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Why the Pittsburgh Pirates Will Be Worse in 2014

January 18th, 2014 at 9:05 PM
By Allan Smith

Thursday, a feature ran on how the Pittsburgh Pirates will improve for the 2014 season. Today, Pirates 101 will detail where the team will see some regression.

1. Francisco Liriano

'Liriano' photo (c) 2008, Alan Turkus - license:

The Pirates' ace enjoyed an incredibly successful 2013 season after spending the first month-plus on the disabled list due to an arm injury that nearly stopped the team from signing him. Pitching in the NL for the first time, as well as enjoying the lefty-friendly confines of PNC Park, Liriano dominated, posting a 3.02 ERA while striking out 9.1 batters per-nine innings. From May on, Liriano was the most dominant force in the Pirates rotation and dominated against the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals during the postseason. Many believed he even had a shot to be the first Pirate to take home the Cy Young Award since Doug Drabek in 1990 as he ended up finishing ninth in voting.

But can Liriano repeat this success? Has he ever repeated success before? These are the questions Pirates fans are asking, and the answers aren't very promising.

Liriano burst onto the scene in 2006 with the Twins, posting a 2.16 ERA, before having to forgo the entirety of the 2007 campaign as he underwent Tommy John surgery. When he returned in 2008, he pitched above-average while pitching half the season. Yet, 2009 was an awful year for Liriano where he ended the season with a 5.80 ERA and was generally one of the worst pitchers in the AL. However, 2010 was a rebound year for the Dominican lefty as he rode a successful campaign to end up winning the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Just as with the rest of Liriano's career, the success did not last long. He posted back-to-back awful seasons in 2011 and 2012 before going to the Pirates and winning the NL Comeback Player of the Year. Liriano's career arc is a total roller coaster, and he will have to prove otherwise before the doubts on his ability to replicate his 2013 performance are gone.

2. A.J. Burnett

'A.J. Burnett' photo (c) 2012, Keith Allison - license:

With Burnett apparently leaning towards retirement, the Pirates are set to lose the NL leader in strikeouts per-nine innings (9.8). That's not the kind of production that is easy to replace, in addition to his 3.30 ERA over 191 innings pitched. Gerrit Cole will need to have an even larger role in the pitching staff, and the team can't afford for either Liriano or Charlie Morton to take a step back. Quite simply, this is the biggest loss from the 2013 team if Burnett does end up retiring.

3. The Shark Tank

'Jason Grilli' photo (c) 2012, Keith Allison - license:

The Pirates' bullpen was phenomenal over the course of the 2013 season, and often was the best unit on the team. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli far exceeded expectations at the back end of the pen, and guys like Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson and Tony Watson were stellar in the middle innings. But the bullpen is a different beast than the starting rotation or lineup, and the success these guys have varies greatly from year-to-year. So to bet on all of these guys repeating their performance isn't too safe. With the question marks surrounding Grilli, Melancon and company, look for one or two key contributors to take steps back in 2014.

Tags: A.J. Burnett, Baseball, Francisco Liriano, MLB, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pirates, Shark Tank

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