How Can Pittsburgh Pirates Reliever Kyle Crick Bounce Back in 2020?

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After a breakout campaign in 2018, Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Kyle Crick took a step back in 2019. How can he bounce back in 2020?

On January 15, 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates made a trade that changed the franchise forever. They traded former NL MVP, and long time face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants. In return, the Pirates received outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds and reliever Kyle Crick.

Thus far, the trade has worked out for the Pittsburgh Pirates. While McCutchen had just a so-so 2018 for the Giants before being traded later that summer, Reynolds made his debut in 2019, was a 4+ WAR player, and appears to be on his way to becoming a franchise cornerstone for a long time. Crick made a similar impact in 2018 by having a fantastic season out of the Pirates bullpen.

2019, however, was not kind to Crick. Battling both on and off the field issues, he regressed mightily. A late season altercation with a disgraced former teammate led to a broken finger and season ending surgery.

So, the question now becomes, how can Crick bounce back in 2020?

In 2018 Crick was lights out. After starting the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, Crick pitched 60.1 innings for the Pirates. Crick posted a 2.39 ERA, 3.14 FIP, a 9.0% walk rate, 25.5% strikeout rate, he hit seven batters, and he allowed just three home runs.

This performance saw Crick go from a minor league reliever to start the season, to being one of the team’s late inning setup men by the end of the season. This is the role Crick started the 2019 season in, and he held this role until the wheels came off in June.

A big issue for Crick in 2019 was control issues. His already higher than you would like to see 9.0% walk rate from 2018 spiked to 15.5% in 2019. Also, after allowing just three home runs and hit seven batters in 60.1 innings of work in 2018, in just 49 innings pitched in 2019 he allowed 10 home runs while hitting seven batters. Obviously, control was a major issue.

Crick also allowed too much hard contact in 2019. Opposing batters made hard contact 29.3% of the time against Crick, to go with an average exit velocity of 85.6 MPH. Both of these were worse than league average, as well as being in the 94th percentile in all of baseball.

Often times, allowing too much hard contact can be a result of poor control. It will often times come from throwing low quality strikes, feeling the need to throw a meatball due to being behind in the count, or a combination of the two.

How can Crick improve his control? He needs to find his old release point. If/when the 2020 season begins, that needs to be the top priority of Crick and new Pirate pitching coach Oscar Marin.

As his Baseball Savant data shows, Crick’s release point was much different in 2019 than it was in 2018.

Table 1. — Crick Release Points
Horizontal ReleaseVertical ReleaseIn Front Of Catcher
NMeanSDMeanSDMeanSD
2018Fastball596-1.420.165.610.1254.430.22
2019Fastball470-1.760.165.250.1054.470.19
2018Slider270-1.500.175.700.1155.000.30
2019Slider349-1.860.155.360.0954.910.27

As you can see above, a drop in release point occurred for both Crick’s fastball and slider in 2019. This is the likely culprit of his control issues, and in turn his hard contact problems, during the 2019 season.

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Another factor for Crick will be a healthier clubhouse culture. The importance of which is something we discussed last week. The Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse culture in 2019 was far from healthy. Multiple players, Crick included, were suspended during the season for altercations with team staff. Crick also had problems with the aforementioned disgrace ex-teammate.

With the guidance and leadership of new Pirate manager Derek Shleton the team’s clubhouse culture and atmosphere should be greatly improved in 2020. This should also make a difference with Crick. Think about it, if you hate the environment you enter at work every day it is difficult to perform your job well. The same goes for professional athletes.

If there is a 2020 season and Crick is able to bounce back, he could become the team’s closer. Current closer Keone Kela is set to hit free agency following the season, and will likely be traded before the end of the season as a result. If not, Crick could find himself fighting for a spot in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen throughout the season.

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