The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen is in bad need of reshuffling, but the answers are likely already in-house.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen was clearly the weak link as the team opened the gates on the 2018 season. After a period in which the team seemed to right the relief ship, leaks are starting to show again.
George Kontos‘ slow drip of a season continued on Saturday, and waterboarded the Pirates’ chances of winning in an eventual 5-3 loss against the Milwaukee Brewers. Kontos’ two-hit outing that day was the fifth multi-hit appearance among his 16 appearances to date.
Perhaps one could forgive Kontos’ shakiness if the veteran right-hander was still missing his share of bats. But that simply has not happened, as Kontos’ woeful 6.1 strikeout percentage attests.
If he were to be getting hitters to swing and miss at an average rate at the very least, one could theoretically make the case to leave Kontos in that role, with the idea that his performance might just even out.
It would be a flimsy case, but you could make it.
Of course, that case flies out the window when you look at Kontos’ plate discipline peripherals year-over-year.
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So not only are batters swinging at less of Kontos’ outside the zone offerings, they are making contact at a 17.5 percentage point greater clip. When Kontos does come into the zone — something he has to do more often than he did last season — hitters feel comfortable there too, making about 11 percent more contact than last season, and 16 percent more contact overall.
He went into the season with the eighth inning locked down on reputation alone, but it’s clear that Kontos is not the answer to the usual high leverage that comes along with it. The Pittsburgh Pirates have better options in-house already.
Pick one not named Feliz.
First and foremost, the answer for the eighth inning is more than obvious. Since his opening day meltdown, Michael Feliz has pitched 14 innings, giving up one earned run along the way. He has struck out 19, and opponents carry just a .280 slugging percentage against him.
He has righted his ship and deserves a crack at serving as Felipe Vazquez‘s setup man.
Crick has the experience — small as that edge may be — by virtue of his 30 appearances in 2017 with the San Francisco Giants. Perhaps it is folly to suggest his name soon after his three-walk outing against the Brewers on Saturday, but manager Clint Hurdle values experience, something that may give Crick an edge.
Santana, too, has shaken off some up and down play, and his stuff alone has many thinking that he can be a capable and dependable major league reliever for years to come, should he harness it. Indeed, his sinker and four-seam work well off of his very-effective slider, which carries a 31.9 percent whiff percentage.
Rodriguez is the hot name right now, fresh off of striking out six Brewers hitters in two innings of work yesterday. By putting a nice bow on Chad Kuhl‘s equally impressive outing, Rodriguez introduced himself to casual Pirates fans, but those in the know already…knew.
Rodriguez has struck out 21 batters in his first 11.1 innings with the club. The former Baltimore Orioles-castoff comes in with two-pitches, a fastball that averages in the low-to-mid 90s, and a curveball that drops down to the low 80s with good bite.
At least, we think it’s a curveball? Statcast labels it as a slider for some reason. For now, we’ll go with the Brooks Baseball definition of the pitch. Regardless, those two pitches are what you see with Rodriguez, and what you get, as this chart shows:
There’s definitely a pattern here, and one that could bite Rodriguez, who seems to only use the curveball in certain counts. With a mix like this, one wonders just how much Rodriguez, or the Pittsburgh Pirates, trust the pitch. If there is not full confidence in it, Rodriguez’s blazing start amounts to something more akin to a tightrope act, one that could snap as more tape gets built up on the journeyman right-hander.
Warts and all, any of these three options — or even others — would be suitable replacements the eighth-inning honors. George Kontos is simply not getting it done. How long will that go on while seemingly better options are right there in the wings?