Pittsburgh Pirates fans cautiously optimistic about their gathered young talent

How 'ready' are the Pirates to contend?

Chicago White Sox v Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago White Sox v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages
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Pirates' Rotation: Where do they stand entering 2024?

After that, the next three most important players in black and gold this season are the expected first three starters, Mitch Keller, Martin Perez, and Marco Gonzales. Or will number three be Roansy Contreras? The Pirates' first three are always changing for some reason.

Last year, the expected Pittsburgh starters in March were, in order, Keller, JT Brubaker, Contreras, Rich Hill, and Vince Velasquez. The leaders in games started turned out to be: Keller, Johan Oviedo, and Hill. (Oviedo is now injured and Hill is gone.) So, let’s say Keller, Perez and Gonzales are the Bucs’ leading starters. In that case, what does the team have?

Keller last season: 4.21 ERA, 13-9, 1.245 WHIP. He kept his ERA below 4.00 through the end of July. It rose after Aug. 3, after the game against the Brewers in which he gave up eight earned runs in five innings. Perez last season for Texas: 4.45 ERA, 10-4, 1.405 WHIP. Perez basically replaces Hill as the veteran starter, minus 11 years in age. Gonzales last season for Seattle: 5.52 ERA, 4-1, 1.460 WHIP – season cut short for forearm nerve surgery on his throwing arm.

I see some cause for concern, even given Keller was an All-Star in ’23 and Perez in ’22. The ERAs could be stronger. Two need to dip below 4.00 for team success, if not all three, however many starts they make. It’s hard to make any prediction about Gonzales. If he’s fully recovered, his career numbers say he is probably a lesser Ranger Suarez, a similar lefty on the Phillies.

The question about whether the Pirates can contend, however, may depend on these six players, given some change is likely among the three leaders in starts.