It was not a good year to be a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. If they weren’t getting felled by injuries, they were getting felled by opposing batters. Three rookies walked into the fray this season, and today we’ll take a look at how they fared. Note that they are listed according to their debut dates and not by their performances. Stats are as of September twenty-fourth.
Geoff Hartlieb, RHP
A pundit once said “it’s not enough to be able to throw a ball through a wall. You have to know which wall to throw it through.” Hartlieb can throw hard—his fastball is consistently in the mid-nineties—but he’s got a lot of trouble finding that wall. In 35 innings pitched he’s given up 52 hits, 32 runs and 18 walks, with an ERA of 9.00 and a WHIP of 2.00. The majority of his appearances have come when the game’s already out of hand, but it’s the rare game where he doesn’t give up more runs. Despite his good fastball, he’s never been known as a lights-out pitcher, which he’s going to need to become if the Pirates want to continue to groom him as a closer. On a better team, Hartlieb would be a liability. With the 2019 Pirates, he’s just another arm.
Mitch Keller, RHP
The Bucs’ original plan was to have Keller come up later in the summer to let him master his newly discovered slider, but with two starters out with injuries that luxury went out the window in late May. Keller’s propensity to hang his fastball, a bad habit he was supposed to be erasing in Indianapolis, was gleefully feasted upon by opposing batters, as was his obvious agitation when he got into trouble. He ended his season going 1-5, with 72 hits and 38 earned runs in 48 innings, resulting in a 7.13 ERA and 1.83 WHIP. However, he did notch 65 strikeouts, nearly six per appearance, and he is slowly learning how to get himself out of jams. The Pirates are depending on Keller to step up as a dominant starter, and Keller needs to be ready for that challenge.
Dario Agrazal, RHP
Agrazal was the last Pirate rookie to get the call, and it took a couple of bounces back to Indianapolis before he established himself. In his fourteen starts (his last will be tonight against the Cubs), he’s gone 4-5 with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. As a primary sinkerballer, he’s never going to get the sexy stats, but what’s surprising is that unlike most sinkerballers he tends to give up fly balls and line drives more than grounders, about 61 percent. He needs to build up stamina as well; his ERA noticeably dives once he gets past the third inning--6.39 in the fourth inning, 8.68 in the fifth. Based on his 2019 performance he’ll probably remain the fourth starter in 2020 unless spring training dictates otherwise.