Pirates good? Just watch the pitchers

PITTSBURGH — You can slice and dice baseball statistics many ways, but this holds up as a basic truth: a team’s success will be determined in large part by the quality of its starting pitching.

The Pirates enter the 2018 season with a lot of promise in their rotation, but not a lot of accomplishment.

There is no incumbent No. 1 starter. Ivan Nova will start Thursday’s opener in Detroit. That’s a nod mainly to his experience and ability to shut out distractions.

Nova started well last year, then things took a turn for the bad before mid-season arrived. In the second half of the season, opposing hitters amassed a whopping .917 OPS against him.

Jameson Taillon is the No. 1 starter of the future, heir apparent to Gerrit Cole. He has good stuff and a professional attitude that belies his relative inexperience. Unlike Cole, he won’t come unglued at the first sign of adversity.

The issue with Taillon is his health. What other player has dealt with Tommy John surgery, a hernia and a cancer diagnosis before the age of 26? Taillon pitched 133 and 2/3 innings around his medical issues last season. Can he handle a heavier workload and get closer to 200 innings? Uncharted territory.

Trevor Williams was a pleasant surprise last season because he showed steady improvement. He ran with his opportunity and established himself as one of the five starters.

Chad Kuhl’s progress was slower, but the Pirates were buoyed by a significant uptick in his velocity. He’s still a work in progress.

The wild card is Joe Musgrove, who came over from Houston in the Cole trade. The Pirates need him to pitch well, and not just to reduce the heat on the deal. Musgrove’s starting experience is limited to 25 games over two major league seasons.

The Pirates have assigned Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow to the bullpen, ostensibly to help them train for the rotation. But having two starters working relief could also be important to cover innings left available by too many short starts.

That’s a definite possibility, given the uncertain state of the rotation.

The everyday lineup lacks punch, but could be good enough if — that’s a huge word — Gregory Polanco recovers from his awful season and rookie Colin Moran is viable at third base.

This will come down to the starting pitching, though, and who can project what the Pirates’ inexperienced group might do?

The starters will make the difference between wild card contention and another sub-.500 season.

Still looking

Pitt wanted Dan Hurley to coach its basketball team. He said no. Sean Miller apparently wanted the job. Pitt said no.

Miller triggered what is the fashionable move these days: When it’s apparent you’re not getting the job, issue a statement announcing you’re no longer a candidate.

Miller is just too high risk at this point for a program that already has problems. The last thing Pitt needs is someone from the Justice Department waiting for Miller at his new office.

There’s an urgency to get a coach in place. Nine players have asked to be released from their commitments. They might all wind up staying, but they won’t decide until they see who the new coach is.

Annoying reminder

This the last week for the Guess How Many Games The Pirates Will Win contest.

You e-mail me two numbers — your prediction for this season’s win total and (tiebreaker) the number of home runs you think they’ll hit. (Last year they won 75 games and hit 151 home runs).

It costs nothing to enter and you could win the prize, a box of leftover Pirates promotional stuff.

The official e-mail address is right below this sentence.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

COMMENTS