COLUMN: Uncle Ray rightfully re-upped. Now what?

The Pittsburgh Pirates and pitching coach Ray Searage agreed upon a two-year extension yesterday.  Searage’s contract was set to expire at season’s end.  He will now be with the team through 2019.

Searage has been the Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitching coach since he replaced Joe Kerrigan in August of 2010.  He has enjoyed great success with the team overall but one has to wonder if he has lost his magic touch over the last two seasons.  Did he deserve the extension?  Are things heading in the right direction under him?

A look at this year

Going into the season, the biggest question mark the Pittsburgh Pirates had was their starting rotation.  Gerrit Cole and Ivan Nova were going to lead the rotation with the young guys following and coming into their own.  The rotation was going to struggle.  Another veteran starter could have helped.

It is now September 13.  The Pirates have been out of contention for weeks.  The starting rotation has not been the reason for failure.  In fact, this unit has been a flickering bright spot as a whole.  On the season, Pirate starters hold a 4.44 ERA, seventh in the National League.  The unit is sixth in fWAR at 11.6.  They haven’t been outstanding, but when looking at the circumstances, they have definitely exceeded expectations.

Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams have gone from fringe prospects to starters with bright futures.  Jameson Taillon has had a rough season but more than deserves a pass after all he’s gone through.  Gerrit Cole has by and large had a disappointing season.  Ivan Nova’s gas tank has been on E since the end of July.

Even with all of the negatives, Searage has kept the rotation afloat.  The rotation remains youthful.  Progression is key.  I believe Searage’s guidance will help these young pitchers prosper.

The Bullpen

The bullpen is fourth in the NL in ERA at 3.99.  They are tenth in fWAR at 2.0.  As a whole, the bullpen has not been good at all.  Daniel Hudson has been a bust.  Tony Watson was ineffective as a closer before eventually being traded.  Felipe Rivero has been one of the best relievers in the game.  Juan Nicasio was a great before his remaining contract was sold for a bag of chips.

The bullpen is one unit where Searage needs to find his magic touch once again.  Last season, the bullpen ranked 12th in fWAR at 0.7.  In 2015, the bullpen was first in the NL with an fWAR of 5.0.  Productive bullpen pieces can still be found at cheap price.  For the Pirates to have success, they must have at least an above average bullpen.  With Rivero, they at least have a lock down closer for years to come.  Before coming to Pittsburgh, he was just a guy with great stuff and command issues.

Final Thoughts

I think the Pittsburgh Pirates era of reclamation projects should be put on hold.  As we know, Searage worked wonders with pitchers such as AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano, J.A. Happ, and even Ivan Nova for a period of time.  Recently, it hasn’t worked out.  Ryan Vogelson and Jonathon Niese were disasters in 2016.  Nova’s early success may have run dry.

The Pittsburgh Pirates need to focus on their enrichment of young pitching.  Taillon, Kuhl, Williams, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, and Nick Kingham should be given the reigns instead of signing an aging pitcher who once had success.  The Pirates may even want to explore a trade of Nova in the offseason.  This season, Williams and Kuhl have matured under his wing and have taken a step forward in progression.  The other young pitchers will need to follow suit.

At the end of the day, Searage’s past work merited a contract extension.  He has been a key piece in the revamp of the organization over the past six seasons.  With the extensions of Neal Huntingdon and Clint Hurdle, it was only a matter of time before Searage got his.

Image credit – Flickr Creative Commons

Nathan Hursh

Nathan is a graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in journalism. He has been a lifelong Pirates fans and loves watching baseball. Along with baseball, Nathan also has a passion for watching football and basketball. When he is not sitting on his couch indulging in sports, Nathan likes to be active outside. Along with Twitter, he can also be found on Instagram at nathan_hursh.