Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential LHP Free Agent Target

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 30: Roenis Elias #29 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on August 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 30: Roenis Elias #29 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on August 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates could use another left handed pitcher on the roster and Roenis Elias would provide that along with some roster flexibility.

Roster flexibility should definitely be one of the list of things the Pittsburgh Pirates need to add. In the last two seasons the Bucs have suffered many different injuries, especially to their pitching staff. Having a few swing man type pitchers would definitely help the team and left-handed pitcher Roenis Elias would fit that mold.

Elias looked like a potential long term building block for the Seattle Mariners back in 2014. During his rookie campaign, he pitched to the tune of a 3.85 ERA, 4.03 FIP and 1.31 WHIP across 163.2 innings. While he wasn’t a strikeout machine with a 20.6% strikeout rate nor a control master with a walk rate of 9.2%, he posted a solid HR/9 of 0.88. Plus, he had a 3.95 xFIP, 3.96 SIERA and strong 3.37 DRA.

However, Elias would struggle across the next three seasons, not necessarily because of performance, but because of injury. He would pitch just 123.1 innings from 2015 to 2017 with the Mariners and Boston Red Sox. Most of his innings came in 2015 when he threw 115.1 innings. Injuries also caused him to miss the shortened 2020 season, however, he’s been a decent pitcher when healthy.

Elias latched back on with the Mariners for the 2018 season and had a solid year and a half run with his first ballclub. He pitched a total of 98 innings in 67 games including four starts. All told he had a 3.12 ERA, 3.84 FIP and 1.22 WHIP. Elias didn’t strikeout many batters again with a 19.1% strikeout rate but did see his walk rate go down to 8%. Notably, his HR/9 stayed relatively similar to his rookie season at just -.83. Elias did struggle after being traded to the Washington Nationals in 2019. However, it was only 4.0 innings. Elias not only served as a swing man and long relief pitcher, but he was even the M’s closer to start 2019 recording 14 saves for the team.

While Elias had a 4.83 xFIP, 4.53 SIERA and DRA above 5.00 in both seasons with the M’s, he did have solid batted ball numbers including an above average 87.6 MPH exit velocity and 33.1% hard hit rate. Plus, Baseball Savant had him for a sub-4 xERA in 2018.

Elias has a four pitch mix and one that would definitely entice the Pittsburgh Pirates. His most used pitch is his four-seam fastball. Although he’s not a flamethrower, he still throws it around 94 MPH with excellent movement both horizontally and vertically. Impressively, the pitch ranked in the top 91st percentile of fastball spin rate with 2479 RPM.

His next pitch is his change up. Although it only has 29.3 inches of vertical drop which is 6% below average, its horizontal movement is well above average with 18.1 inches of movement. The third pitch that Elias throws is a curveball, and it’s one that has 61.3 inches of drop and 2686 RPM of spin. His fourth pitch is a sinker. Elias throws this about as hard as his fastball with relatively the same spin. While it does have less vertical movement on average, it has more drop to it.

Currently the Pittsburgh Pirates have four left handed pitchers on their roster. Those include Steven Brault, Sam Howard, Nik Turley and Austin Davis. However, if they trade Brault, whose name has been brought up in trade rumors, they would be left with no left-handed pitchers who have a notable amount of MLB experience as starters. Howard was a starter for most of his minor league career, but the bullpen seems to be his long term home. The same can be said for Turley. Davis hasn’t been a consistent starter since 2015 and even then, he only started 11 of the 30 games he played.

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Elias has served multiple different roles throughout his career which would make him a solid pitcher to have in the pen. Plus he’s a left hander with plenty of experience pitching out of the rotation and pen. Elias has a high spin rate fastball and curveball, which are two things the Pittsburgh Pirates seem to like with the pitchers they bring in. Elias would not cost much after missing the 2020 season, however he’s to put on a showcase in Texas soon for teams to see what he has after the long layoff. Pirate scouts may be in attendance given the flexibility he has, the relatively cheap price and what he throws.