An Internal Retool of the Pittsburgh Pirates Bullpen
The 2017 season has not been an easy one for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen. However, some internal retooling could improve the Pirate ‘pen.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates made the postseason in three consecutive seasons from 2013-2015 a big reason why was a great bullpen each season. A big reason why the Bucs missed the postseason in 2016 and are on their way to doing it again in 2017 was/is due to a struggling bullpen.
Moving forward, specifically in 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to retool their bullpen. While it would behoove Neal Huntington and the Pirates to add external options via free agency and trades this winter, the retooling of the bullpen can begin now.
The Pittsburgh Pirates can begin to retool their bullpen from within the organization. They have multiple young, electric arms at Triple-A that can help the Major League bullpen now and there is no reason to not give these pitchers a crack at an extended look out of the Pirate bullpen.
If you looked solely at ERA, things would not look that bad for the Pirate bullpen. Their bullpen ERA this season of 3.80 ranks fourth in the National League. However, as always with ERA, it does not tell the entire story.
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A big problem with the Pirate bullpen this year has been allowing inherited runners to score. One factor in this equation is that the Pirate bullpen has had problems recording strikeouts. Opposing hitters strike out 21.0 percent of the time against Pirate relievers, and this is dead last in the National League.
Right now the Pittsburgh Pirates are carrying a trio of relievers that are not going to be part of the team’s future. They are free agent to be Joaquin Benoit, and Daniel Hudson and Wade LeBlanc who both have just one more year on their contracts. Ironically, these three are also the team’s three worst relievers.
Trading for Joaquin Benoit never made sense and he has been awful in Pittsburgh (4.50 HR/9, 9.00 ERA, 10.64 FIP). While the contracts Daniel Hudson and Wade LeBlanc were given in the offseason made sense and seemed liked savvy moves, neither have worked out.
Speaking of Hudson, he has been particularly bad when it comes to inherited runners. 33 percent of runners he has inherited this season have come around to score. Outside of Felipe Rivero, George Kontos, and Juan Nicasio, no Pirate reliever has been good at stranded inherited runners.
It is time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to begin to retool their bullpen internally. The first move is to either designate Benoit, Hudson, and LeBlanc for assignment or put them on the mystery DL until rosters expand in September and they can return and then be done away with this offseason.
The three pitchers from Triple-A that should replace them in the bullpen are left-handed pitcher Steven Brault, and right-handed pitchers Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana. All three of these pitchers have been electric at Triple-A this season, and all three have had Major League time as well.
Steven Brault leads the International League in ERA (1.94) and strikeouts (109). He also owns a 3.29 FIP, he’s allowed just 5 home runs in 120 1/3 innings pitched, and his control (3.29 BB/9, 5 HBPs) is the best it’s ever been.
In 4 Major League innings pitched this season Brault has allowed a pair of runs, to go with a pair of walks and a pair of strikeouts. To be honest, when the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Tony Watson to the Dodgers Brault should have replaced him as a left-handed pitcher in the Pirate bullpen. Instead, Neal Huntington traded for Joaquin Benoit.
While he has always started in the minor leagues, long-term Brault is best suited to be a reliever at the Major League level. He has a fastball that can play up and be a plus fastball in relief situations and he has a good slider to go with it. He has earned the chance to be in the Pirate bullpen.
Next up is 24-year-old right-handed pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas. At Triple-A Neverauskas is having a fantastic season owning a 2.89 ERA, 2.99 FIP, and averaging 8.29 K/9. Also, in 46 2/3 innings pitched, he has allowed just 43 hits and a single home run.
Neverauskas has made his first two trips to the Major Leagues this season. In 9 innings pitched for the Pirates he allowed just a single walk and home run, he has struck out 7, and he owns a 3.00 ERA and 3.62 FIP.
As this Bill Brink article discusses, Neverauskas has made some key adjustments this season. He has started to use his two-seamed fastball more while going inside on left-handed hitters with his cutter. These adjustments have caused Neverauskas to go from a one pitch pitcher to a legitimate bullpen prospect. He will be a key part of the Pirate bullpen in 2018, but the more experience he gets in 2017 the better.
Finally, there is the pitcher the highest ceiling of any pitcher in this article. 25-year-old righty Edgar Santana. Like Neverauskas, Santana made his Major League debut earlier this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Edgar Santana possesses the best slider in the Pirate organization. This is a big reason why he is averaging 8.17 K/9, has allowed just 4 home runs, and owns a 2.66 ERA and a 3.32 FIP in 50 2/3 innings pitched at Triple-A.
During his stint at the Major League level back in June, Santana pitched in 9 games. He logged 7 2/3 innings pitched and struck out 12 batters. However, he also allowed 10 hits and owned a 5.87 ERA and a 4.05 FIP.
His struggles were due to two things. These two things were poor control and an unsustainably high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Santana averaged 5.87 BB/9 at the Major League level. However, his career walk rate in the minors is 2.02 BB/9 so improved control should be expected. Also, his .474 BABIP is 174 points higher than league average. That is a big reason why his
Also, his .474 BABIP is 174 points higher than league average. That is a big reason why his xFIP was 3.98. In no world is a BABIP that high sustainable. With more time in the Major Leagues, Santana’s BABIP would drop and, in turn, so would the number of hits he allows.
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This offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to retool their bullpen. That retooling, however, can begin now by making internal moves. Steven Brault, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Edgar Santana could all be a big part of the Pirate bullpen in 2018 and beyond. Furthermore, they are better pitchers than Joaquin Benoit, Daniel Hudson, and Wade LeBlanc. It is time for the Pirates to make some bullpen changes.