Grading The Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bullpen

The Pittsburgh bullpen was full of stars, surprises, and duds. We grade each reliever's season that was key to 2018.

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Source: Twitter.com @F_Vazquez73

This is part two of a four part series breaking down each section of the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates. Last week, we took a gander at the rotation. This time around we are going to examine the bullpen. We are going to work our way from the bottom up. Warning: the first couple players will remind you of literal train wrecks.

Dovydas Neverauskas

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
25 27 22.70% 8.40% 0.292 8.00 6.72 4.34 -0.6

 

The Lithuanian native spent most of his season shuttling between AAA Indianapolis and Pittsburgh….I’m not sure why Pittsburgh even bothered wasting the gas. Dovydas allowed a run in 14 of his 25 outings. Dovydas in 2018 may have been one of the least effective relievers ever. His ERA didn’t drop under nine until September 22nd. Neverauskas was not good, that’s really all that needs to be said.

Season Grade: F-, Dovydas is either going to figure it out or be a permanent AAA reliever.

George Kontos

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
21 19.2 10.10% 5.60% 0.279 5.03 6.11 5.31 -0.5

 

Poor Kontos, after seemingly finding his groove in late 2017 after being traded he lost it again. The Pirates had no option but to release him after another bad outing on May 22nd. Age seems like it may have finally gotten to him. He’s still playing for teams but he won’t be used in the setup role ever again. He quickly pitched himself out of a role and the rise of some of the younger arms quickly ushered him out.

Season Grade: F, hard to get a better grade when you’re released a quarter of the way through the season.

Steven Brault

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
40 65.2 22.30% 14.30% 0.309 4.25 4.74 4.67 -0.3

The year started off good for Steven, he was a co-host on a new podcast and was one of the candidates for the fifth rotation spot. He didn’t make the cut and was slated until to start in the bullpen. However, early season injuries led to Brault getting starts in April. He struggled April especially with pitch count and walks. Eventually, he was sent to the ‘pen and was able to rebound in May. The walks and general ineffectiveness came back in June and he was ultimately sent down to AAA around the all star break. When Steven came back in August it seemed like he turned a corner but his control issues raised their head again in September, saddling him with final ERA of 4.25.

Season Grade: C-, Brault was ineffective at times but at times there seemed to be a legitimately decent long relief arm. He’s in need of some polish, if he could cut down on the walks he would be much more important to this team.

Michael Feliz

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
47 47.2 25.40% 10.60% 0.331 5.66 4.13 4.33 0.1

 

Feliz was acquired in the Gerrit Cole trade in early 2018. He was advertised as a young, live arm with control issues. Michael lived up to his billing exactly. For the first couple months he held down the setup role in Pittsburgh but his lack of control started to blow games. He lost confidence and very quickly Feliz was no longer pitching in key situations. Ultimately, Michael was sent down to AAA to work on his mechanics.

Season Grade: D-, Feliz started hot but flamed out quickly. He has potential but he’s got to cut down on the walks.

Keone Kela

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
16 15.1 36.70% 8.30% 0.258 2.93 2.97 2.67 0.3

Keone was acquired in a trade with the Texas Rangers before the end of July. With the Rangers he was a shutdown closer. For the Pirates, he became a shutdown setup man. The deadly combo of Felipe Vazquez and Kela made sure any lead in the eighth stayed a lead. Although, he was shut down fairly early on due to workload concerns, Kela left a swift and positive impression on the Pittsburgh faithful.

Season Grade: A, Kela didn’t miss a beat between going from closer to setup man and he should be locking down the eighth for years to come.

Edgar Santana

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
69 66.1 19.90% 4.40% 0.277 3.26 3.58 3.93 0.6

 

Edgar was one of the young guns that Pittsburgh broke camp with. It took awhile for him to find his groove. Santana found success in May (2.53 ERA) and quickly became Hurdle’s go to guy. Edgar became extremely effective in July and August, keeping his ERA under 1.00. Unfortunately, he had a disastrous September. The stats were bad, but worse of all Santana suffered an arm injury. Ultimately, he had to have Tommy John surgery.

Season Grade: B, although the first month was rough, he was an extremely solid reliever until he basically blew out his arm.

Kyle Crick

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
64 60.1 25.50% 9.00% 0.268 2.39 3.14 4.00 1

 

Like Feliz, Kyle was acquired in a trade for a franchise star and was fireballer with control issues. However, Kyle was able to overcome those issues. Originally left on the Opening Day roster, Crick was optioned to Pittsburgh in mid-April and quickly impressed. When Feliz was finally demoted, Crick was given eighth inning duties and he performed admirably until Kela took over in August. Control never became much of an issue for Kyle and spent most of the season striking out batters. There was one bad blip in August, but he finished strong. 

Season Grade: A, He was a big surprise for the Pirates and was impressive almost the whole year through.

Richard Rodriguez

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
63 69.1 31.50% 6.80% 0.309 2.47 2.60 3.47 1.3

The biggest surprise of the season came from a minor league signing. No one made any note of when Richard Rodriguez was signed. Before 2018, Richard only made five appearances for the Baltimore Orioles and they weren’t good, more like atrocious. However, Rodriguez impressed in Spring Training, striking out hitters left and right and made the opening roster. With the team, Rodriguez kept the K’s coming and worked himself into a reliable reliever that could be called on no matter the situation. Like Crick, Richard struggled in July and August but was able to rebound with a strong September.

Season Grade: A+, The Pirates would’ve been happy with Rodriguez being a back-end reliever. His surprise transformation into a strikeout happy reliever will go a long way for the bullpen.

Felipe Vazquez

G IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
70 70 30.10% 8.10% 0.331 2.70 2.43 3.06 2.1

Felipe had a busy offseason, he signed an extension, changed his last name, and got a new agent. Going into the season it seemed like the Pirates had a lockdown closer for years to come. As the season started, the alarm bells seemed to be sounding off. Felipe had lost velocity and effectiveness. Pittsburgh wasn’t sure if he was in danger of Tommy John surgery or had simply lost his touch. In May, he slowly turned it around and was looking like his 2017 self by June. He stayed solid through the rest of the season and put up neighbors the Pirates expected when they offered the extension.

Season Grade: A-, outside of a scary beginning, that was mostly scary due to velocity decrease, Felipe performed as expected without hardly any hiccups.

Looking Forward

The bullpen was one of the more consistent parts of the team. The front end was a little shaky but the back end was full of strong arms. It was very rare for the ‘pen to give up leads, which is exactly what you want. The Pirates bullpen should be set for the next few years. Every pitcher who proved himself is under the age of 28 and signed for the next two years. The bullpen is going to be an important part of the Pirates for the next couple years.

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Author Details
Content Contributor for the Pittsburgh Pirates , The Armchair All-Americans LLC
I grew up in the only hilly part of Indiana, an unholy place where Reds, Cardinals, and Cubbie fans all live in semi-harmony. The first 20 years of my life were abysmal as I never got to see a winning season from my beloved Pirates. Today I live in bliss as I allow my baseball addiction to take over every aspect of my life.
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Content Contributor for the Pittsburgh Pirates , The Armchair All-Americans LLC
I grew up in the only hilly part of Indiana, an unholy place where Reds, Cardinals, and Cubbie fans all live in semi-harmony. The first 20 years of my life were abysmal as I never got to see a winning season from my beloved Pirates. Today I live in bliss as I allow my baseball addiction to take over every aspect of my life.
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