald has pitched inconsistently since the Pirates acquired him for Octavio Dotel, mixing three dominant starts with as many duds. He's striking out lots of hitters (8.7 K/9) and has a 4.17 ERA as a Pirate, but the 25-year-old will likely have to earn a rotation spot out of spring training if he is to start.

Charlie Morton, Brian Burres, minor leaguer Michael Crotta and Daniel McCutchen (yet another product of the apparently successful Nady deal) provide the Pirates with depth arms, but limited upside. Donnie Veal would have been in this group, too, but the left-hander recently underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss most of 2011.

The Pirates have every reason to look forward to recent additions Taillon, Allie and Heredia, but Allie is the oldest of the three and he's just 19. Owens, Locke and Morris all reached AA Altoona this year and posted excellent overall numbers. They're closer to major league success than, say, Heredia, but it's far too soon to expect them in the major league rotation.

Instead, the Pirates will probably call on Duke, Maholm, Ohlendorf, Karstens, McDonald and others next year. GM Neal Huntington will, in all likelihood, pass on Cliff Lee and other elite pitchers and look into signing a dependable free agent arm. Club president Frank Coonelly is frustrated by the current edition of the Pirates and the team doesn't have many guarantees for next year. If a reliable pitcher like Dave Bush, Jake Westbrook or Kevin Millwood became available at the right price, the Pirates could bolster their rotation depth through free agency.

24 Responses to The Pirates’ 2011 Rotation Leave a Reply

  1. TwinsVet 5 years ago

    Guys like Bush/Millwood/Westbrook would, in all likelihood, be fairly interested in winning, since they don’t have a ton of years left.

    And that’s the trap a club like Pittsburg falls into. It’s hopeless they’ll turn it around anytime soon, so why would someone want to play there?

    I think they’d be better off shooting for a guy like Sheets, who is just looking to rebuild some value before getting flipped mid-season…

  2. Rich 5 years ago

    I think the Pirates are more likely to got the trade route than signing FA. In fact Huntington has already said they won’t make a huge splash in regards to high priced free agents.

    Maybe they go after a guy like Jorge De La Rosa, but I think trading is the way to go.

    • Ian_Smell 5 years ago

      I would really like it if they got DLR. At least one of Duke and Maholm need to go, it is absolutely terrible watching them blow up on a routine basis.

  3. Todd Smith 5 years ago

    I would like to see Resop get a chance at starting, either this year or next. He’s looked very good so far.

  4. The_Porcupine 5 years ago

    What a sad looking rotation! Just get rid of Zach Duke, he was overrated as a prospect and has never been good at the major league level. Let the rest of the other guys mentioned fight it out for the rotation. It will be at least 2 years before any impact pitching comes to the majors. And mind you, the Pirates have a pretty poor success rate of developing pitching over the last decade or so. Something for them to consider… develop some of the arms in the bullpen. For example, take McDonald. If he doesn’t make the rotation, develop him as a short reliever. Short relievers are always in demand around the trade deadline and bring in more of a prospect than a middling starter.

    • I find it ironic that you are saying move McDonald to short relief so he can be flipped for something more than the middling starter that he is. Funny that he was the return for one of the top short relievers on the market this year, so seems pretty counter intuitive to me.

  5. bbxxj 5 years ago

    I don’t really see the point in keeping Duke or Maholm around. It would be fine to keep them around as inning eating medocre 4/5 starters on a contending team that just needs innings but on the Pirates you are looking for upside and for the future. This is the same reason I wouldn’t sign any medocre inning eating type FA starters either.

