Can one time San Francisco Giants top pitching prospect Chris Stratton put it all together and breakthrough for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020?
Last May, pitcher Chris Stratton was designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This led to the one-time top prospect being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the Pirates, he would transition to being a full time relief pitcher.
Overall, Stratton pitched 76 innings in 35 games (5 starts) between the Angels and Pirates. He posted a 5.57 ERA, 4.92 FIP, a 9.6% walk rate, 20.1% strikeout rate, and he allowed home runs at a 1.54 HR/9 clip.
However, as a Pirate, Stratton’s numbers were much better than his overall numbers. Sandwiched around an injured list stint for an oblique issue, Stratton logged 46.2 innings in 28 outings as a Pirate. Stratton posted a 3.66 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 7.5% walk rate, and a 23.5% strikeout rate in these 46.2 innings.
Now, Stratton enters the 2020 season as a breakout candidate for the Pirates.
The biggest reason Stratton found success with the Pirates last year was due to one thing – spin rates. His fastball spin rate (93rd percentile) and cruveball spin rate (99th! percentile) were among the best in all of baseball. This helped him induce an 88.3 MPH opponent exit velocity which was better than league average.
His curveball generated a strong 36.2% swing-and-miss rate in 2019, while his fastball caused opposing batters to whiff at a 19.4% clip. His slider also was a strong swing-and-miss pitch with a whiff rate of 29.4%. So, when it comes to Stratton, his stuff is not a question.
What Stratton needs to do is limit home runs better. A 1.54 HR/9 is just simply too high, especially for a relief pitcher. He also needs to do a better job of finding the strike zone. Just 42.9% of the pitches he threw last season found the strike zone. This is a recipe for getting a pitcher in trouble, forcing them to give in to hitters, and throw low quality strike that get hit hard. Obviously, that can lead to a home run problem. Hopefully, improved catching defense and new pitching coach Oscar Marin can help Stratton fix this issue.
Stratton enters Spring Training out of minor league options. Due to this, he should be considered a lock to be a member of the Pirates’ Opening Day bullpen. If Stratton can build upon what he did with the Pirates in 2019, while leaning on his curveball a bit more, and throwing more strike early in the count, he is a candidate to be a breakout player for the 2020 Pirates.