Pittsburgh Pirates: It’s Time to Worry About Kyle Crick

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After a strong 2018 breakout campaign, Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kyle Crick has seen his stock take a nose drive as of recently. But is it time to move on from him?

Back during the 2017-2018 off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded former National League MVP, and one of the most beloved players in the franchise’s history, Andrew McCutchen, to the San Francisco Giants for two players, Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds. While Crick got off to a strong start to his career in Pittsburgh, things haven’t looked all that great as of recently. Not only has he seen a large velocity dip, but after a rough 2019, could it be time to move on from Crick?

During the 2018 season, Crick looked like he could be a potential long term building block for the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. Through 60.1 innings of work, the right hander had a 2.39 ERA, 3.14 FIP and 1.12 WHIP. Crick only allowed three home runs, had a 25.5% strikeout rate and 9.0% walk rate.

But, last year, Crick  was awful. While he did see his strikeout rate go up to 27%, his ERA rose to 4.96, his FIP went to 5.95 and his WHIP was 1.55 in 49 innings. From the beginning of the season to the end of June, Crick had a walk rate of 18.6%. While that dropped to a still worrisome 11.3% rate from July onward, his home run rate went from a manageable 0.93 HR/9 to an absolutely horrid 3.15 HR/9.

Not only did Crick see his home run and walk rates take a huge spike, but so did his hard hit rate. Crick was giving up hard hit contact just 22.5% of the time in 2018 but 30.1% of the time in 2019. Crick also saw a huge rise in fly ball rate, a rise from 39.9% to 42%. His home run to fly ball ratio was nearly quadruple of it’s 2018 rate, sitting at 20% after being at 5.5%.

In comparison, the average home run to fly ball rate was 15% in 2019. While a 30% hard hit rate is still pretty good, it’s still a significant rise from 2018, and the added fact that he was giving up more fly balls is not a recipe for success.

ERA estimators have never been kind to the right hander. In 2018, Crick had a 3.57 skill interactive ERA, or SIERA, with the Pittsburgh Pirates but a 4.00 xFIP and 4.41 deserved run average or DRA. Last year, Crick had a 4.74 SIERA, 5.33 xFIP and 4.96 DRA. Even when Crick was at the top of his game in 2018, he was getting a bit lucky.

What was even more concerning about Crick is his Grapefruit League and summer camp before the season starts. Crick was averaging 91.8 MPH on his fastball during training. In 2018 his fastball sat at 95.8 MPH, and in 2019 his fastball was 95.3 MPH. That’s a very large loss of velocity on his fastball. Could this mean he needs Tommy John surgery?

While there’s a good case to be made that it’s time to move on from Crick, there’s also a decent case to be made that the Pittsburgh Pirates should try him again. Crick was still in the top 95% of average exit velocity at 86.5 MPH. His xWOBA of .312 is around average as well. While Crick had an opponent slugging percentage of .432, his xSlugging was just .351. According to Baseball Savant’s hard hit rate, he was in the top 100th percentile. Plus his slider still has tons of movement averaging 19.7 inches of horizontal movement, 112% better than the league average.

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But the severe and sudden drop in velocity should be extremely concerning. A pitcher doesn’t just lose 3 or more MPH off their fastball in less than a year unless something is seriously wrong with their arm. While Tommy John isn’t a complete death sentence, it’s definitely not something you want when you just came off a season where you had a 4.96 ERA/5.56 FIP, and I’m sure that’s something the Pirates are thinking about.

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