Pittsburgh Pirates: Previewing The 2024 Bullpen Core

The Pirates have a good core to build upon in their bullpen.

Sep 13, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher relief pitcher David
Sep 13, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher relief pitcher David / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have assembled a good core to build their bullpen around for the 2024 season

The Pittsburgh Pirates have built a solid core in the bullpen. They have multiple young high-upside players who have had success in the Major Leagues as late as last season. Although the team could definitely use some more depth, they have something good going in the bullpen.

Leading the way is closing pitcher David Bednar. Bednar turned in another typically strong season, working to a 2.00 ERA, 2.53 FIP, and 1.10 WHIP through 67.1 innings. His 28.9% strikeout rate was the worst of his career. However, he still had an outstanding 7.6% walk rate and 0.40 HR/9. Bednar had a 45.3% fly ball rate but a barrel rate in the top 87th percentile of pitchers.

Last year, the team’s primary set-up man was Colin Holderman, who owned a 3.86 ERA, 3.29 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP in 56 frames. Holderman posted an above-average 24.2% strikeout rate along with a quality 8.3% walk rate. Like Bednar, he was great at limiting home runs with a 0.64 HR/9. While he was below average at limiting hard contact, he was great at limiting quality contact with a 5% barrel rate (top 88th percentile). Holderman’s numbers were slightly skewed because of his final three games, in which he allowed seven earned runs and was shut down because of an injury. Heading into mid-September, Holdmeran had a much cleaner-looking 2.86 ERA, 3.20 FIP, and 1.22 WHIP.

One of the Pirates’ former first-round picks, Carmen Mlodzinski, made a good first impression in the second half of the 2023 season.

In 36 innings, Mlodzinski worked to a 2.25 ERA, 4.03 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. Mlodzinski’s 22.8% strikeout rate was roughly league average, but he also limited home runs with a 0.75 HR/9. Walks, however, gave him some trouble with an 11.8% walk rate. Mlodzinski owned a barrel rate of just 4% with a 47.5% ground ball rate. The rookie took over the set-up role for Holderman once he landed on the IL in mid-September and had no trouble taking over the 8th inning, so we could see him unseat Holderman for the set-up role sometime next season.

Next, we have one of the Pirates’ breakout pitchers from 2023, Dauri Moreta. Acquired for Kevin Newman last off-season, Moreta was a fine pitcher, posting a 3.72 ERA, 2.99 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP. Moreta struck out over 30% of the batters he faced with a 31.2% strikeout rate and owning a 0.62 HR/9. However, his 10% walk rate was below average.

Moreta struggled mid-way through the season, both with poor performance and an injury that may have been the root of his poor performance. Regardless, Moreta ended the year on an extremely high note, reeling off 7 scoreless innings in September, striking out ten batters, and not allowing a single free pass.

Arguably, the biggest surprise from the 2023 Pirates was Ryan Borucki. The Bucs picked him up as a minor league signee, and he was their go-to high-leverage lefty by the end of the season. Borucki pitched 40.1 innings with Pittsburgh, working to a 2.45 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 0.74 WHIP. Borucki excelled in limiting hard and quality contact and preventing walks. The southpaw had just a 2.6% BB%, the second lowest rate among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. He limited opponents to just an 85.7 MPH exit velocity, 28.8% hard-hit rate, and 6.3% barrel rate. The only knock on his season was that he had a slightly below-average strikeout rate of 21.7%.

Those are five good relievers the Pirates have heading into 2024, but it would help if the Pirates added some depth to their pen. The rest of their bullpen options consist of guys with potential but have little to no Major League success, including Jose Hernandez, Colin Selby, and Kyle Nicolas. But between Bednar, Holderman, Mlodzinski, Moreta, and Borucki, they have got a good group to build upon.

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