Searching For Saves: Could Nick Burdi Claim The Ninth Inning For Pittsburgh?

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It’s been an extremely long road for Nick Burdi, a 2014 second round pick, as two significant injuries have virtually wiped out three years of action:

  • May 2017 – Tommy John surgery
  • June 2019 – Surgery for Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

All told he’s thrown 38.0 innings between the Majors and minor leagues over these three seasons.  That’s  lot of lost time, though the now 27-year old was healthy this spring and looked to be armed with the same electric stuff he previously had.  Before things were shutdown he had thrown 4.2 IP and allowed 1 ER on 3 H and 1 BB, striking out 8, across 5 appearances.

According to Mike Persak of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (click here for the article):

In spring training, he was hitting triple digits again, proving his value and jockeying for a spot in the Pirates bullpen come opening day.

Burdi has always been a fastball/slider pitcher, with his fastball touching triple digits before the injuries started to mount (he’s averaged 96.8 mph over 10.0 innings in the Majors).  His slider is a wipeout pitch, and the combination has always made him an ideal fit for the bullpen.

The question now is whether or not he can quickly rise into a prominent role at the back of Pittsburgh’s bullpen.  They have a void, with Keone Kela likely to hold the closers role but little certainty beyond that (Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez may be the other top names).  Kela is a proven commodity, who saved 24 games in 2018, though he’s not a certainty by any stretch:

  • Strikeouts – SwStr% went from 13.0% in ’18 to 10.7% in ‘19
  • Control – Career 3.44 BB/9 is solid, but unspectacular
  • Home Runs – Over past three seasons he’s posted groundball rates of 30.5%, 37.3% and 37.8%, opening the possibility for home run issues to plague him

If Kela does stumble, could Burdi be there to step in?  Could he use his impressive strikeout arsenal to become the primary setup man, and a source of HLD regardless?  There are significant questions as to how the 2020 season will operate, and if they are piling double headers up to play as many games as possible teams could need multiple save options to turn to. 

With Burdi’s stuff, he’s a high upside option to roll the dice on now that he’s healthy.  Whether he overtakes Kela or not, he has closer stuff and could arrive quickly.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings:

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PositionLast Updated
Catcher04/13/20
First Baseman--
Second Baseman04/15/20
Shortstop04/17/20
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