Pittsburgh Pirates: Might Be Time for Roansy Contreras to Be Optioned to the Minors

It might be time for the Pirates to send Roansy Contreras to the minors

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages
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Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Roansy Contreras has struggled all year, but his most recent outing might be the breaking point to get sent to the minors

2023 has not been kind for Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Roansy Contreras. After a solid rookie year, Contreras looked to solidify himself as a key member of the starting rotation. However, after major struggles to start the season, he was demoted to the bullpen. But his most recent outing may have been the straw that broke the camel's back and might get him sent down to the minors.

Contreras has a horrible 6.59 ERA, 5.05 FIP, and 1.57 WHIP through 68.1 innings of work on the season. This is a far cry from the 3.79 ERA, 4.38 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP he had in his rookie year. His strikeout rate has dropped well below 20% to just 18.2%, however, walks and home runs have both been his major weak points. Contreras’ walk rate clocks in at 10.6%, meanwhile his HR/9 is 1.45-per-9.

His most recent outing was arguably his worst all year, regardless of if he was starting or coming out of the bullpen. He allowed the Dodgers to score four earned runs on him, with two walks, and two home runs (they were back-to-back home runs as well). It’s yet another disappointing development in what’s been a year to forget for the former top-100 prospect.

The major reason for his struggles is the lost life on his fastball. Contreras is down to 94.4 MPH and 2354 RPM on his four-seamer. Both are still above average, but significantly down from the 95.6 MPH velo and 2389 RPM he had in 2022. Not only has he lost both spin and velocity, but he’s gone from 93% active spin rate to just 89%.

I still believe that Contreras can figure it out. Sophomore slumps happen, and Contreras is still only 23. His slider and curveball have a whiff rate of well over one-third. His changeup has also been a solid pitch. But his four-seamer has just seemingly lost its way. It’s very odd, considering that Contreras’ four-seam fastball was arguably the best pitch in his arsenal coming up through the minor leagues.

I am optimistic that Contreras can fix his issues. Young pitchers sometimes struggle early in their careers, it happens and it’s not uncommon. Just look at Toronto Blue Jays’ starter, Alek Manoah. While Contreras never reached the peak Manoah did last season and finished third in AL Cy Young voting, you’re still talking about a highly talented arm just seemingly forgetting how to pitch. Even just a couple of years ago, Lucas Giolito recorded one of the highest single-season ERAs for a rookie pitcher and then became a quality arm. Others like Cliff Lee, Chris Carpenter, and even Zack Greinke faced their fair share of early career struggles before figuring it out.

But they all took their lumps, maybe even got demoted to the minors, and came back strong. Contreras very clearly has the talent to be a good starting pitcher. We saw it all last season, and even early into this year. However, right now, it’s clear Contreras needs to get his bearings back in the minor leagues.

Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.” It’s easy for someone who has nothing going right for them to fall into a spiral and let it affect their on-field performance. I get the Pirates are going by the seat of their pants right now with pitching depth, but it can’t be good for him to keep going out there and getting shelled. 

We’ll see the Pirates deal with Contreras now that we’re approaching the All-Star Break. His most recent game against the Dodgers has to be the breaking point here. Something has to change, whether that be a change in mechanics, approach, or even a change in his pitch arsenal. Going down to Indianapolis not only gives him a chance to tinker with his stuff, but a chance for him to regain his composure and reset his mental state.

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