Where Does the Pirates Bullpen Stand At This Point in the Offseason?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been active in adding to their bullpen this offseason.

At the end of last month, they tendered contracts to Robert Stephenson and Duane Underwood Jr., while trading Kevin Newman for Dauri Moreta.

Those moves were followed by last week’s additions of left-handed relievers Jarlin Garcia and Jose Hernandez.

With all of the focus on this position, I wanted to break down how the bullpen looks heading into 2023.

The Closer

David Bednar

My only concern with David Bednar is overuse. The Pirates don’t have a comparable leverage reliever to pair with him, which means every time it is close and late and they have a lead, he is the guy they will call upon.

That hasn’t been a huge issue for the Pirates, as one of the worst teams in the game the last two years. It would benefit them to add another leverage guy to help reduce the workload on Bednar.

The current plan, as you see below, is relying on someone from the middle relief group to emerge.

The Middle Relievers

Wil Crowe, Jarlin Garcia, Robert Stephenson, Duane Underwood Jr.

Some might put Wil Crowe as the setup man, or in a separate tier from the rest of these pitchers. Crowe was used a lot last year, in a lot of roles.

He opened the year pitching in more of a swingman role, and worked in leverage situations, long-relief, middle-relief, and anywhere the Pirates needed him.

Crowe is a solid middle reliever, and what you hope Stephenson and Underwood Jr. become. That trio could give the Pirates a solid middle relief group, and might prevent Crowe from overuse — after he pitched 76 innings last year.

The Pirates added Garcia, who gives the Pirates a stable left-handed option in a bullpen that previously had no lefties.

This group seems like the “Ben Cherington Special” this offseason. Cherington has been adding players who don’t have a lot of upside, but who can stabilize weak positions on the team — of which there are plenty.

Stephenson was a late-season addition, and the Pirates re-signed him this offseason to a one-year, $1.9 million deal. They brought back Underwood for $1 million. The addition of Garcia added $2.5 million to the bullpen.

In total, they’ve committed $5.4 million to this group, with Crowe still being a league minimum player, not counting toward that amount.

The middle relief core looks stable, but there’s still the need for a leverage reliever, which I don’t think the Pirates will find here. At best, the Pirates have what they had last year with Crowe as the complement to Bednar, without having to overuse Crowe.

The Upside Plays

Yerry De Los Santos, Colin Holderman, Dauri Moreta, Yohan Ramirez

These are guys who have some MLB experience, and who could emerge as higher leverage pitchers than the middle relief options listed above. The Pirates have added three of these pitchers since the start of July.

Yerry De Los Santos is the lone pitcher from this group who was already in the system. He’s got a fastball that averages 95 and hits 98, with a slider that has generated a 15.6% whiff rate in the majors.

De Los Santos was inconsistent in 2022, with great stuff, but seven Meltdowns recorded in 26 games. He’s got options, and will surely be pitching in Pittsburgh at some point in 2023. That’s a sentence I can say about all of these guys.

Colin Holderman was added in the Daniel Vogelbach trade last July, and on the surface has a similar profile to De Los Santos. Holderman’s fastball averages 96, touching 99.9, and his slider gets a whiff 15.2% of the time.

Dauri Moreta was acquired more recently in the Newman trade with the Reds. Moreta didn’t get much time in the majors, and might benefit from an adjustment to his fastball. His slider got a whiff four of nine times in his brief MLB appearance in 2022.

The final guy on the list really stood out to me when prepping this article. The Pirates added Yohan Ramirez from Cleveland for cash considerations in July, saying at the time that they liked his stuff and hoped to work with him.

The sinker from Ramirez sits at 96, topping out at 99. The slider gets a swing and miss around 15% of the time. His control has struggled, but he’s shown poise, with eight shutdowns and only two meltdowns in 29 games last year.

These guys all share a very similar profile — hard-throwing relievers with sinking action and a swing-and-miss slider. They should provide a boost to the middle relief group, with the hope that one of these guys can complement Bednar.

