The Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the best bullpens in baseball during 2013. One guy who ate up a lot of innings out of the pen was Vin Mazzaro.
In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen was one of the best in baseball. They ranked in the top 5 in ERA (2.89), FIP (3.35), walk percentage (7.8%), and WHIP (1.17). They also were good in terms of xFIP (3.59) and SIERA (3.32).
This pen was led by extremely strong seasons from Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Justin Wilson. But one of the arms who provided many innings out of the pen, and was fairly underrated during this season was right handed pitcher Vin Mazzaro.
Mazzaro never was a top 100 prospect, but he occasionally showed up on some of the Oakland A’s top organizational prospect lists. He wasn’t very flashy, but your typical soft tossing control/ground ball pitcher. From 2009 to 2012, he served as a swing-man for the A’s and eventually the Kansas City Royals for 2011 and 2012.
He did not really produce anything good, pitching to the tune of a 5.22 ERA, 5.01 FIP, and 1.62 WHIP. He also didn’t post too great of control numbers, walking 9.5% of the batters he faced and gave up home runs at a 1.2 per 9 rate. Combined with his low strikeout rate (5.5 per 9, 13.5%), and he wasn’t somebody you really wanted on your team as anything more than pitching depth.
Well, the Pittsburgh Pirates must have seen something in Mazzaro as they traded for him during the 2012-2013 offseason for Luis Rico and Luis Santos. Mazzaro was sent to the Bucs along with slugging minor leaguer Clint Robinson. But it wasn’t going to be an easy path to the Bucs’ bullpen, as he was optioned to Triple-A to start the season. But because of injuries to Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano and James McDonald early on in 2013, and other pitchers like Phil Irwin, and Chris Leroux not being able to stick in the Majors led to Mazzaro getting his contract selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates from Indianapolis mid-April.
Mazzaro took the chance he got and ran with it. He mainly served as a multi-inning arm out of the bullpen. Mazzaro pitched more than 1 inning in 25 appearances and more than 2 innings in 15. Overall, Mazzaro pitched in 73.2 innings, and put up some decent numbers in the process.
His ERA was just 2.81, while his WHIP sat at 1.21. Although he struck out just 15.1% of the batters he faced, he walked them at a rate of just 6.9%. Home runs also became a non-issue for the then 26-year-old. He let just three balls leave the ballpark, and induced ground balls at an outstanding 52.2% rate. Eventually, he was trusted more with higher leverage situations, and even appeared in the NLDS for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But, despite that, Mazzaro wasn’t guaranteed a bullpen spot going into 2014. The Bucs were entering the 2014 season with most of the same bullpen, but now with a healthy Jared Hughes, which pushed Mazzaro back to Triple-A. But even when Grilli started to fade, and was traded to the LA Angels, Wandy Rodriguez was released, Bryan Morris was traded, and Stolmy Pimentel got injured, the Pirates never recalled Mazzaro.
Also, it’s not like he was pitching awful at Triple-A either. In 2014, he tossed 50 innings of 2.52 ERA, 3.52 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP ball. Mazzaro saw just 10 innings at the MLB level with the Bucs, and was granted free agency after the 2014 season.
Now, yes, Mazzaro did get a bit lucky in 2013. It was not likely he was going to repeat his sub-3 ERA. It was an empty ERA, but it wasn’t like his ERA estimators said he was an awful pitcher. He still had a 3.31 FIP, 3.76 SIERA, 3.86 DRA, and 4.00 xFIP, which still represented a pitcher with an ERA around the 3.50 mark. Not good for a guy would be thrusted into the highest leverage of situations on the regular, but not bad for a guy whose job was to give 2-3 innings out of the pen if the starter gives up a few early runs, gets hurt during the first few innings, or if the game goes into extras and the Bucs need someone who can keep going after they use their closer, aka the job Mazzaro had for most of 2013.
Following 2014, Mazzaro didn’t really play in the Majors much more. He got a short 15 inning stint with the Miami Marlins in 2015, and 1 inning stint with the San Francisco Giants in 2016. But his two game, 1 inning tenure with the Giants might have been the nail in the coffin for the veteran. On May 5, 2016, Mazzaro had one of what might be the worst innings in MLB history. He recorded 1 out, but gave up 9 runs, 6 of them being earned, six hits and a home run.
However, despite all of that Mazzaro is still active. He has played independent ball the past three seasons, including a solid 2019 season. With the Long Island Ducks, Mazzaro pitched 92.1 innings, serving as a swingman starting 10 of the 39 games he played. He put up a 3.61 ERA, 1.321 WHIP and 3.47 FIP. Those are very good numbers for an extremely hitter friendly league, so maybe he isn’t done just yet.
Mazzaro’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates was an odd one. Even though he wasn’t some world beating pitcher, he gave the Pirates some quality innings out of the bullpen when they needed it during their 2013 run. However, his tenure was almost completely forgotten, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. It seems like the Pirates themselves forgot they had him in their system as he was never given the call back to the show even when they faced pitchers getting injured, or under-performing.