Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Relievers Who Could Be on the Roster Bubble in the Spring

Will these Pirates relief pitchers be in their bullpen to open 2024?
Sep 29, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kyle Nicolas (62)
Sep 29, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kyle Nicolas (62) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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Hunter Stratton

The Pirates called up Hunter Stratton late into the year, making his debut on September 5th. The right-hander’s promotion was somewhat surprising, but the Pirates were in need of major league pitching depth. Despite his so-so minor league numbers this season, Stratton performed well in his brief big league promotion.

In a dozen big league innings, Stratton worked to a 2.25 ERA, 4.76 FIP, and 1.00 WHIP. He only had a 21.3% strikeout rate, but also walked just three batters for a 6.4% walk rate. Stratton allowed two home runs but had a 51.5% ground ball rate. Stratton’s underlying metrics didn’t reflect a low-3.00 ERA pitcher and were mostly mixed. He had a 3.97 xFIP, 3.73 SIERA, but a 4.51 xERA and 104 DRA-.

Stratton’s primary pitch is a cutter. He sits about 90-92 MPH with this offering with an impressive 5.8 inches of horizontal break. Had Stratton threw enough to qualify, his cutter would have been tied with the unfortunately listed Julio Urias for the 6th best horizontal cutter break.

While Stratton throws his four-seamer around 95-97 MPH with 2576 RPM, his fastball does not have very much active spin. His active spin rate clocks in at just 73%, so he isn’t fully taking advantage of his fastball’s capabilities. Then there’s his slider, which sits in the mid-80s with 10.9 inches of horizontal break, which is above the league average for a slider.

Now keep in mind, Stratton did not perform exceptionally well at Triple-A. Overall, he had a 3.99 ERA, 4.37 FIP, and 1.33 WHIP. But he did have a strong second half, pitching 20 innings, and owning a 1.80 ERA, 3.52 FIP, and 0.90 WHIP. Stratton struck out just a shade under 35% of the batters he faced (34.6%) while having a respectable 0.9 HR/9 rate and 10.3% walk rate. Given how hitter friendly the International League was last season, these are pretty decent numbers in the second half.

Stratton may be in the running for a job in the bullpen, but he’ll definitely have to fight for it. If the Pirates add a reliever or two in free agency or trade this off-season, Stratton’s already uphill battle will become even harder. Unlike Nicolas, we aren’t talking about a former top prospect who showed off elite stuff in the big leagues. Stratton could carve out a role as a quality middle reliever, though those roles have high fluctuation each and every year.