Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Underrated Free Agents Based On Sweet Spot Percentage

Here are some underrated free agents based on sweet spot percentage.

Wild Card Series - Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins - Game One
Wild Card Series - Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins - Game One / David Berding/GettyImages
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Scott Alexander

Scott Alexander barely pitched in 2021 or 2022. He only logged 32.2 innings, but he pitched well when he did take the mound with a 1.93 ERA in the small sample size. Alexander remained healthy for most of the 2023 season, and while his ERA may make you turn the other way, there’s a lot to like about the lefty reliever heading into 2024.

Alexander pitched 48.1 innings and had a 4.66 ERA and 1.37 WHIP with a 14.9% strikeout rate. But that’s about the only negatives you can draw up about his season. Alexander masterfully prevented hard and quality contact. His 3.4% barrel rate was the 47th best among qualified relievers, which ranks in the top 94th percentile. He is a ground ball machine and has a 60.7% ground ball rate. Alexander’s 24.8% sweet spot rate was the 12th best among pitchers last year.

The 4.66 ERA isn’t backed up by much. For starters, from 2016 through 2022, Alexander had a 2.95 ERA. Past performance isn’t always the best predictor for future performance, so here are some more predictive stats that put Alexander in a favorable light. He also had a 3.26 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 3.75 SIERA, 94 DRA- (111 ERA-), and 3.61 xERA. Alexander may have had a K% below 15% but also a minuscule 5.3% walk rate. Of course, someone who prevents quality contact and keeps the ball on the ground is going to have a good HR/9, and Scott did at 0.37.

Also, Alexander was used as an opener eight times. This was a role he struggled in. His ERA as an opener was 8.10 in just 6.2 frames. As a reliever, he clocked in at 4.10 in 41.2 innings. Despite his innings as an opener amounting to less than 15% of his total innings, the amount of earned runs he allowed made up nearly a quarter of his total earned runs allowed.

Scott may not be a team’s go-to high-leverage lefty, but he handled himself well in late and close games. He had a +.50 WPA while holding opponents to just a .616 OPS in innings seven through nine. In high leverage, opponents mustered up just a .184 batting average and .488 OPS against Alexander.

The Pirates could use another lefty reliever more than another righty one. Alexander has had even less rumor talk than Middleton, with MLBTR not reporting anything about his free agency or mentioning him since late September. A two-year deal with an AAV of $1.5-2.5 million may even get the job done. That’s a bargain for a lefty who could pitch to a 3.50 ERA.

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