Pittsburgh Pirates: Anayzing Steven Brault After His Breakout Season


After years of being a fairly ineffective swingman, Steven Brault wraped up a solid 2020 season. So where does that leave his future?

Believe it or not, Steven Brault has been part of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for a total of six seasons. He was traded to the Pirates all the way back in the 2014-2015 off-season from the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Travis Snider. He wasn’t even the primary piece of this trade, as Stephen Tarpley was the primary piece heading to Pittsburgh, and Brault was named the player to be named later.

Though Brault never was one of the top pitching prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates, MLB Pipeline ranked him as the Pirates’ 24th best prospect by the end of the 2015 season. Brault made his debut on July 5th, 2016, and while he didn’t pitch well in his first year, Brault climbed the prospect ranks, ending the season as the team’s 14th best prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Through Brault’s first three seasons in the bigs, he didn’t really do all that much. The first 159.2 innings of his career yielded a 4.68 ERA, 4.82 FIP and 1.61 WHIP. Walks were what really killed Brault, as he surrendered them at a 11.9% rate, which is odd considering that was Brault’s biggest strength throughout his minor league career. He also only had a 5.08 xFIP and 4.94 SIERA, which were essentially pointing that Brault had been pitching to his results up to that point. He also had a solid 1.0 HR/9, but a weak 18.1% strikeout rate.

In 2019, however, Brault had a stretch of games where he was a fairly effective starter. From May 29th through August 27th, Brault was limited to just 63.1 innings of work because of an injury that kept him out most of July. But in those 63.1 innings, Brault worked for a 2.84 ERA, 3.40 FIP and 1.31 WHIP. He had gotten his control together to some degree with a 8.5% walk rate, and saw his HR/9 rate drop to just 0.4. His strikeout rate was sitting at 19.9% as well. Though his xFIP was 4.70, Brault overall, didn’t have an awful stretch of games in 2019. While his numbers did dip some in September, 10 of the 25 earned runs he surrendered were given up in a start in which he lasted just 2.2 innings.

So here we are, at the end of the 2020 season, and Brault has put the finishing touches on what has been his best major league season yet. Through 42.2 innings, Brault posted a 3.38 ERA, 3.90 FIP and 1.21 WHIP. Brault has seen his hits per 9 go down all the way to just 6.3. This is mainly due to him being able to induce a lot more soft contact.

His average exit velo in the four years prior was 89.1 MPH, but just 85.8 MPH this year. That is in the top 89th percentile of all batters. His hard hit rate of 32.7% sits in the top 76th percentile. Another big factor into why his home runs are down compared to years prior is that his opponent launch angle was 8.2 degrees compared to over 10 degrees previously. Now sure, Brault still struggles a bit with walks with a 12.4% walk rate, but he’s seen his HR/9 dip to just 0.4, and his strikeout rate rise above 20% to 21.3%. However, three of his 22 total walks came in a game where he failed to get one out before surrendering 4 runs.

However, keep this in mind. Brault has some extremely concerning peripherals like a 4.84 xFIP, 5.06 SIERA and 5.26 DRA. According to Baseball Savant, his xERA is 4.48 and his xWOBA was .313 while his actual wOBA was .263. Out of all of his ERA estimators, DRA is the most important as it takes into many factors that could affect his performance, but it’s the worst.

But if Brault can keep up the soft contact rates moving forward, he should be a solid pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball Savant’s expected batting average, which takes into account factors like launch angle, exit velocity, what type of batted ball (ground ball, fly ball, line drive, etc.), and even how fast the batter is, puts Brault above average at .231. His expected slugging is also above average at .359.

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Though his surface ERA looks great, I don’t think he’ll keep up a low-3s ERA. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll be ineffective. I could see him being a solid backend starter with an ERA in the high-3s or low-4s. The soft tosser relies on his defense, so if the Pittsburgh Pirates improve their defense then he might be better than a 3.80-4.20 ERA pitcher.