Pittsburgh Pirates 2022 Outlook: Reliever Sam Howard


Despite posting up-and-down results out of the bullpen the past two seasons, lefty Sam Howard should get another opportunity with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2022

Early in the 2021 season left-handed reliever Sam Howard was pitching as well as anyone in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. However, following a strong start to the season Howard struggled mightily in the final four months of the season.

When the dust settled Howard posted a 5.60 ERA and a 4.68 FIP in 45 innings pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates. While Howard did post a healthy 30.2% strikeout rate, he struggled with control  walking 16.1% of batters faced. Howard also allowed 7 home runs which came out to a home run rate of 1.40 HR/9.

The 2021 season that Howard post was very similar to his 2020 campaign. In both seasons he posted a strikeout rate of 30%+ while struggling with his control. In addition to his high walk rate from the 2021 season, Howard walked batters at a 10% clip in 2020.

2020 also saw Howard struggle with the long ball. Howard allowed 4 home runs in 21 innings pitched during the 2020 season which led to him posting a 1.71 HR/9. All of this led to Howard posting a 4.81 FIP despite having a 3.86 ERA.

Looking ahead to the 2022 season Howard should start the season in the Pirate bullpen. While he has struggled with his control and limiting the home run ball the past two seasons the Pittsburgh Pirates are lacking left-handed relief options.

Additionally, Howard has flashed more than enough potential the past two seasons to earn another opportunity in 2022. Howard’s fastball spin rate was in the 79th percentile of baseball last season. While opposing batters slugged .408 off the pitch, it limited opposing batters to a .216 batting average to go with a 34% whiff rate.

Howard’s slider limited opposing batters to a .190 batting average and .274 slugging percentage against. The pitch also generated a healthy 40.8% whiff rate. This marked the second consecutive season in which Howard’s slider generated a whiff rate over 39% to go with a batting average against of .200 or less.

Whenever the lockout comes to an end and spring training is able ot begin Howard should enter camp with a leg up on the competition to crack the Opening Day rotation. Howard is just one of four left-handed pitchers currently on the 40-man roster of the Pittsburgh Pirates. José Quintana is one of these four and will be in the team’s starting rotation. That leaves Howard, Anthony Banda, who we highlighted earlier this offseason as a potential breakout pitcher for 2022, and Dillon Peters.

While Peters will compete for a spot in the starting rotation, Howard and Banda should both be in a great spot to be in the team’s Opening Day bullpen. Even if Peters starts the season in the bullpen instead of the rotation, odds are, Howard and Banda will both crack the bullpen as well, as Peters would like serve as a long-man out of the bullpen.

Next. Rotation Battle Brewing for Double-A Altoona. dark

2022 may be Howard’s final opportunity with the Pirates but it should be an opportunity nonetheless. If Howard can improve his control in 2022 while continuing to deploy a fastball/slider combo that generated a high whiff rate, then he can become a bullpen building block for the Pirates as he remains under team control through 2025. If not, the Pirates could look to move on form Howard at some point during the season.