Need Some Relief? These 3 Pitchers Have Stepped Up for the Pirates' Bullpen

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals / Jess Rapfogel/GettyImages
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Coming into the 2024 season, many pundits considered the Pirates’ bullpen to be the team’s greatest strength. The addition of Aroldis Chapman to a reliever core that featured two-time All-Star David Bednar and standouts Ryan Borucki and Carmen Mlodzinski further solidified Pittsburgh’s ‘pen. Chapman has been as advertised; nothing else has gone to plan.

The first few weeks of 2024, though, have proven that reality and expectation rarely mesh. /Bednar endured boos after a particularly rocky start, and Borucki and Mlodzinski are working back from injuries.

Where can Pirates fans turn for some literal and figurative relief? These three standouts have buoyed the beleaguered ‘pen.

When right-hander Ryder Ryan joined the club on a minor league contract prior to the 2024 season, few anticipated he would make a significant impact for the Pirates. After all, at the age of 29, he had a single inning of Major League work under his belt. Ryan, though, broke through and earned his spot on the Opening Day roster (thanks in small part due to Colin Holderman’s bout with illness).

Ryan immediately found himself in high-pressure situations, earning the win in his Pittsburgh debut and locking down holds in his second and third appearances. Ryan did give up four runs over his first 5 ⅓ innings, but his FIP of 2.03 in that span indicates that he was more effective than his 6.75 ERA would suggest. In fact, Ryan’s success may earn him the honor of most underrated pickup of the Pirates’ offseason.

The Pirates sent Ryan down to Indianapolis to make space for Holderman on the active roster, but Ryan swiftly returned to the big leagues and continued his success. As of April 24, he has allowed just one earned run over his past six innings. He ranks in the 85th percentile or better in xERA, xBA, exit velocity, chase rate, and hard-hit rate. Put simply, Ryan is forcing players into making poor contact.

Much of Ryan’s success stems from his sinker-slider combo. These pitches have accounted for 94 percent of his offerings this season. His sinker features five more inches of movement toward right-handed batters than the average sinker, thanks to an increase of almost 100 RPMs. Similarly, his slider has increased by almost 200 RPMs compared to last year.