Pittsburgh Pirates: A Mid-Season Recap of the 2020 Campaign

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 30: The Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after beating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-1 at Miller Park on August 30, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. All players are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day, which was postponed April 15 due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 30: The Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after beating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-1 at Miller Park on August 30, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. All players are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day, which was postponed April 15 due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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ST LOUIS, MO – AUGUST 27: Jacob Stallings #58 of the Pittsburgh Pirates runs against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on August 10, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO – AUGUST 27: Jacob Stallings #58 of the Pittsburgh Pirates runs against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on August 10, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

The Good

Who’s the most underrated player in baseball right now? If you said anyone other than Jacob Stallings, you’re wrong. Stallings has been outstanding so far in 2020. Through 75 plate appearances, the backstop is hitting .323/.397/.415 with one home run, and three doubles. All coming to a 124 OPS+ and 128 wRC+. Among catchers with at least 70 plate appearances, he ranks 6th in wRC+ and 5th wOBA (.360). He also has a 10.7% walk rate, a decent amount higher from his 2019 mark of 7.6%.

Not only has Stallings been outstanding with the bat, but he’s going to be a Gold Glove finalist. Stallings has +5 DRS, has caught 45% of the runners trying to steal on him, compared to the 25% league average, and has been worth 0.8 framing runs above average per FanGraphs’ framing metric and 8th in Baseball Prospectus’ framing metric. Stallings leads all catchers in FanGraphs’ framing runs and DRS, and very few catchers in the National League, let alone baseball in general, have come close to bringing the defensive value Stallings has so far. The thing is that he hasn’t caught nearly as many innings as many of the other catchers in baseball either.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have also gotten solid seasons from Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, and Steven Brault. Williams has so far only had one really bad start. Before his most recent start, Williams had a 3.70 ERA, 4.22 FIP and 1.35 WHIP in 24.1 innings. With a 21.7% strikeout rate and walk rate of just 7.5%, Williams has been an overall above average pitcher.

Brault’s surface numbers aren’t all that pretty with a 4.80 ERA, 4.54 FIP, and 1.46 WHIP going into Sunday. He’s also walked more batters than he’s struck out with 11 walks and 9 strikeouts. But he currently only has an opponent exit velocity of 86.9 MPH, and 21.4% soft contact rate. Plus in four of his first six outings, he’s allowed no runs.

Then on Sunday, Brault made that five out of seven outings. Lowering his ERA to 4.00 and FIP to 3.92.

Kuhl has seemed to have found his groove after missing all of 2019 from Tommy John surgery. In 25 innings, Kuhl is pitching to the tune of a 2.52 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Though ERA estimators only pin him with a 5.46 FIP, 4.97 xFIP, 5.04 SIERA, and 4.75 DRA, Kuhl is still able to get his fastball into the 94 MPH range. Really good considering that he did have TJ surgery. Hopefully, this is the start of some progress for Kuhl to be an effective MLB pitcher.

In the bullpen, it’s been nice to see the emergence of Chris Stratton and Geoff Hartlieb. Though Stratton does have a 4.50 ERA, he carries a solid 3.33 FIP, 3.41 xFIP, 3.23 SIERA, and 3.26 DRA, meaning he’s gotten a bit unlucky. His 28.8% strikeout rate is a career high by a fair margin, as well as his 7.6% walk rate.

Hartlieb has been a solid relief pitcher through 13.2 innings as well. Currently, he has a 2.63 ERA, but his FIP (4.38) and xFIP (4.86) don’t paint him in a great light. This is because Hartlieb currently has a 21.7% strikeout rate and 15.0% walk rate. However, considering that he has never had a strikeout rate below 22% the last three years, and a walk rate higher than 10% in that time as well, Hartlieb has the track record to become a real force out of the pen.

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