The Pittsburgh Pirates should pursue right-handed starting pitcher Griffin Canning if the Los Angeles Angels make him available on the trade market
The Pittsburgh Pirates need starting pitching this off-season. The free agent market may have some potential options, but the trade market will also be an avenue the Bucs will likely explore. At this point, they could outbid anyone in a trade with the prospects they have. But one pitcher who may potentially be made avaiable this off-season is LA Angels right-handed starter, Griffin Canning.
Canning once looked like he could develop into a very solid starting pitcher for the Angels. In his first 146.2 innings in 2019-2020, Canning worked to a 4.36 ERA, 4.35 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP. The righty had a 24.4% strikeout rate along with an 8.5% walk rate. But his 1.35 HR/9 rate was unimpressive. Still he racked up +2.3 fWAR/+2.4 bWAR in just under 150 innings. Give him 180 frames, which was a possibility heading into 2021, and he had the potential of a +3.0 WAR pitcher.
But Canning only managed to throw 62.2 innings with a 5.60 ERA, 5.48 FIP, and 1.48 WHIP. He then missed the remainder of the 2021 season, and all of 2022 with back injuries. But even though back problems plagued Canning for two seasons, the righty came back strong with a fine rebound season in 2023.
Canning didn’t skip a beat, posting near identical numbers from his 2019-2020 seasons. In 127 frames, Canning owned a 4.32 ERA, 4.29 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP. The right-hander upped his strikeout rate to 25.9% while cutting his walk rate down to 6.7%. But his home run rate took a step backward, upping to 1.56.
Sure, Canning is solid, but is a low-4s ERA pitcher. That doesn’t seem like someone worth heavily pursuing, does it? Well ERA estimators love Canning’s body of work from 2023. Canning clocks in with a 3.82 xFIP, 3.80 SIERA, 4.01 xERA, and 88 DRA- (compared to an ERA- of 99). Canning is less of a 4.30 ERA pitch, and more closely like a 3.80-4.00 ERA pitcher. Canning underperformed his numbers, and isn’t known to be one to do that, so it’s possible he posts a sub-4.00 ERA next season.
Canning also ended the year on an extremely high note. He had a 3.91 ERA, but a 3.24 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP after the all-star break. Canning fanned 30.1% of batters he faced, while having an outstanding 6.1% walk rate. He also cut his HR/9 down from 1.82 in the first half to just 1.19. Six of his nine outings resulted in at least a half dozen strikeouts. He did suffer some bad batted ball luck, indicated by his .346 BAbip.
One thing that will certainly help him is getting out from behind the Angels’ defense. The Angels had zero defensive runs saved, but -20 outs above average. That was the 4th fewest OAA among all teams last season. In terms of pitch framing, the Pirates were the best at +25.9 framing runs, while the Angels were at -10.3 framing runs. Sure, Austin Hedges carried the framing stats, but Endy Rodriguez was quietly a good defensive catcher after taking over full-time.
Some of his home run issues may also go by the wayside. Over the last three seasons, Angels Stadium has been the 5th most home run friendly park in MLB. PNC Park on the other hand has been the 2nd least home run friendly venue. Canning will also escape the American League West. Six of the top ten home run hitters played for AL West teams (five non-Angels). Meanwhile, there were only two National League Central players who were even in the top 20 of NL home runs, that being Nolan Arenado (26, ranked 18th), and Cody Bellinger (tied with Arenado).
Canning also comes with two years of control remaining via arbitration. He does not become a free agent until after the 2025 campaign. But affordable control and solid pitching comes at a price. We shall see how the Angels value Canning this off-season, but if they do decide to listen in on offers for the right-hander, he definitely needs to be on the Pirates’ radar.