    I would trade/non-tender both Maholm and Duke and go with:


    All of those guys have some K/9 ability plus honest upside (outside of Karstens who makes up for with a very low walk rate). I know Resop wasn’t mentioned in the article because he is a reliever in the majors now but he was dominant as a starter in AAA and showed a nice curve/change combo to go along with his 94-45 heater – meaning I really think he should get a shot in the rotation and I think he would stick there. Ohlendorf has the best WHIP of any Pit starter and a K/9 second to only McDonald (and Morton who’s whip was above 2.00) as well as 55 MLB starts so I would make him the ‘opening day starter’

    With Owens, Locke, and Morris reaching the high minors next year whoever immerges could fill in for the inneffective members of the above rotation, thus starting the next wave of Bucco rotations containing the high upside starters NH has accumulated.

    Of course if NH had some more cash available getting legit MLB veteran starters with frontline ability he could go after Vazquez, De La Rosa, Francis, etc but he may just be best suited to spend on offense (1B/RF/SS) and throw up as much upside into the rotation and see what sticks.

    • If I read it correctly they can’t non-tender Maholm because they extended him. He’s under contract so they’d either have to deal him or cut him and pay the salary anyway. Seems like he’s going to be sticking around.

      • Rich 5 years ago

        Yeah he is under contract. He will be getting $5.75 million. He probably won’t be getting cut and with the complete lack of lefties the Pirates currently have will probably be sticking around.

  6. I think that McDonald has been much better than his numbers suggested over his 6 games with the pirates. In two of his losses the defense let him down big time. Blunders by Cutch and Doumit against the Dback’s i believe and an absolutely atrocious play by Lastings against the Brew Crew added a lot to his era. He should be guaranteed a spot in the rotation. As for the others let them fight it out for the other four spots.

    • bbxxj 5 years ago

      Yeah, McDonald’s stuff looks really good. He was really good against our suddenly slumping offense but he was locating his fastball and throwing his curve for strikes but I think his change comand was a bit off. If he can develop just a bit more in terms of throwing his curve and and change consistantly for strike he will be a very good starter, maybe not an ace but a definate frontline guy. He has frontline ‘stuff’.

  7. moonraker45 5 years ago

    I know this (2010) draft was different… but the pirates are a prime example of how badly the MLB draft needs a change.

    • bobfromwork 5 years ago

      That is such a tough fix. Hard slotting would drive some of the top talent to other sports (baseball scholarships are rarely full ones, unlike basketball and football). The ability to spend freely is why you can get guys like Austin Jackson and Zach Lee away from their more likely college sport (basketball and football respectively).

      • Erik Johnson 5 years ago

        Hard slotting would cripple a team like the Pirates, who have shown over the past 3 years that they are willing to pay overslot picks. This year, it was Taillon, Allie, Kingham, Maggi. Last year, it was Von Rosenberg, Cain, Stevenson, and Dodson. And in 08, it was Alvarez, Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller.
        The Pirates, more than most teams, have taken advantage of the “slotting” system over the past 3 years.

  8. Smrtbusnisman04 5 years ago

    Earn a start?? James Macdonald has been the Pirates BEST SP over the last month and, to me, is the most talented SP in their current rotation. He’s been dominant. Should be considered a #4 SP going into next season.

    In Milwaukee, JM pitched 6 innings of 1-run ball, and would have earned a Quality Start if Russel hadn’t let him start the seventh. That would have been 4 quality starts in 6 starts. In San Diego, Doumit misjudged an easy flyball that would have ended the 5th inning(Lead to 2 more earned runs). The game against the Mets was played in rain and the Pirates had to wear throwback Negro league jerseys.

    I would keep Zach Duke and trade Paul Maholm. Zach Duke is okay, but he’s a pretty decent hitting pitcher. I’m not impressed by the projected 2010 free agent pitchers, but I trust Neil H. and Frank C. will find someone reliable who won’t cost a compensation draft pick.

    • louis_09 5 years ago

      1.) If I’m not mistaken, McDonald was only at around 80 pitches going into the 7th — what are you talking about NOT letting him pitch in the 7th?!?!?!? Sorry, I’m not going to settle for a starter giving you 6 innings in a “quality start”. The QS is BS — having your bullpen have to throw 3 innings is not quality to me. 7+ innings should be a QS — 6 should just be mediocre.

