Pittsburgh Pirates Take A Worthwhile Gamble On Tom Koehler
By Marty Leap
On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed a veteran right-handed pitcher to a minor league contract in what could prove to be a worthwhile gamble
The Pittsburgh Pirates made a pair of minor league signings on Wednesday afternoon. One of the two players signed was a veteran pitcher Tom Koehler. Koehler is slated to miss most, potentially all, of the 2019 season, however, signing him was a worthwhile gamble.
The 32-year-old Koehler has not pitched at the MLB level since 2017. After spending the first five seasons of his career with the Miami Marlins, he split the 2017 season between the Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays. It was with the Blue Jays that Koehler began to transition to a bullpen role.
Prior to the start of the 2018 season the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Koehler with the intention of him pitching full time out of the LA bullpen. However, Koehler would never take the mound for the Dodgers. After battling injuries, he had season ending shoulder surgery in July that will go on to potentially cost him all of the 2019 season, too.
After being move to the Blue Jay bullpen in August of 2017, Koehler went on to pitch 12 innings in relief for the Jays. He posted a 3.00 ERA, 3.16 FIP, a 5.9% walk rate, and a strikeout rate of 21.2%. In his career as a reliever Koehler owns a 3.38 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 7.9% walk rate, and a 24.3% strikeout rate as a reliever in 34 2/3 relief innings pitched.
With these results it is easy to see why the Dodgers liked Koehler as a reliever. Unfortunately for Koehler and the Dodgers, him pitching as a full time reliever was never given an opportunity due to the aforementioned shoulder issues.
In his career Koehler owns a 4.44 ERA and a 4.55 FIP as a starting pitcher. In 749 2/3 innings pitched in 133 career starts he owns a 9.6% walk rate and a 17.7% strikeout rate. Opposing hitters have slashed .257/.338/.420 off him in his career as a starter, as opposed to .217/.279/.364 when pitching out of a relief role. Also, his groundball rate rises from 43.8% as a starter to 45.1% as a reliever.
Koehler’s deal with the Pirates is a minor league contract. This contract is set to pay him $850,000 in 2019, with another $250,000 in incentives being available if he reaches the Majors at any point. His contract also includes a club option worth $1.25 million for the 2020 season, with an additional $1.25 million in incentives, if he is able to return to full health.
If Koehler can get healthy this calendar year, the Pirates could have an intriguing bullpen arm waiting in the wings for the 2020 season. This makes signing Koehler a worthwhile gamble for the Pirates to take.