Two of the Pittsburgh Pirates top prospects are struggling right now, but fan should not be worried about them
Panicking over prospects is something baseball fans do. A top prospect reaches a new level, doesn't automatically take off, and fans are ready to declare him a bust. Some of the Pittsburgh Pirates top prospects have not gotten off to great starts since reaching a new level of the minor leagues, though just because they didn't hit the ground running, that doesn't mean you need to worry about them.
Jared Jones is possibly the epitome of this. Since reaching Triple-A, Jones has a 5.91 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. That's not good, and a massive downturn from Double-A, where he had a 2.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. But some things that are out of his control are greatly affecting him, specifically batted ball luck.
Although Jones is allowing more line drives with a 24.6% rate, his batting average on balls in play is .373. Line drives might have the best chance of falling for a hit, though even .373 is high. There are only two Major League pitchers with a BAbip higher than Jones has right now, with a line drive rate between 24-25%. You need a larger sample size to get a good reading with BAbip, but .373 still shows something isn't going Jones' way.
Triple-A's defense has gotten worse throughout the year. In Jared Jones' last start, Jared Triolo was the only defender with a good reputation in the field. The second closest might be Chris Owings, who even then has -11 career defensive runs saved at shortstop, the position he was playing in Jones' last start. Bad defense isn't always seen through errors. You can't make an error if you don't react to a batted ball in enough time or have enough range to get to one.
Jones is still striking out batters at a high 29.1% rate and has a respectable 10.3% walk rate as well as a 0.84 HR/9. Plus, some of his starts have inflated his ERA a tad. He allowed six earned runs in a combined eight innings in two outings. If these two outings are taken out of the equation, his ERA drops over a whole run to 4.57. That's still not great on paper, but it's a massive 1.34 earned run difference and above the league average.
Some might see that his xFIP was never good, but xFIP is probably one of the worst ERA estimators out there. It automatically assumes that every flyball pitcher who doesn't allow many home runs is unlucky. It does not account for how good or bad the pitcher is at limiting hard contact. Take David Bednar, for example. He has allowed just one run all year, has a 46.6% fly ball rate, but a 3.92 xFIP. What xFIP doesn't account for is that he's in the 89th percentile of opponent exit velocity or the 94th percentile of barrel rate.
Granted, we don't know how good or bad Jones is at limiting hard contact. Altoona doesn't have publicly available Statcast data, and Triple-A doesn't have a comprehensive database like MLB does, even if game-to-game publicly available Statcast data is available. But using this as a reason why Jones has been struggling and isn't good is not a good excuse.
One last thing to take into consideration is that even though his ERA is approaching 6.00, he's still not been terrible in the context of the rest of the league. Triple-A Indianapolis plays in the International League. The average batter in this league is hitting .263/.358/.444. The league average ERA is 5.23. Both the league average OPS and ERA are higher than they were at the peak of the steroid era in the early 2000s. So maybe give Jones a little slack to the fact he's been playing in an environment that is heavily playing in his opponents' favor.