With a mediocre staff and a poor defense, Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers probably don't top the list of hurlers you want for your fantasy baseball team, but there are at least a few you should consider. Here's a look at how all the Pirates' key pitchers might perform for your fantasy team this season. I'll be relying on the excellent ZiPS system for the projections.
Also check out my piece on fantasy projections for Pirates hitters.
James McDonald, SP. I just erased about a half-dozen puns about how if you draft McDonald you'll be "lovin' it," but I'll spare you. Of all the Pirates' starting pitchers, McDonald is the one you most need to get to know. He was often electric down the stretch last year, and he racked up 61 strikeouts in 64 innings for the Bucs. The cons are that the Pirates' defense is terrible, their offense won't always help McDonald rack up wins, he only has that one sustained burst of major-league success, and he has been bothered in Spring Training by a nagging side injury. Still, as a late-round pick, he could be a steal. When looking at McDonald's projection, keep in mind that ZiPS doesn't know that the reason why McDonald bounced around the minors in the past couple of years was because his former team, the Dodgers, didn't care much for him. Health permitting, he'll pitch considerably more innings. 2011 ZiPS projection: 7-7, 121.2 IP, 4.14 ERA, 95 strikeouts.
Paul Maholm, SP. This is the kind of pick you hate yourself for making late in an NL-only league, but Maholm can provide adequate production as one of your last starters in a deep league. The poor Bucs defense that brought his numbers down last year remains intact, but Maholm should bounce back a bit anyway. 2011 ZiPS projection: 9-10, 190. 1 IP, 4.40 ERA, 117 strikeouts.
Ross Ohlendorf, SP. Ohlendorf got press this winter mostly for going 1-11 last year, but as we all know, wins and losses aren't the best indicator of a pitcher's performance. Ohlendorf is better than that, and if you're in an NL-only league, he should help you. 2011 ZiPS projection: 8-8, 139.1 IP, 4.13 ERA, 96 strikeouts.
Kevin Correia, SP. In terms of fantasy value, Correia is sort of like a poor man's Maholm or Ohlendorf, so you should probably avoid him. At his best, he's more of a strikeout pitcher than either one, but he's rarely at his best. Keep in mind that the ZiPS projection that follows assumes he'll be pitching in the hurlers' heaven of San Diego, so adjust the numbers accordingly. 2011 ZiPS Projection: 8-11, 153.1 IP, 4.52 ERA, 115 K.
Charlie Morton, SP. In a standard mixed league, you shouldn't draft this guy, as his chances of giving you absolutely no value are very high. He should, however, be on your radar. Morton's implosion when he started the 2010 season in the Pirates' rotation was of absolutely biblical proportions, but he pulled himself together and pitched nicely down the stretch. He also has excellent stuff and is coming off a nice Spring in which he rediscovered a sinker that former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan had taken away from him. 2011 ZiPS Projection: 9-13, 4.95 ERA, 154.2 IP, 100 K.
Joel Hanrahan, CL. Yes, Hanrahan will be closing for a losing team, but don't overlook him for that reason. Bad teams win close games, too, and there will be plenty of opportunities for saves. Also, Hanrahan is just a plain old good pitcher who will help you in the strikeout category. 2011 ZiPS projection: 3-2, 3.57 ERA, 70.2 IP, 87 K.
Other Pirates pitchers to keep an eye on include Rudy Owens (a prospect who won't be with the team at the start of the season, but stands a good chance of immediate success when he does come up) and Evan Meek (another good reliever who will likely become closer if something were to happen to Hanrahan).