With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training later this month the Pittsburgh Pirates have to be in the market to add to their bullpen. One of their targets in free agency should be former Philadelphia Phillies reliever Tommy Hunter.
During the 2020 season the bullpen of the Pittsburgh Pirates vastly improved from their disastrous 2019 season. The Bucco bullpen went from one of the worst in baseball in 2019, to 14th in fWAR in MLB during the 2020 season.
Entering the 2021 season, the Pirates’ depth in both the bullpen and starting rotation has been quietly accumulating. This is due to recent trades and players returning from injuries/suspensions, such as Kyle Crick and Edgar Santana, the latter who last pitched in 2018.
Richard Rodriquez will likely be the closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates when the season begins with Chris Stratton factoring in as one of their better relievers on the team. Behind them will likely be guys like Geoff Hartleib, Sam Howard, newly acquired David Bednar, and possibly Blake Cederlind, among others. The Pirates can add another strong relief option to the pen in veteran reliever Tommy Hunter.
Hunter pitched 24.2 innings with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020, posting a 3.31 FIP along side a 4.01 ERA and a 24.5% strikeout rate in the shortened season. Due to injury, Hunter did not pitch much in 2019 after inking a two-year $18M deal with the Phillies. His performance in 2020 lines up with his career numbers.
Ever since switching to a full-time reliever in 2013 Hunter has posted a 3.24 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 394 innings over the course of seven seasons. His fastball has seen a velocity dip since his injuries, but his spin rate ranks in the 93rd percentile, according to Baseball Savant. He has also has a sinker that can be very good in addition.
Hunter does not walk many batters, as his career 5.4% walk rate indicates. He doesn’t give up many home runs, either, which is something he struggled with as a starting pitcher earlier in his career. He has posted lower than a 4.00 SIERA, which is a measurement like FIP but includes a pitcher’s batted ball profile, in every season since converting to the bullpen.
He has a very good curveball, the spin rate of which ranks in the 88th percentile around the league. It is by far his best pitch, which makes him an intriguing prospect for Pirates’ new pitching philosophy. His curveball both misses bats and limits contact, posting a 44.9% whiff rate and a .295 xwOBA in 2020.
Despite receiving $9M a couple seasons ago, Hunter’s injury-plagued 2019 season decreased his monetary value in free agency. According to Fangraphs, Hunter’s AAV is just $2.5M, a price tag that the Pittsburgh Pirates can certainly afford as their payroll is the lowest in the league at this point in time. The Pirates can grab him on a one-year deal and, if worse comes to worst, trade him alongside Stratton and Rodriguez at the deadline.
The Pirate bullpen could be sneaky good in 2021. Adding Hunter would improve the bullpen even further. The front office has been looking to spend money prior to the start of the season, and this low-cost value add should be well within their budget and in their discussions.