Back of the Rotation Candidates
JT Brubaker is arguably their best back-of-the-rotation type arm. While he had a 4.69 ERA, he ran into some bad luck. The right-hander ended the season with a 3.92 FIP, 3.87 xFIP, and 3.97 SIERA. Brubaker saw his walk and strikeout rates move in the wrong direction to 22.8% and 8.4%, respectively, but he limited home runs much better than he did last season. Brubaker’s HR/9 dropped from 2.03 to just 1.06; however, with a 22.4% HR/FB ratio, the only direction his home run rate could have gone is down.
Still, Brubaker changed things up last season, using his sinker a whole lot more often and using his fastball much less frequently. Brubaker might not be an ace, but if he can pitch to his metrics and be a 3.85-3.90 ERA-type pitcher, you could do a lot worse for a #4-#5-type starter. Depending on how other prospects perform, he could move to the bullpen sometime throughout the season.
Things could have gone better for Bryse Wilson last season. In 115.2 innings, Wilson had a 5.52 ERA, 5.06 FIP, and 1.42 WHIP. At one point, Wilson was demoted to Triple-A, and while he did much better there than in the major leagues, the Pirates eventually decided to recall him. After the recall, he had a 4.39 ERA, 4.98 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP. He had a K% of just 15% and allowed home runs at a worryingly high 1.54-per-9 rate. Of the few silver linings, Wilson had a 4.9% walk rate, which, oddly enough, was one of the best in baseball. From July through the end of the year, Wilson’s 4.9% walk rate was the 15th-best among pitchers with 80+ IP.
Wilson did have a 4.46 SIERA and 4.47 xFIP. While those don’t paint a bright picture for the future, they do show he can be a decent up-and-down sixth starter type option for the Pirates. The Pirates likely aren’t banking on Wilson to stay in the rotation all year, or even at the start of the season, but he could move into a long-relief role at some point if other pitchers do not push him off the roster.
The last pitcher to note here is Zach Thompson. Thompson made his way over to Pittsburgh alongside Nicolas. Thompson pitched 121.2 innings, working to a 5.18 ERA, 4.87 FIP, and 1.51 WHIP. Thompson had a 16.6% strikeout rate, but unlike Wilson, he was not elite at limiting walks. Thompson, meanwhile, had an 8.6% walk rate and 1.41 HR/9. But there were some flashes of dominance. From May through mid-July, Thompson owned a 2.57 ERA.
You also can’t ignore his 2021 season. A surprise rookie for the Miami Marlins, Thompson had a 3.24 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP. Thompson was much better at limiting home runs with a .72 HR/9. His average exit velo and hard hit rate sat at 87.6 MPH and 34.4%, which were much worse in 2022. Though his walk rate has yet to get much better or worse compared to 2021, he at least struck out 21% of the batters he faced.