JT Brubaker’s long-term role was a bit up in the air after 2020, but the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher is looking more like a long-term rotation piece.
Heading into 2021, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander JT Brubaker’s potential long-term role was a bit up in the air. He looked fantastic as a reliever in 2020, but he also had some really solid starts in his rookie campaign. But after his first three starts to 2021, Brubaker looks like his long-term home with the Pittsburgh Pirates could be the starting rotation.
First, let’s take a look at his 2020 season, at least his starts. Overall, he tossed 42.1 innings in the rotation putting up a mediocre 5.53 ERA, 4.33 FIP and 1.42 WHIP. He also didn’t have great peripherals either. He struck out just 22.2% of all the batters he faced while combating that with a solid, albeit mediocre 8.6% walk rate. His HR/9 rate also wasn’t great at 1.28. He did show some promise though and the potential to lower his HR/9 as well. Brubaker was above average in terms of opponent exit velocity (87.1 MPH), hard hit rate (32.8%) and ground ball rate (46.7%).
Going into 2021, Brubaker was given a rotation spot and has looked great in his first few starts. He’s only pitched 15.1 innings, but has surrendered only 3 earned runs. Brubaker has lowered his HR/9 to 0.6. Going into Friday, he had a 86.6 MPH exit velo and 32% hard hit rate, both of which are improvements over 2020. He’s also gotten more ground balls with a 55.3% rate. Opponents have a max exit velocity of just 106.2 MPH, which is much lower than the 114 MPH mark he had in 2020.
Brubaker has increased his strikeout rate as well. His strikeout rate currently sits at 27.3%. Meanwhile, he’s seen his walk rate lower to just 7.6%. All told, Brubaker has a 1.76 ERA, 3.60 FIP and 1.04 WHIP. His biggest struggles have been hit by pitches. He’s hit as many batters as he’s walked, that being 5. If you take out those HBPs, his FIP lowers to just 2.64.
He also has put up some pretty solid ERA estimators. He currently sits with a 3.76 xFIP and 3.35 SIERA. While they haven’t been as kind to him, he also has a 4.12 xERA and 4.02 DRA. Both are still solid numbers. Now ovbisously, he’s only had 15.1 innings in 2021 so far. It’s a small sample size, but a promising one to say the least.
Currently, the Pittsburgh Pirates amount of young pitchers in their organization is one of, if not their biggest strength. Quinn Priester, Brennan Malone, Miguel Yajure, Tahnaj Thomas are just four of Pittsburgh’s highest ranking pitching prospects. That’s not even mentioning others like Cody Bolton, Roansy Contreras, Eddy Yean and the handful of others that currently reside in the minors but have high upside. Plus they’ll likely add another pitcher with ace potential as Jack Leiter looks like the frontrunner to be drafted first overall by the Pirates/.
As we’ve talked about before, you can’t essentially leave the back end of the rotation up for grabs. You need to have some semblance of stability in the number four and five spots. The 2013-2015 Pittsburgh Pirates suffered the consequences of this and it seems like something general manager Ben Cherington wants to amend.
While Brubaker may never be an ace or top of the rotation starting pitcher, if he can consistently pitch 160-180 innings a year while putting up a 3.50 ERA/3.80 FIP, he’ll easily find a spot in the Pirates rotation for the long term. So far in 2021, he’s looked much improved from his rookie campaign.