Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-hander Wil Crowe has been a dominant force out of the bullpen, but why has he been as great as he has?
Last season Wil Crowe was coming off an abysmal season. He had both an ERA and FIP above five while averaging nearly two home runs every nine innings. He also had a WHIP over 1.50, leading to many questioning if he’d ever be a part of this team in the long run. After all, 2022 would be his age-27 campaign, and with the myriad of pitching prospects coming up through the system for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Crowe would have to make some profound changes if he wanted to be part of the team for the long haul.
It’s looked like he’s made those changes, so far. Crowe entered play on Friday with a 0.63 ERA, 1.75 FIP, 6.9% walk rate and a 29.3% strikeout rate. He has not allowed a home run in his 14.1 innings pitched either.
So what has led to his massive success for Crowe? Well, the big thing has been the tremendous change in arsenal usage. Last year, Crowe used his fastball 34.9% of the time, and it got hit hard. Opponents crushed his four-seamer for a 90.1 MPH exit velocity and .597 slugging percentage. This year, his most used pitch is his changeup. It makes sense he’s using his change-up a whole lot more. Crowe’s change had a -5 run value in 2021, making it one of the best change-ups in baseball.
Overall, all of his pitches are getting better results. He’s throwing his fastball slightly harder, and opponents are having difficulty making contact. Crowe’s fastball whiff rate went from just 20% to 24%. The only pitch in his arsenal that currently has an opponent wOBA above .250 is his curveball, which he’s only used 5.3% of the time.
According to his heat maps, Crowe uses his fastball up in the zone much more often than he did last year. He mostly lived around the heart of the plate in 2021, which led to many hard-hit balls. Plus, he should be living up in the zone rather than down with an above-average spin on his four-seamer. Spin on a fastball helps give it the ‘rising fastball’ illusion. Although it’s humanly impossible to throw hard enough and with enough spin to make an over-arm pitch rise, a high spin rate will help the ball ride through the zone and cause it to drop less, and Crowe is in the top 78th percentile of fastball spin rate. He’s using his sinker more effectively, too, using it further down in the zone.
It’s pretty obvious why Crowe is doing as well as he is. More sinkers down in the zone, more high-spin fastballs up in the zone, and massively increased usage of his best pitch, his change-up. It’s all culminated into what looks like the start of something great for Crowe. It’s a small sample size, sure, but the improvements should help him be successful in the long run. He looks like he could be a consistent force in high leverage situations for the Pirates for years to come.