Can Luis Ortiz's breakout greatly impact the Pittsburgh Pirates’ deadline plans?

Could Luis Ortiz's recent emergence imact how the Pittsburgh Pirates approach this year's trade deadline?
May 24, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Luis L. Ortiz (48) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 11-5. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 24, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Luis L. Ortiz (48) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 11-5. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Ortiz entered the year in the back of the Pittsburgh Pirates' bullpen as a long reliever. As a former top prospect who struggled mightily in 2023, the expectations weren't super high for the right-hander. However, injuries have forced him to take on a much larger role, and he's done so with grace. At the start of June, he began working as a bulk man after opener Carmen Mlodzinski. Now, over the last few weeks, Ortiz has gotten two starts, both games in which he has dominated. If Ortiz's emergence is legit, could this impact how the Pirates' approach at the trade deadline?

Ortiz has pitched 30.1 innings since the start of June with a 2.67 ERA, 2.48 FIP, and 1.12 WHIP. The right-hander has an above-average 23.5% strikeout rate and a walk rate of just 1.7%. That is the best BB% of any pitcher with at least 30 IP since the start of June. Ortiz has also been immune to home runs, only allowing two with a 47.7% ground ball rate.

While this might be a small sample size, his stuff has looked better than ever. Stuff+ puts Ortiz at 106, just below Paul Skenes at 110, and top 25 in the league since the start of June (again, with 30+ IP). In his most recent outing, Ortiz averaged out at 97.1 MPH, just the second time since the start of 2023 he's averaged out at 97+ MPH in a start. Location+ also pins him at 106, which puts him on par with George Kirby, the Seattle Mariners' ace who is on course for his second straight season with a walk rate below 3%.

This is a massive uptick from last season for Ortiz. Stuff+ had Ortiz at just 99 in 2023, with his Location+ at 95. He struggled to limit walks and had a 12% walk rate. Overall, his stuff looks ten times better. Ortiz's sinker has gained nearly three inches of vertical break while maintaining similar velocity from last year. His slider has also gained about two inches of horizontal movement, and he's effectively incorporated a cutter into his arsenal. His cutter has 25 inches of vertical drop and only 0.6 inches of horizontal movement, and has the best run value among his five-pitch arsenal.

Luis Ortiz's emergence is huge for the Pirates, but could affect how they act at the trade deadline.

But if this isn't just a small sample size fluke, which it doesn't appear to be, it begs a few different questions. How are the Pirates going to juggle their starting pitching options? If Ortiz maintains his success, could the Pirates become more willing to move their pitching prospects to help out a lackluster lineup, especially when it comes to their outfield?

As of right now, it's tough to believe they're going to be full-on sellers, but it's also difficult to justify them being big-time buyers. Jared Jones and Bailey Falter probably aren't going to be out long-term. If they return, you can't take Ortiz out of the rotation if he still has an ERA around 3.00 and an elite walk rate. If that's the case, do the Pirates run a six-man rotation with Skenes, Mitch Keller, Jones, Falter, Ortiz, and possibly Marco Gonzales? 

But that still leaves many questions unanswered. Does that mean Braxton Ashcraft won't get a rotation spot? What happens next year when Bubba Chandler and Thomas Harrington are ready to step into the rotation, potentially as soon as April? Even past Chandler and Harrington, you're going to have Anthony Solometo, Hunter Barco, and possibly Patrick Reilly end this season between Double-A and Triple-A. What are the Pirates going to do once Johan Oviedo returns next season? Do Quinn Priester or Mike Burrows play potential roles in the Pirates' future rotation? This doesn't even factor in the possibility that they could take a college pitcher early in the draft. Some of these pitchers will end up in the bullpen, and the chance the Pirates hit on all of them are slim, but even just right now, you could build a five-man rotation with a ton of viable arms left over to build a second rotation.

If Ortiz continues to dominate, it might force the Pirates to make a move with their pitching depth to acquire a bat they can insert into their lineup right now. They can't have an eight-man rotation with Skenes, Jones, Keller, Ortiz, Falter, Ashcraft, Chandler, Harrington, and Oviedo. They will almost have to make a move if Ortiz solidifies himself as a reliable starter in the weeks to come.