3 potential reliever trade targets for the Pittsburgh Pirates who are getting unlucky

The Pirates should consider going after these relievers who are getting unlucky so far this season.
Sep 18, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports / Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports
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It's easy for a relief pitcher to get unlucky. Since their sample size is typically much smaller than a starter, something as small as a few miscues by defenders, or a couple of bloopers or seeing-eyed singles can stick out like a sore thumb. In some cases, predictive measurements such as SIERA, xFIP, or DRA- are better tools to evaluate relievers than ERA or WHIP. 

The Pittsburgh Pirates definitely could use a reliever; at least one, but preferably two. They just missed out on a sweep of the Minnesota Twins, partially because of a horrible passed ball call, but also partially because they ran out of decent bullpen depth. Not every guy in a pen is going to be a lights-out closer or set-up man, but you cannot have Ben Heller as your last line of defense in a tied ballgame heading into the 10th inning (something the team has already realized, as Heller has swiftly been DFA'd).

Regardless, there are definitely relievers out there on the trade market the Pirates could go after right now. These pitchers are not getting the best results, but a lot suggests they're also not having good luck, and they could turn it around quickly.

3 unlucky reliever Pirates should target on trade market (for cheap)

John Brebbia

With the Chicago White Sox going to be sellers at this year's trade deadline, this could be a perfect opportunity for the Pirates to add some bullpen arms. John Brebbia has been doing a lot of things right, but things haven't gone his way. He's definitely someone who could regress to the mean this season.

Brebbia's 6.35 ERA is unsightly, but he's posting a 6.1% walk rate and striking out well over a quarter of the batters he's faced with a 28.3% strikeout rate. While Brebbia has allowed 1.59 HR/9, some context is needed. Brebbia should not be giving up as many home runs as he is. He has a 17.4% HR/FB ratio, and while he is more of a flyball pitcher, that is a high rate. Brebbia has an above-average 88.5 MPH exit velocity and 6.3% barrel rate, so batters aren't making great contact off of him. Brebbia is above average in both metrics. His 37.1% flyball rate is a career-best as well.

Brebbia's underlying predictive numbers are very kind to his work so far. FIP has him at 4.02, but xFIP, which adjusts for out-of-the-ordinary HR/FB ratios, has him at 3.15. SIERA pins him at 2.76. Right now, his xFIP and SIERA are career best numbers. DRA- might paint him in the best light at 86, better than both Colin Holderman and Shōta Imanaga.

Brebbia has a career 3.63 ERA, 3.54 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP, all three of which were close to what he pitched to in 2022 and 2023 with the San Francisco Giants. Brebbia is affordably controlled through 2025 via a $6 million team option but also has a $1.5 million buyout. He'd be a good potential buy low multi-year trade candidate to pursue.