Pittsburgh Pirates: Wil Crowe’s 9th Inning Struggles
Wil Crowe has been a good pitcher all year until he’s been forced to close games. The Pittsburgh Pirates need to move him out of this role ASAP.
After Tuesday’s absolutely brutal and disheartening loss to the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates’ reliever Wil Crowe now has a 4.15 ERA, 4.36 FIP, and 1.37 WHIP. This was after surrendering five earned runs without recording a single out.
While Crowe has been forced into this role, he is clearly not good at it and needs to move back into a set-up role. Until David Bednar returns, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to find an alternative to the right-hander.
Since the Pittsburgh Pirates placed Bednar and Yerry De Los Santos on the injured list, Crowe has been forced to uptake the 9th inning role. In that time, Crowe has been inconsistent at best. The best way to define him in this stretch is when it rains, it pours. While he has eight appearances where he’s given up zero earned runs, he also has four appearances where he has given up multiple runs at a time.
It’s only 13 innings, but he has surrendered 13 earned runs on ten walks and four home runs. Batters simply have been squaring up Crowe, having a 90.3 exit velocity and 51.9% hard-hit rate. Six of these 12 appearances have come in the 9th inning. Overall, he has allowed 13 earned runs in 14 innings when he has came in to take over the 9th inning.
However, it wasn’t always like this. Until Crowe was essentially forced into this role, he was quite a solid set-up man. Aside from the one outing in which he was forced to pitch to Josh VanMeter, Crowe had a 2.73 ERA, 3.18 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP. He allowed just three home runs, leading to a 0.46 HR/9 while striking out 23.7% strikeout rate. Not only was his strikeout rate above average and his home run rate elite, but he also had a 9.4% walk rate. Crowe had allowed opponents to have an 86.4 MPH exit velocity and a 25.9% hard-hit rate.
The thing is, Crowe only pitched the 9th inning three times in 46 appearances before injuries to De Los Santos and Bednar. He opened the year as a multi-inning reliever but worked into a 7th/8th inning role once, showing promising stuff. Since then, he’s been handed the 9th six times, twice as much, but in 34 fewer games.
The Pirates suffered a similar problem in 2017 with Tony Watson. The former all-star opened the season as the team’s closer, but after having a 4.44 ERA and 5.38 FIP through early June, the Pirates moved Watson back to a set-up role. From that point up until they traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Oneil Cruz, Watson had 2.66 ERA and 3.21 FIP through his final 20.1 innings as a Pirate. He saw the 9th inning or later four times in 23 total appearances from early June through late July.
Crowe isn’t bad. He’s shown consistently that he can easily handle 7th and 8th inning work. However, it’s been shown repeatedly that he isn’t a closing pitcher. His ERA has risen nearly a whole point and a half, and his FIP has risen over one whole point since getting thrown into this role.
I get that injuries have forced the Pirates’ hand, and they’re clearly eliminated from any sort of playoff contention, but the team can’t keep up with this disheartening pace in the 9th inning. Try Manny Bañuelos, promote Tahnaj Thomas, bring up someone from Triple-A, anything to get Crowe out of the 9th inning.