The Pittsburgh Pirates could pursue left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney after a quality 2022 season with the Dodgers.
The Pittsburgh Pirates could greatly benefit from a veteran rotation arm. The starting pitching staff is relatively young, with Mitch Keller being the most experienced. The Pirates should go out and see what they can net on free agency, and one of the players they should target is southpaw Andrew Heaney.
The 31-year-old is coming off an outstanding season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 72.2 innings, Heaney worked to a 3.10 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP. Heaney posted a poor 1.73 HR/9 rate, but he struck out 35.5% of the batters he faced while dishing out a free pass to just 6.1% of them.
This kind of turnaround was utterly unexpected for Heaney. In the three years before 2022, the southpaw had a 5.21 ERA, 4.54 FIP, and 1.29 WHIP. His home run rate didn’t drastically improve, decreasing from 1.79, but his strikeout rate had taken a massive step forward from 27.1%, and his walk rate also took a noticeable dip from 7.2%. Heaney’s ERA estimators from these three seasons were kinder to him, with a 3.90 SIERA and 4.15 xFIP, but still. A 3.10 ERA was completely out of the blue for Heaney.
Speaking of the underlying metrics, DRA, SIERA, and xFIP all point to even more improvement. The southpaw clocked in at 3.05, 2.46, and 2.83, respectively. Those are some great numbers and about 30% better than the league average in that trio of ERA estimators. So there’s a decent chance what he did in 2022 is repeatable.
So what did Heaney change from 2019-2021 to 2022? The most notable change was he re-added a slider to his arsenal. Heaney hadn’t thrown a slider as part of his repertoire since 2015, which also happened to be the most productive season of his career up until this season. He used the pitch 32.4% of the time and used his four-seamer 62.5% of the time. It also helps that he threw his fastball with the fastest velocity of his career at 93 MPH, along with a 99% active spin rate. His slider also had a remarkable 18% active spin rate.
The downside is Heaney does not have a long track record of durability. In nine major league seasons, Heaney has only ever pitched more than 150 innings once (though one of those seasons was in 2020, the point still remains). This year was not much different, as Heaney pitched just four games from April through July. But he was healthy from August through September.
Heaney could give the Pittsburgh Pirates a solid left-handed starting pitcher, something they do not have. Their closest major league-ready left-handed starting pitching prospects are Trey McGough and Omar Cruz. If Heaney can pitch anything like he did last season, which seems like something he could do, given his underlying metrics.