Who Should Get The Final Two Spots In The Pittsburgh Pirates Bullpen?
Who has earned the final two spots in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen?
In six days, the Pittsburgh Pirates will travel to Fenway Park to open their 2017 regular season. Most of the Pirate roster is set at this point. However, there are a few spots on the roster that remain a battle.
Two of the spots that are still available are in the Pirate bullpen. Five pitchers are currently locked into the Pirate bullpen. These five pitchers are Antonio Bastardo, Daniel Hudson. Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, and Tony Watson. However, that remains two spots to be earned.
There are a variety of different ways the Pirates could fill these final two bullpen spots. A.J. Schugel, Jared Hughes, Tyler Webb, and Wade LeBlanc are four relief pitchers still competing for these spots.
Additionally, the Pirates could possibly give one of these spots to one of the pitchers who lose out on the competition for the final spot in the starting rotation. This would mean one of Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, or Tyler Glasnow making the bullpen. However, this is unlikely.
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Odds are, two of the four relief pitchers mentioned will earn the final two spots in the Pirate bullpen. But the question is, which two should the Pirates go with?
Wade LeBlanc is out of options and, therefore, has to make the roster or be exposed to waiver. Tyler Webb is a Rule 5 Draft selection and will be returned to the New York Yankees if he does not make the team. As for A.J. Schugel and Jared Hughes, they both have options remaining and can be sent to Triple-A.
When looking at what each pitcher brings to the table you see three different styles. A.J. Schugel has the best pure stuff of the group, which includes one of the best change-ups in any Major League bullpen, and will generate the most strikeouts. Jared Hughes is, of course, a sinker ball pitcher. While LeBlanc and Webb are both left-handed pitcher with average stuff that is best suited for long relief.
Due to the need for a long reliever, one of LeBlance or Webb is all but guaranteed to make the team. This should go to Wade LeBlanc. While LeBlanc has been, at best, a very average relief pitcher in his career (4.43 FIP, 4.48 xFIP) he has something that Tyler Webb does not – Major League experience.
Ultimately, Major League experience wins out and Wade LeBlanc makes the team as the Bucs’ long reliever. It is also possible Ray Searage has found something that clicks with LeBlanc with his performance with the Pirates last September (1.98 FIP and 3.65 xFIP in 12 innings pitched) even though it is too small of a sample size to know for sure.
That said, the Pirates should look to work out a trade with the New York Yankees in order to keep Tyler Webb in the system. While he should not make the team out of Spring Training, he would still be a good bullpen depth to have waiting in the wings at Triple-A.
To be honest, the final spot should be an easy call. This spot should go to A.J. Schugel, and there are multiple reasons as to why.
First off, Schugel was very good for the Pirates in 2016. In 52 innings pitched last season he averaged 7.96 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, and he allowed just four home runs. This led to him posting a 3.19 FIP and a 3.72 xFIP for the Pirates last season.
Secondly, A.J. Schugel threw one of the best change-ups in baseball last season. Opposing batters hit just .081 off of Schugel’s change-up in 2016. This included a .216 slugging percentage, .130 wOBA, and a -14 wRC+. Those results and that pitch are too good to be in the minors.
Finally, Jared Hughes is a mess. As Rum Bunter has discussed Hughes is a pitcher in decline. This has carried over to this spring where Hughes has been an utter mess. Mix in the fact he has minor league options remaining, and there is no need for him to be in the Pirate bullpen.
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Now, this is not a prediction for how the Pirate bullpen will shake out. In the end, I still think Wade LeBlanc and Jared Hughes get the final two spots in the bullpen. It is merely a take on how things should shake out, and that should include A.J. Schugel over Hughes.