      2.) “but he’s a pretty decent hitting pitcher” – what are you talking about?!?!?! HE IS A PITCHER — WORK ON THAT BEFORE HITTING.

      3.) Maholm is already under contract, and trading him after this season may “selling low”. I’d hold on to him, and non-tender Duke. Duke isn’t even averaging 6 innings/start this year, let alone any significant # of “quality starts”. Also, go look at their career numbers…they both have 155 starts. Maholm has more IP, a lower ERA, more K’s, less hits, a better winning percentage, etc. Not to mention Maholm has PITCHED HURT, while Duke just misses starts.

      Let Duke go. If he’s successful elsewhere, fine. At least Maholm will go after batters.

      • Smrtbusnisman04 5 years ago

        I was trying to defend McDonald’s performance, because I really think he’s better been better than anyone John Russel has penciled in this season.

        I regard Duke and Maholm as the same pitcher, though Duke is probably gone after this season. They’re both washed up dissapointments who don’t have velocity on their fastballs. Both of them give up way too many home runs. It just leaves me to question the judgement of Dave Littlefield.

  9. baseball52 5 years ago

    Pirates? Loaded? WHAT?!?!!?!

  10. Guest 5 years ago

    JMac will be the Pirates best pitcher next season. Ned Colletti and Torre should be fired for all the talent that has been traded away. YES, Torre is the reason why JMac was traded.
    Frecking Dotel, are you serious? The guy is garbage, I know JMac could do better in relief.

    Hey Pitt fans check out JMac’s FIP and xFIP since joining your club. Youre welcome! :)
    Theres nothing inconsistent about that.

  11. louis_09 5 years ago

    While I appreciate all the opinions on here, one is lacking:

    Perhaps MANY of the current pitchers (including Maholm — I’d non-tender Duke) will be MORE successful (not really saying much, I know) now that Kerrigan is gone.

    Whether it is Searage or someone else, I think the “Kerrigan Effect” needs to go away before we can judge some of these guys. He did a very poor job.

  12. bw831 5 years ago

    I agree with the above about McDonald … He shouldn’t be fighting for a rotation spot next spring. I am not guaranteeing him a spot but if he comes to camp in shape with a good attitude and is even decent he gets one. Otherwise, it just makes the trade look horrible.

  13. Westbrook, Millwood, & Bush are no better than Duke, Karstens, OhlendorfJW: 28 G, 172 ip, 5.7 k/9, 2.7 bb/9, 4.46 ERA, 1.33 whipKM: 27 G, 166 ip, 6.0 k/9, 3.0 bb/9, 5.38 ERA, 1.55 whipDB: 28 G, 153 ip, 5.6 k/9, 3.2 bb/9, 4.71 ERA, 1.52 whipZD: 25 G, 138 ip, 5.5 k/9, 2.9 bb/9, 5.47 ERA, 1.64 whipJK: 21 G, 108 ip, 6.6 k/9, 3.7 bb/9, 4.07 ERA, 1.41 whipRO: 25 G, 122 ip, 5.3 k/9, 2.0 bb/9, 4.88 ERA, , 1.38 whipIt would be absolutely pointless to sign any of those 3.

  14. They need to find a way to get Ohlendorf to pitch better during the first half of the season. He is a different pitcher after the All-Star break. Rotation as of now to me looks like:


    With the final two spots open to be taken by Karstens or Buress, but ultimately those spots will go to Owens or Morris. Those two will start at Indy presumably then after the service time clock reaches that magical date those players will be brought up depending on their AAA performance.

  15. They need to find a way to get Ohlendorf to pitch better during the first half of the season. He is a different pitcher after the All-Star break. Rotation as of now to me looks like:


    With the final two spots open to be taken by Karstens or Buress, but ultimately those spots will go to Owens or Morris. Those two will start at Indy presumably then after the service time clock reaches that magical date those players will be brought up depending on their AAA performance.

Leave a Reply