A high batting average on balls in play inflated Cy Nielson's ERA in 2023, but it was an overall strong season for the Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitching prospect
In the 8th round of the 2022 MLB Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected left-handed pitcher Cy Nielson out of BYU. 2023 was Nielson's first full professional season, and was a season that, overall, saw him pitch well.
Nielson pitched 46.2 innings in 39 relief appearances with the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers. He posted a 4.44 ERA and a 3.92 FIP in his 46.2 innings of work. Nielson allowed just 1 home run and struck out 24.9% of batters faced. However, he did battle control at times walking 9.9% of opposing batters, while throwing 6 wild pitches and hitting a pair of batters.
As you may expect from a pitcher who allowed just a single home run, Nielson did a great job of keeping the ball on the ground. He had a healthy 57.4% ground ball rate. However, pitchers with a high ground ball rate can get burnt by a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is something that happened to Nielson last season.
An average BABIP is .300. When a pitcher has an opposing BABIP well above .300 it typically indicates they were burnt by poor luck and/or defense. Ground ball pitchers tend to be more snakebitten at times by BABIP due to the nature of their pitchin style. This can be especially true in the minor leagues where defense and field conditions aren't always exactly pristine.
Last season, Nielson was burnt by a .352 BABIP. This contributed to him allowing 45 hits and an opposing batting average of .251. Batters struggled to square the ball up off of Nielson as he did a good job limiting hard contact. If that happens again in 2024, then his BABIP should level out more and in turn, help lower his ERA.
Nielson could emerge as one of the best left-handed relief pitching prospect in the Pirate farm system this season. If he can continue to pitch the way he did in 2023, he should once again find success.
Also, being a former college draft pick who will be 23-years-old this season, could help put Nielson in a position to move through the farm system quickly. He could start the season with Double-A Altoona, which would put him in position to pitch his way to Triple-A this season. At that point, he will be on the doorstep of the majors.