Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect Paul Skenes tossed a decent amount of innings in 2023, but how many frames will he tally in 2024?
The Pittsburgh Pirates took Paul Skenes out of Louisiana State University first overall. On top of being picked first overall, Skenes signed a record-breaking $9.2 million signing bonus. Skenes is arguably the best pitcher the draft has seen since Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg were selected in the late-2000s and early-2010s. But now many question if Skenes will be put on an innings limit as we approach 2024.
Skenes was lights out for LSU, pitching to the tune of a 1.69 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 10.45 K:BB ratio. The right-hander struck out 209 of the 426 batters he faced, leading to a strikeout rate of 45.2%. For reference, no MLB pitcher has ever tossed less than 130 innings with more than 200 K’s. Skenes wasn’t just a flamethrower with no command either. He had a miniscule 4.3% walk rate. Home runs were a non-issue as well, given his 0.51 HR/9.
Skenes throws hard, averaging out around 97-100 MPH and topping out around 102-103. His slider is another elite pitch that runs toward Skenes’ arm side at the last second. While his fastball and slider are potential 80-grade offerings, don’t sleep on his change-up. This pitch is at least above average, if not plus. Skenes is athletic and played catcher, first base, and some corner outfield for Air Force before transferring to LSU.
But Skenes pitched a decent amount of frames, both for LSU and the Pirate minor league affiliates. At LSU, he totaled 122.2 frames. After he got drafted and signed by the Pirates, he tallied 6.2 more. But Skenes was used in a much more limited role for the Pirates’ minor league affiliates. None of his five starts lasted more than two innings. That’s compared to when 17 of his 19 starts for LSU lasted at least six innings.
Combined, he tossed almost 130 innings (he fell two outs shy of this benchmark). You could look at this amount one of two ways. The first way is that he’s already stretched out for a large workload and is durable enough to take on a reasonable increase in innings. The second way is that LSU worked him way too much, and that could be a concern later on down the line or soon.
I am in the first camp that Skenes is a durable arm. So, with that, how many innings could we potentially expect from Skenes next season? I think 150-ish frames is a reasonable count. That’s only a 20-inning uptick from 2023. For a good pitcher, that amounts to about 26 to 28 starts and only four more starts than Skenes made in all of 2023.
There’s a fine line between grinding a pitcher down and getting him used to a larger workload. Taking his workload from 130 to 150 is almost the difference of only three quality starts. Skenes could totally take on that without fretting over if he is being overworked. I think a 15-20 inning increase each season is more than reasonable.