Wil Crowe's recent blown leads to a major question: is it time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to move on from the reliever?
The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off a rough series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Although they split the four-game stretch, the two losses they were handed were very winnable games. In the last game of the series, the Pirates gained a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the tenth inning. Manager Derek Shelton decided to go with right-handed reliever Wil Crowe, who promptly blew the lead and let the walk-off run score. Although I don’t blame Shelton in that situation, as he was pretty much SOL with his options in the 9th and 10th innings, it does present the question; is it time to move on from Wil Crowe?
Acquired in the Josh Bell trade, Crowe has yet to live up to the hype of a second-round pick. In his rookie campaign in 2021, Crowe was primarily used as a starting pitcher, but it went extremely poorly. In 116.2 innings, Crowe had a 5.48 ERA, 5.67 FIP, and 1.57 WHIP. Crowe’s below-average 21.2% strikeout rate was the least of his concerns. He dished out a free pass to 10.9% of batters faced, which only made his 1.93 HR/9 all the worse.
The Pirates opted to put Crowe in the bullpen in 2022, and things started to take a turn for the better. At the end of the first week and a half of August, Crowe had a 3.05 ERA, 3.21 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP. He only had a 23.3% strikeout rate and a 9.8% walk rate, but he cut his HR/9 down to just 0.46. Opponents only managed an 86.2 MPH exit velocity and 25.5% hard-hit rate, both of which were in elite territory. Then after that, Crowe simply just lost it. He allowed 17 earned runs in his final 17 innings of 2022. That included an 11:14 K:BB ratio and surrendering five home runs. Batters suddenly were barreling up Crowe like there was no tomorrow, as he had a 91.1 MPH exit velocity and 51.6% hard-hit rate.
So far this year, Crowe has allowed three earned runs in just 8.1 innings. He’s still allowing batters to reach base at a high rate, as he’s allowed seven hits and seven walks with only eight strikeouts. Although he’s not allowing as much hard contact as he did in the last third of 2022, he is still below average, currently at 89.5 MPH and 42.9%, respectively.
The issue is that Crowe is, at best, a middling middle reliever. After Sunday's 10th inning meltdown, he's pitched 40.2 innings in the 8th inning or later. In that time, he’s allowed 31 earned runs, which is an ERA of 6.98. Opponents hit .324/.423/.648 against Crowe in the 9th inning or later. That’s about how Aaron Judge batted last year when he broke the American League home run record after slashing .311/.425/.686.
Crowe is what he is at this point. He’s a 28-year-old, low-leverage middle reliever. I get that no team is going to fill their bullpen with all-star relievers, but at this point, it’s not like the Pirates don’t have better options. They currently have both Colin Selby and Yerry De Los Santos on the 40-man roster. They could go a bit bolder and make room for Tahnaj Thomas or Tyler Samaniego. Crowe also has a minor league option remaining, so it’s not as if they must risk losing him to waivers.
The Pirates need to add another arm who can handle high-leverage games, and Crowe is not it. He’s going to be 29 at the end of this season and has consistently shown that he struggles to hold games when it’s late. At this point, he’s only taking away a roster spot from a player who could prove to be more than a low-leverage middle-man.