TDG’S Triple Play: Pittsburgh Pirates!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is 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!
Bryan Reynolds, Age: 27, Position: CF
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Usually, we try to pick a more obscure player, or a guy who has upside (or downside) for our Triple Play series, but this time, I want to talk about the elephant in the room, 2022 thus far, for the Pirates center-fielder. But first, let’s see how we got here. Reynolds is coming off a 2021 season where he hit 24 home runs, had 183 Runs + RBI, slashed .302/.390/.522 and even chipped in five steals in 646 plate appearances. Reynolds was being drafted in the top 100 picks this season, and the Pirates (and dynasty managers) felt they had a core piece for the next few seasons. Well, 2022 has not been kind to Reynolds thus far. Is he a keeper for good? Or should you move him now while he still has the 2021 shine? Let’s dig in.
As a historian, I always like to look back to see where a player came from, so let’s do a quick recap of Reynolds. Bryan Patrick Reynolds was a second-round pick of the San Francisco Giants back in 2016 from the prestigious Vanderbilt University. He played in 206 collegiate games, amassing 22 home runs, 39 steals, and a slash line of .329/.413/.508. A respectable 19% K rate and 11% walk rate made him very attractive entering the 2016 draft.
Minorleaguebaseball.com said this about Reynolds before the 2016 draft: “Reynolds should hit. As with his running speed, his raw power isn’t exceptional but he gets to it frequently thanks to a keen batting eye and a refined swing…Long-term he should hit for average with a high OBP and at least moderate power.” They were pretty right-on. As a Giants farmhand, Reynolds stayed in Single-A for his first two seasons, showing off a superior hit tool with a .310+ average in two seasons, hitting 16 homers and stealing seven bases over 157 games.
The 2018 Giants were looking to make some noise so in the preseason they traded Reynolds and Kyle Crick to the Pirates for longtime star Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen had a below average season his one year in San Fran, and the Pirates made the type of move usually reserved for the top organizations in moving their aging star.
Keeping it Fresh
The Pirates sent the switch-hitting Reynolds to Double-A Altoona where he again hit over .300, improved his walk rate to 11% and kept that nice K rate at 19%. He showed less power, hitting only seven homers in 88 games, but that was ok, and in 2019 he was started the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. He didn’t stay long, was promoted to the bigs after 13 games, and shined, finishing fourth in the Rookie-of-the-Year balloting; putting up a .314/.377/.503 slash line to go with 17 homers and 151 Runs + RBI. Future’s bright, needed shades, so fresh, so clean.
2020 was a throw away season for Reynolds. He never got going; a .231 BABIP led to an uncharacteristic .189 batting average, and he only hit seven homers over 55 games. Then he bounced back in a big way in 2021 as I already went over in the opening paragraph. But 2022 has started horribly. The Pirates team stinks, we all knew that, so Reynolds has only 17 Runs + RBI and is hitting a putrid .229 and striking out too much, at 24% in 120 plate appearances as of this writing. All the Red on his 2021 statcast page has turned to blue, though he is maintaining that 11% walk rate.
New and Improved?
I try to go into these with an open mind, and while I find myself overwhelming positive (Fellow guru Aaron Cumming and I recently had a discussion about taking a negative stance in Triple Play, and that being ok), knowing that the future cannot all be roses and chocolate for every player is a good thing to be aware of. But I have Reynolds on a few teams, and I wanted to know if he’s a keeper or not. The eternal optimist in me wants to believe Reynolds has turned a corner, so let’s look at May 1st onward. He has hit two homers, is slashing .278/.381/.528, 11% walk rate, and getting that K rate to 19%. Things are getting back to normal for Reynolds as the weather warms; March and April he has historically been worse, hitting only .266 for his career.
Reynolds and Third Baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes are the number two and number three hitters for the Pirates, and they are the guys the team is building around. The Pirates will not bench him, nor demote him, so he is here to stay and work out the kinks. I am holding him in the leagues I have him rostered; and even traded Yoan Moncada for him in one league. So, after all this, I am sticking with Reynolds, and I recommend you do too.
Wil Crowe, Age: 27, Position: RP
Analysis by: Chris Knock
Thorn in my Pride
Since he began his professional career, Wil Crowe has always had a seemingly high level of expectations placed on him. Drafted as a starting pitcher in 2017 by the Nationals, he quickly entered the team’s top ten prospect lists. He produced enough those first years, although never dominating the minors, and was the main return in the December 2020 trade that sent (a previously inconsistent) Josh Bell to the NL East.
Pittsburgh saw a potential inning-eater type starter and he started 25 games for the team last year, his first full season in the majors. To say it went poorly is a bit harsh, but Crowe’s 4-pitch arsenal was not effective in those 116 innings. Doomed by the long ball (25 homers allowed) and walks (10.9% BB-rate), he finished with an ERA of 5.48. The advanced stats showed he was perhaps a bit unlucky, regardless of the results, as his xFIP was 4.90 and his SIERA mirrored this at 4.86. This past off-season the Pirates decided to make a change in his role, and Crowe was converted to a long reliever.
