Pittsburgh Pirates: Wil Crowe’s Future with the Club


Wil Crowe has mostly pitched out of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation this year, but could the bullpen be his long term home?

This past offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates traded switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals on Christmas Eve. For the former All-Star they received two pitching prospects. The first was young right-hander Eddy Yean. The other was a MLB ready pitcher in right-hander Wil Crowe. So far this season, Crowe has spent most of his time in the Pirate starting rotation. However, should that be his permanent home?

Crowe has served almost exclusively out of the rotation throughout the minor leagues. He’s only ever twice appeared out of the bullpen since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft. Crowe has a 4.03 ERA, 3.88 FIP and 1.29 WHIP through 290 innings across four different levels of the minor leagues.

Crowe was more of a control pitcher throughout the minors. He had a very solid 0.87 HR/9 rate and 8.2% walk rate. Strikeouts weren’t the most common ability for Crowe though. He only had a 19.8% strikeout rate. However, he was best at generating ground balls. Crowe has failed to reach a ground ball rate higher than 42% at just one level, that being when he played at the Nats’ Triple-A affiliate in 2019. He also played 8.2 innings in the Majors in a National uniform in 2020.

So far with the Pittsburgh Pirates he’s appeared in four games for the team. He’s tossed a total of 15.2 innings with most of his time coming out of the rotation. 15 of his 15.2 innings pitched has come as a starting pitcher. He’s also increased his innings worked in each start, going 4, 5 and now 6 innings pitched.

Crowe’s first two starts did not go as well as he or the Pittsburgh Pirates had hoped for. He pitched just a combined 9 innings between the two starts, walking more batters than he struck out while giving up 7 hits and 4 earned runs. His third and most recent start has been his most impressive. Against a heating up Cub lineup Crowe went 6 innings allowing just 4 hits, no walks, no home runs, 2 earned runs and striking out 5.

But should the Pittsburgh Pirates leave Crowe in the rotation or move him to the bullpen?

Well, Crowe’s arsenal would definitely play up out of the pen. Crowe has shown he can touch 95-96 MPH and averages out in the 92-94 MPH range most of the time. In his last, and best start, this is right around where Crowe was working (92-94 MPH). He also incorporates a slider, changeup and curveball. This trio of offerings usually stays in the low-80s range.

If Crowe were to be moved to the pen, we might see his fastball velocity take a small tick forward, maybe seeing him work more in the 94-96 MPH range rather than the 92-94 MPH range. His overall arsenal would also play up as he would be a reliever with a four-pitch mix unless he drops one of his offerings to focus on another.

Looking at the current rotation situation and the overall state of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there’s no harm in at least seeing what he can do in the starting rotation. Slotting him in as the 5th starter for now only can help the Pirates.

Tyler Anderson and JT Brubaker have looked outstanding this season. Mitch Keller has at times been dominant and Trevor Cahill has had his moments as well. Chad Kuhl, who is currently on the IL, has been the only starter to struggle through-and-through.

But long term, I believe Crowe will eventually end up in the bullpen. Unless he starts doing something impressive out of the rotation this year, he currently projects as just a back of rotation starting pitcher. While there absolutely is value in those kinds of pitchers, the Pirates have an abundance of starting pitching prospects and some are bound to end up in the bullpen.

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However, that doesn’t mean that Crowe will be worthless to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not being specifically a high-leverage, late-inning arm doesn’t mean that he won’t be a potentially valuable member of the team’s next playoff-ready core. Plenty of contenders have made it far with multi-inning swingmen as important pieces of their bullpen, which is exactly the role I could see him functioning in.