Pittsburgh Pirates: Two Minor League Signings That Could Make an Impact in 2024

The Pirates signed Ben Heller and Ryder Ryan to minor league deals, but they could prove to be under the radar pick-ups.

Jul 1, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Ben Heller (71) pitches against
Jul 1, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Ben Heller (71) pitches against / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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Ryder Ryan

Ryder Ryan has the bare minimum major league experience under his belt. Last year, he pitched a single scoreless inning for the Seattle Mariners, facing four batters, striking out two, and walking one. He spent nearly all of his year at Triple-A Tacoma, where he posted a quality 3.76 ERA, 4.17 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP. He clocked in with a 9.6% walk rate, a 24.3% strikeout rate, and a strong 0.65 HR/9 through 55 innings.

Ryan has pitched extremely well in the last two seasons. The right-hander owns a 3.70 ERA, 4.55 FIP, and 1.31 WHIP over his last 114.1 innings pitched. Ryan has a 25.1% strikeout rate, albeit a less impressive 10.4% walk rate. But he’s been great at limiting home runs with a HR/9 of just 0.87. Ryan gets both strikeouts and ground balls, clocking in with a ground ball rate over 50% at 51.7%.

I know what you may be saying: how is a high-3’s ERA and mid-4’s FIP “pitching extremely well?” Well, it’s because he’s been pitching in the Pacific Coast League. The league average ERA last season in the PCL was 5.70, and the average ERA in 2022 was 5.39. An ERA of 5.00 makes you a good pitcher in the league. Last season, over 60% of the pitchers who had 50+ frames had an ERA of 6.00 or higher.

There have only been ten pitchers in the PCL to toss 80+ innings across the last two seasons with an ERA under 4.00. Ryan had the 6th lowest ERA. Ryan also ranks 13 out of 93 pitchers in FIP, 26th in K%, and 12th in WHIP. His ground ball rate is also the 9th best and is one of 23 pitchers with a HR/9 under 1.00 (min. 80 innings pitched). He ranks 14th over the last two years in this stat. Last season, among pitchers with 50+ frames, he ranked in the top ten in ERA, FIP, WHIP, and xFIP. He was also one of just 29 pitchers with a walk rate under 10% (league average was 12.3%).

The fact that Ryan has now posted a sub-4.00 ERA in back-to-back seasons in the PCL is a feat in and of itself and deserves some recognition. Not to mention, he’s been above average to well above average in most other numbers as well. Trying to pitch well in the PCL is like trying to walk a minefield with a blindfold and ear muffs on. It got a lot harder for pitchers last year with the implementation of reviewable ball-strike calls. If you ask me, if you’re able to pitch well in the PCL over an extended period, like Ryan has, then you must be doing something right.

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