The Wild Cards

Jose Hernandez, Nick Mears, Colin Selby

The Pirates added Jose Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft, giving them a second left-hander for the bullpen. Anthony Murphy wrote about Hernandez today.

Jose Hernandez: Pitch Mix Fits Perfectly In Major League Bullpen

The Pirates recently added Daniel Zamora, and I’d expect them to add more lefty relief candidates. Hernandez should get a good look with hid roster designation.

Nick Mears is a hard thrower who can generate swing and miss from his fastball-curveball combo. When considering how many pitchers on this roster work with a sinker/slider combo, Mears could play up just by giving a new look. He’s a sleeper to emerge as a leverage option.

The big sleeper here is Colin Selby, who might have more upside than the previous group, even if he doesn’t have MLB experience. The Pirates added Selby to the 40-man in November, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft. His stuff is good enough to project him in the majors in 2023.

Long Relief Options

Chase De Jong, Max Kranick, Zach Thompson, Bryse Wilson

The Pirates made their signing of right-handed pitcher Vince Velasquez official today, with General Manager Ben Cherington saying that Velasquez will join the starting group.

That was my expectation from the moment they signed Velasquez. I would hope that the Pirates add another starter, in addition to him. They have younger pitchers like Johan Oviedo and Luis Ortiz to compete for the final rotation spot.

The above listed pitchers could also compete for the rotation, and could serve as depth throughout the year.

Zach Thompson and Bryse Wilson were added in trades in 2021. Wilson was acquired for Richard Rodriguez from the Atlanta Braves, and Thompson was added as part of the Jacob Stallings trade with Miami.

The Pirates like both of these pitchers as starters, giving each of them at least 20 starts during the 2022 season. If the Pirates don’t add another starter, I’d expect one of these two to take a rotation spot at the beginning of the season.

That would be disappointing. It would be better to see them as depth. Thompson has options remaining, so he can start in Indianapolis, if needed. Wilson is out of options, and would need to go to the bullpen.

Chase De Jong is also out of options, and was a decent long-relief option in 2022, throwing 71.2 innings. I’d expect him to get a good look for Opening Day.

Max Kranick has an option remaining, and might start feeling the upper-level rotation crunch. With top prospects Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows expected to open the season in Triple-A, Kranick will have to battle with guys like Thompson, Ortiz, and Oviedo for rotation space.

Current Projected 2023 Pirates Bullpen

David Bednar

Wil Crowe

Robert Stephenson

Duane Underwood Jr.

Jarlin Garcia

Bryse Wilson

Chase De Jong

Jose Hernandez

This projection is geared on the final three spots to keep as many people as possible. I think there are guys with higher upside who could challenge for those spots on Opening Day.

What the Pirates ultimately need is for someone to emerge and join Bednar as a high-leverage reliever. This bullpen would look really deep if they were able to bring in a veteran leverage guy to complement Bednar.

Otherwise, they’re waiting for a someone to emerge from within, which is the story with a lot of positions on this team.

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Where Does the Pirates Bullpen Stand At This Point in the Offseason? – READING

Jose Hernandez: Pitch Mix Fits Perfectly In Major League Bullpen

Domingo Gonzalez Moves On From Pirates After Finding Role In Bullpen

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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pittsburghbob69

I would trade Chase DeJong, Wil Crowe and D.Underwood Jr.

Seeing what Detroit got from Atlanta got for Joe Jimenez(Jimenez has amazing FIP, xFIP and K rate but is a UFA after next season; and has no options left).

Even Oakland giving up a decent prospect in Jeff Criswell for Chad Smith(has struggled in MLB, but is pre arb, 4 years of control left, two(2) options left and a really good K rate).

Crowe is pre arb, has an option left and 4 years of control. DeJong is also pre arb, had good success in MLB last season and also has 4 years of control left. Underwood Jr is still very cheap, in his first year of arbitration, has really good peripherals(FIP and xFIP) and 4 years of control left.

