Pittsburgh Pirates: Yerry De Los Santos Should Start in the Majors

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The Pittsburgh Pirates should have young reliever Yerry De Los Santos in the major leagues in a high-leverage role

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen has many questions surrounding it. There’s very little proven stability among the team's relievers, with most of the team’s relievers very unproven. The most experienced arms are Jarlín García and Robert Stephenson. But the Bucs do have one young and upcoming reliever, that being Yerry De Los Santos. While De Los Santos has minor league options remaining, he should slot into the bullpen as the Bucs’ set-up man.

De Los Santos pitched 25.1 innings before his injury, working to a 4.91 ERA, 4.01 FIP, and 1.29 WHIP. His overall numbers were inflated because of his last start, in which he allowed four earned runs without making an out. Aside from that one game, De Los Santos had a 3.51 ERA and 7.5% walk rate, along with a 24.3% strikeout rate. De Los Santos induced ground balls above 50% of the time at a 52.8% rate.

De Los Santos has always been a heavy ground ball pitcher but has consistently gotten strikeouts as well. His strikeout rate between Double-A and Triple-A is 30% in 39.1 innings. De Los Santos’ sinker had an above-average vertical and horizontal break while inducing a ton of great results. Batters managed just a .299 wOBA against it. His slider also had a whiff rate of 34.1% and above average vertical break. The right-hander typically works in the mid-90s with his sinker and the low-mid 80s with his slider.

The young right-handed reliever has previously been used to higher leverage innings in the minor leagues. Of his 65 total appearances from 2019 through 2022, 47 of his appearances were counted as games finished (meaning he was the last pitcher used in the game for the Pirates’ minor league affiliate team he was playing for at the time). In total, that’s just over 70% of his appearances (72.3%). For reference, 80.3% of Edwin Diaz’s appearances were games finished. He worked in more of a typical closer role than De Los Santos did throughout his minor league career.

Let’s first look at the other options the Pirates have to set David Bednar up for the ninth inning. Colin Holderman is also in line for some high-leverage appearances. Like De Los Santos, he made his debut in 2022, but his rookie campaign was cut short by an injury in the second half. Wil Crowe saw much more 8th and 9th inning action when all three of De Los Santos, Bednar, and Holderman were on the IL, though he struggled to lock saves down. Jarlin Garcia is a potential option. He had a 3.31 ERA between the 7th and 8th innings but performed much better in the seventh. Robert Stephenson looked great down the stretch after making some major adjustments, but I don’t see him getting thrown directly into high-leverage situations on the regular to open the year.

While Colin Selby, the Pirates’ top relief prospect, could open the year in the bigs, De Los Santos is the Pirates’ best option for the set-up role, at least right now. De Los Santos has produced good numbers at every level of the minor leagues. While the Pirates have their fair share of options for the bullpen, De Los Santos needs to be one of the players who breaks camp with the team. Not only should he be one of the players who head to Cincinnati, but he should also be getting high-leverage innings regularly. He has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues and has shown he can handle major league batters.

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