Pittsburgh Pirates Breakout Candidate: Geoff Hartlieb
By Noah Wright
Despite his rough 2019 rookie season, you shouldn’t overlook Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Geoff Hartlieb
Last year, many of the Pittsburgh Pirates talented, but undeveloped, pitchers were given large roles at the MLB level who were unprepared to take on Major League batters. This was because of the myriad of injuries that occurred.
Only one of the Pirate starters surpassed 150 innings, and many of the relief arms the team was going to rely on throughout 2019 under-performed or were injured. One of the arms that was thrown into the fire was right hander Geoff Hartlieb. Despite his ugly results in 2019, the right-handed pitcher could be a breakout candidate in the Pittsburgh Pirates future.
In 35 innings in 2019, Hartlieb gave up 35 earned runs on 52 hits. Eight of those hits were home runs. He also walked 18 batters, but was good at striking them out. He struck out 38 batters last season. Hartlieb’s ERA predictors also didn’t paint a great picture. The former prospect had a 4.45 SIERA and 5.11 DRA. Overall, he posted a negative bWAR (-0.8) and fWAR (-0.2). Opponents were barreling Geoff up good. He had a 41% hard hit rate to combat a lowly 12% soft contact rate.
However, Hartlieb was pitching well at Triple-A before getting the call to the Majors. In 39.2 innings, Hartlieb had put up a 2.50 ERA, 2.24 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP. Despite his home run troubles at the MLB level, Hartlieb didn’t give up a single long ball at Indianapolis, and he induced ground balls at a 63.2% rate.
Giving up no home runs was very impressive. Only four pitchers at the Triple-A level put up a HR/9 lower than 1.0. Hartlieb was striking out batters at an outstanding 11.3 per 9 rate, and he owned a 30.7% strikeout rate. He also walked just 9.2% of all the batters he faced. That was good for a 3.33 K/BB ratio. Baseball Prospectus pinned his DRA at 2.59. Plus, he did get some bad batted ball luck in the Majors with a .411 batting average on balls in play. I should also mention that despite the home runs at the MLB level, he still posted a solid 46.5% ground ball rate, which was 3.5% above the average.
Of the four pitches the hard throwing righty uses, his sinker has the most potential. Hartlieb can throw the pitch into the mid-90’s, usually sitting around 95 MPH, and can crank it up into the high 90’s here and there. It has tons of movement too. With 27.5 inches of vertical drop, it is 31% better than average while it’s horizontal break of 16.5 inches is 11% above average. His sinker movement ranked in the top-tier of the MLB.
Hartlieb’s best power pitch is his fastball. Sitting at 96.4 MPH, Hartlieb can get the heat going when he needs it. Although it doesn’t have much movement, sitting at 25% below average vertical movement and 12% below average in horizontal movement. However, FanGraphs gives it a 60 grade, and for a good reason. The pitch has much more potential. Hartlieb sat in the top 88th percentile of fastball spin. So, what the pitch lacks in vertical and horizontal movement, it makes up for in spin rate.
Hartlieb has a very strong slider. He only throws it for 85-ish MPH, but has movement on it. It has only 36.1 inches of vertical drop, which is around average, but with 8.8 inches of horizontal movement, the pitch sits at an outstanding 10.4% above average. FanGraphs pins the pitch at a 50 currently, but a 55 future grade. Like his slider, it’s movement ranks among some of the best in the MLB.
Geoff has one other pitch to go to, that being his change up. Although he doesn’t throw it very often, he has enough movement on it to be an effective pitch. He can throw the pitch with 31.1 inches of vertical drop, which is 13% above average, but 15.3 inches of horizontal movement, or 5% above the average.
If Blake Cederlind is considered a future part of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen, then so should Geoff Hartlieb. After all, Hartlieb posted much better minor league numbers than Cederlind has so far in their young careers. Hartlieb has tons of potential to become a quality bullpen arm. He can throw the ball hard, and with tons of movement. He induces tons of strikeouts, and ground balls. All he needs to do is lessen his hard hit rate, and improve his control a bit, and he can be one of the Bucs’ best relief options.