I think those three(3) can be moved and I’m more than ok going into the season with;
DavidBednar
RobertStephenson
YerryDeLosSantos
Colin Holderman
Vince Velasquez
Zach Thompson
Jarlin Garcia
Jose Hernandez

With Nick Mears, Dauri Moreta, Colin Selby, and Yohan Ramirez on the 40 man in AAA.

With TahnajThomas, Jc Flowers, Tyler Samaniego, Nick Dombkowski not far behind. Even Hunter Stratton, Cederlind(if healthy) O.Bido, N.Toribio, WillKobos, CamJunker, CamAlldred, OmarCruz, DanielZamora all probably in AAA too.

I would trade Underwood tomorrow for Justin-Henry Malloy and Wil Crowe for Jeff Criswell as well.

Last edited 1 month ago by pittsburghbob69
clemo83

This is a difficult question: what part of the Pirates annual calendar is the worst:
1) Winter offseason where the rest of baseball competes and signs the best free agents to mega contracts? And the Pirates spend $3 M in bargain bin for starters 4-5 ERAs?
2) The time of the year where we trade off our best players for at least 4 prospects, none of which approach the ceiling of the traded player?
3) The part of the season where key players underperform?
4) The part of the season where former players perform at all-star levels well beyond anything they did as Pirates?
5) The part of the season where the manager uses his 200th lineup and no hit infielder are playing corner outfield spots?
6) The draft, the only event that offers some hope?
7) The annual sweep to the Brewers where we are outscored 43-2?
8) Accomplishing another losing season, with no end in sight?
9) Hearing Bob Nutting speak once a year for 10 minutes?
10) Watching the Cardinal using voodoo to win the division for the 2,000th time?
11) Watching former Pirates that we’ve followed their development for nearly a decade playing key roles for nearly every playoff team?
12) Listening to Ben Cherington doublespeak, and insisting 95 losses for the 5th season in a row is progess?
13) Making 3,000 waiver claims?
14) Having one promising sweep against a good team, followed by multiple 8 game losing streaks?

The annual Pirates calendar – are there key events I’m missing?

Last edited 1 month ago by clemo83
1979andCounting

A recent addition to the Pirates calendar, when your best player with 3 more years of control demands a trade.

mpg43952

5, Shelton does have a talent for that.

bianco599

Brewer sweep. Figure it well represents all the remaining on the list combined. No slight to brewers.

SBRO

Hernandez, Garcia, Underwood, Stephenson, Wilson and de Jong can’t be optioned, so you’re literally down to one non-Bednar spot in the opening day pen.

It does create some interesting depth at Indy, with Holderman, de los Santos, Selby and Ramirez, to say nothing of Moreta and Mears. More than interesting, actually. I think I might prefer that group to the unoptionable guys in the above paragraph.

emjayinTN

Good point, and with Yerry, Selby, and Hold Man all with 3 Options apiece, and Ramirez with 1 option, they will definitely be on the Up and Down Roster between AAA and the ‘burgh. Would not be surprised to see Tahnaj Thomas in 2023 and also Noe Toribio.

AdministrativeSky236

I would consider yerry and holdermann to be locks for the pen, a bit surprised they arent on the proj 2023 pen as of now

SBRO

The pen at the beginning almost certainly won’t be the same pen by summer. Based on history, there’s a good chance Hernandez doesn’t stick, and Underwood, Stephenson and de Jong are all one extended slump from returning to the waiver wire from whence they came. I think we’ll see Yerry and Holderman (if both are healthy) more or less take over two spots mid-year.

TNBucs

The bullpen as proposed in the article lacks a reliable 8th-inning guy or someone to close when Bednar needs a day off. Implied by this is that I’m thinking of Crowe, at best, as an option for long relief. He had a good three months but his 6.66 ERA in the second half is all we need as a sign that he should not be the answer to help save games.

Maybe Crowe will show that the second half was due to overuse or mechanics being out of sync or something else that is fixable–I’m rooting for the guy to turn things around. But, I hope he has to earn that trust again instead of being given the high-leverage role he had most of last season.

