A few weeks ago Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington mentioned that he was looking add to the bullpen.
There has been two main issues with the current bullpen. First, has been the early innings. The Pittsburgh Pirates 6th inning relief has been an issue. They also have struggled in non-save games. The big three in Feliz, Watson, and Melancon have done their jobs. Any time that the Bucs have brought in a reliever in the 6th inning or later in games when the score is not close the relievers have given up more runs. This is mainly due to Arquimedes Caminero’s struggles, Jared Hughes’ inconsistency, and no real left-handed specialist.
The Pirates have blown close games in the sixth innings, allowed games to get out of hand, or lose games late because of this. Many expect Hughes to get better. Hughes started the year on the DL and most likely is still getting back in MLB shape. Hughes relays on his sinker and the summer air heats up his sinker will start to be more effective. The other issues as mentioned earlier is that there is no real left-handed specialist in the bullpen. The Pirates relayed on Cory Luebke earlier this season, but he has not been effective at all. He now finds himself in Indianapolis.
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Recently left-handed relief pitcher Joe Thatcher opted out of his minor league deal with the Dodgers. Thatcher is a veteran pitcher at the age of 34 who has been in the league since 2007. Thatcher signed a typical minor league veteran contract with the Dodgers this past off-season. Most veteran minor league deals have a June first opt-out clause. In this case Thatcher opted out after spending all of 2016 with the Dodger’s AAA affiliate. Last year Thatcher was a very important piece in the Astro’s bullpen. He threw in 43 games posting a 3.18 ERA while striking out 10.3 per nine innings.
Thatcher was effective against left-handed hitters last year. In 14 total innings against left-handed hitters he held them to a .241 batting average while striking out 19 left-handed batters in 14 innings. Compare this to Luebke’s numbers this year against left-handed hitters. He faced 5 left-handed batters this year and they have hit .800 off him including a home run. Yes, it is a small sample size, but Luebke is coming off of two years of not pitching and has never been used as an effective reliever.
Thatcher has had a solid career owning a 3.38 ERA and holding left-handed hitters to a .224 batting average. He would be worth taking a flier on at this point in his career. He was signed to a minor league contract, so it is doubtful that he would demand a significant contract. The Pirates could use a left-handed relief pitcher in this bullpen to help get through the middle innings.
Huntington mentioned in his interview that he would look for a Grilli like situation, a veteran who could be had cheaply, but needs a new opportunity. Thatcher is available as a free agent and would be a cheap transaction. Why not take a chance on the 34-year-old and see if he can help lock down a spot in the bullpen. If he can not what do the Pirates lose in this situation? Nothing, it is a low-risk, high-reward scenario.
All Numbers courtesy of FanGraphs