Just How Bad Might the Pirates’ Rotation Be This Year?

The Pirates are coming off a season to forget in 2020, finishing with the worst record in MLB at 19-41. Their moves this offseason have largely consisted of trading Joe Musgrove to the Padres a few weeks ago, and more recently, sending Jameson Taillon to the Yankees a few days ago. With Musgrove and Taillon now gone, the Pirates rotation looks measly, to say the least.

The Pirates’ Pitching Curse:

The Pirates as an organisation have been known to get rid of their young and exciting pitchers, with those pitchers then going on to excel at their new clubs. Two high-profile examples of this in recent years are Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow, two of the top pitchers in MLB today. While you could make the argument that this is due to Pirates not having the same financial resources as some of the larger-market MLB teams, we feel this pitching incompetence is much more attributable to the outdated approach that their pitching coaches and management take, as these pitchers go on to flourish once traded to clubs of all sizes.

So what do we expect for the two most recent pitchers who made their way out of Pittsburgh? Musgrove was solid in his time with the Astros to start his career, going on to show some blips of greatness last year with the Pirates. Given the approach the Padres management is taking, we expect him to continue to improve with his move to San Diego. Taillon looked promising early in his career, but two Tommy Johns and a bout with cancer have been tough to overcome. The sandbox that is Yankee Stadium will have its challenges, but he’s a hard guy to root against (despite being on the Yankees), and we expect him to improve there as well.

This Pittsburgh Rotation Could be Historically Bad:

So with Musgrove and Taillon out of the picture, how do we expect the Pirates’ rotation to look? Well using the Steamer projected WARs from Roster Resource, we broke down just how bad the Pirates’ rotation might be heading into the 2021 MLB season:

JT Brubaker1.3
Mitch Keller1.2
Steven Brault0.7
Chad Kuhl0.6
Wil Crowe0.1

The combined total WAR for the five starters in the Pirates rotations is projected to be 3.9 for the season. This would be, as the kids are saying these days, absolute dog water. For reference, there were 22 individual pitchers who by themselves had better than 3.9 WAR in 2019, the last full-length season, proving just how bad these five starters may be.

Stacking Up Against Terrible Rotations of Years Past:

We know this Pirates’ rotation could be really, really bad, but just how does it stack up against some of the awful rotations of years past? To find this out, we looked at every rotation (defined as the five starting pitchers with most games for the year) since 1990. We took the combined cumulative WAR of all five pitchers in their rotation, and then highlighted the rotations whose combined WAR for the season was 3.9 or worse (aka as bad or worse than the 2021 Pirates). To give an understanding of how those seasons played out, we also showed their record and if they made the postseason that year (spoiler alert, they didn’t):

It turns out the Pirates aren’t completely without company when it comes to the disgusting rotation they will be running out in 2021. Based on the records of the teams in the above chart, we shouldn’t expect too much from the Pirates team this year, as it’s pretty hard to have a decent record when you have a truly terrible rotation. Of the 25 teams since 1990 that had a combined rotation WAR of 3.9 or less, only one team finished above .500, and none made the playoffs. The average number of wins amongst these teams is 68, so if using nothing else except for this data set alone, we can expect the Pirates to finish around 68-94 this year (yuck).

Who are the Repeat Offenders?

If you look at the teams listed above, you will quickly notice some repeat names, many of which are the “smaller market” teams. Notice how you don’t see the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers listed at all… money talks. To avoid being on this list, you really just needed to have one solid pitcher, however, there was a couple of exceptions to that. Looking at the worst of the worst, the 2017 White Sox still had one solid pitcher in Jose Quintana, however, his WAR of 2.0 was completely offset by three out of their five starters putting up a negative WAR for that year.

It has to anger the fans of the Angels, Brewers, Orioles, Pirates, Rockies, Royals, and Tigers to see their names as repeat offenders. I can give the Nationals and Marlins passes due to them coming into the league as expansion teams in this period, but the rest really have no excuse. If the Pirates’ rotation does hold true (or worse) to projections, they’ll top the leaderboard with their third appearance on the 3.9 WAR or worse club.

What can you do with this Info:

Other than getting to laugh at a terrible rotation (sorry Pirates fans), what else can you do with this info? Naturally, you will probably want to avoid most of these guys on your fantasy team. It can be tempting to go for guys with solidified spots in a rotation as your SP streaming options, but that might end up being a foolish strategy for this Pirates’ rotation in the upcoming season. This also doesn’t bode well for anyone in the Pirates.

Cover photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Jesse is a guest contributor at Bat Flips and Nerds. You can follow on Twitter @SharpMoneyCo

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