The Pittsburgh Pirates have built a strong bullpen core through mostly low-profile and under the radar additions
The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen has a handful of arms who have been outright dominant this year. Most of them are young, and we are seeing what could be the second coming off the Shark Tank. Most of the Pirate arms in the pen are in their first or second big league season, and are still multiple years away from free agency. But the Pirates have built a dominant bullpen through mostly diamond in the rough finds.
Now, first off, David Bednar wasn’t a diamond in the rough find by the Bucs. The Renegade was a top prospect in the San Diego Padres’ system who was acquired in the Joe Musgrove deal. He was the best relief pitching prospects in the minor leagues prior to his homecoming to Pittsburgh, but the rest of the bullpen has been shrewd find after shrewd find.
I think the most unknown acquisition the Pirates made so far has been Yohan Ramirez. According to Baseball Reference, the Pirates acquired Ramirez for “unknown compensation” from the Cleveland Guardians, though MLB Trade Rumors states it was a cash trade. Either way, Ramirez was pretty much an up-and-down middling reliever until he made his way to Pittsburgh.
Ramirez had a solid showing with the Bucs in 2022, but has taken off in 2023. In 21.2 innings, Ramirez owns a strong 1.25 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP. Ramirez has an 8.9 walk rate, but has combated that with a 23.6% strikeout rate, and allowing just a single home run. Ramirez has a 64.6% ground ball rate, which is the 8th highest rate while having an impressive 86.9 MPH exit velocity.
The most common place you find diamonds in the rough is the Rule 5 draft, which is where the Pirates found Jose Hernandez. The third overall pick in the draft, Hernandez was taken from the LA Dodgers. The left-hander had split his 2022 season for their High-A and Double-A affiliates, showing off a decent amount of talent, but also some flaws in his game. But the Pirates have seemingly figured out those weaknesses and have turned him into a quality big league reliever.
Hernandez has pitched 25.1 innings, working to a miniscule 2.22 ERA, 3.08 FIP, and 0.95 WHIP. Walks were an issue Hernandez struggled with in the minor leagues, but they’ve been far from an issue this year. He has a walk rate of just 4.1%, the 15th lowest in baseball and the 5th lowest among LHP relievers. He also has an above average 24.5% strikeout rate, and has allowed just two home runs. Hernandez’s slider has a -4.5 RV/100, and has held opponents to a .073 batting average, .098 slugging percentage, and .074 wOBA.
Dauri Moreta wasn’t as low of a profile acquisition as both Hernandez and Ramirez, but considering it was a one-for-one swap for Kevin Newman, and neither player was high-profile at the time, the trade mostly went unnoticed outside of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh fan circles. Despite the relatively low-profile move, Moreta has since become a very dominant reliever.
Moreta has racked up 27 innings in black and gold, working to a pristine 1.67 ERA, 2.88 FIP, and 0.93 WHIP. Moreta greatly struggled with home runs last year, surrendering 2.35-per-9 whine in Cincinnati. However, Moreta has become a home run suppressor, only allowing two all year.
The right-handed reliever has a well above average exit velocity of 87 MPH, and a hard hit rate in the 54th percentile at 38.9%. Both are major improvements from 90.6 MPH and 41.3%, respectively. Moreta also has struck out well over a third of opponents with a 36.2% K-rate, the 12th highest among relievers with 20+ IP. However, walks have been an issue with a 12.4% walk rate. However, many of those free passes were allowed in April. Since the outset of May, he’s allowed just 5.7% of opponents to reach via base on balls.
The most high profile name we’ll look at is Colin Holderman. Now the player the Pirates’ traded to get him, Daniel Vogelbach, is definitely a name many fans know. However, Holderman was definitely overshadowed in the Mets’ system by high-end prospects such as Ronny Mauricio, Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, and Mark Vientos.
Regardless of where Holderman ranked in the Mets’ system, he’s become a dominant force in the Pirate bullpen. He’s worked to a 2.74 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 1.35 WHIP through 23 innings. He’s struck out 27.6% of the batters he’s faced while posting a 6.1% walk rate. Most importantly is he’s only allowed two home runs with a 49.2% ground ball rate. It’s definitely nice to have a dominant set-up man to an even more dominant closing pitcher. That’s something the Pirates haven’t had in years.
It's too early to tell, but the Pirates might have found yet another quality relief pitcher in a low-profile manner. Angel Perdomo was a minor league signee who has pitched three scoreless innings with four strikeouts. He's yet to allowed just one base runner via HBP. However, he hasn't walked a batter and he also hasn't given up a hit.
When you think about it, the Pirates’ early-2010 shark tank bullpens were built with fairly under the radar players too. Tony Watson was a 9th round pick, Mark Melancon had some success before arriving in Pittsburgh, but was anything but a household name until he donned black and gold, and Jason Grilli made his Pirates debut at 34, after not pitching at all in 2010, and having an ERA over 5.00 the last time he played Major League Baseball.
The Pirates’ now have a very strong core in their bullpen that has mostly been built through low-profile and mostly under-the-radar moves. The most important part is that most of these players aren’t even in arbitration yet. Aside from Bednar, the closest to arbitration is Ramirez, who will hit arbitration for the first time next off-season.