A bunch of things happened with the Pirates this year that nobody expected. Most were bad, but not all. I’m sure nobody expected Steven Brault to be the Pirates’ best starter, but that’s how it came out. The obvious question Brault’s season raises is, How legit was it? After all, it was only ten starts and, because it took a while for him to get stretched out, 42.2 IP. His final numbers weren’t helped by his one relief outing, when he failed to retire any of the six batters he faced and allowed four runs. In the ten starts, he had a 2.53 ERA (a bit better than his relief ERA of infinity) and 1.08 WHIP.
There isn’t a whole lot of reason to think Brault’s pitching was a fluke. He was helped by his BABIP, but at .252 it wasn’t outlandish. His strand rate of 73.8% was only a hair above average. Where he really excelled, though, was avoiding hard contact. Opponents batted 201/320/255 against him. Obviously, walks remained an issue. Even if you exclude the one relief appearance, his BB/9 was 4.0. But in 149 ABs, hitters managed just two doubles and two home runs against him. As was discussed in the game thread, nobody managed an extra-base hit off his fastball. Hitters had an ISO of .000 off both his four-seamer and sinker. Last year, the numbers were .224 and .123.
Like many of the team’s pitchers, Brault cut his fastball usage. The four-seamer went from 49% to 40% and the sinker from 16% to 11%. He used his slider and curve (he seldom throws the latter) just a little more. Most of the extra usage went to his change, which he used 24% of the time as opposed to 14% last year. It obviously didn’t hurt, as opponents hit just .118 against the change.
Whether it was the change keeping hitters off-balance or something else, Brault got more weak contact. His hard-hit percentage went from 38.6% to 31.9%, and his barrel percentage from 6.1% to 4.4%. His average exit velocity dropped by nearly five mph.
It’s going to take time to show how much of the improvement Brault can retain over a full season. He’s clearly, however, earned a rotation spot for next year.