Pittsburgh Pirates: The Tale of an Imploding Pitching Staff

Since the end of April the Pirate pitching staff has taken a massive step backward

Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates
Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages
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Driven by their pitching staff, the Pittsburgh Pirates got off a red hot start in April. Since then, the pitching staff has imploded and the team has collapsed along the way.

For the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 2023 season started with great promise. A driving force behind this was a great start from the pitching staff. However, now the Pirates find themselves spiraling toward another 90+ loss season.

The biggest reason the season has gone off the rails for the Pirates? Well, that is because their pitching staff has completely imploded. With a pitching staff current in a state of disarray, the Pirates now find themselves just trying to limp to the finish line for hte 2023 season these next eight weeks.

Through the first month of the season the Pirates were the talk of the baseball world. At the end of the month of April the Pirates owned a National League 20-9 record, and a big driving force behind this was their pitching staff.

In April, the Pirate pitching staff posted a 3.55 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 0.80 HR/9, 8.8% walk rate, and a 22.6% strikeout rate. This including a starting staff that averaged 5.5 innings per start (160 innings in 29 games), while posting a 3.83 ERA. As for the bullpen, Pirate relievers posted a 3.10 ERA, 9.7% walk rate, and a 23.3% strikeout rate in April.

Since the end of April the Pirate pitching staff has completely imploded while the team has collapsed along with it.

The Pirates are 28-51 since the end of April. In 691.1 innings pitched since the end of the first month of the season, the Pirate pitching staff owns a 4.99 ERA. You read that correctly, 4.99 ERA. The past 14 weeks the Pirate pitching staff has an ERA of nearly 5.

Pirate starters have averaged just 5.1 innings per start since the end of April. Their starting staff owns a 5.23 ERA, 1.44 HR/9, 9.5% walk rate, and a 20.2% strikeout rate during this stretch. To be blunt, that's terrible.

While the Pirate bullpen has been better than the starting rotation during this stretch, their relievers have still struggled. The bullpen has pitched 281.2 innings since the end of April, posting a 4.64 ERA, 1.31 HR/9, 10.1% walk rate, and a 23.4% strikeout rate.

Once promising young starting pitcher Roansy Contreras has been an example of this implosion. At the end of April he had a 3.58 ERA and had not allowed a home run in 27.2 innings pitched across 5 starts. With this strong start to the season, Contreras owned a 3.65 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 9.7% wak rate, 21.3% strikeout rate, and a 0.93 HR/9 in his first 125.2 MLB innings.

Beginning with his first start in the month of May, Contreras completely imploded. Contreras pitched in 14 games, 6 starts, from the start of May until he was optioned to the minors in early July. He posted an 8.63 ERA, 6.74 FIP, 10.8% walk rate, 16.7% strikeout rate, and a 2.43 HR/9 during this strethc. Contreras has sent been sent to the Florida Complex League where he has yet to even appear in a game.

Mitch Keller has also been trending in the wrong direction. In his last 13 starts, dating back to May 26th, Keller owns a 5.92 ERA. In these 13 starts he's allowed 50 earned runs in 76 innings pitched. Keller has allowed has allowed 4 earned runs in 8 of these 13 starts, including allowing 8 earned runs twice.

Former first-round pick Quinn Priester has joined the starting rotation but looks completely overmatched and as if he does not belong in the majors. Osvaldo Bido has an ERA north of 5, showing why he's been a career minor leaguer. Luis Ortiz, who flashed last September, struggled mightily in the majors, his stuff look substantially worse than it did last year, and he's been sent back to Triple-A where he has also struggled.

Mostly every Pirate reliever has regressed since April as well. David Bednar continues to pitch like a dominant back end of the bullpen arm. Carmen Mlodzinski and Ryan Borucki have pitched well since joining the Major League bullpen. The rest of the relievers have all regressed since April.

The most discouraging part is that Johan Oviedo is the only Pirate pitcher that has truly shown any major growth during this stretch. Oviedo allowed 6 earned runs in 5 innings pitched in his first start during the month of May. Since then, Oviedo has posted a 3.92 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 1.03 HR/9, 9.8% walk rate, and a 21.1% strikeout rate while averaging 5.8 innings per start (87.1 innings in 15 starts).

If the Pirates are going to have any hope of contending in 2024, and those hopes appears to be about as low as possible, they will need to find a lot of pitching help between now and Opening Day. Either that or a large chunk of their in-house options will need to make huge strides in their development and take big steps forward. Right now, there is no reason to have confidence in that happening.

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