Pittsburgh Pirates: Looking at Current Bullpen Options for 2023

Apr 24, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar (51) delivers against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 24, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar (51) delivers against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /
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ST LOUIS, MO – APRIL 10: Wil Crowe #29 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 10, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO – APRIL 10: Wil Crowe #29 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 10, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Last week, we examined all the potential options the Pittsburgh Pirates had for their starting pitching, but who make up their relief pitching options for 2023?

Earlier this week, we looked at all the Pittsburgh Pirates options for the starting rotation in 2023. Now, let’s move to the bullpen and see what players could be part of the next potential shark tank. The Pirates have some notable relief prospects coming up through the pipeline, along with some major league options.

There are plenty of players to discuss, so don’t take this article as a “these players should be in the bullpen next season” type analysis. Take it more as a depth chart analysis. Typically, bullpens comprise seven or eight members, and we’ll take a look at a lot more than that. From major leaguers to emergency depth pitchers, there’s plenty to delve into.

Major League Arms

David Bednar should return as the 9th inning man in 2023. Bednar had a scorching hot start to the 2022 campaign. Through June 23rd, Bednar was one of the best relievers in the sport, owning a 1.30 ERA, 2.25 FIP, and 0.78 WHIP. Batters couldn’t touch Bednar, striking out 36.9% of the time and hitting a putrid .157 against him. He also only had a 6.2% walk rate and 0.78 HR/9. However, he would then go on to have a rough late-June/July, allowing ten earned runs in 10.0 innings, walking six, and even worse, losing about a half-MPH of velo.

Eventually, Bednar was placed on the injured list and didn’t return until late September. When Bednar did return, he lost even more velocity, sitting at 95.5 MPH. The results were decent, though, as he pitched five innings, allowed just one earned run, struck out 27.3%, and didn’t allow a home run. They weren’t nearly as dominant as his first-half stats, but a full off-season of rest and a less intense workload in 2023 could do Bednar a lot of good.

After all, Bednar worked like a dog in the first half. Despite pitching just nine fewer innings, he appeared in 16 fewer games and threw 30 or more pitches in four different games, twice as often as last season. Bednar was never asked to throw more than 31 pitches in 2021 but threw 40+ twice and 20+ 13 times in ’22. In ’21, he pitched 20+ pitches in a game 13 times as well, but he appeared in 16 fewer games.

Wil Crowe should join Bednar. Crowe had an up-and-down season in his first year out of the bullpen. Going into August, Crowe had a quality 3.21 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP in 56 innings of work. While he had just a 22.6% K-rate and 10.2% walk rate, Crowe was excellent at limiting home runs. He had an HR/9 of just .48 due to his ability to prevent hard contact and induce ground balls. Opponents had just a 24.5% hard-hit rate/86.1 MPH exit velocity and a 47.7% ground ball rate.

But August and September were brutal for the right-hander. In his last 20 innings of ’22, Crowe limped to a 7.65 ERA, 6.96 FIP, and 1.90 WHIP. Crowe saw his strikeout rate plummet to an abysmal 15.5% rate while his walk rate shot up to 14.4%. After keeping the ball in the park for three-quarters of the season, Crowe would then go on to allow home runs like there was no tomorrow with a 2.25 HR/9. Opponents barreled the right-hander up for a 90.9 MPH exit velo/51.5% hard-hit rate. The only positive for Crowe in the season’s home stretch was a 54.4% ground ball rate.

Now granted, Crowe was thrust into a role he was wholly unfamiliar with. With David Bednar, Colin Holderman, and Yerry De Los Santos all landing on the IL within a week of each other, Crowe was essentially forced into the 9th inning. He made his way from long relief at the start of the year to a higher leverage 7th/8th inning role which he did semi-decent in. However, he would pitch outside of the 8th/9th inning just three times in August/September. Crowe isn’t a closing pitcher but serves as a perfectly fine 6th-8th inning role.

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