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Pirates must overhaul bullpen in anticipation of 2023

The Pirates' bullpen ranked in the bottom three in ERA (4.72), WHIP (1.43), and walks (696).

MLB: MAY 31 Pirates at Royals Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To say the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2022 bullpen struggled would be a mild understatement.

In what was a constant roster shuffle due to additions through minor trades and waiver claims, the Pirates never achieved consistency from any of their relievers.

Before exploring the bad, the only exception to the cause was All-Star closer, David Bednar. In his fourth and most productive season, the Mars native contributed a 2.61 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. Bednar only appeared in eight games after the All-Star Game due to a lower back injury, posting a 1.13 ERA and 12 strikeouts. “The Renegade” owned a .210 opponent average and 1.08 WHIP in the first half.

He battled a few tough outings prior to being placed on the IL and helped make the Pirates’ bullpen numbers from looking even worse.

There are multiple issues of contention as to what needs to improve for the Pirates to become successful. First base, starting rotation, and corner outfield are just a few, but the bullpen prevented late-inning leads from becoming victories in some of the most dreadful losses.

The Bucs ‘pen finished tied second to last in baseball with a 4.72 ERA, fourth worst in saves (33), second worst in WHIP (1.43) and hits allowed (640) and tied for worst in walks (296).

Where to begin…

Pittsburgh doesn’t help its cause in relation to bullpen usage when starters are pulled or not able to pitch past five innings — sometimes hooked before that despite reasonable pitch counts — depending on the bullpen more than others.

The team was also 10 percentage points off the lead for stranding runners on base (68.7 percent). A part of this is personnel, and the other is bullpen construction and management.

Anthony Banda (18 earned runs in 19.2 innings), Heath Hembree (13 ER in 16.1 IP), Chris Stratton (23 ER in 40.2 IP), Dillon Peters (20 ER in 39.1 IP), and Aaron Fletcher (9 ER in 11.2 IP) all experienced a brief cup of coffee in the big leagues before being let go or traded.

Mainstays Duane Underwood and Wil Crowe were wildly inconsistent.

Underwood, on numerous occasions, walked to the mound with the lead only to leave it trailing. He registered a 1-6 overall record, and a 4.40 ERA in 57.1 innings, giving up 35 runs (28 earned) while walking 25.

Crowe was a wildly different pitcher depending on the inning. His ERA was especially bad in the eighth and ninth when used to maintain a tie game or keep the lead.

Wil Crowe’s ERA by inning:

5th inning: 0.00 ERA in 4.2 innings

6th inning: 5.06 ERA (six runs) in 10.2 innings

7th inning: 0.96 ERA (two runs) in 18.2 innings

8th inning: 5.25 ERA (14 runs) in 24 innings

9th inning: 8.36 ERA (13 runs) in 14 innings (17 games)

The performances in the eighth and ninth are especially alarming for Crowe, posting a 6.66 ERA in 24 innings after the break with inconsistency and an elbow injury.

Tyler Beede pitched well following a move from the San Francisco Giants organization. Beede totaled a 3.47 ERA, a .245 opponent average, and a 1.43 WHIP in 36.1 innings. That skyrocketed in the second half (7.56 ERA, .336 AVG, 1.92 WHIP) when the Pirates tried pitching him in the rotation. The decision led to major troubles for Breede and was let go from the team in September.

Manager Derek Shelton is in the final year of his four-year contract in what will become his most crucial year yet to prove he’s the guy to lead Pittsburgh out of the darkness.

Adding to the bullpen is obvious for Ben Cherington. Young pitchers like Yerry De Los Santos and Colin Holderman should be a part of it, Holderman being the main piece acquired in the Daniel Vogelbach deal.

Outside of Bednar and possibly De Los Santos and Holderman, every spot should be up for grabs. The Pirates’ bullpen needs to be overhauled, and it will take more like five or six moves rather than two or three to make it happen.