The Pirates surprised a lot of people last season with their run to the post season. Despite losing A. J. Burnett to free agency, they still boast a strong starting rotation that should allow them to be competitive once again in the NL Central.
Starting Pitching Rotation Analysis
Potential Rotation Alternatives
ADP designated by * indicates no reported ADP as of date of publication. Projections are based on a compilation of several sources (ZiPS, Oliver, Steamer, RotoChamp), given equal weight.
The 2013 NL Comeback Player of the Year, Francisco Liriano was superb as the Pirate ace once he took the mound in May of last season. He put up an excellent line of 16-8/3.02/1.22/163 over 161 innings. His K/9 was an excellent 9.11, and his 0.5 HR/9, coupled with his extreme groundball tendencies (2.0 GB/FB ratio), made him unstoppable as he led the Pirates to their first post-season action in over 2 decades. The bad news? He was removed from his last spring start with a groin injury, and given his injury history, his owners or those who were eyeing him as a late early round ace have to pay close attention to the new coming out of Pirate City in Bradenton. If this is just a momentary tweak, go ahead and plug him in to your rotation and enjoy the benefits. If it is more serious, time to rethink your starting pitching approach in 2014.
When Gerrit Cole arrived in the majors, observers wondered where his dominant fastball was hiding. No fears, as once he stopped pitching to contact and gained some confidence, he unleashed his MLB leading 96.1 MPH fastball to great effect, posting a 53:13 K/BB ratio in his final eight starts of the regular season. Like Liriano, he kept the ball in the park, and on the ground: 0.5 HR/9 and 2.08 GB/FB. There is no reason to doubt the young hurler's potential at all, and you will need to draft him early to serve as your SP2 this season.
Charlie Morton has worked on a new pitch this spring, a split-change combo pitch, to help him in his continued quest to limit the damage left handed batters do against the righty. Good defense last season helped to contribute to an improved right/left split for Morton, as he, like his rotation-mates Liriano and Cole, relies on coaxing groundballs from batters to keep his peripherals in line (he also posted a 0.5 HR/9 last year). Despite a fastball bordering on 93 MPH, he is not a strikeout artist, and his control could use some work (2.79 BB/9 in 2013, better than his career mark of 3.53, though). You can wait to draft him, or more likely, pluck him from the wire if needed in season.
Jeff Locke had been penciled in as a member of the Pirate starting rotation, but an oblique injury derailed those plans. Expect the Pirates to treat their surprise All-Star with kid gloves, giving him time to fully recover. He was much more effective in 2013 in the first half before nagging injuries struck, and the Pittsburgh pitching staff would be much stronger with a healthy Locke able to force hitters to groundout to the excellent Pirate infield defense and control the strike zone.
Wandy Rodriguez, if he is healthy, will bolster the Pirate rotation and help to alleviate the loss of A. J. Burnett. Until last season, Rodriguez was a horse, but a flexor tendon injury coupled with arthritis ended his season after only 12 starts. He recently was struck by a line drive, but fortunately for him and the Pirates, the ball hit his non-pitching arm and he should not miss any time at the beginning of the season. If he can increase his strikeout totals, which have been in decline from a peak of 198 in 2009 to 139 in 2012 over the same 205.2 innings in both seasons, he would have significant sleeper value, and would be a sneaky late round pick.
Edinson Volquez has made the rotation courtesy of Locke's balky oblique muscles. He can still bring the heat with a 92.5 MPH fastball, but his strikeout numbers are just average (7.5 K/9) and he gives up too many long balls (1.0 HR/9) despite a moderate GB/FB ratio of 1.63. I would not be doing my job to suggest you draft him in anything but a NL-only league, even if he sticks in the rotation for a while as Locke rehabs his stomach muscles.
The top of the Pirate rotation is top-notch, and a huge reason for their post-season appearance in 2013. Take advantage of the top two starters, although caution must be exercised with regard to the oft-injured Liriano. Wandy Rodriguez could prove to be a deep sleeper, but Morton and Volquez are best left to other owners or the wire, and Locke's recovery requires scrutiny to keep tabs on whether he will be of assistance in your fantasy endeavors in 2014.
If you disagree with my assessments, or just want to discuss starting pitching, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy comments and am more than willing to engage in discussion about fantasy baseball, so feel free to write.