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Pirates Analysis

Floyd: Time for Pirates to Trade Relievers for Hitters?

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Dauri Moreta

Most of the Pirates’ roster regressed to the mean during their current cold stretch that started as the calendar turned to May. The bats fell silent, scoring two runs or less ten times in their past 13 games (along with three shutouts).

A full third of the Pirates’ lineup is a veritable black hole as Ji-Hwan Bae, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Austin Hedges struggle to do much of anything with their bats. It doesn’t help that the rest of the lineup is slumping too, particularly in the outfield. Bryan Reynolds’ last home run came on April 7 and he possesses a .635 OPS this month. Jack Suwinski’s OPS sits at .545 for the month and Connor Joe’s on base percentage dipped down more than 100 points.

Bae, who’s always had a light bat but made up for it with crafty base running, hasn’t been stealing at the same clip, swiping just 50 percent of bases successfully compared to a 90 percent clip in April. It doesn’t help that otherworldly shortstop Oneil Cruz will miss much of the season with a fractured ankle,

Over on the mound, the quality start streak that powered Pittsburgh to their torrid April fell to the wayside, with just three in those same 13 games. 

Staff ace Mitch Keller is really coming into his own, a shining bright spot during this free-falling month but; other than that, the only Pirates who have really been able to pull their way reside in the bullpen.

Bullpen a Bright Spot

Having an excellent bullpen is one of the toughest things to do in sports. How many otherwise phenomenal teams fell apart because their relievers couldn’t hold down the fort? 

That said, a strong group of relievers remain a complementary feature. A closing pitcher can put the final nail in an opposing team’s coffin, but they can’t do much of anything with the game already out of hand when they enter.

That’s been the Pirates’ bane since the calendar turned to May. Opposing teams have outscored Pittsburgh by 43 runs in their past 13 games. 

What’s Next?

Should the Pirates continue to struggle, it might be time to think about trading their relievers for better bats. 

Yohan Ramirez (1.80), Robert Stephenson (1.80) and the otherworldly David Bednar (0.56) all possess ERAs under two. Colin Holderman (2.81) and Dauri Moreta (2.37) aren’t far behind them. 

Moreta and Stephenson are dramatically outpacing expectations: with an FIP of 3.83 and 4.11, respectively, they’re getting a lot of help from the defense (particularly when it comes to barreled and otherwise hard-hit balls). 

If they continue to keep it up, they’ll make excellent trade candidates at the deadline. Even if a season appears to be a flash in the pan, desperate teams will be willing to shell out if they think they can capture lightning in a bottle: look at the Padres’ 2021 trade for Adam Frazier.

While it never feels good to trade a player who performs well, few deals will end with the Pirates robbing another team blind. They must take risks in order to reap rewards, and their lack of offensive success for nine innings remains much more detrimental to the team than a shutdown bullpen is helpful for three or four innings. 

Should the bats continue to fade—and the bullpen continue to lock it down—flipping relievers for a quality bat or two could help the Pirates put the finishing touches on their rebuild as they wait for top prospects to hit the majors.

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