A few weeks ago, it looked like the Pirates’ bullpen was spinning out of control. Now, they’re just spinning.
The Pirates just completed a stretch of 13 games in 13 days and will start another slate of 14 contests in 13 days starting Tuesday. Factoring in the workload and the inordinate amount of pitchers on the injury list, it makes sense the Pirates would be adding new relievers to the fray. Over the past two weeks, they’ve supplemented their 40-man roster with three new arms: Montana DuRapau, Geoff Hartlieb and Chris Stratton.
DuRapau has made a good first impression in his first crack at the bigs. Hartlieb raised some eyebrows during his stellar spring training and carried that mojo to AAA and now the majors. Stratton, like most players who are DFA’d and then sold for pocket change, came to Pittsburgh with a stink on him.
Their sample sizes are too small to get a proper read on their results, but we can take a look at spin rates. Of course, like every other metric, this could fluctuate greatly as the season progresses, but first impressions mean something, and all three of these pitchers have something in common: they are getting a ton of spin.
Since the advent of Statcast, we’ve seen teams target pitchers with high spin rates, especially among reclamation projects and perceived lower ceiling minor leaguers. The Pirates had great success last year with Richard Rodriguez, and Clint Hurdle cited his fastball spin as one of the main factors why they decided to give him a shot.
Now obviously a good spin rate doesn’t always mean the guy throwing it is a good pitcher, but some of the most deadly hurlers in the game get movement. It’s a good foundation teams can hope to build a complete pitcher on, and all three new Pirates seem to have that bedrock.
DuRapau made five appearances this road trip in a variety of roles, ranging from mop up guy to late inning arm to opener. He did well in all five of those appearances, too, which is why he gets to go first in this post.
As far as his spin goes, his curve is the eye-opener, but he’s used it the least. Out of the 86 major league pitches he’s thrown, only 13 have been curves. Instead, he’s relied on his slider the most, which actually gets almost as much spin. In fact, the closest comp to his slider spin rate is...Felipe Vazquez’s (2,785 RPM). That’s good company.
DuRapau also gets a lot of movement on his fastball, but there’s another recently promoted arm from the Pirates’ farm system that gets a hair more. It is...
I’ll try to keep this short since Jason has already written about Hartlieb today. He has an above average slider spin rate (2,486 RPM), but actually gets a little more movement on his heater (2,499 RPM).
He also came close to breaking Statcast with this 98.4 MPH slider to strike out Ian Kinsler. According to Baseball Savant, that’s tied for the hardest thrown slider since PITCHf/x went into every park in 2008.
But looking at it objectively, that “slider” is probably a two-seam fastball. Still, it’s a two-seamer which flirted with triple digits and 2,500 RPM. That’s a very, very rare combination of speed and spin. I watered down a Statcast search to search for all two-seamers which were 98+ MPH and had a spin rate of at least 2450 RPM. Of the 17,441 two-seamers thrown across baseball this year, only 37 met those requirements. That’s 0.2%. Not too shabby for a MLB debut.
Stratton has bounced around a lot this year. He spent spring in camp with the Giants before being traded in late March to the Angels. He struggled as a starter with the Halos before being sold to the Bucs, where it looks like they’ll keep him in the bullpen. There have been plenty of failed starters who found a second life as a reliever, and if the Pirates are searching for guys with great RPMs, there are few better than Stratton.
Again, there’s more to a pitcher than just his spin rate. The best example would be comparing Stratton’s slider and his curveball. Both spin a ton, but it’s clear which is the better pitch.
The curve is getting decent results, but his other breaking ball isn’t. It’s an unbelievably small sample size, but he’s thrown his slider far less often in Pittsburgh than he did in Los Angeles while upping his curveball usage. Mix that in with a fastball (again, with good spin) which batters are hitting and slugging .240 against the first time through the order, and the Pirates may have a breakout candidate on their hands.