Pittsburgh Pirates: Bullpen Improvement is Needed

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 12: Cam Alldred #63 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action against the Cincinnati Reds during the game at PNC Park on May 12, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 12: Cam Alldred #63 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action against the Cincinnati Reds during the game at PNC Park on May 12, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Although the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting rotation has been quality over the past month-plus, the bullpen has been a let down, but they can improve it.

The Pittsburgh Pirates lost their first David Bednar save opportunity last Saturday. Up until that point, the Pirates had a 100% winning percentage when Bednar came in to close the game. Granted, even the likes of Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman blew saves, but that’s the point. There’s a deeper problem that the Pirates need to resolve, and that’s a lack of high-leverage bullpen depth.

The Pirates’ bullpen hasn’t been great, which is a real shame considering the starting pitching has been far from awful. Dating back to May 1st, the Pirates’ main starting five of Roansy Contreras, Jose Quintana, JT Brubaker, Zach Thompson, and Mitch Keller have combined for a 3.74 ERA. Keller and Quintana are the only two with ERA’s over 3.50, with a 4.10 and 3.71 mark, respectively.

But David Bednar has been the only reliable arm. Although Wil Crowe has still been decent, he’s become a bit spotty over the past few weeks. Yerry De Los Santos has shown talent but is still finding his footing. Chris Stratton has been inconsistent and has been terrible in high leverage situations this year. But is there any way the pirates can improve the bullpen right now?

The Pirates are stuck in a tough spot where they don’t have a prime opportunity to improve the bullpen. They’re improving, and the difference between the early-April Pirates and late-June Pirates is significant, but they’re not a good team yet. Really any reliever who isn’t controllable beyond this year is out of the question for the Pirates. Being a 72-win team instead of a 70-win team by adding two rental relievers isn’t worth it in the long run.

Externally, the Pirates are going to have to wait until the off-season. There are a handful of quality relievers hitting the free-agent market, and the Pirates should show interest in a few of them. But right now, they should consider their internal options. There are some decent arms that are up and coming that could make an impact before the end of the season.

Double-A Altoona’s current closer could end up in the majors sooner rather than later. Lefty Tyler Samaniego has dominated batters all this year, being unscored upon in 21 of his 23 total outings. Plus, he has struck out 37 batters in just 28 innings of work while allowing a single home run. Walks have been a slight issue, but he cut his walk rate from 16.2% with Greensboro to just 5% with Altoona.

Cody Bolton would also make for a solid reliever. He’s had a nice bounceback campaign after not pitching competitively for two straight seasons. The Pirates have gotten decent production out of their rotation this year, so Bolton might find success in a bullpen role, at least for now. If he excels, the Pirates might be inclined to make him a reliever where his stuff could end up playing above what it has when he starts. He could take a role JT Brubaker had at the start of his career.

A ground ball specialist the Pittsburgh Pirates could recall is Cam Alldred. Alldred has a 2.78 ERA and 55.7% ground ball rate. He only has struck out 17.2% of batters faced, but has displayed a solid ability to limit walks. Alldred’s walk rate comes in at just 7.5%. His phenomenal ability to keep the ball on the ground has led to him not allowing a single long ball all season.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates need another reliable relief arm. With such a decent starting pitching staff, it’s been a real shame that the bullpen hasn’t been able to catch-up or keep close leads. Something needs to be done, and promoting at least one of Bolton, Samaniego, or Alldred would greatly help the pen.