- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

The Buccos Rotation

Earlier in the week we took a look at the starting rotation of the Houston Astros and how some of its members managed to string together 22.1 consecutive scoreless innings. With Wandy Rodriguez, Russ Ortiz and Felipe Paulino in the mix, the non-Oswalt shutting out of opponents was rather surprising. Another NL Central team boasted solid starting pitching in the same span: the Pittsburgh Pirates. No, pitchers like Ian Snell, Jeff Karstens, and Ross Ohlendorf are not going to rack up award votes this season but the entire Pirates rotation has been more than adequate to date.

Sitting at 8-6 after 14 games, Snell, Karstens, Ohlendorf, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm have combined for 10 outings featuring 6+ innings and a maximum of two earned runs. Additionally, on the heels of solid performances from several of these pitchers, the Pirates shut out their opponents four times in the seven game span from April 13-April 20.

Their scoreless innings streak did not match the Astros in large part due to the throttling of Zach Duke in an 11-1 loss to the Braves, but they have still pitched well. The news isn’t entirely sunny for the Pirates rotation, however, given their abysmal strikeout and walk rates. Ian Snell has the only above average K/9 of the quintet at 6.35 but control has continued to elude the once-heralded hurler. With a BB/9 of 4.76 his K/BB clocks in at a quite low 1.33.

Ohlendorf has fanned 4.0 batters per nine with Duke at 4.64. Maholm may have that sexy 0.87 ERA but his identical 2.61 walk and strikeout rates leave little to be desired. Karstens actually has a much higher walk rate at 6.3 per nine as compared to just a 3.6 K/9.

Ohlendorf and Maholm each have nonexistent home run rates and Duke has a 0.42 HR/9 that in no way will stay that low. On the flipside, Snell may actually see his home run rate come down over the course of the season but it will take improved control in conjunction with the regressed gopher rate in order for him to remain effective. Looking at their xFIP, which normalizes the home run rate, we get the following numbers:

Zach Duke:      4.79
Paul Maholm:    5.42
Ian Snell:      5.17
Ross Ohlendorf: 4.77
Jeff Karstens:  7.46

While I hate to rain on the parade in Pittsburgh, fans of these guys should not expect results similar to what has been seen so far unless each of these pitchers improves in a few different areas. Pitching to contact while missing a somewhat limited amount of bats and getting bailed out by the defense is nice but usually translates into extended success when the pitchers have solid control on the forefront of their resumes. The Pirates starting staff has either walked too many hitters relative to their strikeouts or failed to strikeout a decent number of hitters, all the while posting unsustainable home run rates.

This does not mean that the members of their rotation cannot be successful so please avoid reactions proclaiming that Karstens or Ohlendorf CAN keep their performance up. I’m not arguing that they can’t but rather that they won’t if the current peripherals hold true. A lot needs to happen for this rotation to be successful in 2009 and while it might be a longshot it certainly falls into the realm of possibility.