A potential X-factor in the Pirates bullpen

Hunter Stratton could be an X-factor in the Pirates' bullpen.
Feb 14, 2024; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Hunter Stratton (63) works out at
Feb 14, 2024; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Hunter Stratton (63) works out at / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates will have a deep bullpen, but Hunter Stratton could be an X-factor in 2024.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have one of the best bullpens in baseball. They’re led by David Bednar, with Aroldis Chapman, Colin Holderman, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Ryan Borucki backing him. Even though 2023 breakout reliever Dauri Moreta will likely miss an extended (but undefined) period of time, they’ll still have a strong core of relief arms. But the reliever that will likely take Moreta’s roster spot in the pen is Hunter Stratton, who could end up being a massive X-factor to the pen and the Pirates’ season.

Stratton is a 27-year-old right-handed reliever the Pirates drafted in the 16th round of the 2017 draft. Although Stratton was decent in September, the Pirates non-tendered him at the end of the season. However, they later re-signed him to a minor league deal, and he is currently in camp as a non-roster invitee.

Stratton has been lights out in Spring Training this preseason. It’s a small sample size of seven innings, but he has struck out seven batters, has allowed two walks, and no earned runs. It’s, of course, a Spring Training sample size, but it’s on the heels of both a strong second half and a promising September debut.

The right-handed reliever pitched 24 innings from July up until he was promoted to the Major Leagues, working to a 1.83 ERA, 3.03 FIP, and 0.83 WHIP. He had an outstanding 35.7% strikeout rate and a quality 8.7% walk rate. Stratton had struggled with walks greatly in the first half of the season with a 15.3% BB%, but seemed to settle down in the second half. Stratton also only had an HR/9 of 0.75. He finished off his tenure at Indianapolis with 13.1 straight scoreless innings.

Stratton would then go on to pitch a dozen MLB innings, allowing three earned runs on two home runs, ten strikeouts, and only allowing two to reach via free pass. His numbers in his first MLB outings were good, but even better was how his overall stuff looked while he was on the mound.

Stratton’s low-90s cutter, which he used 52% of the time, and mid-80s slider, which he threw 11.5% of the time, induced a whiff rate of over 30% and xwOBA below .300. His four-seam fastball was less effective, however. Even though he sat in the mid-90s with nearly 2600 RPM, the pitch was hit for a .440 xwOBA. His slider and cutter both had well above-average horizontal movement, and Stuff+ liked his ability at 114.

Stratton has definitely earned a spot on the Pirates Opening Day roster.

A tremendous second half, a quality debut, and good Spring Training have to be enough to give him the inside track to replace Dauri Moreta’s bullpen spot. While he will likely open the year in a middle relief role, Stratton did save four games and worked as a set-up man for Indy last year, so he could eventually see some higher leverage innings if he proves himself.