Pittsburgh Pirates: An Interesting Free Agent To Potentially Consider

The Pirates need starting pitching, so let's see what Erick Fedde has to offer.
Jul 13, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Erick
Jul 13, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Erick / Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates must acquire some starting pitching soon. But one, very interesting free agent to consider, Erick Fedde, could help solve some of the issues.

The Pittsburgh Pirates desperately need starting pitching. It’s been said countless times this off-season, and the problem has only been compounded by Johan Oviedo undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Pirates have yet to be too aggressive on the markets, but hopefully, that won’t last much longer. One potentially interesting free agent they could pursue is former Washington Nationals prospect Erick Fedde.

The last time MLB saw Erick Fedde, he was a struggling right-handed starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals. He threw 454.1 big league innings from 2017 through 2022, working to a poor 5.41 ERA, 5.17 FIP, and 1.52 WHIP. Fedde had a poor 1.55 HR/9 rate, along with a strikeout rate well below 20% at 17.5%. It also didn’t help he boasted a mediocre walk rate at just 9.5%.

Fedde took his talents to South Korea this past season, and it did wonders for him. He tossed 180.1 innings and pitched to a 2.00 ERA, 2.38 FIP, and 0.95 WHIP. Fedde struck out 29.5% of the batters he faced with a 4.9% walk rate, but you’d be amazed by his ability to induce grounders and limit the long ball. He had a 70% ground ball rate. The highest single-season ground ball rate for a pitcher in the batted ball tracking era in 120+ innings was set by Framber Valdez in 2021 at 70.3%. He is the only starter to ever have a 70%+ ground ball rate. Fedde clocked in with a home run rate of just 0.45.

The improved numbers aren’t just good; they were some of the best in the KBO. Fedde was recently awarded the KBO MVP award for his excellent performance. However, don’t take his dominance in Korea lightly. His numbers are not a result of playing in a different league entirely against another level of competition in another country.

According to FanGraphs, Fedde made major mechanical changes to his arsenal. The righty added a slider to his pitch mix, an offering he hadn’t thrown once in an MLB game since 2018. He took his changeup, which he rarely used when he was pitching in the states, and made it a main weapon in his arsenal. Both pitches generated a whiff rate of around 40%. Fedde’s velocity hasn’t had a major change, but his sinker has a lot more depth to it. Video alone will tell you how much Fedde has changed since his days with the Nationals.

So, what kind of contract are we looking at here? I’d say something similar to Miles Mikolas, who was an ultra-dominant starter in Japan for a few years. He was arguably better in his last season in Japan (which was in 2017) as Fedde was in Korea last year. Mikolas signed a two-year deal worth $15.5 million with the Cardinals. Merrill Kelly is another player many will compare Fedde to, but he wasn’t nearly as good in South Korea as Fedde was or even in the same realm of dominance as Mikolas was in Japan. Kelly signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 million. The market was different when Mikolas signed, so I will round up and estimate that Fedde signs for two years at $18 million.

One thing to consider that will likely go beyond just money is if Fedde wants to spend another season in South Korea. Returning to the KBO isn’t off the table for Fedde. There are still teams in Korea who are offering contracts to the right-hander. That’s a big decision to live in another country for another year or return to the United States, so much so that money may not be the ultimate deciding factor. For all I know, Fedde fell in love with South Korean culture and wants to stay there for the rest of his career, he’s homesick and wants to return to the United States, or he’s indifferent to where he plays next.

If the former happens to be the case, then there’s nothing the Pirates, or any team for that matter, can do about it. However, if Fedde does want to return to the US and play for an MLB team, then the Pirates need to seriously consider him. He’s obviously going to get calls from more than one MLB team, but the Pirates need to put their chips on the table for someone reliable who can give them good results. Fedde may be a more unorthodox answer to the rotation, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a good answer, either. He'd potentially be one of the most underrated moves of the off-season.

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