Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Players Who Still Deserve Another Opportunity

First impressions aren't always everything, and while these young Pittsburgh Pirates players may have struggled in 2023, they deserve a second chance in 2024.

Sep 16, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Luis Ortiz (48)
Sep 16, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Luis Ortiz (48) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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Roansy Contreras

Roansy Contreras entered 2023 with big expectations. After a quality rookie year where he entered the season as a consensus top-100 prospect, Contreras looked like he could secure a long-term rotation spot, but things didn’t go according to plan.

Contreras’ rookie season wasn’t bad. In 95 innings, he pitched to a 3.79 ERA, 4.38 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP. While his 22.1% strikeout rate, 9.6% walk rate, and 1.23 HR/9 were solid but unimpressive, it was a successful rookie campaign overall. Plus, in just his age-22 season, there was reason to believe he could get better and improve upon his game. He also had above-average whiff and chase rates, so there was a good chance that you may have seen his strikeout rate go up.

2023, however, was a rough year. At the end of April, he had just a 3.58 ERA, 2.98 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP. Sure, his K% dropped to 20.7% while his walk rate saw a slight uptick to 10.3%, but he didn’t allow a single home run through his first 27.2 innings, mainly due to his barrel rate dropping to just 5.1%.

But after April, things all came crashing down around Contreras. Over his next 40.2 innings, he had an 8.63 ERA, 6.72 FIP, and 1.72 WHIP. While his walk rate didn’t take much of a hit at 10.8%, his strikeout rate plummeted to just 16.7%. Meanwhile, his home run rate went in the completely opposite direction at 2.43-per-9. Contreras was optioned to Triple-A after July 5th and wasn’t recalled again for the rest of the year.

Contreras got his walk rate under control at Triple-A, cutting it down to 8.2% while upping his K% to 22.4%, but his HR/9 remained above 2.00. Part of that is because of a 20.4% HR/FB ratio, and while he is more of a flyball pitcher, HR/FB rate above 20% is unlikely to be sustained across a full season.

So why should Contreras get another shot? Well, for one, he’s only 24. He won’t turn 25 until next November. Giving up on a young arm, who was considered a consensus top 100 prospect less than two years ago, would be foolish, especially considering he was not bad in his first look in the bigs.

Two, it’s very possible Contreras was injured this year. The right-hander averaged 95.8 MPH on his fastball in 2022 to just 94.4 MPH. That’s nearly a one-and-a-half loss of velocity. That’s the difference between the 78th percentile and the 56th percentile of fastball velo. However, he was sitting just 92-93 MPH at Triple-A. Let’s see what he can do after a full off-season of rest.

Another thing he needs to work on is his pitch spin. Contreras’ fastball went from just 12.3 inches of drop and 7.4 inches of horizontal break to 14.2 inches of drop and 5.1 inches of break. His fastball became flat, losing the ride and break he had shown in 2022. That’s because his active spin rate went from 93% to just 89%. 

Some of this may have also to do with the pitch clock. Contreras sped his game up significantly with men on base, going from 16.7 seconds to just 13.2 seconds. When the bases were empty, he dropped it from 9.9 seconds to 8.1 seconds. He was already working at a good pace in 2022 and didn’t need to speed things up. 

One last thing to note is that this might just be a sophomore slump. Some players struggle in the following year after their first big league season or breakout campaign. Contreras is only 24, and he wouldn’t be the first player under 25 player to struggle in their second season following their rookie/breakout season.