Pittsburgh Pirates: Underrated Arms Helping to Create Strong Core Four
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen is filled with many underrated arms, but all have plenty of talent.
Going into the 2022 season the Pittsburgh Pirates had a fair amount of questions surrounding the bullpen. David Bednar was a sure thing, but how would Chris Stratton handle consistent late-inning/high-leverage situations throughout an entire season? Could Anthony Banda step-up and be someone the Pirates could rely on? Could Wil Crowe make the transition from starting pitcher to bullpen arm?
Now that we’re just over halfway into the season, the bullpen still has some question marks but has become a group of underrated, yet talented arms. Some guys have become quite reliable and give the Pirates a handful of arms that are under control for multiple more years.
Rookie Yerry De Los Santos has been a quality arm, only giving up five earned runs in his first 16 innings of his MLB career. With three saves, he’s started to see more and more time in close games. Plus, he has quality peripherals, including a 29.7% strikeout rate and 7.8% walk rate. His HR/9 of 1.69 might look worrisome on the surface, but with a 20% HR/FB ratio, 55.3% ground ball rate, and keeping opponents to just an 87.4 MPH exit velo, his home run rate is likely a fluke. Two of the three home runs came in his second ever game, and he’s allowed just one more in his last 13 innings of work.
Duane Underwood Jr. made some major changes this year, and those are showing improvement for the right-hander. He’s upped his ground ball rate to 50% flat while also improving his strikeout rate to 27.1%. Underwood Jr. has a sub-2.00 FIP, coming in at 1.99 while having a phenomenal 84.7 opponent exit velocity. Among the 464 total pitchers who have faced at least 75 batters, Underwood Jr.’s average exit velo is the 19th best in the league. He’s added at least one MPH of velocity to each of his pitches while completely changing up his pitch usage.
Wil Crowe has been a nice surprise for the Pirates this year. He’s put up a quality 3.26 ERA, 3.17 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP so far in 49.2 innings. Although Crowe’s strikeout rate of 23.7% doesn’t jump off the page, and an 11.1% walk rate doesn’t qualify him as a command-type pitcher, he’s only allowed two home runs all year. That’s because he has a 49.6% ground ball rate, 85.4 MPH exit velo, and 21.1% hard-hit rate. He’s been a master at limiting hard contact. Crowe’s ERA should be 2.79, and his strikeout rate would clock in at 24.6% had it not been for the one time he was forced to throw to Josh VanMeter.
Even low-leverage long relief men like Tyler Beede and Chase De Jong haven’t been bad in the roles the Pittsburgh Pirates have put them in. Between the two, De Jong and Beede have combined for 2.51 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 57.1 innings. Granted, both have a FIP above 4.20, so the sustainability of their strong surface numbers is questionable at best, but the Pirates aren’t asking them to be dominant. Just solid enough to eat a few innings out of the bullpen, and a 2.51 ERA in that kind of role is good nonetheless.
With that group of four locking things down late into games, there are still some other notable but underrated arms in the system that could eventually join them in the near future. Tahnaj Thomas has had a 1.93 ERA and 2.65 FIP since June 1st. Tyler Samaniego has been unscored upon in 24 of his 26 total outings this year between Greensboro and Altoona.
A late-inning combo of De Los Santos, Crowe, Underwood Jr., and Bednar is very good but very underrated. The impressive part is that each of them is under contract control through the 2025 season at the earliest. Bednar and Crowe have command through 2026, so the Pirates could rely on them for the next handful of seasons. De Los Santos has the most control remaining, given that this is his first year in the majors.