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Perrotto: JT Brubaker Unfortunately Part of Ignominious History



JT Brubaker, Pittsburgh Pirates

Bill Parcells used to famously say, “You are what your record says you are.”

The Hall of Fame football coach was mostly correct in that assessment. However, there are usually exceptions to any rule.

JT Brubaker was an exception during his four seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His run came to a surprising end on Friday when he was traded along with $550,000 of international amateur free agent bonus pool money to the New York Yankees for a player to be named.

Brubaker, who broke into the major leagues with the Pirates during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, had a career record of 9-28. That was good for a winning percentage of .243, the worst in franchise history for any pitcher with at least 35 decisions.

It’s an ugly record any way you slice it. However, it doesn’t mean that Brubaker was a terrible pitcher before sustaining a torn elbow ligament last March and undergoing season-ending surgery.

Granted, Brubaker’s 4.99 ERA in 63 games (61 starts) was not good. His 84 ERA+ meant he was 16% worse than the average major-league pitcher.

However, some underlying statistics suggest Brubaker pitched better than his record and ERA.

Maybe the most telling is the Pirates’ winning percentage was .370 in the three seasons he was on the active roster before missing 2023 while recovering from elbow surgery. He played on three dreadful teams.

Brubaker had a 23.3% strikeout rate and a walk rate of just 7.8%. Both are better than average, and his 2.97 strikeout/walk rate was solid.

The Pirates’ often-leaky defense didn’t help Brubaker. Opponents had a .315 opponents’ batting average on balls put into play, which was 24 points higher than the MLB average of .291.

Let’s put it this way, Brubaker was at least good enough that the trade raised a few eyebrows.

The Pirates’ biggest weakness appears to be starting pitching. They held a competition for two open rotation spots in spring training that wasn’t settled until the last day.

Thus, it was difficult to understand why general manager Ben Cherington would cut into the organization’s depth in that department even though Brubaker likely won’t be able to pitch until at least late May.

However, Cherington says he felt Brubaker might be lost in the shuffle by the time he would be ready to come off the injured list.

Rookie Jared Jones won a rotation spot and will make his major-league debut on Saturday against the Marlins in Miami. Other starting pitching prospects are likely to follow Jones to the major leagues this season, most notably right-hander Paul Skenes, the first overall pick in last year’s amateur draft, who is at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Quinn Priester, the Pirates’ first-round selection in 2019, is also in Indianapolis’ rotation. The Pirates also have two veteran options with left-hander Eric Lauer and Wily Peralta.

Double-A Altoona’s rotation will have prospects such as lefty Anthony Solometo and righties Braxton Ashcraft and Bubba Chandler.

Because it’s the Pirates, money was likely a factor in the trade. They offloaded Brubaker’s $2,275,000 salary.

While it may not matter to the analytically inclined, Brubaker was also a popular clubhouse figure. He had emerged as a mentor to the Pirates’ younger pitchers.

Now Brubaker goes from one of the worst organizations in baseball to one of the best. The Yankees have won a record 27 World Series titles. The Pirates have finished under .500 in 27 of the last 31 seasons.

Maybe Brubaker will get a World Series ring in the Bronx. That would certainly remove the taste of a .243 winning percentage.

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