After pitching poorly in the first half of 2023, Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Bubba Chandler had a huge turnaround in the second half of the season
Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Bubba Chandler was considered one of the team’s top pitching prospects and arguably had top 100 talent going into the year. Chandler got off to a rough start to the season. But after getting settled in, the right-handed pitcher pitched so well in the second half he earned a late-season promotion to Double-A.
Chandler had pitched 62.1 innings up through the all-star break. We’ll first start with the positives, with that being his 25.4% strikeout rate, and an unsustainable .421 batting average on balls in play completely inflating his overall numbers. But the negatives included a 6.79 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 1.93 WHIP. Chandler walked batters at a 12.5% rate while having a 1.44 HR/9 rate. Sure, his super high BABIP was bad luck on his part, but the walks and home runs were horrible nonetheless. Chandler may not have been a pitcher deserving of an ERA approaching 7.00, but he was pitching like an upper-5.00 ERA pitcher in the first half of the year.
Chandler didn’t pitch for the next 12 days, as the All-Star Break had rolled around. But when he came back, he was playing like a different pitcher. His final 48.2 innings of 2023 yielded a microscopic 1.66 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. He made nine starts and allowed zero earned runs in five of them. Only two starts did he allow more than one earned run. That’s not where the positives end either.
Walks were a non-issue for Chandler. He cut his walk rate well below 10%, all the way down to 7.2%. Chandler wasn’t just better at preventing walks. He was also better at striking batters out, upping his K% to 28.2%. Home runs also were far less frequent when Chandler took the mound. His second half HR/9 rate was just 0.92.
Chandler was so good with Greensboro after the All-Star Break that the Pirates let him get one start in at Altoona before the end of the season. In that start, Chandler went five, near perfect innings, and struck out eight. He let up just a single hit, the lone batter allowed to reach base against him during his Altoona debut.
Now granted, a .200 batting average on balls in play is also extremely low, and good luck was playing a factor here, unlike bad luck in the first half. The real Bubba Chandler probably lies in between the two extremes of his season. Still, even a slight regression to the median from a 1.66 ERA could still mean Chandler is a good pitcher.
If you take Chandler’s numbers from June 13th onward, he has a .302 batting average on balls in play, but a quality 3.12 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 27.4% strikeout rate, and 6.8% walk rate. The only negatives are his 1.3 HR/9 and 4.30 FIP, though his home run rate influences his FIP, and given that Greensboro is a pitcher’s park, and 64.1 of the 69.2 innings he pitched from 6/13 onward were for the Pirates’ High-A affiliate, it resembles the only minor blemish.
I think you also have to take into account Chandler’s change in regimen. This was the first year that Chandler was used solely as a pitcher, professionally. When Chandler debuted in 2021, the Pirates didn’t utilize him as a pitcher, letting him DH and play shortstop. Chandler then pitched 41.1 innings in 2022 but also received 124 plate appearances in the DH role. One could plausibly theorize growing pains as a reason for Chandler’s first half struggles. There’s a reason why the saying “Pitchers are a creature of habit” became a thing.
Either way, Chandler pitched extremely well in the second half after an extremely rough first half. It will be fun to see how he builds upon this next year. Chandler just turned 21 earlier this month, so he’s still a fairly young pitcher to be starting his year at Double-A next season. The average age of pitchers n the Eastern League is 24.4 years old. But Chandler could very well make his debut in 2024 if he continues to pitch well for Altoona next season.