Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: Left-Handed Reliever Richard Bleier
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates could get some help in the bullpen by signing this unorthodox southpaw relief pitcher.
The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have much going for them in the bullpen, at least right now. There are plenty of unproven arms like Yerry De Los Santos and Colin Holderman to help support David Bednar, along with ones looking for more consistency like Wil Crowe. The left-handed relievers the Pirates have is made up of just Manny Banuelos. The Pirates could use another reliever and a left-handed at that, and Richard Bleier could fit that mold.
Richard Bleier has become somewhat of a cult hero in the baseball world. A southpaw with an approach from yesteryear, Bleier became a popular name in the sport after popular baseball YouTuber Foolish Baseball made a video pointing out Bleier’s unorthodox pitching style. Despite his old-school method, Bleier has consistently gotten the job done.
Last year, the southpaw worked to the tune of a 3.55 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 1.44 WHIP. His walks-and-hits-per-inning was a tad high, but he also suffered from a .341 batting average on balls in play. Despite his higher BAbip, he maintained a fantastic 52.5% ground ball rate, which helped him post a 0.53 HR/9.
Bleier had a strikeout rate of just 14.4%, which is slightly better than his career 13.3% K-rate. In an age where dominant relievers are striking out nearly a quarter of the batters they face, Bleier posted a strikeout rate below 15% and made it work. That’s because he pairs it with a 4.5% walk rate (career 4% walk rate). Since 1990, Bleier has the 30th lowest career K% among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched but also the third lowest walk rate in the same time frame.
He’s quite literally the only pitcher in the modern era of baseball who has made this style effective. Since 2010, there have only been 75 pitchers with a sub-15% strikeout rate through at least 150 innings. Only he and one other pitcher have managed an ERA and FIP below 4.00 with a sub-15% strikeout rate through 150+ innings. The other pitcher was Ryan Mattheus, who retired in 2016. Bleier has the lowest ERA and FIP among all sub-15% strikeout rate pitchers.
Bleier may be a pitcher from a completely different era, but he’s somehow figured out a way to make it work. Age and a decline in velocity shouldn’t be a massive issue for Bleier. He only averages out around 89-90 MPH with his sinker and tops out at 91 MPH with his fastball. He’s arguably one of the most underrated arms the free agent class has to offer.