JT Brubaker turned in a solid 2022 campaign, but does he have a future in the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation?
JT Brubaker was just what the Pittsburgh Pirates ordered in 2022. He’s been a rock-solid middle/back-of-the-rotation option who has stayed healthy. However, the Pirates will have to consider what to do with the right-hander.
Despite Brubaker’s solid results in 2022, thePittbsurgh Pirates have plenty of pitching prospects coming up the system, such as Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows. Plus, we saw Johan Oviedo and Luis Ortiz start to put a down payment on a long-term rotation spot with their performance in September.
Brubaker put up relatively solid numbers in 2022. Through 144.0 innings of work, Brubaker posted a 4.69 ERA, 3.92 FIP, and 1.47 WHIP. Brubaker has a 22.8% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate, which is almost exactly the league average rates of 22.3% and 8.2%, respectively. His 1.06 HR/9 also closely resembles the league average 1.10 rate. But Brubaker could be slightly better than his ERA suggests. All of this led to him being worth an fWAR of 1.9.
The first reason is his underlying numbers are good. He has a 3.87 xFIP, 3.92 FIP, and 3.95 SIERA. Despite a 44.0% ground ball rate and 22.7% line-drive rate, Brubaker has a .334 batting average on balls in play. A .334 BAbip isn’t super unlucky, but it could be better if he were average, which is plausible to reach based on everything else.
The second reason is Brubaker’s first two starts of the season and his final, which came after an IL stint, nflated his overall numbers.
In these three starts Brubaker allowed 11 earned runs in 10 innings pitched. In his other 25 starts he pitched to the tune of a 4.30 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 7.7% walk rate, 23.2% strikeout rate, and a 1.07 HR/9 in 134.0 innings pitched.
Brubaker is out-matched stuff wise by arms like Priester, Roansy Contreras, Burrows, Ortiz, and Mitch Keller. But pitchers like Brubaker are overlooked quite often. Is Brubaker an ace? No, but he goes out and gives the Pirates a chance to win in most of his starts. He’s a middle-of-the-rotation arm who has improved drastically from a sophomore slump.
The Pittsburgh Pirates should open in 2023 with Brubaker backing Contreras, Keller, and Oviedo in the starting rotation. That’s a young and quality 1-3 to open the year, and Brubaker gives the Pirates a good no. 4 starter behind the first three. He may slot into the no. 5 spot if the Pirates sign a free agent to put ahead of the right-hander.
There’s definitely potential for a future where Brubaker is part of the Pirate rotation, even if that’s in a fifth starter capacity. If any of Ortiz, Priester, Burrows, or Nicolas out-pitch Brubaker, the Pittsburgh Pirates can always move him to the bullpen. But for now, he looks like he could be the team’s long-term answer at the 5th rotation spot, possibly more so if he can play to his underlying statistics.