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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Jose Hernandez

Jose Hernandez was the Pirates’ Rule 5 pick from last off-season. Hernandez’s season started strong, but he folded down the line. However, he is a hard-throwing lefty with decent stuff, which will always get a pitcher a second look. However, will that second look be on Opening Day, or will he have to re-earn his promotion to the majors next season?

Hernandez finished off his rookie season with a 4.97 ERA, 4.48 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP in 50.2 innings. The southpaw had a strong 27.8% strikeout rate, but a middling 9.9% walk rate, and 1.60 HR/9. These aren’t great numbers but aren’t horrible for a Rule 5 draftee, and they could have been better. Despite Hernandez’s ERA approaching 5.00, there were some positives from his season.

Hernandez had a decent 3.65 SIERA, 4.00 xFIP, 4.16 xERA, and 96 DRA- (112 ERA-). All estimators pinned him as a slightly above-average reliever in 2023. Hernadnez’s slider was also one of the most effective of its kind last year with +1.5 RV/100, and overall +7 RV. While his four-seamer did not get good results, the pitch has plus potential, averaging out around the mid-90s and sitting with 99% active spin.

The lefty also had a fairly good start to the season. Hernandez pitched 27.1 innings in the first half of 2023, working to the tune of a 2.63 ERA, 3.20 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP. His strikeout rate of 25.7% was decent, but even better when paired with his 5.5% walk rate. The worst number he had in the first half was his HR/9, which was still a manageable 0.99-per-9 rate. While he held opponents to an OPS well below .700 in the first half at .659, opponents pieced him up for a .899 OPS in the second half of 2023.

Whether or not Hernandez makes the Pirates’ 2024 Opening Day roster will depend on a few factors. One is if the Pirates acquire another lefthanded reliever this off-season. That could make his chances significantly lower. If they don’t, he’ll be in the running for the second lefty bullpen role.

As of right now, I’d wager to say that Borucki has a potential high-leverage role secured. Angel Perdomo had a very solid season before landing on the IL and ending his year. As of right now, I’d say that Perdomo has the edge over Hernandez. Not only did Perdomo perform better overall than Hernandez this season, but the Pirates will now have the option to send Hernandez to Triple-A. They do not have that luxury with Perdomo, as he would need to pass through waivers and accept a minor league assignment first.

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