Duane Underwood Jr. may appear to be on the Pirate roster bubble entering spring training but should have a spot in the team's bullpen
There are plenty of questions surrounding the bullpen of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is complicated by relievers on the 40-man roster that are out of minor league options. One of these relievers is righty Duane Underwood Jr.
The past two seasons Underwood Jr. has been one of the more frustrating pitchers in the Pirate bullpen. Despite having plus stuff and the ceiling of a quality MLB reliever, Underwood Jr. has struggled to find consistency.
Since joining the Pirates ahead of the 2021 season, Underwood Jr. has pitched 130.0 innings in 94 appearances. At times, Underwood Jr. has flashed his plus stuff and good potential. However, overall, he has been inconssitent at best.
Underwood Jr. owns a 4.36 ERA and a 3.68 FIP with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his 130.0 innings pitched in a Pirate uniform, Underwood Jr. has walked 9.0% of batters faced, struck out 21.1% of opposing batters, and has allowed home runs at a rate of 0.69 HR/9.
Last season, Underwood Jr. posted a 4.40 ERA in 57.1 innings pitched. However, his FIP was just 2.92. Allowing just one home run (0.16 HR9) while striking out 22.0% of batters faced contributed to the low FIP for Underwood Jr.
Many peripherals point toward Underwood Jr. taking a big step forward in 2023. Opposing batters had just a 3.5% barrel rate and an average exit velocity of 87.8 MPH against Underwood Jr. last season, both of these are below league average for hitters. His fastball velocity was in the 61st percentile of baseball, his chase rate was in the 62nd percentile, and his walk rate was in the bottom 25th percentile of baseball.
When the dust settles and the Pittsburgh Pirates head north to Cincinnati for Opening Day, odds are, Underwood Jr. will be in the team's bullpen. That said, he could be on a short leash. If his inconsistencies continue into the 2023 season it may not take long for the Pirate to go in another direction out of the bullpen.