The final week of October saw a flurry of roster moves for the Pirates, and as many observers have already noted, there surely are more to come.
Last week saw – among other things – the club outright former keystone hopeful Kevin Kramer and outfield prospect Jason Martin to Indianapolis. In addition, the Mets claimed reliever Nick Tropeano and the Twins took left-hander Brandon Waddell off the Bucs’ hands. And on Sunday, the club designated reliever Nick Burdi for assignment after he underwent a second Tommy John surgery.
Plenty of attention will be on the Pirates bullpen for 2021, and one big question centers on the fate of a reliever who had great success two years ago and then regressed in a major way in 2019 before becoming a virtual nonentity in 2020.
Kyle Crick was one of the pieces the Pirates obtained from San Francisco — outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds was the other — in the controversial Andrew McCutchen trade in January 2018. While longtime Pirates fans sharply criticized then GM Neal Huntington for trading McCutchen, it looked like a genius move when the 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander – a first-round pick of the Giants and one of their highly regarded prospects for several years — turned into a shutdown reliever and potentially a future closer.
But while Reynolds was tearing up the league in 2019, Crick could not duplicate the success he had in ‘18. After posting a 2.39 ERA and yielding just 45 hits while striking out 65 in 60 1/3 innings in his first season as a Pirate, Crick saw his ERA balloon to 4.96. He maintained good strikeout numbers – he fanned 61 in 49 innings – but his walk total rose from 23 in 2018 to 35 in 2019.
Crick also had his problems off the field, as he battled with a bullpen coach and then fought with closer Felipe Vazquez. The latter fight resulted in a torn tendon in Crick’s right index finger that ended his season in the first week of September.
Crick never really got untracked in 2020. He appeared in two games in July, giving up no earned runs but three hits and a walk in one inning of work before going on the shelf for virtually the entire month of August with a shoulder strain. Crick did return to make five more appearances but pitched a total of just 4 2/3 innings during that stretch.
Crick, who turns 28 at the end of this month, remains on the Pirates roster at this point and is eligible for arbitration for the first time. He earned $590,000 in 2020, and it’s expected that he’ll earn in the neighborhood of $850,000, according to Spotrac.com — if he’s tendered a contract.
The question is, should the Pirates retain Crick at that price? Perhaps a look at a few other numbers are in order. Specifically, those number pertain to his velocity, as provided by baseballsavant. During his breakout season in 2018, Crick’s average velocity on his four-seam fastball came in at 95.8 mph, and his slider checked in at 81.5. A year later, his fastball velocity hadn’t changed much – 95.3 – and his slider held at 81.5. But his pitch mix changed, as he threw 596 four-seamers in 2018 to 470 in 2019 while the number of sliders increased from 270 in 2018 to 349 in 2019.
In 2020, the drop in velocity was somewhat alarming, although one could argue that he never really got into any sort of a groove. In 2020, his slider velocity fell to 77.1 while his four-seamer dropped from 95.3 to 90.9.
I’m hesitant to give up on Crick at this point, seeing what I saw in 2018. Cherington and his regime certainly aren’t married to Crick; they didn’t bring him here. And even though he seems like a bit of a hothead, the Pirates should bring him back for one more shot, just to see which version of Crick – the 2018 or the 2019 model – is the real version. If he’s closer to the 2018 model, the Pirates will have themselves a valuable bullpen piece at a reasonable price.