These three Pittsburgh Pirates need to make these improvements to make large steps forward in 2023
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a team who should trend upward next season. With the multitude of top prospects in the upper-levels of the minor leagues like Nick Gonzales, Henry Davis, Endy Rodriguez, Mike Burrows, Quinn Priester, and much more, the team could see a massive influx of top prospects over the course of the year. The roster could improve solely through promotions.
However, there are plenty of other players currently on the Pirates’ major league roster who could make adjustments and improve their game next year. A few days ago, we looked at a glaring issue in Jack Suwinski’s game. Last year, Oneil Cruz made some adjustments down the line and paid dividends. So let’s look at some other players and what major issue could completely change their numbers next season.
Ke’Bryan Hayes: Launch Angle
Ke’Bryan Hayes is so close to becoming a complete player, but there is one area in his game that he is failing abysmally in, and it’s so hard to watch. Hayes does not strike out often. His 21.8% strikeout rate was above the league average. So was his 8.6% walk rate. Hayes was in the 85th and 84th percentile of exit velocity and hard-hit rate, respectively. He also had an above average contact rate, chase rate, and whiff rate.
That all seems like a guy who should be on the top of hitting leaderboards, but Hayes had a wRC+ of just 88. Hayes’ launch angle was just 5.2 degrees, which was the seventh lowest in Major League Ball last season. This led to a barrel rate of just 3.9%, which was the 13th lowest in the league.
It’s not as if Hayes needs to become Joey Gallo and increase his launch angle to 20+ degrees. Nate Lowe, Jose Abreu, and both Willson and William Contreras all had comparable Baseball Savant profiles to Hayes but still had a sub-10 degree launch angle. Hayes increased his launch angle from just 2.6 degrees in 2021 to 5.2 this past season, so maybe another step in the right direction is in store for Hayes in 2023.
Dauri Moreta: Sinker
Dauri Moreta was acquired in a one-for-one swap for Kevin Newman early into the offseason. There were a lot of positives, and negatives about Moreta’s rookie season. We’ll start with the good news. Moreta struck out 24.4% of the opponents he faced with a solid 8.1% walk rate. He also ended his season with a 2.92 ERA, 3.92 FIP, and 0.97 WHIP in his final 24.2 innings of the season. Now here’s the bad news. Moreta allowed home runs at a whopping 2.35-per-9 rate. He also had a well below average exit velocity and hard-hit rate of 90.6 MPH and 41.3%.
But nearly all of Moreta’s struggles can be traced back to one, singular offering. That was his sinker. Moreta’s sinker was one of the worst pitches in baseball last season. Batters owned a .378 batting average and .865 slugging percentage against it. Opponents managed to post a .551 wOBA when Moreta threw his sinker. Just for reference of how poor those results are, Barry Bonds had a .863 slugging percentage and .537 wOBA when he hit 73 home runs in 2001. In simpler terms, batters hit like Barry Bonds off of Moreta’s sinker, and he used it about a quarter of the time.
But that’s not the case for his other offerings. Moreta’s fastball limited opponents to a .190 average, .333 slugging percentage, and .280 wOBA. That’s about what Trent Grisham had last season. His slider was even better, holding opponents to a .103 average, .207 slugging percentage, and a .200 wOBA. Major League pitchers had comparable numbers in 2021 when they came to the dish to hit.
Moreta got a lot of outs with his fastball and slider last season. Either Moreta needs to improve his sinker, whether that be changing his grip or location of it, or dropping the pitch outright. He has two pitches that make batters look silly. In a relief role, two elite offerings will do just fine.
Johan Oviedo: Curveball Usage
During last year’s trade deadline, they sent José Quintana and Chris Stratton to the St. Louis Cardinals for two players. One was first base prospect Malcolm Nuñez, and the other was young right-hander Johan Oviedo. Oviedo was formerly a top-10 prospect in the Cardinal system but has yet to be given an extended look in the big leagues.
Oviedo throws heat, and throws a good slider. His slider had a -8 run value and -2.0 RV/100. But his curveball was used just 10.7% of the time last year. Despite the lower usage rate, opponents struggled mightily against Oviedo’s breaking pitch.
They managed just a .111 average, slugging percentage, and .205 wOBA against it. In the few times they did make hard contact, they had a hard-hit rate of just 25%. They also swung and missed at the pitch 24.3% of the time, leading to an outstanding 30% strikeout rate on his curve.
Oviedo doesn’t need to make the pitch his primary offering, but even increasing it’s usage to 15% could greatly benefit Oviedo. 83.8% of the pitches he threw in 2022 were fastballs or sliders. He should at least incorporate his curveball more so his arsenal is less predictable.