During the offseason, I wrote an article detailing why the Pittsburgh Pirates should take a flier on relief pitcher Brad Brach. I was roundly met with derision. Fair enough, as Pittsburgh’s 4.00 FIP out of the bullpen is perhaps the only area the team doesn’t need shoring up. Nonetheless, I liked Brach.
Coming off two shaky seasons (one by some metrics but not others, the other a COVID-shortened season), Brach probably wasn’t high on many teams’ wish lists, nor was he a fodder-producer for fans. Not to mention, he’s 35 this season. I assumed the Pirates would need a steady, experienced reliever for late game situations, but they’ve done fine in that department this season.
Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to see just how Brach is performing this year. A 3.59 ERA in 2018 gave way to a 5.47 and 5.84 ERA in 2019 and 2020, the latter containing only 12.1 innings pitched. 2019’s number, however, is a bit misleading, perhaps, since his FIP was 3.73. In 2020, however, it ballooned to 6.68.
Despite that, I was fairly high on Brach, assuming his veteran presence would still be good for the Pirates, even if his numbers didn’t rebound, which I thought they would.
Now pitching for the Pirates’ division rival, the Cincinnati Reds, Brach has appeared in 14 games to pitch 13.1 innings. It isn’t a massive workload, so drawing conclusions at this point might be a tenuous proposition. (By comparison, David Bednar has thrown about twice that.)
His ERA receded significantly, falling to 2.70, while his FIP is down to 3.31. His K/9 total (10.80) is the highest it’s been for a sustained period of time. RotoWire, via CBS Sports, noted how Brach’s been used in higher leverage situations with Tejay Antone unavailable, although they did also cite his propensity to issue walks.
Though I haven’t watched Brach with assiduity this year, I found his case to be somewhat compelling. Could the Pirates have found a spot on the roster for Brach? Assuredly, particularly since he’s making around league average with Cincinnati. Do they need him? Not really. The Pirates aren’t particularly competitive in games, making a cheap late-inning option not completely necessary.
Besides, the argument could be made, as it often is, that the Pirates are better off giving shots to younger arms, as there would be absolutely no chance Brach would figure into future plans, probably not even past 2021.
To conclude, I had my eyes set on Brach being slotted into the role that Bednar now occupies, who has pitched in a surprising way this season. I have no qualms about Bednar’s performance or his role; not having realized it earlier is one of the many reasons I’m not in a front office.
Brach will go on pitching for the Reds and Bednar for the Pirates. With “Renegade” bleeding through the sound system at PNC Park, it’s probably better this way.