Ten Things That Went Wrong for the Pirates in 2021 – No. 8: Lackluster Pitching Depth
After the 60-game season that was the pandemic-shortened 2020, it was obvious that pitching depth was going to be a major factor for all 30 Major League teams, including the Pirates. For the Pirates, Tyler Anderson, then a member of the San Francisco Giants, threw the most innings in 2020 with 59.2 – no other Pirate eclipsed 50-plus innings during the truncated season. It’s a hard ask to have pitchers triple or even quadruple their innings totals from the year prior without risking injury or fatigue.
Because of this, numerous Pirate pitchers spent time on the injured list and missed time throughout the season. The Pirates relied on mostly young and inexperienced pitchers both in the rotation and the bullpen to fill the void left by injuries and the trades of Anderson and Richard Rodriguez. The problem for the Bucs is that most of the pitchers who were called up to make spot starts or pitch from the bullpen left little to be desired.
Chase De Jong
The Pirates signed De Jong to a minor league deal in the offseason and he was called up to the big league club at the end of May. De Jong struggled to a 5.77 ERA/6.03 FIP in nine starts before a knee injury ended his season. De Jong likely isn’t part of the Pirates’ plans for 2022.
Keller pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for the Pirates and struggled to limit damage. He pitched in 32 games (8th most on the team) and his 6.48 ERA/6.95 FIP leaves little confidence he will be back in the black and gold next year.
Kranick made nine starts for the Pirates in 2021. His Major League debut was dazzling as he threw five perfect innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately for Kranick and the Pirates, the right-handed had his struggles the rest of the season, finishing up the campaign with a 6.28 ERA, but with a more encouraging FIP of 4.64.
The other depth piece who got an extended look out of the bullpen was Mears. Mears is still young and has some upside but walks and home runs hampered him to a final showing of a 5.01 ERA/5.66 FIP in 30 appearances.
Ponce made 15 appearances (two starts) with the Bucs in 2021 and had his share of struggles. In 38.1 innings Ponce posted a 7.04 ERA/4.94 FIP. Ponce, who will be 28 shortly after next season begins, is in danger of losing his roster spot with the Pirates.
Yajure is regarded as one of the Pirates’ better prospects and showed flashes of his potential. but struggled in two appearances to end the season. An injury limited how much Yajure pitched in Pittsburgh this year, but the 23-year-old struggled to am 8.40 ERA/8.50 FIP in four appearances (three starts). Yajure will likely see an increased role in 2022, and could fight for a rotation spot in Spring Training.
The bright spot in terms of pitching depth came from left-hander Dillon Peters, who was acquired from the Angels in July. Peters made six starts in Pittsburgh and posted a 3.71 ERA and an equally impressive 3.66 FIP. Peters may have pitched himself into an increased role for the Pirates in 2022.
The Pirates will need to focus on improving their pitching if they want to be better next season. The good news for the Pirates that some of their better prospects are working their way up the system and should see time in 2022. Yajure and Roansy Contreras both should get extended looks at some point in the rotation, and in the bullpen, a guy like Yerry De Los Santos could emerge as a major piece.