Pittsburgh Pirates: Analyzing Cody Ponce’s Debut Season

One of the pitchers that made their MLB debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020 was Cody Ponce, let’s analyze his debut season.

Even though the 2020 season was just 60 games, plenty of players still made their MLB debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pitcher Blake Cederlind and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes are likely the first two players that come to mind for fans in terms of players who debuted in 2020. Another player that debuted in 2020 was pitcher Cody Ponce.

Ponce was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers last July. After coming to the Pirates, Ponce pitched in three games with Double-A Altoona and four with Triple-A Indianapolis. Six of these seven outings were as a starting pitcher.

When the 2020 regular season finally began, the Pittsburgh Pirates assigned Ponce to the alternate training site in Altoona. After working on things there, he made his MLB debut on August 2nd. This would be the first of five appearances in 2020 for Ponce.

In his five outings, Ponce pitched 17 innings. He posted a 3.18 ERA, 5.67 FIP and a 7.08 DRA. Obviously, his ERA was much better than his ERA indicators. This is something that is always a red flag.

Ponce walked 9.1% of batters faced and struck out 18.2%. One area he struggled with was the home run ball. Ponce allowed five home runs in just 17 innings pitched, which comes out to a rate of 2.65 HR/9.

Opposing batters had a 88.7 MPH exit velocity off of Ponce, which is average, and a hard hit rate of 33.3%. His hard hit rate was just a tick below leageu average. What was concerning, however, is that Ponce had an opposing barrel rate of 14.6%. This is 8% higher than league average, and likely contributed to his home run woes.

37% of the time Ponce threw his fastball. This was the highest usage of any of his pitches, and the pitched was in the 95th percentile of baseball in fastball spin rate. Opposing batters were just 2-for-17 against the pitch, including just two extra base hits.

His curveball also flashed as a quality pitch with a 32.3% whiff rate. Opposing batters were also just 2-for-17 off of the curveball, but he did not allow a single extra base hit off the pitch. This was his best pitch in 2020.

He also mixed in a cutter and a change up, but the results were not as strong. Opposing batters slugged .882 off of his cutter and 1.000 off of his change up. Each pitch surrendered a pair of home runs.

A lack of a third quality pitch is certainly a concern for Ponce moving forward. This off-season and into next spring, he will work to try and develop said pitch. Where his future takes him will likely hinge on this.

Looking ahead to 2021, Ponce will likely enter spring training in the mix to make the Opening Day roster for the Pittsburgh Pirates. If he were to do so, it would almost assuredly be as a reliever. Without a quality third pitch, it is tough to envision Ponce finding consistent MLB success as a starting pitcher.

His most likely destination to start the 2021 season is Triple-A Indianapolis. With the Indians, he would work as a starting pitcher.