Guys like Yerry, Holderman, Moreta, and Garcia offer hope that we may have a reliable 7th/8th inning option. I’d still love us to sign Rogers though to share duties with Bednar–that would then be a bullpen I could get excited about instead of a bullpen with upside but a lot of uncertainty.

Mblee24

I would agree my bullpen would be
1. Bednar
2. Holderman
3. Garcia
4. De Los Santos
5. Crowe
6. Stephenson
7. Wilson
8. Hernandez

leefieux

I look at that pen and see one name that will probably be reliable. All of the rest will be the kind to close your eyes and hope that they get thru an inning unscathed. And then, rinse/repeat the next time they come in to a game.

One, maybe two MIGHT have a good year, but I wouldn’t bet a Mixon’s Gift Certificate on it!

SouthernBuc

I agree but I guess I see enough ‘good’ arms that I am hoping some (just give me one or two!) take that step to reliability. When Bednar came over in the trade he would have sounded a lot like several on this list. Tony Watson was a not real hard throwing minor league starter. Hence the crap shoot that I think bullpens can be.

I’ll just say I feel better about this years list of bullpen candidates than I did 12 months ago but then it would be sad if I didn’t considering last years team.

leefieux

Hoping and expecting are not the same thing. 🫣🫣🫣

SouthernBuc

I’ll open a debate on Bednar being overused in 2022 that seems to be an opinion of many. My opinion is our overall dislike of our 2022 bullpen has made his usage an easy target. I agree there is real concern he could get overused if Pirates are in position to win more games in 2023.

Looking back at 2022, I recall a few times that maybe he could have used a day off but that is true of just about EVERY closer. In 2022 he pitched in 45 games and 51 innings and I do realize he had some DL time. I don’t see that as any significant overuse and honestly expect that from a closer.

TNBucs

As of the All Star break, Crowe led all relievers in batters faced and Bednar was second among all closers in batters faced. When you’re not contending and instead trying to develop young pitchers, that’s overuse (and mismanagement).

https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=rel&lg=all&qual=y&type=0&season=2022&month=1000&season1=2022&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&startdate=2022-01-01&enddate=2022-07-17&sort=14,d

PirateRican21

Not defending DS, but that was what BC gave him, shit to work with.

TNBucs

We’ll never know but it’s plausible that that kind of usage led to Crowe’s ineffectiveness and Bednar’s trip to the IL. In fact, Bednar’s time on the IL may have been a blessing in disguise as it kept Shelton from putting more wear-and-tear on his arm.

MB21

Oh for the days of Teke and the Goose! What different days those were.

b mcferren

also that multi inning bs needs to stop

1979andCounting

Shelton ran Bednar out there three times for 2.0 – 2.2 IP amounting to 50, 43, 32 pitches during a 21-day stretch. Although Bednar’s bull-dogged personality loved it, it should not have been done. He blew 2 of the 3 saves, and the DL stint came shortly after. Surely Shelton learned from this???

Aurorus

That is gross bullpen mismanagement. Your best reliever should never throw more than 30 pitches in a game… never. It should be a hard limit.

emjayinTN

Excellent points by all, but one might hope a ?Manager? may have a better grasp on the overall situation. I think Bednar and Crowe were both overused, thereby being less effective as the season progressed.

Throw in Yerry De Los Santos also. Only 23.2 IP at AA/AAA in ’21, then he starts ’22 with 16 IP at AAA and then he is called up to the Pirates where Shelton pitches him Jun 3, 7, 10, 11, 13, 16, 21, 23, 24, 27, 29, 30 – 12 appearances, 12+ IP in June alone!

Wilbur Miller

bmac speaks the truth!

b mcferren

often

SouthernBuc

Agree to both of you.

NMR

I started out thinking “some DL time” doin’ a lot of work here buddy but he was on track for 60 games before missing almost 2 months. Almost exactly the same as last year. Not egregious, but maybe elevated.

