Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-hander JT Brubaker had an up-and-down 2022 season, but improved after a poor 2021 season.
The 2021 season was one to forget for Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher JT Brubaker. The right-hander pitched just 124.1 innings, getting shelled for 28 home runs and having a 5.36 ERA, 5.16 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP. The 2022 season was much kinder for Brubaker, and he has a better outlook as the 2022 season comes to a close.
Brubaker pitched nearly 20 more innings this year, tossing a total of 141.1. The results were much better, with the soon-to-be 29-year-old posting a 4.58 ERA, 3.94 FIP, and 1.46 WHIP. Although Brubaker’s strikeout rate of 22.9% strikeout rate wasn’t great, he had a solid 8.4% walk rate and saw his HR/9 go from 2.03 to just 1.08. Brubaker’s ability to suppress home runs wasn’t a major change in his batted ball rates (although he did see an improvement which we’ll get into later), but rather just better overall luck. Brubaker had a 22.4 HR/FB ratio, the third highest of all time by any pitcher, with at least 120 innings thrown. But this year, his HR/FB ratio fell to just 12%, which is slightly higher than the league average of 11.4%.
Brubaker saw a slight uptick in his ground ball rate. His ground ball rate in 2021 was 42.8% but now sat at 44.4%. His line drive rate remained relatively the same at 22.3% (22% in 2021), but he also saw a decrease in fly balls allowed. His fly ball rate dropped about 2% to 33.3%. But on the downside, he gave up more hard-hit balls. After sitting around average in both exit velocity and hard-hit rate, he came in just the 20th and 22nd percentile of both stats, respectively.
Brubaker can contribute his success to his increased sinker usage. The offering became his most used pitch this year, with the right-hander throwing it 41.6% of the time. Last year, his most used offering was his slider, and while he still used it nearly as often as last year, his four-seam fastball usage plummeted from 24.5% to just 6.1%.
While Brubaker’s ERA might not look pretty, there’s more than meets the eye for the right-hander. Brubaker had a 3.94 FIP, 3.87 xFIP, and 3.95 SIERA. Brubaker is better than what his ERA suggests. The main reason his ERA is a decent bit higher than his expected rates is because of a .333 batting average on balls in play. Brubaker had just a .284 BAbip and .295 mark through 2020-2021. The league average is typically .300, and Brubaker’s BAbip this season was the fifth highest in the league.
Brubaker’s season was a big improvement from 2021. Although Brubaker is older (he’ll turn 29 in mid-November), he looks to be a part of the Pirates’ rotation in 2023. He should open the season behind Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller, and Luis Ortiz, providing the team with a quality 4th starter who can produce an ERA in the 3.80-4.00 range.