Pittsburgh Pirates: Nick Tropeano Has Earned a 2021 Bullpen Spot

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 25: Nick Tropeano #72 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the sixth inning on August 25, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 25: Nick Tropeano #72 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the sixth inning on August 25, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /
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After dominating out of the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020, Nick Tropeano has earned a spot in the team’s 2021 bullpen.

During the 2020 season, despite the team’s 19-41 record, there were players who surprised in a positive way for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Colin Moran found a power surge and emerged as a middle of the line up bat, Ke’Bryan Hayes was the best rookie in the National League, and Richard Rodriguez bounce back in the bullpen, to name a few.

Another plesant surprise for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020 was reliever Nick Tropeano. After being claimed off waivers by the Bucs in August, Tropeano was given a spot in the team’s bullpen. He did not just settle into this spot, but went on to grab the bull by the horns.

Tropeano pitched in 15.2 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games with the club. The veteran righty posted a sparkling 1.15 ERA, to go wit ha 2.25 FIP in his 15.2 innings of work with the Priates.

Tropeano walked 6.1% of the batters he faced, while posting a healthy 28.8% strikeout rate. Both of these were career bests for the six year MLB veteran. In 15.2 innings pitched, Tropeano allowed just 14 hits. This included just one of the 14 hits being a home run.

Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, Tropeano had worked mostly as a starting pitched. He made 38 appearances with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the past six seasons, with 35 of them being starts. With the Pirates, however, he pitched solely out of the bullpen, and with his outstanding results out of the ‘pen he has earned a spot in the team’s 2021 bullpen.

With his starting experience, Tropeano can do a little bit of everything out of the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates. This just adds to his value. He can be a one inning reliever for manager Derek Shelton, while also being able to give Shelty and the Bucs length.

Driving Tropeano’s strong season was a change up in pitch usage. After throwing his four-seamed fastball 40.7% of the time in 2019, this number plummeted to 25.2% in 2020. His slider usage spiked from 24.2% to 35.5%, and his split finger usage went from 9.2% to 21.9%.

Each of these pitches benefitted from the change in usage by Tropeano. The opposing slugging percentage off of his four-seamer dropped from .542 in 2019 to .333 in 2020. The pitch also was in the 68th percentile in baseball in fastball spin rate.

His lsider whiff rate rose from 42.3% to 52.9%, while the opposing slugging percentage dropped from .417 to .125. The opposing exit velocity off his slider also dropped by 4 MPH in 2020. His split finger also experienced a rise in whiff rate, going from 36.4% in 2019 to 44.4% in 2020.

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With a change in pitch usage, Tropeano put together a terrific season for the Pirates in 2020. With his 2020 results and flexibility out of the bullpen, Tropeano has earned a spot in the 2021 Pirate bullpen. Assuming he is still a Pirate when spring training rolls around, that is.