Pittsburgh Pirates: It’s Time To Trade Steven Brault

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Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitcher Steven Brault is coming off a career best season, but should he be traded this off season?

One of the players the Pittsburgh Pirates have that has gotten some trade attention so far early in the offseason is left handed pitcher Steven Brault. Brault had a career year in 2020. Through 42.2 innings of work, Brault had a 3.38 ERA, 3.92 FIP and 1.20 WHIP.

He posted a career best strikeout rate of 21.3% and HR/9 of 0.42. However, there’s a decent case that the Pittsburgh Pirates should move Brault now rather than wait to trade him. But could holding onto him net the Pirates a better return?

On the surface, Brault had a good season, but there’s many underlying factors that are worrisome. Despite his good surface numbers, every single ERA predictor is in the 4’s or higher. Brault’s xFIP sat at 4.85 and his SIERA is at 5.07.

Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Run Average has him at 5.13 while his xERA on Baseball Savant was 4.49. Brault has struggled with control throughout his entire career and despite putting up better numbers in 2020, his walk rate was still a weak 12.4%. While we are looking at a pretty small sample size, it is noteworthy that Brault’s opponent batting average on balls in play was .243, which could indicate some good luck.

On the other hand, Brault had an outstanding 85.8 MPH exit velocity which sat in the top 89th percentile of all pitchers in baseball. He also had a solid hard hit rate of 32.7%, well above average in the 76th percentile. Brault’s ability to induce soft contact pairs well with his ground ball rate of 49.1% and career 45.8% mark. He was also above average in terms of xWOBA, xBA and xSLG. He also has average or better movement on his change up and slider.

A big reason the Pittsburgh Pirates might want to keep around Brault is his change in approach. Oscar Marin has looked like a great hire so far and Brault was one of his success stories from 2020. Brault used to use his fastball about half of the time. In 2019, it was used 50.6% of the time. However this year, he used it just 38.9% of the time. He also used his change up and slider much more often while dropping his cutter.

Brault has three years of control left, so if the Pittsburgh Pirates do want to trade him, they’re not in a rush to do so. His ERA estimators make his 2020 seem like a 2018 Trevor Williams situation. In 2018, Williams had a 3.11 ERA, but all of his ERA estimators predicted he got pretty lucky. Regression caught up to him and Williams was DFA’d after the 2020 season. However, what makes 2018 Williams and 2020 Brault different is the former’s success wasn’t fresh off a campaign where they had just hired a new pitching coach who made major changes to his approach.

Right now, aside from Ke’Bryan Hayes and possibly Bryan Reynolds, the Pittsburgh Pirates should be open to trade talks with any of their other players. Brault’s ERA estimators do not project a very good pitcher, yet we are talking about a small sample size where there was a major change in approach among all Pirate pitchers.

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Obviously, the Pirates shouldn’t just trade him to trade him, but they definitely should shop Brault and try and trade him while his value is at a career high with questions surrounding the sustainability of his 2020 performance. The starting pitching free agent market has thinned out significantly and there are still a handful of teams in need of another starter.