By Patrick Brewer, Managing Editor
Every year the Pittsburgh Pirates employ the same, or at least a similar, strategy. Given their small market status, and their inherent inability to spend big on free agents, the team scours the market for buy low candidates. They sign these players for cheap deals, perhaps given that player’s recent struggles, and do their best to “fix” the players. And almost every year, at least one of these types of signings works. Call it magic, skill, or whatever you want, but the Pirates know exactly what they are doing.
At the center of that magic, is pitching coach Ray Searage. A former Major League relief pitcher, Searage pitched over the course of seven seasons, appearing in over 200 games for four different teams. Following the hiring of Clint Hurdle, Searage was named the Pirates full time pitching coach after serving in an interim role that previous year. Since coming to town, Searage has been arguably the most effective pitching coach in all of baseball, turning failures into effective big leaguers almost every season.
There are no shortage of names that have benefitted from being under the tutelage of Searage. From his most famous cases of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, to his most recent cases of J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton, as well as all of the names in between, Searage has shown an affinity for turning pitchers’ weaknesses into their strengths and bringing many an arm back from the brink. Up to this point, Searage has done wonders for the careers of many pitchers who otherwise may have been out of baseball completely.
However, this offseason has made things all the more urgent for the Pirates. With the ascension of the Chicago Cubs, as well as the continued presence of the behemoth that is the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates have never had less room for error. Despite being a top five rotation just one year ago, the Pirates look to have quite a few holes that need to be filled. With the retirement of A.J. Burnett, and the loss of J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton, behind Liriano and ace Gerrit Cole, the Pirates rotation leaves a lot to be desired. The Pirates do still have John Locke, and also added Jon Niese, Kyle Lobstein and even Ryan Vogelsong, but none of those four instill much confidence as more than a fourth or fifth best starter. The Pirates need another strong middle of the rotation arm.
Enter Doug Fister. Coming off arguably the worst year of his career in Washington, Fister is a great bounce back candidate for the “cult” of Ray Searage. Already a relatively strong ground ball pitcher, Fister may benefit greatly from the help of Searage. Last season, Fister gave up more fly balls and home runs than his usual, all while experiencing quite a large decrease in the number of ground balls he was getting. If Searage can help Fister flip flop those numbers, Fister can recover at least some of his past success, and perhaps be a 2-3 WAR pitcher going forward. Coming off such a bad season with plenty of opportunity for a bounce back, the Pirates would be wise to take a chance on Fister, and hope for a little more Ray Searage magic.