SouthernBuc

Appreciate you digging.. I admit I knew he was on the DL but took the easy way out and didn’t look up any details. I will still hold that he was not extremely overworked but also get you don’t want to lay waste to his arm when making the playoffs was not a reality.

SouthernBuc

I also hope being ‘better’ will make his use more consistent. I do remember games where I wondered why he was pitching then realized he was becoming the tin man (rust encrusted) because it had been so long since he was actually needed. Then sure enough, he is actually needed the next 2 days because they have a chance to win. I guess in theory winning sets up more consistent usage of your backend arms.

Wilbur Miller

Several basic thoughts about this bullpen:
— There IS upside here
— WAY too many middle relievers.
— If I made a list of the ten most interesting guys, Jarlin Garcia wouldn’t be on it. He totally collapsed after May in 2022, and he’s totally dependent on maintaining an extremely low BABIP.

SouthernBuc

Bullpen to me has always been the hardest to predict on past performance. I agree with Wilbur that in general I Iike the mix with the obvious hopes a few step up to be solid set up or co-closers.

As an aside and not related to the purpose of this article. I fully believe the brilliance (I don’t use superlatives often) of the Watson-Melancon combo is too often overlooked as we look back at the last playoff teams. They were not sexy but I don’t see how they could have been any better. Get to the 8th with a lead and it was ballgame.

Last edited 1 month ago by SouthernBuc
NMR

Preach!!! The consistency of elite production and heavy usage is seriously underrated.

One of my favorite stats…the 2014 bullpen was good for just 0.8 fWAR, 25th in baseball, but Watson and Melancon were worth 3.1 fWAR in that same year. 160 combined appearance, 29 earned runs allowed.

The rest of the bullpen was dogshit but they almost won 90 games by ending them after 7 innings.

Last edited 1 month ago by NMR
Wilbur Miller

That’s what bugs me about this middle-reliever stuff. (For clarity, I kinda treat middle and long reliever as the same thing.) Obviously, you want everybody on the staff to be good, but the primary task IMO is to search and search and search for Watson/Melancon successors. They’re halfway at least. Except in today’s game you really need three guys, and ideally 4-5. That’s where the effort should be, not on trying to make sure Shelton doesn’t have to think too much if the starter gets knocked out in the third inning five straight days.

Aurorus

The whole concept of the bullpen as composed of middle-relief, closer, setup is built on flawed concepts. Middle relief? Closer? Setup? These are distinctions without distinction. Is there a difference between the 6th inning and the 9th? What you are really looking for is guys who can get you out of a jam… let’s call them “stoppers” to use a current concept. This type of reliever should really be among your best. He must have good control to avoid BBs, which make a bad situation worse, and either be a heavy sinker groundball guy (to get double plays or to prevent HRs or gap-shot line-drive doubles) or a heavy K guy. The ideal pitcher for this role is a groundball sinker-type with a swing-and-miss slider. Then you want guys who can get the best batters in the league out, starting with the bases empty. Control is not as essential here (think Clay Holmes), because they will have empty bases to work with, but they will need top-flight stuff- fastball-curveball types work well here, but you can use your sinker-slider guys… a good changeup is almost essential to face opposite-handed batters. Finally you have your 2nd tier guys who will face the bottom of the order starting with a clean slate of bases at the beginning of an inning. All you really want here is someone with good enough control to avoid walking all the bottom-of-the-order guys until he finds himself facing the number 2 and 3 hitter and enough stuff (fastball-curve or slider-sinker) to avoid getting dinked to death by the bottom of the order.

Wilbur Miller

So IOW, deploy your relievers to maximize outs. Radical!

PirateRican21

T. Rodgers is still out there, I know he struggle in Milwaukee, but a proven closer, a lefty. He was one of my “dream” gets this off season, Chafin as a second choice. They are out there, but….

NMR

I also forget how absurdly good Rivero/Nicasio were in ’18…totally coincidental that it was the only year the club has sniffed .500 since their last playoff appearance, right? 😉

Wilbur Miller

One of those names . . . ugh.

