Pittsburgh Pirates: Shutting Down JT Brubaker Should be Considered
By Marty Leap
With JT Brubaker looking like a pitcher who could be hitting a wall, the Pittsburgh Pirates should considering shutting him down for the season to help save his arm for next season and beyond
For much of the first four months of the season JT Brubaker appeared to be emerging as a potential building block in the starting rotation for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, Brubaker has since hit a wall. The 27-year-old righty looks like a pitcher who has hit a wall and could benefit from being shutdown for the season.
Through his first 14 starts this season Brubaker posted a 3.82 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 5.2% walk rate, 23.1% strikeout rate and was allowing home runs at a 1.51 HR/9 rate in 77.2 innings pitched. Outside of struggling a bit with the home run ball, all of these numbers for Brubaker were strong.
Brubaker’s past 7 starts, however, have been a complete 180. In 34.2 innings pitched his ERA is 8.05, to go with a 6.93 FIP and 9.0% walk rate. While his 23.9% strikeout rate has remained strong, his home run issues have only grown with his home run rate jumping to 3.12 HR/9.
Batters are also hitting the ball harder off of Brubaker. In his first 14 starts the average exit velocity for hitters against Brubaker was 88.0 MPH which is below MLB average. In his last 7 starts the average exit velocity has been 90.2 MPH. This 2.2 MPH increase puts opposing hitter’s exit velocity off of Brubaker during this stretch above MLB average.
The hard hit rate and barrel rates against Brubaker have also risen. Opposing batters had a 36.3% hard hit rate off of Brubaker in his first 14 starts, with that number growing to 42.2% his last 7 starts. His opposing barrel rate has risen from 7.5% to 10.8%.
Brubaker hitting a wall should not be a major surprise. He has pitched 112.1 innings thus far this season, the most since he pitched 154 innings combined between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Brubaker was limited to 27.2 innings in 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. Then the shortened 2020 season limited Brubaker to 47.1 innings in 11 games, 9 of which were starts.
A jump like this in work load for a young pitcher, especially one who has not thrown this many innings in over two calendar years, can often times lead to either injury or hitting a wall. Thankfully for Brubaker, he appears to be healthy but is hitting a wall.
At this point shutting Brubaker down could prove to be what’s best for his long-term development. Taking any injury risk the rest of the ways with Brubaker appearing to run out of steam, or simply giving him dead arm that could carry into the offseason and 2022, is not worth Brubaker getting an addition 3-5 starts this season, especially with the Pittsburgh Pirates being completely out of contention.