Pittsburgh Pirates: Projecting JT Brubaker’s Long Term Home

JT Brubaker made his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, while he mainly served as a starting pitcher, his long term home should be the bullpen.

Pittsburgh Pirates right handed pitcher JT Brubaker made his long awaited debut during the 2020 season. Most of his appearances came out of the starting rotation. However, there’s a good argument to be made that his long term home is the bullpen.

Brubaker was developed as a starting pitcher. At Triple-A, the right-hander started all 26 games he pitched in, racking up 140 innings. As one of the Indianapolis Indians’ starters, Brubaker put up a solid 3.02 ERA, 3.43 FIP and 1.28 WHIP. He also had a strong 0.6 HR/9 rate and 6.8% walk rate. He didn’t strike out many batters, though, putting up a 19.7% strikeout rate.

Brubaker would have made his debut in 2019 had it not been for an injury that limited him to just 27.2 innings throughout the entire season. However, he finally made it to the Majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020 and pitched 47.1 total innings.

Overall, Brubaker struggled to a 4.94 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, but had much better 4.08 FIP. 4.14 xFIP and 4.28 SIERA. He also had a solid 23.8% strikeout rate, 8.3% walk rate and 1.14 HR/9. His bottom line stats are a bit misleading though. He had one clunker of a start where he gave up seven earned runs on two home runs in 5.1 innings of work. Aside from that one game, Brubaker had a much better 4.07 ERA, 3.64 FIP and 1.31 WHIP.

Brubaker also had a strong exit velocity in the top 71st percentile (87.1 MPH) and hard hit rate in the top 75th percentile (32.8%). Those numbers go well with his 46.7% ground ball rate. The right-hander also has a solid arsenal of pitches. Brubaker’s slider was one of his most effective pitches, averaging 2634 RPM, 87.5 MPH and having -2 total run value. He also has a good curveball that had -1 run value while ranking in the top 88th percentile of curveball spin rate (2857 RPM).

However, his stuff would play up in the bullpen. In the 5 innings he did pitch out of the pen, Brubaker’s sinker averaged out around 95 MPH. However out of the rotation, he lost a whole MPH off of the pitch. Plus in those 5 innings, Brubaker was super dominant. He only allowed four hits, a single walk while striking out seven of the 20 batters he faced.

Brubaker may be a rotation candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates entering 2021. While I do think he’ll get a shot as a starter, his long term home should be the bullpen. The Pirates have many young, more talented arms coming up through the farm from Quinn Priester, to Cody Bolton, Brenann Malone and Eddy Yean. Brubaker would have more going for him in the bullpen could even develop into one of the team’s best high leverage, late inning arms.