Wilbur Miller

Not exactly headline news, but already Yajure has been outrighted and Park dfa’d.

leefieux

Saw that on Park, but not Yajure. Hopefully, some team(s) claim both, so that BC isn’t tempted to reclaim them.

Wilbur Miller

Yajure’s already outrighted so he cleared waivers.

leefieux

Whew! Bullet dodged!!!

TNBucs

Yajure being optioned meant that he went unclaimed, obviously what the Pirates had been hoping for but the FO’s timing was poor.

Wilbur Miller

Kranick won’t be battling for anything this year.

Wilbur Miller

I’d really like to see him in a multi inning role. It’s not improbable that he gets dfa’d and outrighted.

jaygray007

theyve made it clear that this wont be a year where extracting every win possible is a priority. hopefully their usage of Bednar reflects this fact.

There’s just no reason to run him into the ground.

b mcferren

Alex Reyes would be a fun addition

So would Chapman

PirateRican21

I watch the condense games on MLBTV during the offseason, few things stood out to me after watching this off season, how Crowe rode an early season success to a perception that he deserves a spot. Like most people I’m bias, I love Ramirez, ok with seeing Underwood get one more short look and Holderman and Stephenson should get a longer look. But I don’t like a bullpen that has Crowe and De Jong getting 50-70 innings a year. Rather see Thompson and Wilson in their place. Is not just performance, is strength of pitch. Thompson cutter and Wilson split/change are above average pitches, Crowe and De Jong in my opinion do not have anything that grades as above and shouldn’t be more than AAA depth.

b mcferren

they wore out Crowe just as much as they wore out Bednar

this “opener” starter philosophy is stupid and injuries to our best relievers is the result of these antics

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

Bucs should be the club to line up with the Rays on JP Feyereisen. Sure, he’ll be shut down til late this season with the shoulder procedure but he’d be really nice to pair with Bednar on the backend ’24-on. Has the exact pitch mix the team likes just now, too.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

Dammit, the Dodgers agreed with me on Feyereisen. They got him for a 24 year old LHP in A+ who k’s 15/9 and walks 5/9.

1979andCounting

I don’t know why 60-day ILs have to be counted on the offseason 40-man roster? Surprised the Union hasn’t attacked this. Makes no sense the Rays have to DFA/ trade him days after surgery……due to roster space. They also have Baz and Kittredge out with TJ, but the rules insist teams keep injured players like this on the offseason 40-man. In the Pirates case we have to give roster spaces to Kranick and Smith-Njigba over the winter.

I also thought players would be protected when they go on 60-man like
in regular season. Why do the rules change between Nov. 10 – March 31?
What am I missing? Makes no sense.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

I agree with you but—in this case—I wish Cherington had been ready to take advantage and lock in some premium late relief innings that overlapped almost perfectly with our window (’24-’26) for very little cost aside from the roster spot.

PirateRican21

Tuff surgery to recover from, I wouldn’t make that deal.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

The surgery went well and timeline is supposed to be 4 months of no throwing.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/mlb/rays-jp-feyereisen-to-miss-most-of-season-after-shoulder-surgery/ar-AA154a2Z

If I was Cherington and signed him, I’d just hope he was ready for a quick 1-2 week stretch of games in Sept and otherwise look to 2024

Wilbur Miller

For a couple C+ prospects?

PirateRican21

Plus a roster spot, plus salary.

Wilbur Miller

Haha, roster spot, no problemo. Salary, well . . . .

PirateRican21

Who you gonna bump? I dare you to name ten!

Wilbur Miller

I dare you to make me stop at ten!

PirateRican21

Challenge not accepted!

leefieux

If you were the Rays would you do it? I wouldn’t.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

They DFA’d him and have only a few days to put a trade together.

leefieux

I was unaware of that. Thx,

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

No prob. Just happened.

Wilbur Miller

Yeah, they’re not in a strong position.

Wilbur Miller

I’d dread having to type that name, though.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

I might have copied and pasted it

Wilbur Miller

Yeah, he looks like a good pickup. They certainly have legions of upper level prospects to offer.

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