The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off of a terrible shortened 2020 season where they finished with the worst record in MLB. Almost every aspect of the team’s performance ranked at the bottom of the league, however, the starting pitchers did provide a few bright spots.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are entering the 2021 season with low expectations, but do have a group of young players that can provide some upside for the starting rotation. If this young rotation hits its stride in 2021, the group can easily rank in the middle of the pack of MLB starting rotations. Here are three goals for the starters that if met, will lead to some great 2021 results.
Goal #1: Limit the Home Runs
2019 was the year of the home run for MLB and 2020 wasn’t too far behind. Over 5% of baseballs that were thrown by starters and hit by batters across the league left the ball park. On average, this led to a HR/9 rate of 1.36 and a HR/FB rate of 15.8%, both numbers which rank easily towards the top of their respective categories in the annals of MLB history.
Home runs were arguably the largest problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates starters in 2020 as the group actually posted a decent ERA and good strikeout rates. The starters posted an ERA of 4.74, which was relatively close to league average and a K/9 rate of 8.78 which was above league average.
During the 2020 season the Pirate starting rotation ranked poorly in all home run related metrics. 19.3% of fly balls hit off of Pirate starting pitchers went for home runs in 2019 – well above the 15.8% league average rate. 19.3% was actually the second worst rate in the league.
The Pittsburgh Pirates did slightly better in the HR/9 inning category, giving up 1.69 home runs on average every nine innings. This was still above the league average, but at least the Pirates stayed out of the bottom five teams, ranking 6th in the metric.
So how can the Pittsburgh Pirates address the home run issue in 2021?
Well, part of the issue may have been solved with the offseason moves that the Pirates made. Derek Holland was a hopeful reclamation project acquisition by the Pirates in 2020. Sadly, Holland struggled tremendously with the Pirates and led the team in most home run related metrics. Holland posted a 3.42 HR/9 and a 29.4% HR/FB rate. Trevor Williams has always struggled with giving up home runs, but last year was especially rough. A 24.2% HR/FB rate and a 2.44 HR/9 put Williams right up there with Holland. With both Williams and Holland no longer with the Pirates, the starters will have a chance to limit opposing home runs more efficiently right out of the gate.
A second solution to the home run issue of 2020 is a repeat Steven Brault performance in 2021. Brault did a fantastic job in 2020 limiting opposing hitters from sending the ball into cutout filled bleachers. Brault posted a career low 5.9% HR/FB rate and a 0.42 HR/9. If some of the Pirates can take pointers from Brault and get the staff’s home run rates closer to league average than Oscar Marin should be extremely pleased.