Wil Crowe’s first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates was an up and down one that saw him lead the club in starts made by a pitcher
When the Pittsburgh Pirates arrived in Bradenton back in February one of the questions that was in need of being answered is who would anchor the Pirate starting rotation. Steven Brault was expected to be the guy but then he got hurt and missed almost the entire season. Chad Kuhl battled injuries before being moved to the bullpen, Tyler Anderson was traded in July and Miguel Yajure battled injuries.
When the dust settled there was an unexpected leader in starts made by pitchers for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The leader wound up being righty Wil Crowe. After being acquired in the Josh Bell trade Crowe made a Pirate leading 24 starts in 25 appearances this season.
During the 2021 season Crowe took plenty of lumps with the Pirates. He posted a 5.77 ERA and a 5.91 FIP. In 110.2 innings pitched he walked 10.9% of batters faced and he stuck batters out at a 20.3% clip.
The biggest issue for Crowe was his battle with the long ball. He allowed 25 home runs in his 110.2 innings of work which came out to a home run rate of 2.03 HR/9. It goes without saying that this is an alarming home run rate.
His struggles with the home run ball came despite Crowe having a strong ground ball rate. Crowe induced ground balls at a 44% clip, which is 2% better than the Major League average. The problem was that 19% of the fly balls Crowe allowed landed in the seats for a home run.
Despite Crowe having a five-pitch arsenal his best long-term home may still be in the bullpen. Crowe’s biggest issue, his home run rate, is something that needs to be addressed. The best way to address and attempt to fix this issue could be to move him to the bullpen to limit the opportunities he has to allow home runs.
Crowe’s fastball was hit hard this season to the tune of a .328 batting average and a .597 slugging percentage. However, the pitch has better potential as it ranked 77th percentile of baseball in fastball spin rate. The pitch also had a RV/100 of +16, so the potential is there for Crowe’s fastball to be a plus pitch. A move to the bullpen where he can maximize the pitches velocity and potential.
His slider and changeup both flashed plus potential. His slider, which had a RV/100 of +6, had a 29.0% whiff rate while his curveball whiffed batters at a 20.6% rate to go with a RV/100 of +5. Both of these pitches could play up even more if he is pitching out of relief full-time, which could help to drop the .436 and .500 slugging percentage opposing batters had off the pitches this season.
Another reason moving Crowe to the bullpen would benefit him is due to his struggles the second and third time through a lineup. Crowe’s second time through a lineup opposing batters hit for a .250/.332/.469 slash line to go with 9 home runs allowed and a 4.80 ERA. The third time through the lineup this numbers jump to .299/.390/.612 slash line to go with 6 home runs allowed and a 10.21 ERA.
Entering spring training Crowe will have every opportunity to make the Opening Day roster of the 2022 Pittsburgh Pirates. While Crowe may start the season in the starting rotation due to need it would not be a surprise to see him move to the bullpen by the end of the season. If/when this happens, Crowe should then be able to begin to maximize his full potential as a MLB pitcher.