MLB managers like to throw teams out of their comfort zone by throwing a left-handed starter at them. The Pittsburgh Pirates might not have that option in 2017. But, do they need it?

In the course of a three or four game series, even an average southpaw in most cases can be effective by just giving opposing hitters something different to look at. As it stands now, on paper, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle won’t have that option.

The way things are set up now, it looks like the Pirates will open the season with a rarity – an all right-handed rotation.

Take Four Rights & Then Another Right

With four spots likely going to Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl and the fifth spot probably coming down to Drew Hutchinson or Tyler Glasnow the Pittsburgh PIrates won’t be able to give teams that different look. That becomes a problem with a couple of very good hitting ball clubs in the division in the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.

You can bet that left-handed hitters in the division, which include the likes of: Matt Carpenter, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto and others won’t be getting rest days when the Pirates are on the schedule.

That is part of the reason a Jose Quintana deal seemed attractive, even though the price was high. The Pirates need to add a southpaw to the rotation. When the opportunity came to potentially add a quality one, it had to be very tempting.

That potential deal seems like dust in the wind at this point, and it also leaves the Pittsburgh Pirates with really only one internal option in camp.

Brault by Default?

Steven Brault should get a very long look this spring if nothing just so the Pittsburgh Pirates can throw a different look every fifth day.

That’s not to say Hurdle should just throw a lefty for the sake of doing so (think Jeff Locke) but if Brault can make strides this spring, he can add value to the rotation.

Of course he has a lot to show. His first go around the majors didn’t go great for the 24-year old, going 0-3 with a 4.86 ERA, 5.07 FIP and 1.86 WHIP in seven MLB starts late last season. Now that he got the early bumps out of the road, the biggest thing Brault has to show he can throw strikes more consistently.

That potential deal seems like dust in the wind at this point, and it also leaves the Pittsburgh Pirates with really only one internal option in camp.

He doesn’t have great fastball velocity and his breaking stuff grades out decent, but nothing off the charts. Brault did have very good success in the minors and that was based on him having outstanding control. Brault walked just 117 batters in over 420 minor league innings, but issued 17 fee passes in 33.1 big league innings last season.

That’s likely more of a case of getting his feet wet and also looking at a small sample size than a trend we should continue to see.

Brault also had success striking out batters in the minors, by throwing strikes with his fastball and mixing in his off-speed pitches.  That is something we didn’t see a lot of last season in a Pirates uniform as he often pitched behind in the count. But he still struck out 29 batters in 33 innings so he showed some ability in that aspect.

The big thing is getting strike one and if Brault can do that, he has just as much ability as some of the other guys battling for the Pirates’ fifth starter spot.

And did I mention he is left-handed?

But if he can’t, that leaves Hurdle in a spot where he has to go with five righties.

Is that the end of the world?

No, but it isn’t ideal.

Just as recent as 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals went with an all right-handed rotation. That team won 90 games and the National League Central.

But that team also featured a dominant Adam Wainwright, along with solid arms such as Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, John Lackey and Michael Wacha. Those right-handed starters pitched to a 3.44 ERA that season and the Cards only got 11 starts all season from left-handed starters.

That’s not the only time a team has went with an all-right-handed rotation in the last couple of seasons.

The 2015 Oakland A’s featured a pretty good Sonny Gray and did have left- hander Scott Kazmir in the rotation to begin the season, but their left-handers made just 18 starts in 2015. Oakland went 68-94 that season and their right-handed starters pitched to a 4.16 ERA.

Last season the Baltimore Orioles got no starts from southpaws all season until they acquired Wade Miley at the trade deadline. Miley accounted for all 11 starts made by a Baltimore left-hander. Baltimore hung in the playoff race all season despite their right-handed starters going just 57-58 with a 4.72 ERA.

At least on paper I would like to think the Pittsburgh Pirates staff will be better than either of those Oakland or Baltimore teams.

Ideally, most would prefer some balance in the rotation so that means having a left-hander or two. But that also depends on who is in the rotation.  Throwing a southpaw every five days just for the sake of doing so makes little sense. If Brault can improve during the spring, he certainly could be worth a look.

If not it’s not going to be the end of the world if the Pirates open the season with five right-handed starters.

Image Credit – Paul Gorbould (Flickr Creative Commons)

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.

  • leadoff

    I am sure the Pirates would like perfect balance. All right handed, IMO would be a lot better than all left handed. Hutchinson is the guy that has to lose the 5th slot, if he pitches anywhere near well in ST, he is the 5th starter for 2 reasons. 1. He is out of options. 2. The Pirates paid him a couple million dollars just to keep him. Possibly, he could be stashed away in the pen, say long relief, but sending him down more than likely means losing him. The pen is really a long shot for Hutchinson because they are still going to have to cut some good talent without adding Hutchinson to the pen.

  • They need an option besides just brault. Webb possibly, he did start a few games in the minors last season but that might have been just to get him some innings.

    Personally I think Brault will work out as a number 4/5.. but they need to bring in a lefty that can compete for a rotation spot. If they can get someone like a Jose… great but at least someone to compete…