Pittsburgh Pirates: Max Kranick’s Potential Role in 2022

ST LOUIS, MO - JUNE 27: Max Kranick #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on June 27, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - JUNE 27: Max Kranick #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on June 27, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-hander Max Kranick had mixed results in his first season, but what does 2022 hold for the prospect?

Last year, one of the highlights of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2021 season was Max Kranick’s debut. He fired 5 perfect innings vs the St. Louis Cardinals and likely would have pitched more had it not been for a rain delay. The right-hander is in the running for a rotation spot to start 2022, but what role will he spend next year?

After his fantastic debut, Kranick struggled in his next 8 games. In his next 33.2 innings, he would surrender 27 earned runs on 28 hits. He walked 19 with just 29 strikeouts. Overall, it was a very poor stretch for the right-hander.

Now granted, there was some bad luck involved. He had a .387 batting average on balls in play during this stretch. Plus he had an 88.2 MPH exit velocity and a 33.9% hard-hit rate. Both of which were slightly better than league average. Part of the problem was that he had poor batted ball rates. The right-hander had a 33.1% ground ball rate, 23.4% line drive rate, and 43.5% fly ball rate.

There are some underlying numbers to suggest that Kranick can be better. For one, he had a .325 xwOBA. His opponent’s actual wOBA sat at .364. Opponents also only had a .258 xBA and .398 xSLG compared to his actual .301 and .468 batting average and slugging percentage against, respectively. While none of those numbers are great, it’s an improvement over what he actually did during his first taste of major league play.

Kranick’s arsenal consists of fastball, slider, curveball, and change-up. Among his four offerings, his fastball is his best weapon. He throws it around 94 MPH but tops out around 98 MPH. FanGraphs projects this to be a 55-grade offering. His slider/cutter is another offering considered average with slurve-like break to his glove side (per FanGraphs). According to FanGraphs, all of his offerings flash average potential. But they all currently sit at a below-average level. It also doesn’t help his command is on the fringy side, projecting at just a 45.

The right-hander struggles to get swings and misses. His biggest strength is preventing home runs. His highest single-season home run rate came this year where he had a 1.0 HR.9 between Double-A and Triple-A. Even in the majors, he had a solid 0.93 HR/9 rate despite a fly ball rate well above 40%.

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Kranick flashes the potential of a solid back-end starting pitcher, one that usually sits in the 4.00-4.50 ERA range. Currently, the Pittsburgh Pirates look to start the year with Mitch Keller, Bryse Wilson, Miguel Yajure, and the back-half consisting of a mix of JT Brubaker, José Quintana, Wil Crowe, Kranick, and Dillon Peters. Kranick definitely will be in that mix to secure a rotation spot, though even if he misses out, his stuff could play up nicely in the bullpen. Still, I’d like to see the Pirates at least give him a few more outings as a starting pitcher before moving him to the bullpen.

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