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Three-Pack: Meet new Pirates reliever Chris Stratton

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MLB: Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to “The Three Pack”, a weekly feature in which I’ll give you three quick thoughts on anything and everything related to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Let’s spend our Three Pack time this week to take a quick look at new Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Chris Stratton.

Pick the best, leave the rest

Stratton has what I would call a non-standard loadout for most fringe MLB starters. Here’s a quick look:

That may seem like a ton of pitches, but in reality Stratton carries a standard offering for an MLB reliever. Though the changeup, sinker and cutter are shown occasionally, in reality he is a three-pitch reliever.

At least for now. The onus will be on the Pirates to determine what to cut and what to keep. That’s a tricky proposition, however, when one sees that Stratton’s fastballs — all varieties — are getting tagged to the tune of a .424 xwOBA in 2019 to date. This trend dates back through last season’s .365 mark and 2017’s .356 figure.

The good news is that his breaking pitches have historically been shouldering the load in terms of whiff, though that, too is trending down. After getting a swing and miss rate of 37.1 percent in 2017, he generates whiff at a 29.7 percent clip in 2019.

This compounds things for Stratton in that his fastball is not nearly good enough to complement his other pitches all that well. Averaging 90.5 mph with a flat look, Stratton has difficulty setting up changes in eye level/velocity among pitches. This could reduce the effectiveness of his curveball in theory, though in practice it has held up well enough. That’s a hell of a tightrope to walk, however.

The Pirates will likely want to spend more time with Stratton before committing to any significant pitch changes, so we too should reserve judgement. However, despite the appearance of a plethora of pitches to pick and choose from, the prospects of turning coal into a diamond are seriously in question.

They don’t come out to play though

Perhaps we can’t accurately judge Stratton’s breaking stuff because they don’t have as many opportunities to come out and play.

Out of 284 pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched this season, Stratton ranks 279th in percentage of pitches being thrown in two-strike counts — 7.6 percent. By raw numbers, he fares slightly better with a ranking of 232nd.

Of the 39 breaking balls he has thrown in two-strike counts, Stratton has only generated three whiffs. Small sample size can only excuse so much, and it would appear as if Stratton does not have a clearly defined out-pitch.

So, pitch to contact it is then

The picture painted above is one of a pitch to contact hurler. Not exactly a desirable trait for a late-inning reliever, or even a starter in today’s MLB. But for a middle-to-early relief arm, it might do, provided the surrounding peripherals support stability.

Stratton’s, however, provide anything but that:

A mixed bag across the board, sure, but one wonders how Stratton can improve upon batted ball quality with a flat fastball along with breaking stuff that has enigmatic swing and miss quality.

Stratton’s time as a starter this season — he started five of the seven games he appeared in before joining Pittsburgh — throws a wrench into things. Perhaps he is subject to a harsh times through the order penalty?

Or, maybe not.

The Pittsburgh Pirates gave up very little to get Stratton; These types of moves are made by every. single. organization. in. MLB.

However, fans will want to temper any budding enthusiasm a bit as Stratton profiles as pure bullpen depth. No more, no less.