Pirates Bullpen Woes Rise To The Surface

9-24-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

In the beginning of the season the Pittsburgh Pirates Bullpen was being lauded with praise for its ability to keep the team in games or secure a victory in any number of circumstances; and deservedly so. Over the first month of the season the Pirates Bullpen had a combined 3.57 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, 108 strikeouts to 33 walks and mostly importantly a 1.69 WPA.

Now for those of you not familiar with the WPA statistic, it is measurement of the changes in win expectancy that occur in each moment of the game based on a individual player, or in this case group of players’ performance; particularly how their actions directly influenced the team’s ability to win or lose a game, while taking into consideration that certain plays-surrendering a go ahead home run in the top of the 9th for example-will have more of an impact that others-like a solo shot when your team is already up 10 runs.

So, a 1.69 WPA-trending towards 2.0 wins above average-would mean that more often than not the Pirates Bullpen positively influenced the outcome of a game.

For the most part this positive trend of WPA would continue over the next couple of months; all the way up until the All-Star Break, as they posted a 1.62 WPA. However, some cracks began to show as their ERA crept up to 4.62, their WHIP rose to 1.45 and the walks they allowed (128) began to slowly bridge to gap between the number of hitters they struck out (230).

Then came the trade deadline, losing 9 out of 10 to start the month of August, being swept out of Chicago to start September and a rebound of winning 4 series in a row before being rained out in Cincinnati.

During this time, and in spite of some regular success recently, the WPA of the Pirates Bullpen plummeted to -3.25 and their ERA has continued to rise to 4.90, while their WHIP remained consistent at 1.44; as did their walks (123) to 254. The big difference, in conjunction with the increase base runners; the 42 homers (1.49 HR/9) allowed since the All-Star Break, as opposed to 21 (.80 HR/9) from the beginning of May to July and 11 (1.01 HR/9) during the first month of the season.

Last night, some tried to point out the positives for this group: such as the fact that they had the 13th lowest ERA in MLB (3.87) over the last 30 games, during which the team has gone 15-15. I would however attribute this much more to the Pirates bats and gloves; which has lead to their 5th place rank in all of MLB, with a 2.52 WPA. They have also ranked in the top 10 in OBP (.324), have the highest walk rate in the league (10.5%) and sit at 11th in Defensive fWAR (5.1)-with every team below 18th place in the negative.

Also, when you are using such a small sample size the numbers can change so drastically in a short period of time; say just one game. After last night the Pirates now have a 4.29 ERA in 31 games, and are the 10th worst bullpen during that stretch; with the best team in MLB earning a 2.24 ERA in the same time frame.

The Pirates Bullpen isn’t good, and it has truthfully been going downhill since the first month of the season. It just finally fell off the cliff after the All-Star Break; culminating in the 12-6 disaster that many of us witnessed last night against the Phillies.

News and Notes

  • Ke’Bryan Hayes has power to the opposite field; of that their is no doubt. Last night during the broadcast it was mentioned at least 10 times that it is easier to teach a batter to pull the ball, than it is to get a pure pull hitter to hit the ball to the opposite field. Looks like the Pirates New Hitting Coach, no matter who it is, already has their first assignment.

  • I have seen Colin Moran’s name thrown around more and more as a non-tender candidate over the past couple of weeks, mostly due to the emergence of Yoshi Tsutsugo-the guy who the Pirates haven’t actually signed yet, and is due to become a free agent at the end of the season-I would assume; or because Mason Martin was just promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. Obviously, Moran has struggled in September as evidenced by his .197 AVG, however, he is still 3rd among active members on the team (minimum of 300 plate appearances) with a 99 wRC+ for the season after being hit on the hand twice-if we are “forgiving” Hayes for a wrist injury, even though I know he means more to the future of the team, you have to give Moran at least a little leeway-and he has two more years of arbitration. Plus he can do this.

  • Putting your feelings concerning Chad Kuhl’s future with the team aside, I think we can all agree he is not a reliever. As a starter, across 14 games and 67.0 innings, Kuhl has a 4.43 ERA and a 1.358 WHIP. Out of the bullpen, in 11 appearances and 10.1 innings, he has an 8.71 ERA and a 1.935 WHIP.
  • The Pirates were 2 for 3 with RISP last night. In other news, the Pirates only had three opportunities with RISP last night.
  • Coming into last night’s game the Pirates catchers had combined for 193 games without a passed ball. Micheal Perez had two passed balls in one inning.

Since the bullpen game worked so well yesterday, Derek Shelton thought he better go back to the well in tonight’s 7:05 PM EST tilt with the Phillies from Citizens Bank Park; never mind the fact that Miguel Yajure hasn’t pitched since September 17th for the Indianapolis Indians and Dillon Peters is on five days rest. Why not go with Sam Howard (3-4, 5.80 ERA), who has a 8.10 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP to open the game?

Have fun writing up this one Gary.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at InsidethePirates.com, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

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