Right-Handed Relief Pitcher Robert Stephenson
Robert Stephenson was formerly a top prospect in the Cincinnati Reds’ system. After struggling as a starter in his first few seasons, Stephenson moved to the Reds’ bullpen in 2019. The right-hander had a decent 2019 and 2021 seasons with the Reds and Colorado Rockies but struggled mightily to start the 2022 campaign.
His first 44.2 innings with Colorado had a 6.04 ERA, 4.66 FIP, and 1.48 WHIP. Stephenson did have a 6.6% walk rate, but he struck out batters at just an 18.8% rate and had a 1.61 HR/9. Stephenson was then designated for assignment and claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But Stephenson had a change of fate after being claimed. He only pitched 13.1 innings for the Pirates before the end of the year, but he struck out 36% of the batters he faced and allowed just a single walk to 50 total batters. He did allow two home runs, which was a bit concerning given he had a flyball rate over 50% and opponent exit velocity over 90 MPH.
Stephenson did so well down the stretch because he started using his slider more often. Stephenson used his slider nearly 70% of the time and held opponents to just a .170 average and .264 wOBA against it all season. In comparison, opponents demolished his fastball to a .386 average and .459 wOBA.
Stephenson had a quality 2019 season and then a quality 2021 season. It’s not as if he can’t piece together a good campaign on the mound. His slider has always been elite, and if he can keep throwing it a lot, he’ll definitely become a reliable reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates next season.