Appreciating the Pirates: A Deep-Dive Into Their Few Bright Spots

Appreciating the Pirates: A Deep-Dive Into Their Few Bright Spots

by September 3, 2021 2 comments

Welcome back to appreciating the bad teams! Wait, this is the first episode? The only episode? Buckle up Pittsburgh Pirates fans, we will be talking about your team, but in a good way. Last time on the deep-dive series, the team’s former closer Richard Rodriguez was exposed for the weird pitcher that he is. Now, we will be exposing the team’s good players to the fans of the strong teams, so they can be familiar with them by the time they are dealt for pennies on the dollar. Oh sorry, that was really mean. Let’s just get into the best of the three bright spots before the Passan-esque murders continue.


The American League Most Valuable Player race has been especially boring thanks to Shohei Ohtani running away with the award for months now. The National League side of things has been more interesting, and the Pirates even had a dark horse in the race at one point. By the all-star break, Bryan Reynolds was arguably the league’s most underrated player. He had 16 home runs with a .906 OPS, and then represented Pittsburgh at Coors Field during the Midsummer Classic.

Reynolds may have slowed down a bit after the break with just five home runs, but he has still been an above-average hitter. His total results entering September are great. He has a .382 OBP with a .894 OPS. Reynolds not only has an impressive 10.7 percent walk rate but can hit enough to satisfy the older generation. He has struck out less than 19 percent of the time and has a .286 xBA, which is actually lower than his real .298 batting average. Reynolds also has a .505 xSLG, which is well above-average, and a .377 xwOBA, which slots him in the 92nd percentile of hitters.

Pure hitting is not the only point of Reynolds’ game. The switch-hitter has a near-elite 28.6 ft/s sprint speed. In center field, he is a Gold Glove candidate. Reynolds’ nine outs above average are fourth among center fielders, behind just Harrison Bader in the National League. Does this all-around game in the Pirates’ outfield remind you of anyone? Maybe a former MVP? Oh, that’s right, Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates dealing him away was a sad day in the franchise’s history, but you could say they won the deal. The return was reliever Kyle Crick, and of course, Bryan Reynolds. The trade represents a very rare win for former general manager Neal Huntington.

Spin Rate Appreciation Section

The art of spin rate reached its peak of popularity this year. More people started to recognize its importance entering the season. Then, the least analytically inclined of people learned to despise the team’s interests in spin rate with the height of the sticky substance conversations. After the league cracked down on pitchers using everything and anything, the average spin rates for most of the league crashed. But not for Chris Stratton.

Stratton himself is a fine relief pitcher. He has a good changeup and his 3.62 ERA and 3.97 xERA are both above the norm, but not by a whole lot. Still, we must admire his dominance atop the spin rate charts, especially the consistency. Stratton’s main two pitches, the fastball, and curveball, are the ones to look at. The average spin rates (by rpm) on them are 2611 and 3118, putting him in the 99th and 98th percentile, respectively. When looking at his game logs, the crackdown did not affect him.

On June 1, Stratton’s last appearance before the league sent out a memo on the sticky substance subject, Stratton’s curveball averaged 3130 rpm, with his heater at 2595. On August 29, his most recent outing, the spin rate was at the same level, at 3208 and 2585. Assuming Stratton is not finding a way to use this stuff secretly, his natural spin rate talent should be commended.

The Next Closer

The Pirates do not win a ton of games by close margins, so their high-leverage arms often fly under-the-radar in the save leaderboards. Since Rodriguez was dealt to the Atlanta Braves, Stratton has shared closer duties with David Bednar. Each hurler has just two saves on the season. But Bednar has been much better than even the average closer this year.

The San Diego Padres cast-off was acquired as a part of the three-team deal that saw Joe Musgrove depart from Pittsburgh, and he has been the best piece of that trade so far by ERA and xERA. In 53.2 innings, Bednar has 65 strikeouts with a 2.35 ERA. His expected stats are just as good, with a .267 xERA, .195 xBA, .309 xSLG, and a .252 xwOBA. Those are all elite numbers, in the top-ten percent of pitchers. Bednar throws a high-90s heater with wipeout pitches in his curveball and splitter. All of those have negative run values, with his fastball at an elite -8. If Bednar played for the New York Yankees,  New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, or even his old team, the Padres, he would be recognized and celebrated by many. Instead, he goes forgotten on the lowly Pirates. Let’s see if he can keep this success up.

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