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Ten Things That Went Wrong for the Pirates in 2021 – No. 4: Starting Pitching

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Pitching, pitching, pitching – a team can never have enough starting pitching. This is especially true for a team like the Pirates who had more than their fair share of struggles offensively in 2021. Sadly for the Pirates, their rotation was among the worst in all of baseball and was a major contributor to their disappointing season for the year.

As a whole, Pirates’ starting pitchers combined for a 5.53 ERA in 753.2 innings. The ERA was the worst in the National League, and was only ahead of Baltimore (5.99 ERA) in all of baseball. It’s no shock that the 11 teams with the highest ERA from their rotations all finished the year with losing records. The other issue for the Pirates is that their starters couldn’t work deep into ballgames. On average, the Bucs’ starters lasted just 4.65 innings per start, fourth lowest in the Major Leagues.

Tyler Anderson was the Pirates’ most reliable starter as he went five innings or more in all 18 of his starts wearing a Pirate uniform. He pitched to a 4.35 ERA/4.27 FIP during his tenure in Pittsburgh and helped anchor the rotation for the first half of the season. Once Anderson was traded to Seattle in the days leading up to the trade deadline, the Pirates lost their stability.

Let’s examine the other main components of the rotation and how their seasons went.

Wil Crowe

Crowe led the team in starts with 25 in his first year with the Pirates. On the year, Crowe posted a 5.48 ERA/5.67 FIP in 116.2 innings on the year. The two biggest issues for Crowe were efficiency and he allowed too many home runs. Crowe averaged 4.67 innings per start and worked more than five innings on just five occasions. In his 25 starts, he allowed 25 home runs, just shy of 2.0 HR/9.

JT Brubaker

Brubaker started the year on the right foot for the Pirates and quite frankly was spectacular through his first handful of starts. Through his first seven appearances on the mound, Brubaker posted an immaculate 2.58 ERA and it looked like the right-hander might be poised for a breakout season. His last 17 starts, however, were disastrous and like Crowe, Brubaker served up the long ball too frequently. In those 17 starts, Brubaker pitched to a 6.59 ERA and opponents hit 22 home runs against him (2.3 HR/9)

Mitch Keller

PBN broke down Keller’s season earlier this week. You can read about him HERE.

The Best of the Rest:

Chad Kuhl was good at times and bad at times as inconsistency has summed up his 2021 and his career as a whole. The right-hander was moved to the bullpen to end the season and the Pirates face a decision this offseason on whether or not to tender him a contract. Bryse Wilson came over from the Braves in a deadline deal and was fairly productive, but he struggled down the stretch. Max Kranick, Chase De Jong and Trevor Cahill combined for a 5.90 ERA in 26 starts. Miguel Yajure made a couple starts for the Pirates and was good for his first two but his last one was very bad. Yajure is considered one of the Pirates better prospects and should see an increased role in 2022. Steven Brault was being counted on to help anchor the rotation, but two separate injuries limited him to just seven starts.

There were a couple bright spots, though. Dillon Peters came over from the Angels and made six starts once joining the Pirates. He exceeded expectations and posted a 3.71 ERA/3.66 FIP. The other was a lone glimmer of hope as Roansy Contreras dazzled over three innings in his Major League debut against the Cubs during the final homestand of the season.

Ben Cherington will in all likelihood be looking to add to the Pirates rotation this winter and at least add some stability – i.e. Anderson last offseason. Other than that, the Pirates will likely hope their internal options take the next step in 2022, as well as get some help from the younger guys such as Yajure and Contreras. Until the Pirates improve their starting pitching, the team will continue to struggle to win.

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