Pittsburgh Pirates: What Quinn Priester Needs to Do to Improve in 2024

What can Quinn Priester do to improve his play in 2024?

Sep 24, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Quinn Priester (64) throws
Sep 24, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Quinn Priester (64) throws / David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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Quinn Priester struggled with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. What can he do to improve in 2024?

Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Quinn Priester made his Major League debut in 2023, but it wasn’t pretty. It was a small sample size of 50 innings but had a poor 7.74 ERA, 6.74 FIP, and 1.70 WHIP. The only three statistical positives you can make are that he had an outstanding 52.7% ground ball rate, an 8.3% barrel rate, and his 26.7% HR/FB ratio, which indicated some regression to the mean. Of course, anyone can be bad in 50 innings, but it’s not a great sample size, nonetheless.

But Priester is still just 23 for almost all of the 2024 season (he turns 24 on September 15th). So, what positives are there to his 2023 campaign, and what can he possibly work on going into 2024?

Priester’s Triple-A numbers were strong, as he had a 4.00 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.33 WHIP. Keep in mind the league average ERA in the International League ERA was over 5.00, and the average WHIP was over 1.50. Priester was above average in nearly every other peripheral, including strikeout rate (25.3%), walk rate (10.2%), and HR/9 (0.50). The average in each was 22.7%, 11.4%, and 1.29, respectively. Priester pitched nearly 70% of his total innings at Triple-A and had to re-adjust to pitching without the automated strike zone.

In Priester’s first call-up, his stuff did not look nearly as sharp as it did at Triple-A. In terms of Stuff+, he came in at 94. The Pirates sent him back to Indy to re-sharpen his pitches, and when he came back, he definitely showed some improvement, taking a step forward in Stuff+ to 96. It might not be a major jump, but it is a step in the right direction.

Priester needs to rely on a combination of his sinker, slider, and curveball. His two breaking pitches looked great in his second Major League promotion. Stuff+ placed both his slider and curveball above average at 108 and 119, respectively, in his September innings compared to 104/108 in his debut promotion. His slider did see a slight uptick in usage in his second Major League experience as its usage rate rose from 22.6% to 25.4%. But his curveballs curveball usage went from 13.4% to 12%.

Both of these pitches had a whiff rate of over 30%, with his slider clocking in at 41.4%. Only 50 players had a slider whiff rate over 40% in 50+ plate appearances. Priester was one of them. His curveball sat at 30.6%, which if he pitched enough to face 50+ batters with the pitch, he would have ranked top 70 in curveball whiff rate.

So far, I’ve only focused on his slider and curveball. But what about his sinker?

Priester’s sinker went from sitting 92.7 MPH in his first call-up to 94.6 MPH in his second promotion. But despite the amount of added velocity, his Stuff+ rate went from 101 to 96. On top of that, his sinker gained vertical movement from 2.12 feet to 2.48 feet while his horizontal movement went from -.1 to -.17. The added speed and movement drastically improved the results. Opponents had a .474 wOBA against his sinker in August, but that plummeted to just .300 in September. Priester’s sinker was easily his best pitch with -5 run value.

Priester used his sinker over a third of the time, his slider was his second most used offering, and his curveball was used 13.2% of the time. Usage rate still adds up to 100%, so what pitch does he need to take playing time away from? That would be his four-seam fastball. He still used it about 20% of the time last year despite opponents walloping it for a .503 wOBA. The pitch didn’t even get marginally better in his September promotion, as it sat at 75 in his first promotion and 76 in his second call-up. He threw it slightly harder, but the pitch gained vertical movement, making it have no riding action through the zone.

Priester gave up a total of 58 hits and 29 extra-base hits last year. His four-seam fastball is responsible for 17 of those hits and ten of the extra bases. Priester faced 234 batters who batted .290 with a .555 slugging percentage against him. Had he never used his four-seam fastball, opponents would have hit .224 with a .435 slugging. That’s almost the difference between Willie Stargell’s 1972 season (.293 AVG/.558 SLG%) and Daniel Vogelbach’s performance with the Pirates in 2022 (.224 AVG/.430 SLG%). That’s a Grand Canyon-sized difference.

At the very least, he needs to use it solely against left-handed batters. Right-handed hitters hit Priester’s four-seamer to a pulp, leading to a .642 wOBA. He only used it against seven right-handed batters. Left-handers, meanwhile, had a significantly lower .429 wOBA against it. This was the side he used the pitch more frequently to. 150 of his 169 four-seamers were used against a lefty hitter. To his credit, he did seem to figure out how to use it more effectively against left-handed batters, as they owned a wOBA over .500 against it in his first promotion. That dropped to .348 in his second promotion. But his sinker was just as effective against left-handed batters in September and held RHB to a sub-.300 wOBA in the same month.

According to Alex Stumpf of DK Sports, Priester is working on getting his delivery down better. Command was one of the issues Priester struggled with in his 50 Major League innings and part of that can likely be traced back to his mechanics getting out of sync. Hopefully, the work he puts in can translate to more on-field success next year.

Priester needs to use his best pitches more frequently, use his worst pitch less often (or in situations where he can utilize it best), and improve his command. Seems simple enough. Things are always easier on paper than they are in real life, but these are achievable goals for Priester in 2024 and it will likely be his path to success moving forward. We shall see if he can make those changes in 2024, but I believe in him and would not be shocked if he was part of the team’s rotation by the summer.

Next. 3 ST battles. 3 Spring Training Battles to Watch. dark