This past offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates hired a lot of new coaches and Front Office personnel. They strived to use more analytics in their player development program.
Back in 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates were considered one of the teams that were ahead of the curve. They were shifting against batters, trying to get runners on base, and pitching to weak contact. However, times quickly changed in the MLB, and, unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Pirates previous regime could not change with the times.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates hired a new Front Office and coaching staff, many were interested to see change. One thing that was made evident by the new staff was they would be using, as much as possible, analytics to help develop their players. Not traditional sabermetrics like WAR and FIP, but rather using technology to look at their pitcher’s spin rates and hitter’s launch angles.
This is something Pittsburgh Pirates fans heard a lot about all camp. Cherington and his staff took this into the 2020 MLB Draft, and executed a similar plan. Again, it was evident they were targeting pitchers who not only had projectable frames and good stuff, but also high spin rates.
Now that the season has started, Derek Shelton and Ben Cherington are finally getting to really assess their players. One area that has been very volatile so far has been the team’s bullpen. They have had some pretty poor performances but also had a few arms make up for it in the final game against the Cardinals. With the team focusing more on spin rate, at least publicly, let’s take a look at the bullpen’s best and worst spin rates so far:
JT Brubaker– 4-seam: 2405 rpm; sinker: 2356 rpm; slider: 2742 rpm; changeup: 1755 rpm
Nick Burdi: 4-seam: 2764 rpm; slider: 2615 rpm
Kyle Crick: 4-seam: 2382 rpm; slider: 2903
Richard Rodriguez: 4-seam: 2575 rpm; slider: 2407
Kyle Crick’s slider still spins at an elite level, but his velocity on the pitch is down. Over the last two year’s, Crick’s slider has sat around 3200 rpm’s and has averaged 81.5 miles per hour. This year, his velocity is down to 77.5 mph and the spin on the slider is down 300 rpm. His slider is just not as effective as it once was. The same can be said for his fastball, which is about league average. Again though, he averaged 95+ mph the last two years and is now at 91.7 mph this year and didn’t have that 95+ mph velocity in Summer Camp.
Looking at the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top two relievers and bottom relievers so far, one can see a difference. First and foremost, Nick Burdi has absolutely elite stuff. His fastball averaged 98.5 mph yesterday and his slider produced two of his strikeouts.
However, Brubaker is the one that stood out the most. He has been a rising prospect since the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him in the sixth round of the 2014 Draft. The former Akron Zip posted strong numbers at every level and likely would have made the team last year if not for an injury plagued season.
First and foremost, Brubaker showed a three-four-pitch mix yesterday, although according to Brooks Baseball he wasn’t actually throwing a sinker and given the high spin on those pitches, it checks out to be all four-seam fastballs. This could mean that his fastball just had some natural downward movement on it at times. Anyhow, his fastball spin rate is considered slightly above average. His slider is his big pitch and he showed it off yesterday. He was throwing it an impressive 87.9 miles per hour and combined with that spin rate, it grades out as a plus pitch. His changeup also plays slightly above average.
The fact that Brubaker has two above-average pitches and a plus slider suggests that he may be better served to be developed as a starter. Right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates do not have a spot for him in the rotation. However, things always come up and if he continues to pitch like he did yesterday, then he deserves a shot to start.
*All Numbers are Courtesy of Baseball Savant