Hard to Handle
Over a month into the 2022 season, it looks safe to say that Wil Crowe has found his niche. Because he was raised as a starter, Crowe utilizes four pitches effectively and throws each often even now out of the pen. His least thrown pitch thus far is his sinker at 16% and is mixed in with his excellent curve, a 4-seamer, and a slider. Each is thrown over 20% of the time and has been keeping the bats guessing. Typically you see increases in K% and decreases in BB% when former starters turn relievers. This hasn’t been true in Crowe’s case so far. His K% almost exactly mirrors last year (23.2% in ‘22 vs 21.2% in ‘21) as does his BB rate (11% this year, 10.9% last year). Where we see him dominate thus far is in Hard-Hit prevention.
As mentioned, as a starter he allowed 25 home runs in 2021 with a HardHit rate of 33.7% (which was in the top 63% surprisingly). Now working out of the ‘pen his HH% is 17.3 percent, which is elite of the elite, and he hasn’t allowed a home run yet in 20 innings on the mound. He has increased his change-up usage to almost 33% and he’s getting a 37.7% Whiff Rate with it and an average Exit Velocity of 85 MPH. His entire arsenal is excelling at producing weak contact with a 96th percentile ranking in Barrel Rate and 88th percentile ranking in aEV. These are elite pitcher rankings.
If you look at what I really wrote above, I am highlighting an effective long reliever who has not struck out a lot of batters. The advanced stats show that Crowe is producing in his new role and but there is enough statistical data to expect some regression to his norm. His FIP agrees with his ERA but his K-BB% is a mediocre 12.2%. This comes back to how he has been effective via minimal strikeouts but still walking batters. Other “predictive” pitching statistics, like SIERA, agree that regression is likely around the corner.
So where is there fantasy value in Wil Crowe? I see his role and performance as useful in rostering him as a Wins and Saves vulture. That long relief role with occasional late-inning work allows him to snipe a point in either of those categories on maybe a weekly basis. That is assuming the Pirates are actually in a position to win when he enters the game.
Henry Davis, Age: 22, Position: C, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Andrew Jurewicz
O’Neil Cruz gets a ton of attention being the top prospect in the Pirates system but let’s not forget about another very important piece to the future of the organization with their 2021 first overall pick, Henry Davis. Davis started the year back at High-A Greensboro and dominated in 22 games hitting .341/.450/.585 along with 5 home runs and 40 Runs + RBI. Clearly ready for the next level, he’s since been promoted to Double-A Altoona as of May 10th and did not disappoint with his debut hitting a 2 run dinger to break a 1-1 tie against my beloved Somerset Patriots. He’s off to a good start and perhaps a strong Double-A campaign will warrant another promotion later in the year.
Do Your Job
“When I get to the field, I have a job to do. [It] doesn’t matter if I’m the last pick or first pick. When I step to the plate, it’s my job to have a good at-bat. When I go behind the plate, it’s my job to manage a good game. Everything else just kind of falls away.”
It doesn’t seem like Davis isn’t getting too caught up in the spotlight of being the number one overall pick. That quote is from when he met with reporters after hitting the home run in his first Double-A game. TDG writer Ken Balderston did a great job with a spotlight piece several months ago which gave us a look at the intangibles Davis has to be ready to be a successful ballplayer. Becoming a bigger fan of this guy by the day!
“Known to be a smart player and good leader, Davis is heavily into data and the analytical side of the game. He’s also a workout warrior and someone who will never be unprepared or outworked. In an interview with Dan O’Dowd, Henry spoke of the importance of his daily routines to keep himself prepared and should help him deal with the daily grind of pro ball.”
Pirates of the Future
Selecting Davis with the first overall pick meant a lot more to the Pirates organization than just getting one of the top guys available in the draft. As the top college bat heading into the draft without question, the selection aligns well with the time-frames of their other top prospects in guys like the earlier mentioned Cruz, Nick Gonzales, Roansy Contrearas, and Quinn Priester.
However, it’s going to take a lot more than these touted prospects (plus Ke’Bryan Hayes at the MLB level) to turn this thing around. By taking Davis to sign him for two million under slot value with the pick it gave the Pirates the financial flexibility to go after promising prep talent throughout the 2021 draft. They signed four of the top thirty two prospects available in the 2021 draft according to Baseball America with Anthony Solometo (37 overall), Lonnie White, Jr. (64 overall), and Bubba Chandler (72 overall). I love the potential for Bubba Chandler in particular. Pirates are certainly trying to build a good foundation of young talent and leaves me optimistic for them in the coming years.