Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Unluckiest Pitcher Thus Far in 2023

Tyler Samaniego has been the Pittsburgh Pirates' unluckiest pitching prospect.

St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages
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Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitching prospect Tyler Samaniego has improved in multiple ways in 2023 but has been very unlucky despite the improvements made in his game

The Pittsburgh Pirates have one pitching prospect who just seemingly can't catch a break this year. He's been by far the Bucs' unluckiest prospect, if not one of the most unlucky minor leaguers this season. That's left-handed relief pitching prospect Tyler Samaneigo.

Samaniego was a pretty solid reliever last season for Greensboro and Altoona. In 47.2 innings, the Southpaw had a 2.45 ERA, 3.46 FIP, and 0.80 WHIP. Samaniego had an outstanding 0.38 HR/9, along with a healthy 25.5% strikeout rate.

However, walks were an issue more than once for Samaniego, as he allowed a free pass 10.9% of the time. Samaniego mostly used his ability to induce ground balls to fuel his success. He had a 50.6% ground ball rate, along with an elite 14.9% line-drive rate, leading to a .160 batting average on balls in play.

Samaniego currently owns a 27.4% strikeout rate with a walk rate of just 9.4%. His HR/9 rate is just 0.32. All three numbers are an improvement from 2022. Samaniego has continued his ball specialist ways into this year with a ground ball rate of 57.5%, yet another significant uptick from 2023. He's also given up a lot fewer flyballs, with his fly ball rate going from 35.4% to just 26%.

So why has his ERA gone from 2.45 to 6.00, despite his FIP dropping from 3.46 to 2.62 and his xFIP going from 4.31 to 3.15? Well, it's because he has a .370 batting average on balls in play. Samaneigo fed off of such a low BAbipP last year, which caused his ERA to be significantly lower than any of his other underlying metrics. This year, however, he's approaching .400 for some reason.

The only change in batted ball rates worth mentioning for Samaniego is that he's allowing more line drives. Line drives fall for a hit more often than any other batted ball type. However, it was only a 2.5% uptick, and he still sits at an astoundingly low 16.4% line drive rate. That shouldn't cause a rise of over 200 points in BAbip.

Typically, high ground ball pitchers have lower BAbips. The league average BAbip among pitchers with a ground ball rate of at least 50% in the major leagues was just .258. Also, pitchers who were great at preventing line drives typically had a low BABIP as well. Among the pitchers with an line drive rate of 17% or lower, the average BAbip was just .253, just a few ticks lower than pitchers who induce a ton of ground balls. In the little overlap between the pitchers who have a GB% over 50% and line drive rate below 17%, the league average BAbip was just .251.

If you want an almost identical comparison in batted ball rates, look no further than Chicago White Sox' reliever Keynan Middleton. Middleton has a 16.7% line drive rate, 58.3% ground ball rate, and 25% fly ball rate, all are within 1% of Samaniego. That's resulted in a 1.3-degree launch angle. The White Sox, do not have a good defense this year with -38 defensive runs saved and -14 outs above average. Yet, despite that, Middleton has a .279 BAbip.

This is where Samaniego falls in, right now, at least. His line drive rate is elite and has a ground ball rate well over 50%. He's also striking out batters at an above-average rate with a walk rate somewhere around league average. Plus, home runs have been a complete non-issue for two years now.

There's no reason he shouldn't have a low BAbip. It's almost as if the defense behind Samaniego completely forgets how to field once he takes the mound. He shouldn't have a .370 BAbip, and he shouldn't have an ERA of 6.00. With a ground ball rate that high, there is a level of reliance on his defense, and it's been letting him down significantly.

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