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Evaluating the Starting Pitching Options for the Pirates in 2022

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Last season, the Pirates’ starting pitching struggled throughout the season, posting an ERA of 5.53 – second worst in the Major Leagues. Bucs starters also tossed the fourth-fewest innings in the league, averaging just 4.65 innings per start.

Lack of consistency seemed to plague just about every starting pitcher for the Bucs except for Tyler Anderson, who was traded to the Mariners late in July. The other problem for the Pirates was injuries compromised the depth of their rotation, making an overall thin staff even thinner.

Looking at the current situation, the Pirates seem to have better depth when it comes to their starting rotation with as many as 10 potential options, but they will need someone to emerge as the anchor for a relatively young and inexperienced staff. With a pair of offseason acquisitions, here are the current options to be part of Pittsburgh’s five (or six) man rotation.

Jose Quintana

Signed to a one-year deal last month, Quintana comes to the Pirates with the best pedigree and longest track record of any of the other options. For his career, Quintana is 83-80 with a 3.84 ERA/3.68 FIP in 283 games (257 starts) across 10 seasons with four different teams. The left-hander was an All-Star in 2016 and finished 10th in the American League Cy Young race that year.

Quintana struggled in 2021 as he battled injuries and ultimately was shifted to the bullpen. As of right now, it seems pretty safe to assume that Quintana will be in the Bucs’ rotation as both Quintana and the team are hoping the former All-Star can bounce back and provide quality innings in 2022.

Mitch Keller

It might be a make or break year of sorts for Keller, who will almost certainly be included in the Pirates’ rotation to start the year. The former top prospect hasn’t been able to put it all together at the big league level yet, Through 39 career starts, Keller has a 6.02 ERA, but a 4.30 FIP indicates that he’s probably been somewhat better than the statistics show.

His 2021 mirrored what his career numbers show, finishing with a 6.17 ERA/4.30 FIP in just over 100 innings. If the Pirates want to take a step forward next season, they will need someone like Keller to take the next step.

JT Brubaker 

It was the tale of two halves for Brubaker’s 2021 campaign. Through June, Brubaker made 14 starts and compiled a 3.82 ERA/4.34 FIP. Things quickly took a turn for the worst once the calendar flipped to July as Brubaker posted a 7.91 ERA/6.51 FIP over his last 10 starts before a shoulder injury cut his year short. Brubaker showed potential, but will need to be more consistent assuming he is working out of the rotation again in 2022.

Bryse Wilson

Wilson came over to Pittsburgh from Atlanta at the trade deadline in July. The right-hander showed flashes but like others for the Pirates was pretty inconsistent in eight starts in a Pirates’ uniform. Wilson is celebrating his 24th birthday today, so he’s still one of the younger options that the Pirates have. Wilson made his Major League debut in 2018 with the Braves, but never received much of an extended look in the Braves’ rotation. Maybe some consistency in Pittsburgh will serve him good.

Zach Thompson

Thompson came over from the Marlins in the four-player trade that sent Jacob Stallings to South Beach. Thompson made his Major League debut with Miami in 2021 and was effective. In 26 games (14 starts), the 28-year-old posted a 3.24 ERA/3.69 FIP – good for a 129 ERA+.

Time will tell if the Pirates intend to use Thompson in the rotation, out of the bullpen or a combination of both. If he earns a rotation spot out of spring training, the Pirates will have to keep an eye on Thompson’s innings. 2016 was the only year that he pitched more than 100 innings (140.2).

Dillon Peters

The Pirates picked up Peters from the Angels in July in what seemingly was just a way of adding some depth to a relatively thin starting rotation. Peters hadn’t fared particularly well in his Major League career prior to coming to Pittsburgh, but proved to be effective once the Pirates added him to the big league roster. The sample was small as Peters made just six starts in the black and gold, but the left-hander pitched to a 3.71 ERA/3.66 FIP over 26.2 innings.

Did Peters do enough to earn him a spot in the rotation for the Pirates in 2021? Maybe not, but with a strong spring training, Peters could get another chance to prove himself again stretched out as a starter for the Bucs.

Wil Crowe 

Crowe was acquired almost a year ago from the Nationals in the Josh Bell trade. The right-hander led the Pirates in starts with 25, but Crowe like others for the Bucs had his struggles in 2021. Crowe posted a 5.48 ERA/5.67 FIP in 116.2 innings with the Pirates and struggled with walks and home runs throughout the season. The good news is he did rack up strikeouts (almost one per inning) and flashed some plus pitches at times.

Crowe will have to have a great showing in spring training to earn a rotation spot in 2022 or otherwise will likely be a swing man with most of his appearances coming out of the bullpen for the Bucs.

Miguel Yajure

Another addition from last offseason, Yajure pitched 15 innings with the Pirates last year and likely would have gotten more time had it not been for an arm injury. in 11 starts in Triple-A, Yajure posted a 3.40 ERA and fared well when he was healthy. The Pirates may choose to give Yajure some more seasoning at Indianapolis again to start this upcoming season, but he could be one of the first guys called up when needed.

Roansy Contreras 

The Pirates got a taste of Contreras at the end of the year when he pitched three scoreless innings against the Cubs in his Major League debut. The 22-year-old emerged as one of the Pirates’ top pitching prospects at Double-A Altoona, posting a 2.65 ERA and 12.6 K/9 before a late-season promotion to Triple-A.

Contreras will likely begin the year back in Indianapolis, but if his 2022 season goes similarly to how his 2021 went, it won’t be long before Contreras is pitching in the big leagues for the Pirates.

Ben Cherington also said the Pirates will explore adding more to their starting rotation once the lockout is over. With Keller, Quintana and Brubaker seemingly locks for the rotation, as many as seven-plus others will be battling it out for the final two spots unless the Bucs choose to use a six-man rotation, which could be on the table.

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