Pirate reliever Wil Crowe had a rough end to the 2022 season, but can he rebound to his first half self?
One of the pitchers the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired at the start of the rebuild was Wil Crowe. A former top prospect in the Washington National system, Crowe struggled in his first year as a starting pitcher. However, the Pirates moved him to the bullpen at the start of 2022, and he seemingly found a groove, starting the year off strong. But during the home stretch of the season, the right-hander struggled badly. But can he re-find his first half form and rebound next season?
At the end of July, Crowe owned a 3.21 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP. While he had a mediocre 22.6% strikeout rate and 10.2% walk rate, he allowed just three home runs in 56 innings. This was because he was a master at limiting hard contact. Opponents could not hit the ball hard against the right-hander. They managed just a 24.5% hard-hit rate and 86.1 MPH exit velocity. When they did make contact, it was a ground ball 47.7% of the time. For reference, the lowest qualified hard-hit rate last season was just 23.5%.
However, Crowe was hammered for 17 earned runs in the season's final two months. Although Crowe’s strikeout rate and walk rate were nothing to write home about, both moved massively in the wrong direction. He had just a 15.5% strikeout rate and a 14.4% walk rate. After avoiding home runs like the plague in the first handful of months, he had a 2.25 HR/9 through his last 20 innings. While he raised his ground ball rate to 54.4%, batters managed to increase their exit velocity and hard-hit rate to 90.9 MPH and 51.5% each, respectively.
Now 20 innings doesn’t erase what nearly 60 innings showed, But it was a fairly worrying end to the season. Some of it could have been fatigue. Crowe pitched a ton, and his 56 innings at the end of July was only surpassed by Keegan Akin, among relievers with less than three starts. Granted, Crowe was a starter in 2021 who pitched more than 110 innings. Still, different workload management could have affected his stamina.
Crowe was also given more 9th inning situations. After the likes of David Bednar, Yerry De Los Santos, and Colin Holderman hit the injured list, it was up to Crowe to handle the closing role more often. Crowe performed relatively solid in the 7th and 8th inning with a 3.38 ERA between the two innings. He worked especially great in the 7th inning with a 0.96 ERA during this specific inning. However, of the 37 earned runs Crowe allowed, 13 came in the 9th inning.
So can Crowe rebound from a rough end to the 2022 season? I absolutely think he can. Crowe needs to be slotted into the 7th inning role. It was only an 18.2-inning sample size, but he had a sub-1.00 ERA and held opponents to a triple-slash of .229/.290/.257 with a tOPS+ of just 59. Crowe struggled when guys like Holderman, Bednar, and De Los Santos got hurt and were forced to take up a role he clearly wasn’t good in. Give him a more typical set-up role, and he should do much better.