Bubba Chandler was the Pirates’ third-round pick in 2021. Despite being taken in the third round, Chandler had first-round talent. Drafted as a two-way player, 2023 was both the first full season of Chandler’s professional career, and the first year he focused solely on pitching. It took Chandler a while to adjust, but by the second half, Chandler found his way and ended the year on an extremely positive note.
Chandler’s season can be split into two stories. The first is the first half of his season. Chandler was having a concerning season when the all-star break rolled around. His first 62.2 innings yielded a 6.79 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 1.93 WHIP. Chandler allowed home runs at a 1.44-per-9 rate and had a 12.5% walk rate. The only silver lining was his 25.4% strikeout rate. Chandler did suffer from a .421 batting average on balls in play, which is unsustainable, but it wasn’t the sole reason for his struggles. A lower BAbip wouldn’t have made him a sub-4.00 pitcher.
Then came the second half of the year, and the second part of his story. In his last 48.2 innings, Chandler owned a minuscule 1.66 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and 0.82 WHIP. Chandler’s strikeout rate took a slight step forward to 28.2%, but the massive improvement was his 7.2% walk rate and 0.92 HR/9. While BABIP worked heavily against him in the first half, it worked in his favor in the second half. Chandler had just a .200 BAbip, which is on the lucky side, but he still pitched well nonetheless.
Chandler throws hard and sits 95-97 MPH. His best secondary pitch is a slider that comes in the 88-92 MPH range. Not only does it have velocity, but good movement as well. His curveball has distinct movement from his curveball and is a third above-average pitch. His changeup has a lot of potential. Keith Law labels it as plus-plus. If his stuff all reaches its potential, you're looking at two double-plus offerings and two above-average breaking balls.
The Pirates drafted Chandler as an RHP/SS, and he was known to have great athleticism up the middle. While he’s been able to show some of said athleticism on the mound, he’ll certainly need to further translate it next season. He struggled with command early on and had some trouble getting his delivery down. But if his walk rate in the second half was anything to show, it’s that he started to improve.
Chandler had top 100 prospects status when he was a draft prospect. He was able to start translating the athleticism of a shortstop onto the mound in the second half of last season. While I don’t expect him to continue to post an ERA below 2.00 for all of 2024, I do expect him to at least continue to build off his strong second half, be a good pitcher next year, make more improvements, and show what he can do against upper-level hitters.