Pittsburgh Pirates: Ryan Borucki a Potential Diamond in the Rough Find

Ryan Borucki might be a diamond in the rough find for the Pirates

Jul 22, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Ryan Borucki (43) throws
Jul 22, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Ryan Borucki (43) throws / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Ryan Borucki to a minor league deal in May. Since then, he's been solid out of the bullpen and could become a diamond in the rough find.

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Ryan Borucki to a minor league deal back in early May. The deal was obviously met with little fanfare. A once promising starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, Borucki’s career was pretty much derailed by injuries up until 2023. After a quality 2018 rookie season, Borucki would only pitch 72.1 innings from 2019 through 2022. He also struggled greatly in those innings, working to a 5.23 ERA, 5.55 FIP, and 1.51 WHIP. 

Needless to say, not many fans were excited, or even knew, the Pirates promoted him in mid-June. However, since Borucki has appeared in the big leagues with the Pirates, he’s been a fairly solid arm. While that’s not to say the Pirates should hand Borucki a high-leverage role, he’s a potential diamond in the rough find by the Bucs.

Borucki has pitched 16.1 innings as a Bucco, allowing just 6 earned runs, he's struck out 17 batters and has only walked a pair. Those two walks have come in his two previous outings, Borucki started out his Pirates tenure reeling off 14.1 straight walk-less innings. He has allowed two home runs, though overall, he has a 3.31 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 0.87 WHIP. 

In the month of July, the left-handed reliever has pitched 13 innings, allowing just 3 earned runs, with all his strikeouts and home runs allowed as a Pirate player coming this month. Borucki didn’t have a great start to his Pirates career, as he allowed 3 earned runs in his first 0.2 innings. However, it’s been pretty smooth sailing since those first two games (both outings only lasted a third of an inning).

Borucki has been elite at limiting hard contact. He’s never gotten hit hard in any season, but this year has been off the charts for him. When opponents do make contact against him they managed an exit velocity of just 84.6 MPH, a hard hit rate of 25.6%, and a barrel rate of 2.6%.

If Borucki had enough innings to qualify for the leaderboards, he would rank top ten in all three statistics. Combined with his 30.1% whiff rate (which is 5.3% better than league average), it’s no wonder why opponents have only managed a .214 batting average against him, and a rate well below the Mendoza line since his third game as Pirates relief pitcher.

The Pirates have gotten Borucki to throw his slider more often. He’s used it nearly 50% of the time (49.5% to be exact), and batters have not been able to hit it. He has managed to keep his opponent’s wOBA below .300 while using his slider. The increased use of his slider means the decreased use of his sinker, which has now taken a backseat. It’s the first time he’s used his slider more often than his sinker in his Major League career. The Pirates have also gotten Borucki to use a sweeper for the first time in his career. He’s using it 17.6% of the time, and it’s become a part of his arsenal. This pitch has been even more effective than just his normal slider, holding opponents to a wOBA of just .161, with a 47.8% whiff rate against it.

Borucki is able to differentiate between his slider and sweeper well. The first thing is the difference in velocity. Borucki averages out at 87.8 MPH with his slider, but just 82.9 MPH with his sweeper. Borucki’s slider has about 30 inches of vertical movement, but only 0.4 inches of horizontal movement. Meanwhile, his slider has 36.9 inches of vertical, and 11.3 inches of horizontal movement. 

The Pirates have been really good at getting the most out of their pitchers who throw a slider and/or sweeper, you can read more about that here. They have five pitchers who rank top 50 in run value on sliders (min. 50 batters faced). Both Mitch Keller and Colin Holderman have had two of the most effective sweepers this season, which is a major component of their success in 2023.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. You could draw a lot of parallels between Borucki and Manny Bañuelos last season. Both were left-handed relievers the Pirates gave a shot during the summer. Both did pretty solid for the Pirates as well. However, the Pirates did Bañuelos a little dirty.

While I (and many others) never believed Banuelos was going to suddenly become the next Billy Wagner, the Pirates non-tendering him after a fairly solid run in the second half of the season, and when he was the only left-handed reliever on their roster at that time was a bit shortsighted. If Borucki continues to be a good reliever, I hope the Pirates don’t repeat the same actions this offseason.

Now granted, it is a small sample size, but a promising one at that. It’s probably the first time that Borucki has been both healthy and effective since 2020 when he worked out of the Toronto bullpen for 16.2 innings. Even then, he still walked 16.4% of opponents he faced that year. Unlike that season, walks have been a non-issue, and his current walk rate is just 1.3%.

None of this is to say Borucki will be the Pirates’ Tony Watson. Finding a diamond in the rough doesn’t mean they found the next Mariano Rivera. However, that’s not to say that Borucki can’t be a solid lefty relief pitcher for the Pirates. He is controlled through 2024 if the Pirates want to bring him back for a second season. So far, based on how he’s done, I wouldn’t be opposed to the Pirates bringing him back as their lefty middle relief guy.

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