After a rough 2022 season with ups and downs, what will the Pittsburgh Pirates do with Bryse Wilson next season?
The Pittsburgh Pirates slotted Bryse Wilson into the starting rotation at the start of the 2022 campaign. It’s been an up-and-down season for Wilson, showing some talent here and there but never able to string anything together. As we approach the end of the 2022 campaign, the Pirates will have to figure out what to do with the right-hander sooner than later. So what options do the Bucs have, and what route are they likely going to take?
A former top prospect in the Atlanta Braves system, 2022 is the first year Wilson has had an opportunity to get consistent starts in the major leagues. In total, he’s pitched 112.1 innings with a 5.53 ERA, 5.08 FIP, and 1.42 WHIP. Although Wilson has a remarkable 6.1% walk rate, he’s only struck out 15.8% of the batters he has faced while having a 1.6 HR/9 rate. Wilson also has been near the bottom of the leaderboards when it comes to inducing soft contact. He is in just the third percentile of opponent exit velocity and the tenth percentile of opponent hard-hit rate.
While the underlying numbers paint a slightly better pitcher, they don’t point to great overall improvement. Wilson has a 4.51 xFIP and 4.49 SIERA. So instead of being a mid-5 ERA pitcher, he’s pitched more like a mid-4 ERA pitcher. He is still not good by any means necessary, but it would be an improvement to what he is currently doing.
There is one thing worth mentioning, however, and that is his pitch data through the last month. Since the start of September, Wilson has had a ton of spin on his change-up, going from 1500-1700 RPM to now around 1200 RPM. In his most recent start, Wilson’s curveball has also gained significant spin from 2200 RPM to 2426 RPM. His overall numbers in September include a 3.90 ERA, 4.95 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP. But keep in mind that this is a small sample size of just five games and 30 innings, so there are no definitive conclusions you can make about the impact of his change in spin on his overall performance.
So what routes could the Pirates take? The team could DFA him this off-season. The Pirates do need to make room on the 40-man roster, but the chances that they DFA him altogether are slim. The team could DFA Yohan Ramirez, Eric Stout, Jeremy Beasly, Peter Solomon, Junior Fernandez, and Nick Mears first. Wilson also has an option remaining, so it’s not as if the Pirates have to DFA Wilson to start 2023.
The other option is to move him to the bullpen. The Pirates could use Wilson as a multi-inning arm, and his velocity may play up. Wil Crowe looked decent out of the pen, up until recently, after heavily struggling as a starting pitcher in 2021. Granted, Crowe did display a better fastball with more spin and better secondary stuff. Still, it’s an option, and the Pirates should look to get the rookies more starts than Wilson.
The third option the Pirates have is to trade Wilson. Wilson is still fairly young. 2023 will be just his age-25 campaign, and he has the former prospect status. Wilson probably doesn’t have much trade value, but he could be a change-of-scenery-type candidate. This would essentially be if the Pirates ultimately gave up on Wilson, though, which I don’t think is likely.
The fourth option is just to keep trying him out in the rotation. His recent starts have been promising, though it’s not like he hasn’t strung together three or four decent outings before crumbling before. In his first month after being recalled from Triple-A, he had a 3.34 ERA/4.85 FIP, then went on to have a 7.16 ERA and 5.16 FIP in his next four starts before his solid month of September. With Mitch Keller’s emergence, JT Brubaker giving the Pirates relatively solid outings this year, and youngsters like Roansy Contreras, Johan Oviedo, and Luis Ortiz, putting Wilson back in the rotation to start 2023 would not be the best move. The mix of Ortiz, Contreras, Oviedo, Keller, and Brubaker would probably be the best starting five the team could put together to open 2023.
The Pittsburgh Pirates should at least see if Wilson can figure it out in the bullpen before outright giving up on him. Wilson is still relatively young and could be a potential long-relief arm. He also seems like a pitcher who could benefit from focusing heavily on just two or three pitches rather than five. Wilson has until the likes of Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Kyle Nicolas, and J.C. Flowers are knocking on the major league doorstep, which could be next May at the earliest. While Wilson is running out of time, the Pirates should look into giving him one last shot in a consistent bullpen role.