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During their recent three-year playoff run, the Pittsburgh Pirates boasted one of the best bullpens in the National League.
From 2013 through 2015, Pirates relievers ranked fourth in the NL in fWAR with 11, while leading the league in groundball rate (50.1 percent), left-on-base percentage (78.4) and ERA at 2.94. Though their FIP told a slightly different story at 3.48, it was still good enough for fourth in the league and not very far off from the surprise leader — the Miami Marlins — who posted a 3.46 mark.
In listening to today’s Newsmakers podcast from MLB.com — a fantastic daily listen — the panel of reporters Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice and former major league reliever Jeff Nelson debated the merits and makeups of today’s bullpen. It was a great conversation buoyed by great conversation from Nelson, who was the primary setup man for legendary closer Mariano Rivera for years in New York.
If they were to listen to the podcast, Pittsburgh Pirates fans would likely feel that the club’s relief unit is woefully behind other National League contenders such as the Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies, who spent considerable resources into bolstering their respective ‘pens.
The club has gone about acquiring cheap strikeout ability for their relief unit with the acquisitions of Jack Leathersich, George Kontos and a potential live arm in Nick Burdi. Missing more bats could surely go a long way towards a unit that actually rounded into shape over the last throes of 2017. In the season’s last month, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen ranked first in the NL in ERA wit ha 2.59 mark, though a low 8.04 K/9 and high 4.31 BB/9 coupled with a 4.55 xFIP told a different tale.
Now more than ever, bullpens are incredibly important to a club finding real success. The Pittsburgh Pirates had a dynamic, efficient bullpen in their recent stretch of playoff appearances. Now, beyond Felipe Rivero, they do not.
And that’s a problem.
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