After landing Lonnie Chisenhall, the Pittsburgh Pirates may now turn their attention to left-handed relief help.
The Pittsburgh Pirates addressed a huge need by signing Lonnie Chisenhall, but by no means are they done.
Through industry sources, I can confirm that the club is still looking into bringing in a left-handed relief arm, with two free-agent names in particular firmly on the team’s radar.
Blevins is a 35 year old veteran who broke in with the Oakland Athletics. He has spent time with the Washington Nationals and, most recently, the New York Mets. He has been in New York for the last four seasons. He relies on a four-seam fastball, curveball and a lightly used changeup.
For his career, he has struck out 24.1 percent of his batters faced while walking 9.2 percent. Those figures took a significant dip in 2018, when he struck out 21.8 percent while walking 11.7 percent. You don’t have to look too far — 2017 to be exact — to see that Blevins was striking out hitters at a 31.8 percent clip. For context, the 2018 strikeout and walk rates for relievers came in at 23.2 and 9.3 percent, respectively. It should be no wonder, then, that Blevins carried a 4.97 FIP in 2018, his first season with a FIP of 4.0 or greater since 2012.
Yet Blevins has something to work with in his curveball. The pitch carried a 33.61 percent whiff per swing rate last season; Prior to 2018 it carried a rate of at least 45 percent or higher for the previous four seasons. Blevins’ curve ranks seventh in average vertical movement (1.78 ft) among the 11 left-handed relievers with at least 150 curveballs thrown, as per Statcast. Should he be able to harness it as an effective pitch once again, he could theoretically bring a new dimension among Pittsburgh Pirates relievers.
Blevins is durable enough, having averaged about 71 appearances over the past three seasons. Despite this, he has averaged just 44.4 innings per year over that same stretch. This might scream LOOGY to some; others feel that this is just how the Mets chose to deploy him, and that reversing that trend would help his peripherals.
A quick glance at Blevins’ game logs for 2018 show that 27 of his 64 appearances lasted one inning or more.
Blevins has remained healthy throughout his career since becoming a big league regular, save for a freak non-throwing injury in 2015 that broke his arm.
Blevins has put enough “film on tape” of effectiveness prior to 2018 to still expect a decent contract, though it should bring his market down a bit. All things considered, Blevins will likely be forced to take a one-year deal at a fair rate.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ other left-handed relief target, on the other hand, should be able to land a multi-year deal without much issue.
Diekman is 31 years old (he will play 2019 at 32) and has been in the big leagues since 2012. During that time he has posted 3.8 fWAR while pitching to a 3.30 FIP. He has struck out 27.8 percent of his hitters while walking an unsightly 12.3 percent.
Diekman has a pitch mix that might just catch Pittsburgh’s eye — a more traditional reliever profile of a sinker/slider combination. The sinker is seen about 63 percent of the time. His slider does damage, with a 42.95 percent whiffts per swing in 2018. If that figure wasn’t impressive enough, it may just sparkle when considering that clip is his lowest since ...well forever. Over the past seven seasons, Diekman has struck out 50 percent or more on this pitch.
But those walks are certainly an issue. There may be an easy solution - Diekman threw the seventh-highest amount of pitches when behind the count of any left-handed reliever last season. More specifically, his first-strike percentage of 56 percent ranked 122nd among qualified lefty relievers in 2018. Strike One isn’t everything — Kyle Crick and Keone Kela ranked 144th-145th in this regard — but it might mean more to Diekman than others. Perhaps the Pirates can focus in on getting to strike one to alleviate some of Diekman’s issues.
Diekman should be able to command a multi-year deal, which may price him out of Pittsburgh’s plans.
Regardless of who they target, adding a left-handed reliever should be at the top of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ wishlist. Aside from Steven Brault, the cupboards are rather bare in this regard beyond Felipe Vazquez, and could use some attention.