TDG’s Triple Play: Pittsburgh Pirates!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is usually broken down by senior writer Paul Monte but this week and for the rest of the season writer Phil Barrington takes over. Never fear, he is still joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Steven Brault, Age: 29, Position: SP
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Steven Brault is the best pitcher on the Pittsburgh Pirates. That almost sounds like an insult, doesn’t it? It’s not, though; he’s a solid contributor. He had an unheralded but productive 2020, and has looked great in his return from a lat injury in 2021. The lefty isn’t going to wow anyone with his stuff, but he gets the most out of a deep repertoire and outperforms his peripherals with regularity.
Buc’ing the Trend
In an era with ever-increasing velocity and spin, Brault is finding success with a different strategy. His low 90’s fastball isn’t blowing people away, but his mix of both a four-seamer and a two-seamer complement his slider and changeup well, with a curveball sprinkled in every now and then to keep hitters off balance. The key to his success is his ability to move around and (more importantly) do it within the strike zone.
Throughout his minor league career, Brault had just a 7.5% walk rate. His strikeout numbers didn’t pop, but when compared to such low BB numbers, he was able to compile some stellar performances. After a cup of coffee in the majors in 2016, he started 2017 at Triple-A, and threw 120 innings with a miniscule 1.94 ERA and sparkling 1.07 WHIP. He earned the International League Most Valuable Pitcher award that year, and kickstarted his time with the big-league club.
In his first few years in Pittsburgh, he was a swingman with an undefined role. That clearly hampered his approach, as he saw a slight bump in velocity, but posted uncharacteristically high walk rates. Since he became a full-time starter at the end of May 2019, he has been able to limit hard contact, keep the ball on the ground, and has posted a 3.92 ERA, which is about half a run better than average. In his first four starts this year, he has been carving up the strike zone, posting just a 5.3% walk rate. That’s allowed him to match the ratios from his award-winning season, as he’s currently sporting a 1.94 ERA to go along with a 1.07 WHIP.
A Brault With A Deadly Weapon
Ok, maybe Brault’s left arm isn’t a deadly weapon, but he’s certainly looking to do some pillaging against his NL Central foes. If he is able to sustain his command gains this year, he will be a great addition to your roster to stabilize your ratios. His velo, movement, and pitch mix almost perfectly match JA Happ. Like Happ might try to do next year, Brault has gone on record recently saying that he plans to play until he’s 40. This is a skillset that should age gracefully, so the fact that Brault is 29 shouldn’t prevent you from trying to add him to your dynasty roster.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, Age: 24, Position: 3B
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Let’s get excited
One of the most exciting things about playing dynasty baseball is watching a prospect break through at the MLB level, turning their theoretical upside into real, tangible stats that help your team. Hayes delivered that feeling to his dynasty managers in 2020, slashing .376/.442./682 with 5 HR, 17 R, and 11 RBI in 95 PA.
He surged up dynasty ranks as a result. He was 233 in TDG’s top 500 in 2020, and his breakout moved him all the way up to 111 in 2021. I doubt anyone thought he’d continue to produce a 1.124 OPS, but even his expected stats – Statcast gave him a .294 xBA and .486 xSLG – would play nicely in fantasy leagues.
However, Hayes is a long way from those numbers this season. He played just two games before heading to the IL with a wrist injury that kept him out two months, and has struggled to a .249/.321/.375 line. Maybe we were too enthusiastic about a sample of less than 100 PA?
Going the wrong direction
Hayes was not projected to be an offensive superstar, and a good portion of his real-life value comes from his strong defense at 3B. He’s a contact-oriented hitter with decent speed who batted .279/.353/.401 in the minors. It’s not that he doesn’t hit the ball hard – his average exit velocity of 90.2 MPH is 72nd percentile in the league – it’s more a matter of where he hits it.
Hayes has a 56.5% groundball rate this season. He also likes to hit to all fields, and while that’s generally considered a good thing, he might be overdoing it. He hits the ball to the opposite field 30.5% of the time, compared to just 23.5% to the pull side. Grounders to the second baseman aren’t going to produce very good results, even if they’re hit really hard. Hayes seems like a prime candidate to join the flyball revolution and lift his 2.2 average launch angle.
