Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Right Handed Relief Targets

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 13: Keone Kela #50 of the Texas Rangers celebrates with Robinson Chirinos #61 after a 5-4 victory against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 13, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 13: Keone Kela #50 of the Texas Rangers celebrates with Robinson Chirinos #61 after a 5-4 victory against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 13, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates sit only 3.5 games out of the wild card, a great turnaround from where they were in mid June.  The team could look to add to the bullpen as a way to help push for the wild card game.

The Pirates have crawled their way back into the playoff race, an 11 game win streak will certainly do that for you.  Their playoff odds are still 13.2 percent, making it more likely they miss out than make it, but they owe it the current group of players to add something for their stretch and getting back into the race.

Being they are only wild card contenders, adding a monumental addition wouldn’t make all that much sense.  However, finding the marginal upgrades for 2018, or upgrades and players for the upcoming seasons, is the most likely path.  After two years of trying to manage both adding and subtracting to the big league level, there’s a good chance that’s what Neal Huntington looks to do again this year.

After looking at some left-handed options, it’s time for the right-handed relievers that could add positive value to this team out of the bullpen.  The tables below feature the players age, years left under club control, their stats over the last three major league seasons they’ve pitched, their 2018 numbers, and the rest of season projections.

Keone Kela

Keone Kela
Controlled Through2021
Money Left$400,000
Last Three Years 108.3 3.99 31.1%10.3%38.2%
Rest of Season Projection23.03.4529.9%9.3%

I kinda cheated here as the Pirates have some known interest in the reliever.  Certainly adding a young pitcher with his years left under club control (arbitration eligible for the following three seasons) would be a plus.  Kela features a fastball that sits around 96-97 miles per hour and has a curveball that he features about 35 percent of the time; for his career the curveball has a whiff/swing of 35.48 percent of the time according to Brooks Baseball.

Kela’s ERA over the last three years is ballooned from 2016 when he posted a 6.09 ERA in 34 innings.  Part of the problem was the long ball, as he allowed six, or four percent of plate appearances.  Though that can be explained by a home run per flyball rate of 21.4 percent, with his other three seasons being 8.9, 8.5, and 8.3 percent in 2015, 2017, and this current season.

Kela would add another weapon to the Pirates backend of the bullpen, an area that has been strong.  Adding him would lengthen that backend depth and give the Pirates two experienced back-end relievers, with the inexperienced Crick, Santana, and Rodriguez to be bumped down.

Kela could also be an extension candidate.  If he is traded to the Pirates, he’d no longer be the closer and rack up saves, hurting him in arbitration.  Instead, he could look to maximize his earning potential during his arbitration years by signing a four-year deal (buying out one year of free agency) and look to enter the free agency market after his age 29 season.

Craig Stammen

Craig Stammen
Controlled Through2019
Money Left2018: $750,000 2019: $2,250,000
Last Three Years 134.3 2.88 24.4%7.5%51.8%
Rest of Season Projection23.03.4724.0%7.3%

Stammen would be one of those that qualifies as a marginal upgrade; he’s not a backend guy but would represent a welcomed addition given his propensity to get the ball on the ground.  Stammen missed most of 2015 (pitched four innings) with a flexor tendon injury and he was with the Cleveland Indians organization (spent all year in the minors) in 2016.

After being back and fully healthy, the 34-year-old tossed 80.3 innings in 50 games with the Padres in 2017 to the tune of a 3.14 ERA.  With Brad Hand and Adam Cimber dealt, Stammen (along with Kirby Yates) could be the next to join in the leaving of Southern California.

What Stammen would provide is a solid mid relief role bridging the gap to Santana, Crick, and Vazquez.  For his career he possesses a 50.1 percent groundball rate, and he is once again generating groundballs at a high clip this year.  While the strikeouts aren’t there (they are so far this year), the groundball inducing Stammen could fulfill that Jared Hughes role that the bullpen has missed since 2016, he just comes with much better strikeout rates.

Ryan Tepera

Ryan Tepera
Controlled Through2021
Money Left$191,566.66
Last Three Years 138.7 3.25 25.7%9.3%45.5%
Rest of Season Projection24.03.8326.0%9.6%

Tepera has three arbitration years after 2018 and would be a marginal upgrade not just for this year, but also for the following as long as the Pirates want to keep him around and not nontender him after any season.

The 30-year-old right hander sits 95-96 with a fastball and sinker along with a 90 mile per hour cutter.  Given the profile and the Pirates past, maybe a few percentage points added to the groundball rate can happen, making Tepera better than he is.  He features some swing and miss, and is projected to keep strike outs at a rate higher than the league average relief pitcher of 23.3 percent.

There is some risk with Tepera involved, his FIP is 75 points higher at 3.49 and he’s projected to have a 3.83 ERA the rest of the way.  Like Stammen he wouldn’t fill the backend role, but would provide an upgrade and extend the middle parts of the game.  Add in the years he could be a Pirates pitcher, and there could be a fit.

Next. Three Starting Pitching Targets. dark

Like with the left-handers, the Pirates should be looking at marginal upgrades in 2018 or upgrades for this year and in following years.  Stammen and Tepera would represent marginal upgrades to the mid relief not just for the remainder of the season, but for at least next season as well.  Kela, however, would be a rock solid addition to the backend and would deepen the late inning options and shorten games up.

*Numbers from Fangraphs and contract information from Baseball-Reference