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The under-appreciation of Kyle Crick

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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When it was first announced that the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen in return for Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds, the first thought of many was some version of “Who the hell are those guys?”

Halfway through the 2018 season, it would appear that the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired a solid reliever in Crick. While it can be debated ad-nauseam as to whether or not the return for McCutchen was enough, Crick’s effectiveness as a reliever should be anything but questioned.

Low Risk/Reward Factor

There are 86 relievers in baseball who have pitched at least 30 innings while striking out at least 24 percent of hitters faced.

Crick is among them, with a 24.7 percent strikeout rate. While that is admittedly on the low-end of this spectrum — for reference, the overall league strikeout rate for relievers is 23.4 percent — he pairs that with another eye-catching peripheral. His HR/FB % clocks at 2.80 percent, fifth best among this group of 86. Two relievers in this group have not allowed a home run, while the other two are at 2.7 and 2.1 percent rates in this area.

The ultimate role of any reliever is to get outs. Second-most important might just be to keep the ball in the park at all costs. Crick excels in this regard.

Get em to chase

While Crick’s K rate is just modestly higher than the league reliever rate, that peripheral alone does not tell the entire story of Crick’s ability to fool a hitter.

These do, though:

Kyle Crick selected peripherals

Crick/MLB Zone % Zone Swing % Chase % Chase Contact % Overall Whiff %
Crick/MLB Zone % Zone Swing % Chase % Chase Contact % Overall Whiff %
Crick 49.9 54.1 29.4 57.5 25.4
MLB 48.6 65.7 28.2 60.5 23.9

Even if it’s not reflected in gaudy strikeout totals, Crick’s ability to get hitters to chase at a higher clip than the MLB rate — coupled with his ability to refrain from contact when hitters do take a guess against him — is encouraging. Again, the degrees to which Crick is better than the MLB rates here are modest. However, as he learns to trust his slider (or if the Pittsburgh Pirates will let him unleash it a bit more), Crick might see these numbers translate into punchouts.

And, even if they don’t, Crick already has a solid base of whiff to build from while still coming into the zone when he needs to. That is a solid foundation for any reliever.

About that slider

At the risk of spending time in another post talking again about Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitch selection and usage, I’ll just say this: Crick needs to throw the slider more often against left-handed hitters.

He throws it to left handers just 14 percent of the time in 2018. That’s a total of 34 pitches, yet only three of those have been put in play; None have gone for hits. Here’s a full breakdown:

First off, the obligatory small sample size alert is in play.

Though it is definitely not fooling anyone, there seems to be a certain utility to the pitch. 28.6 percent (again, #SSS) of these pitches are fouled off. Though it will require heavier analysis for another day, one can easily see that perhaps this pitch is being used to setup his four-seam or sinker.

It’s not as if Crick struggles against left-handed hitters, though they do carry a borderline xwOBA of .296 xwOBA against his four-seamer. If the slider isn’t being used as a setup pitch, then one might advise Crick to throw a little less four-seam to southpaw hitters than the 65 percent he’s offering up now if only to mix it up a little.

To many, Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds will never be a good enough return for a Pittsburgh Pirates icon in McCutchen.

Because of that, many might under-appreciate him. They shouldn’t. Crick is about as solid as a reliever as you’ll find in Major League Baseball, and he might even get better. We may have just spent the past 700 some-odd words talking about his floor, rather than his ceiling.