Pittsburgh Pirates: Top Pitches Thus Far in 2021

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 09: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field on May 09, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 09: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field on May 09, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /
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We’re two months into the 2021 season, so let’s take a look at what have been the Pittsburgh Pirates most valuable pitches thrown this year

Throughout the offseason, we took a look at the Pittsburgh Pirates most valuable pitches from the 2020 season using run value. Run value, as described by Baseball Savant, is “the run impact of an event based on the runners on base, outs and ball and strike count”. RV/100 is run value averaged out for every 100 pitches thrown. For pitchers, they want to have a run value into the negatives. The lower it is, the better it is. Overall, a very simple and easy way to identify what pitches have been effective this year, and which ones haven’t for each pitcher.

We’re now two months into the 2021 season, so I want to take a look at what has so far been the best pitches Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers have thrown this year. We’ll take a look at what the best fastball is by just run value and RV/100, as well as the best breaking ball in terms of both stats.

Just by run value alone, Richard Rodriguez’s four-seam fastball has been the best pitch thrown by Pirates pitchers this year. It comes in with -9 RV. The right-hander’s fastball has been essentially his only pitch this year, as he’s thrown it 90.9% of the time. However, batters only have a .119 batting average, .164 slugging percentage, and .132 wOBA against the offering. His expected stats are also very good, sitting with a .162 xBA, .273 xSLG, and .192 xwOBA.

It’s worth noting that his fastball sits in the top 95th percentile in spin rate with 2582 RPM. Despite being a reliever and having almost 100 fewer fastballs thrown than most of his competition, he still tied with Brandon Woodruff, Tyler Glasnow, and Freddy Peralta in run value. He also has a pretty solid RV/100 of -3.4, which is the 8th best mark in all of baseball.

Rich Rod’s fastball is head and shoulder ahead of the rest of his teammates. The next highest run value on a Pirate fastball is Sam Howard’s at just -1. In RV/100, Trevor Cahill’s four-seamer comes in second with -2.1.

His four-seam fastball has helped him record a strong 0.86 ERA, 0.48 WHIP, and 1.74 FIP through his first 21 innings of work. Rich Rod isn’t getting many strikeouts, with a 22.2% strikeout rate. That’s a bit surprising for a guy with a well above 30% in two of his past 3 seasons, but his 1.4% walk rate leads all major league pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched.

The best breaking ball belongs to Pirate lefty Sam Howard. Howard’s devastating slider, which has 32 inches of vertical drop, has -4 RV. Opponents have only managed a .125 batting average, .167 slugging percentage, and .242 wOBA against the offering. His expected stats reflect similarly good numbers with a .158 xBA, .225 xSLG, and .272 xwOBA.

Howard throws this offering 51.2% of the time and only has a fastball/slider combo. But while Rodriguez hasn’t gotten many strikeouts this year, even on his fastball, Howard has gotten batters to whiff at his slider 48.6% of the time. His whiff rate on sliders ranks 36th among the 316 qualified pitchers. Batters swing and miss Howard’s slider more than they do against Blake Snell’s, Carlos Rodon’s, Trevor Rogers’s, and even Max Scherzer’s.

Though he doesn’t lead the way in RV/100 among Pittsburgh Pirates breaking balls, he still has a solid -2.2 mark. The best slider in terms of that is Kyle Crick’s with -3.6. Still, Howard has 3.06 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 4.60 FIP through 17.2 innings this year. His FIP looks as bad as it is because he’s struggled with walks and home runs. He currently has a poor 17.8% walk rate and HR/9 of 1.53. But he hasn’t let batters get a single hit in high leverage situations, or with runners in scoring position.

The best breaking ball in terms of RV/100 is Pittsburgh native and potential future closer David Bednar and his curveball. Bednar’s curveball has held batters to a minuscule .094 batting average and .182 wOBA. But he does have a .364 slugging percentage against the offering.

Batters haven’t made much contact with the pitch which has led to an outstanding 38.9% whiff rate. That currently ranks 48th among the 169 qualified pitchers with curveballs. But when they do make contact, they have a 50% hard-hit rate. This has led to a .270 xBA, .258 xSLG and .348 xwOBA. But his -4 RV/100 still ranks 9th in all of baseball. That’s still ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Matt Barnes, Brandon Woodruff, and even Tyler Glasnow. He still gets so many outs despite the hard-hit rate because of the 59.9 inches of drop can put on his curve.

Overall, has an outstanding 2.70 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 1.00 WHP through his first 20 innings of work. He has just a 7.6% walk rate and an outstanding 34.2% strikeout rate. But home runs have been an issue. He has given up the long ball at a 1.35 per-9 rate. Despite the poor hard-hit rate against his curveball and his not-so-pretty home run rate, Bednar has still kept opponents to an 88 MPH exit velocity (top 66th percentile) and 32.6% hard-hit rate (top 84th percentile).

Next. Ildarmo Vargas DFA’d. dark

All of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers we talked about today were bullpen arms, aside from the small mention of Trevor Cahill. The Bucs’ bullpen has been one of their strengths this year and could be one of their long-term strengths given that many of their top relief arms have more than just one or two years of control remaining.

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