DFA Duane Underwood Jr., Promote Colin Selby
Duane Underwood Jr. was a pick-up by the Pirates in 2020-2021. He served as a competent long-relief man during the 2021 season, but he was then asked to undertake a more high-leverage role. This is a role he has been inconsistent at best in and could potentially be staring down DFA limbo, especially with Colin Selby making a serious push for the big leagues.
Opponents just got on base when Underwood came to face them in important moments. In late and close games, they had a .362 on-base percentage last season and hit .296/.393/.394 in high-leverage situations. While he didn’t give up too many extra-base hits, allowing runners to reach base almost 40% of the time when the game is in its most important stage is a recipe for disaster.
Since after the 2022 Al-Star Break, Underwood owns a 4.97 ERA, 3.93 FIP, and 1.52 WHIP through 50.2 innings. Although he has a strong 0.53 HR/9, he’s struck out less than 20% of opponents (16.7%) with a walk rate of nearly 10% (9.7%). SIERA, one of the more accurate and advanced predictive measurements available to the public, has him at 4.42. FIP is the only predictive measurement that doesn’t have him above 4.40 during this stretch. Even then, xFIP pins him at 4.50.
Aside from a solid first half of 2022, Underwood hasn’t done anything of note in his Pirates tenure. While Underwood has yet to make any progress despite multiple changes in his game from 2021 through 2023, Colin Selby, on the other hand, has made changes that have drastically improved his game.
Selby was a former 16th-round pick from a D3 school who made major strides in 2022. In 35.2 innings, Selby owned a 2.27 ERA, 2.92 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP. His 9.4% walk rate was manageable and the worst stat among his numbers. He struck out 28.9% of the batters he faced with a 0.5 HR/9 rate. Selby kept the ball on the ground, too, with a 54.4% ground ball rate, the 10th highest among Pirate minor leaguers in 2022 (min. 30 IP).
The top relief prospect opened the year at Triple-A but stumbled out of the gate. He allowed three earned runs while walking five batters through his first 3.2 innings. But after that, he found his groove and has kept producing like the pitcher he was last season. Over his last 11.1 innings, Selby has struck out 17 batters, has only allowed four walks and hits, and just two earned runs for an ERA well under 2.00 at 1.59. Ground balls have continued to be a strength for Selby, with a ground ball rate of 64.4% on the year and no home runs allowed.
Selby sits in the upper-90s. He didn’t throw a pitch below 96 MPH in his most recent outing. He throws a sinker, curveball, and slider with his four-seamer. Control hasn’t been his strong suit, but he’s never struggled with control, either. He’s kept his walk rate below 10%, which is perfectly fine, given how often he strikes batters out and how often he keeps the ball on the ground.
The late-inning trio of Selby, Colin Holderman, and David Bednar is significantly better than Underwood, Holderman, and Bednar. Underwood is in his third season with the Pirates, will turn 29 at the all-star break, and hasn’t shown any signs of improvement since his arrival. Selby is 25, is the Pirates’ best relief pitching prospect, and is dominating batters at Triple-A.