The Pirates have received calls from multiple teams regarding left-hander Steven Brault, Jon Morosi of MLB.com tweets. Given the state of the roster in Pittsburgh, it stands to reason that they’d be open to moving any player who is into his arbitration years, which Brault is as of this winter. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz’s 37-percent method projects Brault to earn $1.5MM in his first trip through the arb process.
Brault, 28, is controlled for three more seasons via arbitration and doesn’t figure to see his arb price reach an outlandish level given this year’s modest salary projection. He’s coming off 42 2/3 innings of a 3.38 ERA with 8.0 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 0.42 HR/9 and a 49.1 percent ground-ball rate. That ERA is a career-best, but it’s not fully supported by other metrics. Brault benefited from a career-low .243 average on balls in play, and fielding-independent marks aren’t as bullish (3.92 FIP, 4.85 xFIP, 5.07 SIERA).
That said, Brault also limited hard contact at the best rates of his career, ranking in the 89th percentile of MLB pitchers in terms of average exit velocity and the 76th percentile in terms of overall hard-hit rate, per Statcast. He cut back on the use of his fastball considerably in 2020, instead throwing his changeup at a career-high 24.1 percent clip. Of the 34 plate appearances Brault finished off with a changeup, opponents posted a .121/.118/.154 batting line with seven strikeouts.
Brault has worked as both a starter and a reliever in the past, splitting his time between the two roles pretty evenly: 45 starts, 55 relief outings. All but one of his 2020 outings were starts, and looking at those 10 trips to the hill he actually pitched quite well. Brault surrendered four runs without recording an out in his lone relief appearance this year. His career ERA as a starter is considerably lower — 4.42 to 5.22 — although fielding-independent marks suggest the discrepancy isn’t so wide.
Whatever gains Brault may have made in 2020 will be subject to various teams’ interpretation of a limited sample size. However, it’s not much of surprise that a 28-year-old lefty with three years of club control, a modest arbitration price tag and some positive indicators in the shortened season is at least generating some inquiries from other clubs. Cost-controlled pitching figures to be coveted even more than ever this winter, given the revenue losses throughout the sport, and the Pirates will surely be open to offers on the majority of their roster after posting the worst record in baseball this past season.