The bullpen remains a major question mark for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates, but two pitchers returning from injury could provide a huge boost
During the 2022 season the Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball. The Pirate bullpen rnaked 29th in the majors in ERA (4.72), 26th in FIP (4.26), and 24th in fWAR (1.8). Obviously, this makes improving the bullpen a key for 2023.
Looking ahead to 2023, All-Star David Bednar will continue to be the key piece in the bullpen. Free agent addition Jarlín García likely enters the season as the team's second best reliever, and Chase De Jong will be looking to build off a career year in 2022.
Overall, the Pirate bullpen is littered with question marks as spring training approaches. While the bullpen may still be one of the worst in baseball in 2023, they could get a huge boost from two arms returning from injury.
After both players had their season cut short due to injury, righties Yerry De Los Santos and Colin Holderman are slated to return to the Pirate bullpen in 2023. Both flashed good things at times in 2022 and the Pirates will be banking on both of them to provide a big boost to the bullpen next season.
De Los Santos entered the season as arguably the top relief pitching prospect in the Pirate farm system. Prior to a shoulder issue ending his season, De Los Santos had posted a 4.91 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 9.8% walk rate, and a 23.2% strikeout rate in 25.2 innings pitched.
These numbers do come with a bit of an asterisk, though. De Los Santos allowed 4 earned runs while walking two batters without recording an out in his final appearances of the season. Entering that appearances, De Los Santos owned a 3.51 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 7.5% walk rate, and a 24.3% strikeout rate. There is certainly reason to believe that De Los Santos getting shelled in that final outing leading to his stats ballooning was due to injury.
De Los Santos primarily leans on his sinker/slider ocmbination. Last season, his sinker limited opponents to a .185 batting average and .242 slugging percentage. His slider limited opponents to a .262 batting average and generated a very strong 34.1% whiff rate.
Assuming he's healthy, De Los Santos is a major breakout candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2023. His slider can be not just a plus pitch, but one of the best pitches in the Pirate bullpen. If his sinker continues limit opponent success, then De Los Santos could emerge as a vlauabel high-leverage bullpen arm for the Bucs.
As for Holderman, he posted a 3.81 ERA and a 3.22 FIP in 28.1 innings pitched between the Pirates and the New York Mets. Holderman was acquired by the Pirates in exchange for Daniel Vogelbach, but had his season end shortly after the trade.
Holderman made nine appearances out of the Pirate bullpen before an injury ended his season. Like De Los Santos, Holderman struggled mightily in his final outing of the season. Holderman allowed 5 runs on three hits and a walk without recording an out.
Prior to this disastrous final outing of the season, Holderman owned a 2.22 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 11.5% walk rate, and a 21.2% strikeout rate. While you would like to see that walk rate come down, overall, those are tremendous numbers for Holderman.
During the 2022 season Holderman's slider generated a 41.0% whiff rate while limiting opponents to a .114 batting average and slugging percentage. The other main pitch Holderman throws is his sinker, which limited opposing batters to a .333 slugging percentage next season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates currently have a bullpen surrounded by question marks and concern. However, if De Los Santos and Holderman are healthy in 2023 there is reason to believe they'll take another step in their development and provide a huge boost to the team's bullpen. If this happens, then these two combined with Bednar and García could give the Pirate bullpen a storng core four next season and beyond.