George Kontos Can No Longer Pitch in High Leverage Situations
By Marty Leap
The Pittsburgh Pirates need to shake up bullpen roles a bit
After being the team’s weakest link for the first 20 or so games of the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen is starting to turn into a strength. This is thanks in large part to the emergences of young pitchers such as Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick, and Michael Feliz.
There is one major issue that remains in the Pirate bullpen, however. That issue is that manager Clint Hurdle keeps using George Kontos is high leverage situations and this is something that needs to end immediately.
Currently, Kontos is the Pirates’ 8th inning man. Having set bullpen roles is a bad idea and something that no manager should do. Which reliever a manager goes to should depend completely on the game situation and nothing else. However, Hurdle has shown no indication of ditching set bullpen roles so that is an argument for another time.
If Hurdle is going to stick to bullpen roles, then Kontos can not remain the 8th inning man. Hell, he should not be pitching in any high leverage situations at all. These situations should be reserved for Feliz, Santana, and Felipe Vazquez, with Crick starting to work his way into the conversation.
To be blunt, Kontos has been terrible this season.
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In 15 1/3 innings pitched, Kontos has allowed 16 hits and a pair of home runs while owning just four strikeouts. His inability to miss bats and generate swings and misses, as evident by his career worst 8.4 percent swing and miss rate, has been a major issue for Kontos this season.
Kontos has also experienced a drop in velocity as his fastball and slider are averaging 89.5 and 83.7 miles per hour respectively, both of which are career lows. These velocity issues are a big factor in Kontos allowing contact a career-high 82.1 percent of the time.
All of these warts have led to Kontos owning a 5.51 FIP this season. Another alarming stat is that Kontos owns a .259 BABIP. So, despite him benefitting from a low BABIP that will most likely regress back to the norm, Kontos has still struggled this season.
In last night’s 5-3 loss against the Milwaukee Brewers, Kontos inherited a 3-3 score in the bottom of the 8th inning. Following a pair of doubles and a walk to Eric Sogard, who entered Saturday night with a .180 on-base percentage, the Pirates were trailing 5-3 and on their way to a loss.
This was not the first time this season this has happened, either. On April 7th against the Cincinnati Reds Kontos took over in the 8th inning of a tied game before allowing a 3-run home run to Eugenio Suarez on the way to a Pirate loss. Against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 20th Kontos once again inherited a tie game in the 8th inning, only to allow what would prove to be the winning run to score.
According to FanGraphs, 9 2/3 of the 15 1/3 innings pitched by Kontos this season have been high leverage situations. Kontos has allowed 13 hits, a home run, six earned runs, and he has just two strikeouts in these innings, while opposing hitters are slugging an alarming .525 against Kontos in these 9 2/3 innings.
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Despite his struggles this season, Clint Hurdle continues to use George Kontos in high leverage situations. In a move that is overdue, Hurdle needs to stop using Kontos in these situations. After all, using Kontos in high leverage situations has already led to three Pirate losses this season.