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The Pirates’ Blues

Perhaps no division has seen its pitching staffs improve as much as the National League Central. Additions of Zack Greinke and Matt Garza, the re-signing of Jake Westbrook, and the expulsion of Dave Bush should result in an improved state of pitching. As silly as it sounds, the Pittsburgh Pirates have contributed to this pitching renaissance too. Although lacking in star power, the team has made strides to field a rotation that won’t be the worst in the league next season.

To repeat the numerous ways win-loss record is a poor way to judge pitching talent would be nothing short of insulting and banal, but consider that the Pirates rotation lost 84 games last season despite throwing the fewest innings in the majors. No other rotation lost more than 72 games. You have to go back to the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks to find a team that lost at least 80, and then back to the 2003 Detroit Tigers to find a team that lost more (94).

The Pirates defense was poor – although it, too, should be upgrade – but even the team’s FIP ranked as the second worse among the league’s starting units. If you combine the second worst unit FIP with their league-low amount of innings, the result was less than five WAR, which is not from one pitcher or a combination of two or three, but from the entire rotation. Paul Maholm delivered two of those wins while James McDonald (who made 11 starts) contributed 1.7.

Offseason additions Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen don’t figure to be world beaters, but they should be upgrades. ZiPS projects Correia to post a 4.52 ERA with a FIP around the league average mark. Meanwhile, Olsen is tabbed at a 4.83 ERA and a slightly lower FIP. Olsen’s struggles versus right-handed batters throughout his career are almost comical (.282/.351/.480 in more than 2,500 plate appearances) but the good news is that PNC Park puts right-handed power in a vice. Those ERA appear mediocre, but would have ranked as the fourth and sixth best on the 2010 Pirates’ staff. If nothing else, the additions can serve as non-atrocious depth which is notable because the Pirates gave more than 172 innings to below replacement level starters.

Expectations of a league average rotation are too much. Barring a sea otter attack on Ross Ohlendorf and James McDonald, there’s no way this rotation could possibly pitch worse than last season.