Pittsburgh Pirates: Kyle Crick Could Be A Non-Tender Candidate

Following a strong 2018 season, relief pitcher Kyle Crick has been on the downfall ever since. This off-season could be the end of his tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Early in the 2019 season it would have sounded insane for the Pittsburgh Pirates to consider right handed relief pitcher Kyle Crick a non-tender candidate. But here we are after a terrible 2019 season and major arm issues in 2020, Crick’s future with the Bucs looks pretty bleak.

Crick was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates, along with Bryan Reynolds, in the trade that sent Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants. Crick had previously been a top 100 prospect in the mid-2010s, but continuously struggled with walks, mainly due to his inability to control his high-90s fastball.

In 2014, MLB Pipeline gave it a 70 grade, and topped out at 98 MPH. Crick was eventually moved to the bullpen because of his control issues, and made his debut in 2017. He pitched 32.1 innings and had a 3.06 ERA and 3.90 FIP, but poor peripherals including a 12.7% walk rate, 20.9% strikeout rate, 5.30 xFIP, and 4.80 SIERA.

Following the trade to Pittsburgh, Crick had his breakout season in 2018. He pitched in 64 games, and threw 60.1 innings. In those 60.1 innings, Crick was extremely effective with a 2.39 ERA, 3.14 FIP and 1.12 WHIP. Crick, who once had a 16.1% walk rate throughout his Double-A career, posted a walk rate of just 9.0% to go with a strong 25.5% strikeout rate. Combined with his 0.4 HR/9 rate, and he looked to be a long term building block. Add in his 86.6 MPH exit velocity, and Crick was not giving up any hard hit balls.

However, there were some warning signs of regression. Crick, despite his strong results, had a 4.00 xFIP, 3.57 SIERA and 4.41 DRA. These warning signs proved to be precursors of things to come in 2019.

Regression sure caught up to Crick in 2019. Though it was an injury limited 49 innings, Crick posted a 4.96 ERA, 5.95 FIP and 1.55 WHIP. Home runs became a massive issue. His home run rate was nearly five times higher than what it was in 2018, skyrocketing all the way to 1.8 HR/9.

Walks became an issue once again for the right hander who allowed 15.5% of the batters he faced to reach via free pass. He did keep an extremely strong strikeout rate of 27.7%, and was even in the top 5% of the league in hard hit rate (29.3%), and top 9% of the league in exit velo (86.8 MPH). But his ERA estimators painted a pretty bad picture with a 4.74 SIERA, 5.33 xFIP and 5.56 DRA.

So here we are in 2020. The once promising right hander is coming off a season where he appeared in just seven of the 60 games played by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Additionally, he pitched just 5.2 innings. Crick only allowed one earned run in those 5.2 innings, but walked four batters and gave up seven hits.

Now granted, you can’t take statistics like that into great detail given the small sample size, but a bigger, much more worrisome issue was plaguing Crick throughout the year. Crick has seen his pitch velocity take a dive off a cliff.

As MLB Pipeline said, he averaged out in the mid-to-high-90s. In his first season, Crick averaged 95.8 MPH on his fastball. In his breakout 2018 campaign, it was up to 96.4 MPH. In 2019, it dropped down to 95.4 MPH. But throughout 2020, including in Summer Camp, Crick was struggling to keep the pitch above 90 MPH. Overall, he averaged 91.4 MPH, marking a severe 4 MPH loss between 2019 and 2020, and 6 MPH drop since his 2018 campaign. Fastball velocities across the board were up, as the average fastball went from 93.6 MPH in 2019 to 93.7 MPH in 2020, but it’s extremely concering to see such a drop in velocity.

Crick will enter his first year of arbitration, but given his large drop in velocity, and his ERA estimators already pointing toward a solid but unspectacular pitcher at his best, there’s a possibility the right-hander gets non-tendered. Now granted, he was paid just $581,100 which was slightly above the league minimum, and wouldn’t be paid much more, if any more, in 2021. There wouldn’t be much risk in going through arbitration right now as if he struggles again, you can always non-tender him next season. If he does well, then he might gain some trade interest.