Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Misleading Stat Behind Quinn Priester's Poor Start to the 2023 season

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While Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Quinn Priester may look like he is struggling, there are certainty some unlucky factors playing a role in his first handful of outings.

One of the Pittsburgh Pirates many intriguing prospects is right-hander Quinn Priester. Priester had a pretty decent season in 2021 and 2022, working to a 3.16 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and 1.22 WHIP between the two seasons. However, many will look at the start of the season for the right-hander and believe he’s struggling. But once you peek under the hood, you’ll see that Priester has run into some bad luck early on this year.

Priester has an ERA of 7.78 in 19.2 innings. He’s allowed opponents to hit him for a .289 average, leading to a 1.68 WHIP. That’s not good, but there’s much more to consider here. The right-hander has struck out 26.6% of the batters he’s faced, with a 9.6% walk rate. Priester has always been outstanding at limiting the long ball, and he’s displayed that trait once again this year. He’s allowed just one home run, leading to a 0.46 HR/9 rate.

FIP, which solely looks at the three true outcomes, pins him at 3.23. xFIP, which is his expected FIP if his HR/FB ratio was league average, isn’t as bullish on Priester. However, that doesn’t mean he is performing poorly in that statistical category, either. He still clocks in at 3.88, which is above average.

Though take Priester’s expected FIP with some extra context. He always overperforms his xFIP because he’s a heavy ground ball pitcher who avoids home runs like the plague. xFIP detests these kinds of pitchers as it assumes they’ll give up more home runs, regardless of their track record and if they have proven home runs are a non-issue.

So if Priester’s FIP and xFIP are so good, he is preventing home runs and inducing strikeouts at a well above average rate; why does he have this bad of an ERA? It stems back to his batting average on balls in play, which currently sits at .404.

The league average BAbip is typically around .300, and .400 is completely unsustainable. While many people and fans like to compare a player’s BAbip to the league average, comparing it to a player’s past performance is better. Going into this year, Priester had a much more sustainable .296 batting average on balls in play. Even just last season, he sat at .299 for the year. Those marks are significantly higher than what he is currently rocking.

It’s not like Priester all of a sudden became a completely different pitcher in terms of batted ball rates. The talented right-hander had a 19.1% line drive rate, 53.7% ground ball rate, and 27.2% flyball rate from 2019 through 2022. At the time of writing this, he has a 21.1% line drive rate, 54.4% ground ball rate, and 24.6% fly ball rate. Sure, his fly ball rate is down, and his ground ball rate is up, and that could lead to a slightly higher BAbip, but not an increase of nearly .100 points. In the end, it will lead to less damage being done. Flyballs go for extra-base hits much more often than ground balls.

I definitely would say that while Priester is getting unlucky, it’s a cause of the small sample size. He’s only had 19.2 innings of playing time. No pitcher in minor league baseball dating back to 2006 has put a BAbip greater than .365 in 100+ innings. Since integration, no major leaguer has had a BAbip of .400 or greater in 120+ innings pitched. Before anyone starts to panic that Priester is a bust because his ERA is over 7.00, let’s take a step back, look at what could be causing it, realize it’s probably unsustainable, and give him a little more than about 20 innings before panicking.

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