Pittsburgh Pirates Position Grades - Bullpen

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

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It won't be an easy road for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.  While I do believe success is within the realm of possibility within the next 2-4 seasons, I do not believe we are there just yet.  There is simply too much youth on this team as of now, but that’s okay, because it looks like very talented youth. 

However, instead of just assuming this particular 2022 roster isn’t talented enough for success yet, let’s work through the position groups together over the next week or two.

You can find all of Antonio's position group gradings as they roll out over time here: 

Pittsburgh Pirate Grades

Bullpen Grade - F+

There is the often used phrase, “saved the best for last”.  I, however, did not in this case.  In fact, I almost just let the spark and glamour of Opening Day serve as a distraction so maybe you all wouldn’t even realize I “forgot” about the bullpen.  Unfortunately, I did not forget.  I just didn't want to dive into this group.

This group will be hard to forget, but for all the wrong reasons.   I believe they will  often be the root cause of a lost ballgame for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.  It is one of the most shallow bullpens the Pirates have had in quite some time in terms of talent.  In fact, there is not a single Pirates relief pitcher where I can’t say, “yeah, but” in regards to why they are more likely to  have a down season than a successful one.

David Bednar

Let’s go from high leverage to low leverage.  The most likely candidate for save situations this season is right-handed pitcher David Bednar.  How could you not love David Bednar?  He is from Pittsburgh, Mars area to be exact, and has come home to save games for his hometown team.  He also pitched very well last season, hence the "+" on the failing grade.

Bednar finished the 2021 season with a 2.23 ERA, three saves, and just a .185 batting average against.  Those are some outstanding numbers given that he was not named the co-closer until after Richard Rodriguez was dealt to Atlanta, who is now serving an 80-game suspension for PEDs.  I believe the closer’s role is Bednar’s to lose coming out of camp, and while he will split save opportunities with Chris Stratton, that should only serve as opportunities to give Bednar a rest.  However, he has only served in a closer role for a little over a month in the majors.  We’ll see how Bednar handles the role full-time.

Chris Stratton

Speaking of Chris Stratton, he too had a decent season last year.  He finished with a 3.63 ERA, eight saves, and struck out 86 batters in 79.1 innings.  Stratton’s “yeah, but” is the same as Bednar’s.  Even though he has much more major league experience and had eight saves last season, his total experience in a closer role is small.  Also, he has had stretches in the big leagues where he pitched pretty poorly.  However, he seems to have found a groove with the Pirates.  So while I do believe Stratton will convert some save opportunities this season, his overall body of work is underwhelming.

Heath Hembree

Heath Hembree is a new guy I look forward to watching.  He hasn’t pitched particularly well since 2019, but he did convert eight saves for the Cincinnati Reds last season.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t had a season ERA under five and a half since that 2019 season with the Boston Red Sox.  However, Hembree had some great seasons with the Red Sox, and some of that talent may still be there.  Unfortunately, while I do look forward to watching him now, I’m not sure how long I’ll be a fan of Hembree’s just based off his more recent numbers.

The Rest

Then there’s the rest.  Those that will fill roles anywhere from the 4th through the 7th innings, with hopefully more of the latter.  The two names that stick out to me most are Wil Crowe and Miguel Yajure.  Crowe started twenty-five games with the Pirates last season, and was largely unsuccessful.  He will begin the year in the bullpen with the Pirates, and I feel as if that role will be much better suited for his talents. 

Yajure will also begin the season in the bullpen, but I expect he has the opportunity to earn his way into the rotation.  Yajure is still very young, at just 22 years of age, and was at one time the New York Yankees 15th best prospect in their system.  He is still ranked 16th in the Pirates loaded pipeline.  

Yajure came over in the Jameson Taillon trade along with Roansy Contreras, Canaan Smith-Njigba, and Maikol Escotto.  I would really like to see Yajure earn a spot into the rotation with some good pitching out of the ’pen.

That leaves Duane Underwood Jr. Dillon Peters, Anthony Banda, and Aaron Fletcher.  I don’t have much to say about this group.  The only thing I like is that with Fletcher, Peters, and Banda all in the bullpen we have a better mix of righties and lefties to start this season than we did to start last season.  However, that is all I can say about this group. 

None of these guys jump off the page and they don’t do a particularly good job at getting batters out.  They simply round out a weakly talented group that will do more to blow leads for the Pirates than secure them throughout the season. 

Baseball is Back!

I want to leave you on a happy note on this Opening Day.  We didn’t know if we’d have an Opening Day this season, and we especially didn’t expect it to be as early as April with how the negotiations were proceeding.  So enjoy it!  I am very excited to watch baseball again, and I hope the Pirates outperform all of our expectations.