The Pittsburgh Pirates have many young arms beginning to infiltrate the major league ball club and many still working their way through the system. Until there are enough home grown pitchers to fill out the rotation, management has gone the ‘low risk’ route in free agency. Signing pitchers with high upside and low contracts have been commonplace since 2010, many working out in the Pirates favor and some not. The ones that have not, obviously did not cost the Pirates much in return.
The Pirates have consistently been able to take pitchers with 5.00+ ERA and turn them into Cy Young worthy candidates. There are many factors (pitcher friendly park, defensive shifts, change of scenery) that go into a pitcher flipping the switch, but it would be remiss to not mention two big reasons for their success.
Pitching coach Ray Searage and special assistant Jim Benedict have worked wonders with the talent the Pirates management has thrown their way and 2014 will be no exception.
The Pirates have enjoyed success of varying degrees over the last three seasons and there is no denying that the one constant when the Pirates have been winning is their pitching. Winning baseball starts and ends with consistent and at times dominant pitching. The Pirates have been lucky enough to have one of two of the best assistants on their staff that any team would welcome in their clubhouse.
While Searage and Benedict make a great tandem, their styles can be contrasting at times. Searage is more of the outspoken, upbeat kind of coach with optimism pouring out of him. Benedict is a student of the game in the truest sense, bringing a deeper, more intellectual type of style to his teaching. This past fall, Benedict interviewed for the Philadelphia Phillies pitching coach job, but ultimately decided to stick with the Pirates.
No one can exactly measure the importance of pitching coaches/instructors, but one can absolutely come to the conclusion that the Pirates have two of the best right now and it has shown over the past few seasons.
Pirates management has come up with a simple, but economical means to get production out of the pitchers they acquire. Listed below are pitchers who have had their careers turned out by the two men discussed above. All of these pitchers have at least two of the following three items in common and the Pirates have been able to harness those intangibles into at least one stellar season per pitcher.
2) Prior success
3) Inconsistent until Pirates
Pitchers such as Erik Bedard and Jonathan Sanchez would be examples of two that did not work out in the Pirates favor, but with the success of so many others, those are distant names from Pirates past now.
Past Reclamation Projects
Fail/Success. Yes it is possible to land in both the fail and success category, just as J-Mac. McDonald came to the Pirates as nothing more than a bullpen arm in 2010, but upon his arrival Searage worked wonders with McDonald.
McDonald went on to put up one of the best first halfs in recent Pirate memory, posting a 9-3 record with a 2.37 ERA before falling apart later that season and never fully recovering.
Burnett was traded to the Pirates in 2012 and has dramatically changed his perception around the league. As Pirates fans await a decision on his retirment, his return would still be a welcome site for the 2014 rotation.
2010- 10-15, 5.25 ERA
2011- 11-11, 5.15 ERA
2012- 16-10, 3,51 ERA
2013- 10-11, 3.30 ERA
It is no secret that Liriano has always possessed the natural “stuff” that most pitchers dream about, but throughout his career he could not keep that “stuff” consistent.
The Pirates were able to straighten out ‘Papa Francisco’ for one whole season, which is more than anyone has been able to do since 2010.
2012-6-12, 5.34 ERA
2013-16-8, 3.21 ERA
Morton was acquired by the Pirates in 2009 and has suffered through immense ups and downs in Pittsburgh, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. It has been difficult to measure the success of Morton because of injuries, but since having his delivery changed by Benedict in 2011, Morton has been at times lights out and has even drawn comparisons to Roy Halladay. Morton appreciates and understands how lucky he is to have Searage and Benedict.
“(Testing free agency) — that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to be here working with the men in that clubhouse and for the people in the city. That’s what the draw was for me. Working with guys like (pitching coach) Ray (Searage) and (special assistant) Jim Benedict. … Everything keeps going back to 2009 when they wanted me here in this organization when they traded for me. They kept giving me opportunities even when I failed.” – triblive.com
2013- 7-4, 3.26 ERA
Since becoming pitching coach in 2010, Ray Searage has done nothing but impress with his overpowering optimism and steady demeanor. Benedict has been with the Pirates since 2008, Searage has the ability to work with both young and veteran pitchers alike to receive the most out of their god-given talent.
The numbers speak for themselves.
2012-6.20 ERA, 45 IP, 31 ER
2013-1.39 ERA, 71 IP, 11 ER
And Edinson Volquez
2008- 17-6, 3.21 ERA
Volquez will be the most challenging patient yet for Searage and Benedict to cure. Volquez had great success in 2008,but since has not been able to replicate anything close to that. Compared to Burnett or Liriano, Volquez is not as accomplished and has watched his k/9 ratio drop from 9.5 in 2008 to 7.3 in 2013.
Volquez barely fits the mold the Pirates have been working miracles with over the past four seasons. He had success, has the talent and came cheap. The only problem is, he’s barely had success, has watched his ‘stuff’ decline rapidly and has yet to find any sort of command since coming into the league (4.1 bb per 9 innings).
I’ve always been an advocate for the underdog or the guy that had a bad year before, cause then we just kill them with kindness, we know what were talking about, we got credibility, experience and the knowledge. Now can they learn it? – Ray Searage on 93.7 The Fan
There is no doubt that Edinson Volquez is the biggest reclamation project that Searage and Benedict have taken on yet. I’m sure there are many doubters out there (including me) on this one, but if Volquez is an All-Star in 2014, will anyone be surprised about that either? Doubt it.