The Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Robert Stephenson earlier this year and he’s done quite well. But has he figured it out?
The Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Robert Stephenson on waivers from the Colorado Rockies on August 27th. It was a relatively low-risk deal with the potential of a high reward. Stephenson had previously been a quality reliever for both the Rockies and Cincinnati Reds. When he headed over to Pittsburgh, he had a 6.04 ERA, 4.65 FIP, and 1.49 WHIP in 44.2 innings. However, Stephenson has looked much better in his first handful of outings for the Pirates, and you have to wonder if he’s figured it out.
Keep in mind that this is a small sample size of only 10.1 innings; however, he has a 3.48 ERA, but out of this world 1.75 FIP and a minuscule 0.87 WHIP. Stephenson has struck out 15 of the first 39 batters he has faced as a member of the Bucs, giving him a 38.4% strikeout rate. While he has allowed a home run, Stephenson has dotted up the strike zone. He’s yet to allow a free pass.
Stephenson is a swing-and-miss machine. He’s gotten opponents to swing outside of the strike zone 43.3% of the time when the league average is 32.6%. They’ve only made contact 52.4% of the time compared to the league average rate of 63.6%. His swinging strike rate of 16.7% is also well above the league average rate of 11.1%.
Those are all massive improvements to his time in Colorado. But is there anything else that supports that he’s a better pitcher and that this is potentially sustainable to some degree? Stephenson is using his slider a lot more often. With a 69% usage rate, he’s used it 24% more often than before he was claimed. His fastball usage rate has plummeted in return, going from 53.6% to just 28.6%.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Stephenson, I wrote how he could potentially figure it out with the Bucs. One of the things I suggested was Stephenson dropping his fastball, for good reason. Batters are hitting nearly .400 with a wOBA well over .450 with his four-seamer. However, his slider has held opponents to just a .175 average and .263 wOBA. His slider has nearly the same whiff rate as Dylan Cease (who has a -36 RV with his slider) and Gerrit Cole, and has been hit as often as Justin Verlander’s slider. He has, at the very least, significantly decreased his four-seam usage while dramatically using his slider more.
While Stephenson has not pitched much, he’s done quite well so far. He’s made some notable adjustments in his pitch arsenal, leading to better results. Hopefully, Stephenson can keep it up and become part of the Pirates’ bullpen next season.