What do the Pirates see in veteran reliever Ben Heller?

Ben Heller has been recalled to join the Pirates. He has mainly been a career minor leaguer, but the Pirates believe he can help the team's struggling bullpen. Let's see why.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves
Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves / Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

On Tuesday, the Pirates made a handful of roster moves ahead of the game against the Dodgers. One of the transactions was selecting the contract of right-handed pitcher Ben Heller, who was signed to a minor-league contract last offseason. Heller has been pitching with the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis and has been having a decent season.

In 15 games with Indianapolis, Heller has a 1-1 record with an earned run average of 4.91 in 18.1 innings pitched and has struck out 34 batters. Opponents are batting .214 against him, and he has a WHIP of 1.25. His FIP is high at a 4.85, but his expected FIP is at a 2.82.

Heller has struggled to stay healthy, which has prevented him from having a successful major league career. Last season, he pitched with the Braves and had a solid year. In 19 games, Heller had a 3.86 earned run average in 18.2 innings pitched and struck out 16 batters. Opponents had a batting average of .232 against him and his WHIP was 1.45.

Although Ben Heller hasn't been successful statistically, his pitches are very good, which has the Pirates believing in his effectiveness.

Heller's pitches are actually very solid. His four-seam fastball sits around 95 miles per hour and has a whiff rate of 36%. His cutter has been his most effective pitch, as opponents have an expected batting average of .195 against it, and it carries a whiff rate of 64.9%. He has thrown the cutter 140 times, which means 91 out of 140 pitches were swings and misses. He also has a sinker, but it is his worst pitch, with an expected batting average of .297.

His offspeed pitches are also very effective at getting swings and misses. His sweeper has been incredible, with 49.6 inches of downward movement. This movement generates a whiff rate of 69.6% and an expected batting average of .075. His other offspeed offering is a changeup, which is also another pitch that has excellent break at 42 inches of downward movement. The changeup has generated a whiff rate of 48% and an expected batting average of .158.

These pitches have been dominant in missing bats, but he still does not fantastic stats. The issue has been command, which has been a common theme in the Pirates' bullpen. Heller has allowed five home runs this season, which has really made him look bad, but aside from those hits, he has been a dominant arm in the Indianapolis bullpen.

Clearly, Ben Heller has a very good repertoire of pitches, which he has put on display this season in the minor leagues and has earned himself a spot in Pittsburgh. If he can have command over these pitches and limit the long ball, then he could become a very solid arm in the Pirate bullpen.