He is who we thought he was
Take the good of 2020 with the bad of 2021, and Hayes now has a career .280/.350/.449 line with 10 home runs and five steals through 394 PA. A little more power than the minor league numbers I posted above, but the average and OBP are nearly identical. I’d use those numbers as a baseline expectation going forward, with upside for more power.
Does that make him a good trade target? Right now I’d have to say no. Hayes is in the top 100 of many midseason dynasty rankings, including both our regular and OBP versions at TDG. The excitement over the 2020 hot streak doesn’t seem to be dying down. I still see him as a high-floor contact hitter, which was the consensus view heading into last season. He’s a very good player with a bright future, just be wary of letting 95 great PA outweigh the rest of the data.
Mason Martin, Age: 22, Position: 1B, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The 22-year-old left-handed slugger has been tearing it for the Double-A Altoona Curve, giving Pirates fans a positive glimpse of their first baseman of the future. A 17th round pick in 2017 (pick 508 overall), he is currently the seventh overall first base prospect on MLB.com. In 2019 he played in 131 games between Single-A and Single-A+, hitting 35 home runs with 129 RBI, 90 Runs, and a slash line of .254/.351/.558. Yes, please and thank you. Now in 2021, Martin is looking even better. In 377 plate appearances thus far, he has 21 home runs, 118 RBI + runs, a .280 ISO, 26 doubles, and a slash line of .256/.332/.536. With 70 grade raw power and a 60-grade game power ceiling, Martin brings light tower power, and his sweet-swinging lefty stroke should play well at PNC Park.
Strikeouts. Martin is a slugging first baseman from years of olde, striking out at way too high a clip, 34.7% at Double-A in 2020. That is not going to cut it at Triple-A, much less the big leagues. Fangraphs gives his hit tool a 40-grade ceiling, so he is going to really have to work on that, but a .250 hitter with a bunch of homers and walks still has a place in the game.
Typically high school hitters take longer to develop, so while Martin had a solid rookie debut at age 18, his second season split between Rookie ball and Single-A left a lot to be desired. His 2019 was an improvement in all areas, and we already reviewed how good 2021 has been. For Martin, the bad is all about the Ks, which cannot be overlooked.
My favorite Martin story is when, back on May 20, 2019, the Single-A Greensboro Grasshoppers were playing a doubleheader against the Lakeland BlueClaws. In game one, Martin came up after the Grasshoppers had already scored one run, and were down 7-5. Two men were on base, and Martin ended it with a 411-foot bomb to right field. In game two, the Grasshoppers were down 5-3 with two outs in the ninth. Again, two men were on base, and again, Martin homered, this time a 435-foot shot to right-center. That’s two three-run walk-off homers in the same day! This 30 second-clip of both homers is pure joy and will improve your day, I guarantee it.
Can Martin be a three true outcomes hitter? Very possibly, as we have seen he has a discerning eye and can draw a walk, as well as hit home runs, but will also strike out a lot. Martin will more than likely repeat Double-A in 2022 while aiming to reduce those strikeouts. Another thing going for Martin is that the Pirates believe in him, inviting him to Spring Training in 2020 and 2021, and he was sent to the Pirates alternate site in 2020 when last season’s minor league campaign was cancelled.
We have seen Boston forced to play a three-true outcomes first baseman in Bobby Dalbec a majority of this season, with poor results, but there is still some upside there. I am not writing Dalbec off yet, especially in OPS leagues, where Martin should be a target as well. Martin will be given time to improve as the Pirates have nothing to play for the next few seasons, as well as Colin Moran at first base.
Moran does not reach free agency until after the 2023 season, so there is a chance we do not see Martin until 2024. But Moran is not keeping Martin from the show, and if he can cut his strikeouts in early 2022 and earn a promotion to Triple-A, we will see him sooner. He is only rostered in 13% of Fantrax leagues, and I have added him in deeper dynasty Leagues where I can. Keep an eye on Martin and watch him move up dynasty lists this offseason.
PREVIOUSLY COVERED TEAMS
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