Pittsburgh Pirates: 2021 an Important Season for JT Brubaker


During the 2020 season JT Brubaker made his MLB debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Brubaker made the team’s Opening Day roster in July and remained on the roster for the entire season, splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen.

In total, Brubaker logged 47.1 innings in 11 games, nine of which were starts. Brubaker pitched to the tune of a 4.94 ERA, 4.08 FIP and a 4.51 DRA in these 47.1 innings of work. This included a 8.3% walk rate and a strong 23.4% strikeout rate.

Entering the 2021 season the question is becomes what is Brubaker’s long term future? Will he be a reliever or a starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates? Figuring this out makes 2021 an important season for Brubaker.

Following the 2018 season Brubaker appeared to be well on his way to being a long term fixture in the Pirate starting rotation. Between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, Brubaker made 28 starts and pitched 154 innings. He posted a 2.81 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 0.47 HR/9, 6.8% walk rate, and a 20.2% strikeout rate on his way to being named the Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018.

Entering the 2019 season Brubaker appeared to be on the doorstep of the Majors. However, after just four starts at the Triple-A level the injury bug started to bite. This cut his season short and pushed his MLB debut back to 2020.

During his nine starts in 2020 Brubaker posted a 5.53 ERA, but this does not tell the whole story. His 8.6% walk rate and 22.2% strikeout rates as a starting pitcher were solid. Seven of the 26 runs and two of the six home runs he allowed as a starting pitcher came in one poor start against the Chicago White Sox. If you take away this start his ERA as a started drops by over a run and his home run rate drops to 1.07 HR/9.

That said, in his two relief outings Brubaker was dominant. In 5.0 relief innings pitched he allowed just four hit, walked one and struck out 7 of the 20 batters he faced (35.0% strikeout rate). He did not allow a run in any of these outings.

Where Brubaker begins the 2021 season could hinge largely on what the Pittsburgh Pirates do the rest of the offseason. There continues to be trade rumors swirling around Pirate starter Jameson Taillon, and Steven Brault has drawn trade interest this offseason as well.

If one or both of these pitchers are traded before Opening Day, Brubaker will undoubtedly start the season in the Pirate starting rotation. Even if neither of these players are traded, that could still happen with Brubaker likely battling it out with Wil Crowe for the final spot in the team’s rotation.

Even if Brubaker starts the 2021 season in the Pirate bullpen, odds are, he will get an opportunity to start games at some point during the season. Injuries, pitchers struggling, etc. will happen and create opportunities.

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If/when Brubaker is starting he pitches well he will solidify himself as building block for the Pirate rotation moving forward. If he struggles, his future could then be in the bullpen where he was dominant in two outings last season. Regardless of how things shake out, 2021 will be an important season for Brubaker and determining his long term role with the Pittsburgh Pirates.