After giving up 47 runs in three games to the Chicago Cubs this weekend, there doesn’t seem to be much optimism surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitching staff.
In the month of September, there have a been a lot of unrecognizable names to come out of the Pirate bullpen. Of the 13 relievers currently on the team, only four of them made the team out of Spring Training this year. So far this month, the Pirates have the fourth highest bullpen ERA in the majors at 5.79. This paired with bad starting pitching seems like a good recipe for serving up 47 runs in three games.
But none of that matters. The games don’t matter. All that matters right now for the Pirates is for their players to accrue experience and progression for the future. When looking ahead to the 2020 bullpen, do any of the current September call up bullpen pieces have a chance to make the squad?
Assuming no one is traded, everyone can get along, and Francisco Liriano is not brought back, the 2020 bullpen should carry Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana, Michael Feliz, and Nick Burdi.
There are a ton of questions regarding these relievers though. Will Santana and Burdi be healthy in time? Could guys like Crick, Rodriguez, or Feliz be non-tendered? Probably not but you never know. Will Vazquez or Kela be traded? There is a world where at least half of these guys are gone next season. Then what?
Another thing to keep in mind is that MLB rosters will be expanded to 26 players next season. I assume that most National League rosters will contain an eight man bullpen and five man bench. We can save that discussion for another day though.
Simply put, there will be bullpen spots available for the Pirates in 2020. What under the radar September call up relievers actually have a chance to take one? Let’s run through the list.
- Geoff Hartlieb - On the season, the 25-year-old righty has an 8.54 ERA (4.81 DRA) in 32.2 innings pitched. His K rate of 23.1 percent is promising but his 10.6 percent walk rate and 12.3 percent soft contact rate is as equally unpromising. That’s a no for me dawg.
- Clay Holmes - Holmes isn’t technically a September call up, but it still feels appropriate to put him on this list. On the year, Holmes has a 6.11 ERA (4.08 DRA) in 45.2 innings pitched. He’s had success inducing ground balls (60 percent) and striking out batters (23.3 percent), but like Hartlieb, his 15.3 percent walk rate is way too high to consistently overcome. That’s a no for me as well.
- Williams Jerez - This 27-year-old lefty has 22.2 career innings pitched including one with the Pirates this year. He has a history of striking out batters in the minors but walks are an issue. So no.
- Parker Markel - Markel was claimed by the Pirates from the Seattle Mariners earlier this season. In 12.2 innings with the Pirates, he’s allowed 11 earned runs including three home runs. Better yet, he’s walked nine batters. No thanks.
- Alex McRae - McRae has a 7.94 ERA (7.80 DRA) in 22.2 innings pitched this season. He has 17 strikeouts to 14 walks. He’s given up eight home runs. Big no.
- Yefry Ramirez - The Pirates traded for Ramirez after the Baltimore Orioles DFA’d him earlier this season. Yes, the 49-100 Baltimore Orioles. In 10.1 innings with the Pirates, he’s given up 12 earned runs. He has a career K rate of 21.2 percent and career walk rate of 12.6 percent. This 25-year-old righty is intriguing, but it’s probably a no.
- Yacksel Rios - Rios was claimed by the Pirates from the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of July this year. He’s never had success at the major league level. In 62 career innings, Rios has an ERA of 6.53. In seven innings with the Pirates this year, he’s given up six earned including two dingers. Nope.
- Wei-Chung Wang - Wang has actually had some success getting batters out this season. In 30.1 innings, he’s given up 13 earned runs (3.86 ERA). That said, he does walk batters (10.3 percent) while not striking out many (13.5 percent). His DRA is 7.08. If the Pirates are desperate for a lefty, perhaps there’s a chance, but this is a no for me as well.
Guys like Montana Durapau and Luis Escobar could have a chance too but they are not pitching at the moment. That said, they are just as bad as the options above.
I see one common denominator with most of these guys. They strike out batters but aren’t successful because they allow way too many free passes. It’s honestly comical to see the amount of walks these guys allow. Because their wildness, they are extra prone to hard contact. Anyways, the Pirates are trying to see if some of these guys will stick. So far, none have. Opponents are salivating when they get to face Pirate pitching. But then again, they have all year.
None of the September call up relievers will make the 2020 Pirates out of Spring Training in my humble opinion. But if I had to guess, someone like Holmes or Hartlieb would probably have the best chance.