J.T. BRUBAKER, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: November 17, 1993
Drafted: 6th Round, 187th Overall, 2015
How Acquired: Draft
College: University of Akron
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Brubaker posted a 3.63 ERA and a 30:72 BB/SO ratio in 89.1 innings over 15 starts in his junior season at Akron. Those numbers were an improvement over 2014, when he had a 4.02 ERA and a 37:45 BB/SO ratio in 71.2 innings. As a freshman, he made 14 starts and had a 7.25 ERA. His fastball sat at 91-92 and topped out at 94 mph. He now throws both a four-seam fastball and a sinker, both of which sit around 93. His main pitch has become his slider. He also throws a curve and change. He began using the latter more often over the course of 2022, but it hasn’t been a very effective pitch. Brubaker gets good spin on his pitches and generally has been effective at missing bats. He wasn’t on Baseball America’s top 500 prospect list when the Pirates drafted him. He signed right after the draft for $46,500 below the slot amount.
Brubaker got off to a rough start at Morgantown, with an ERA of 6.04 in his first five outings. After that, his ERA was 1.41. Brubaker didn’t miss a lot of bats, but he got lots of groundballs, walked very few, and allowed only three HRs. Despite the low K rate, he led the league in WHIP. Of course, that was due to a .250 BABIP that probably isn’t sustainable.
Considering his draft round and how he pitched in his debut, Brubaker seemed like a candidate to move up to Bradenton, as Tyler Eppler and Chad Kuhl did for their first full seasons, but the Pirates sent him to West Virginia. Brubaker pitched well for the Power, striking out a lot of hitters. One negative was gopher balls, as he allowed one every seven innings. The Pirates moved him up after a dozen starts and he struggled at Bradenton. He pitched decently at first, but things really went south in August, when opponents posted a line of 342/395/466 against him. Most disturbing was the fact that his K rate was half what it was at West Virginia. Brubaker was a flyball pitcher at both levels and extra base hits were a problem all season, as shown by his opponents’ slugging average of .452. Left-handed batters had an .862 OPS against him for the whole season, and right-handed batters managed .727.
Brubaker didn’t appear ready for AA, but the Pirates moved him up to Altoona and he spent the season in the rotation. He pitched largely the same as he had at Bradenton, showing good stuff but still getting hit hard much of the time. Opponents batted 291/355/397 against him, although some of the trouble was a high BABIP of .348. His xFIP of 3.79 was better than his ERA. He had less trouble with gopher balls, allowing 40% fewer in exactly the same number of innings as the previous year. He pitched very well in his one playoff start.
Through 2017, Brubaker’s results didn’t seem to match his stuff, but that changed in 2018. He got off to an outstanding start at Altoona and the Pirates promoted him after six starts. He got hit harder in AAA and got uneven results in May and June, but in July he started pitching better. In five August starts he had a WHIP of 0.79 and ERA of 1.01. For the entire season, Brubaker had a large platoon split, allowing an OPS of .805 to left-handed hitters and just .609 to right-handed hitters.
Brubaker was eligible for the Rule 5 draft in the off-season and was added to the 40-man roster. He ended up with a lost season. After four starts he went out with a forearm strain. He returned for a two-game rehab in June, then went back out after suffering a setback.
Brubaker appeared twice in relief early in the season, then moved into the rotation due to injuries and stayed there. Considering the time he missed in 2019, he did reasonably well. He was hurt by a slightly high BABIP of .321 and a slightly low strand rate of 68.8%, so he probably pitched a bit better than his ERA indicates. His xFIP was 4.14. He mixed his pitches heavily, throwing fastballs only half the time, most of them sinkers. He threw his slider a third of the time and his curve over 13%. The slider and curve were both effective pitches. Brubaker had some trouble with left-handed hitters, who posted an .815 OPS against him. Right-handed hitters managed only .684.
Brubaker got off to a great start, posting a 2.58 ERA through his first seven starts. After that, things went south. The difference was almost entirely gopher balls. He gave up 22 in his last 86 innings, leading to an ERA of 6.59 in his last 17 starts. At one point he lost nine straight decisions. For the year, opponents slugged .480 against Brubaker. He missed the last month of the season due to right shoulder inflammation.
Brubaker spent the season in the rotation, apart from missing a couple starts. He made 28 on the year. He made some progress, mainly in cutting down sharply on the gopher balls. His HR/9 went from 2.0 in 2022 to 1.1. Left-handed hitters were troublesome, batting 269/339/481 against him. Right-handed hitters batted 272/342/391, which still isn’t great. Brubaker had some good and bad stretches, but from month to month he usually performed somewhere around his season numbers.
Brubaker has established himself as a solid major league starter. He seems to have the stuff to do a little better. He’s now eligible for arbitration.
|2022: Major league minimum
|Signing Bonus: $200,000
MiLB Debut: 2015
MLB Debut: 7/26/2020
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2025
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/2018
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2019)
MLB Service Time: 3.000
|June 9, 2015: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 6th round, 187th overall pick; signed on June 12.
November 20, 2018: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.