Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Relievers Who Could Start The Year In The Majors

The Pirates could round their bullpen out with one of these three relief pitchers.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
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Jose Hernandez

The Pirates took Jose Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft last off-season, and in the first half of the season, he looked like he could secure a high-leverage spot later in the year. Through his first 27.1 Major League innings, Hernandez had a 2.63 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP. Hernandez had an above-average 0.99 HR/9 and 25.7% strikeout rate but clocked in with a walk rate of just 5.5%. Hernandez was great at limiting quality contact with a barrel rate of just 5.7%.

An injury list stint in late June lasted through the all-star break. But once Hernandez returned, he started to struggle badly. His final 23.1 innings of the season yielded a horrendous 7.71 ERA, 5.74 FIP, and 1.76 WHIP. After having such a low walk rate in the first half, he saw that balloon to 14% in the second half. He also gave up a ton of home runs with a 2.31 HR/9. Although his hard-hit rate and exit velocity improved, his barrel rate also went up dramatically to 12.5%. The only silver lining is that he nearly struck out 30% of the batters he faced.

Hernandez’s slider was untouchable last year as batters managed just a .170 BA, .256 SLG%, .216 wOBA, and swung and missed 39.8% of the time he threw it. But his four-seamer got rocked to a .322 average, .729 slugging, and .505 wOBA. That’s nearly an identical batting average, slugging, and wOBA as Barry Bonds had in the 2000s. His change-up was not used very often, but it still got battered when he threw it, as opponents hit it for a .346 AVG, .731 wOBA, and .450 wOBA.

Although the southpaw’s best pitch is his fastball, his four-seamer definitely has the potential to be good. Hernandez averages out in the mid-upper-90s with average carry above-average break. His change-up is a distant third pitch, and there was definitely a reason he used it much less often than his four-seamer.

I think that had the Pirates not signed Chapman, Hernandez would have had a very good shot at making the Opening Day bullpen. But Hernandez probably has a very outside shot unless Borucki or Bailey Falter open the year on the IL. Since Hernandez still has all three of his minor league options remaining, the Pirates will likely send him to Triple-A, at least to start the year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the first one they call upon in the event of an injury.