Pittsburgh Pirates Breakout Candidate: Robert Stephenson

Sep 3, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Robert Stephenson (41) pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Robert Stephenson (41) pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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After showing improvement with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, reliever Robert Stephenson is a candidate to breakout in 2023

There will be plenty of question marks about the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates. One of the biggest will be the team’s bullpen. However, there is a reliever in the bullpen who could be in line for breakout season in 2023.

If this breakout season occurs it could go a long way toward helping to solidify things in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. This reliever is righty Robert Stephenson, who the Pirates claimed off waivers from the Colorado Rockies late last August.

Stephenson is a former first-round pick. He was selected by the Cincinnati Reds with the 27th overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. Since then, things have been a roller coaster ride for Stephenson.

In his MLB career Stephenson has pitched 312 innings in 211 games, 22 of which have been starts, He’s posted a 4.90 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 10.5% walk rate, 24.1% strikeout rate, and he’s allowed home runs at a rate of 1.59 HR/9.

Some of Stephenson’s results need to be taken with a grain of salt. After all, he has pitched his home games at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Coors Field in Colorado. These may be the two best hitters parks in all of baseball.

After being claimed by the Pirates last season Stephenson started to look like a former first-round pitch. With the Bucs, Stephenson pitched 13.1 innings posting a 3.38 ERA and a 2.81 FIP. Stephenson allowed 10 hits and just two home runs with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He walked just 2.0% of batters faced while striking out 36.0% of opponents.

With the Pirates the righty started to miss bats like he never had in his MLB career. His control was better than ever before, and he was keeping the ball in the yard. These latter two could very likely be related, as having a home ballpark that is not a hitter’s haven making him feel more comfortable and more likely to trust his catcher and his pitches.

Stephenson’s stuff is there to be an above average MLB reliever. Last season his fastball ranked in the 85th percentile of baseball in spin rate and the 91st percentile in velocity. He was in the 93rd percentile of baseball in chase rate and the 69th (nice) percentile in whiff rate.

His slider limited opponents to a .170 batting average and a slugging percentage of .357 while generating a 44.4% whiff rate. While his four-seamer allowed a .658 slugging percentage, with its velocity and spin rate there is room there for improvement.

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Looking ahead to 2023, Stephenson should start the season in the Pirate bullpen. With his plus stuff and the corner he may be turning in Pittsburgh, Stephenson could be in position for a breakout season in the Pirate bullpen. This would be a breakout season that would go a long way for the success of Derek Shelton’s bullpen.

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