Should Johan Oviedo Be in the Pirates Opening Day Rotation?

If I were projecting out an Opening Day rotation for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates, the starting five probably wouldn’t include Johan Oviedo.

That’s not to say that it shouldn’t.

The current projected rotation would include Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, JT Brubaker, and Rich Hill. If Oviedo were to make the Opening Day rotation, he would need to beat out Vince Velasquez for the fifth spot.

It seems more likely to me that Oviedo begins the season in the minors, since the Pirates signed Velasquez for over $3 million and announced him as a member of their starting group. Both pitchers should get starts in the majors in 2023.

I wanted to take a closer look at Oviedo, because on the surface it really seems like Velasquez should be backing up Oviedo — granted, based on a small sample from Oviedo.

The Pirates acquired Oviedo in the Jose Quintana trade last July from the St. Louis Cardinals. They also got first baseman Malcom Nunez in the deal, who I wrote about for Baseball America recently.

Oviedo seems like he may have flown under the radar a bit. We’re seeing a culture in baseball now where prospects quickly lose their shine if they don’t arrive and light the world on fire at the age of 22.

Prior to the deal, Oviedo had 112.1 innings in the majors for the Cardinals. In that time, he had a 4.65 ERA, a 7.45 K/9, a 4.33 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9. He was in his age-24 season, and a lot of the struggles came in 2021, when he made 13 MLB starts at the age of 23 and had a 4.91 ERA.

Oviedo returned to the majors in St. Louis in 2022, working mostly in relief. He had a 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings prior to the trade. His walk rate significantly improved in his move to the bullpen, though his home run rate was still an issue.

After joining the Pirates, Oviedo made seven starts in September. He put up a 3.23 ERA in 30.2 innings, with a higher walk rate than his bullpen numbers earlier in the year, but a vastly reduced home run rate.

There wasn’t a significant change in his pitch usage. He used the changeup more often as a starter, taking away from his slider a bit. He was actually more difficult to hit as a starter across the board with his pitches.

The fastball averaged 96 MPH and topped out at 99. Despite his success out of the bullpen, hitters were squaring up on the fastball, with a .203 ISO against. This dropped to an .042 ISO with the Pirates.

The slider is a nasty pitch, sitting mid-80s and leading to his best whiff rate of all his pitches. Again, this pitch was getting hit prior to the trade, with a .260 ISO. That dropped to an .053 ISO after the trade.

Looking at his zone profile, Oviedo made a slight shift in where he was pitching after joining the Pirates. The chart below from Brooks Baseball shows his exit velocities and pitch counts in each section, while with the Cardinals in 2022.

First, it’s a bit of a surprise that Oviedo had the success he had while getting hit so hard. I do want you to focus on the bottom six squares, extending from the middle of the bottom of the zone, all the way to the square that is low and outside, hitting the left-handed batters in the foot.

Prior to the trade, Oviedo was throwing almost 45% of his pitches in this section. The results were either a ball, or a hard hit. I’ll point out that Oviedo benefitted from an 88% strand rate in St. Louis.

Oviedo made five appearances with Indianapolis, throwing 11.1 innings after the trade. He was lights out in those appearances. The Pirates called him up to the majors in September, where he finished the year in their rotation. Here is his exit velocity zone profile with the Pirates. Notice how he shifted the section above to the bottom of the strike zone.

Oviedo is still dropping out of the low part of the zone, but he’s almost eliminated the pitch that would be low and inside to lefties, or a big chase for right-handers. Even better, he became effective at the bottom of the zone, with his exit velocities dropping.

The notable thing here is that he closed the season against his old team for two starts. In those outings, he got hit around a bit, with a .375 average against the fastball, and a 217 average against the slider. However, he held his own, limiting the damage to a .118 ISO against the fastball and a .130 ISO against the slider.

I will tell you that I don’t know what happened to get these results.

This could be a great case of scouting, where the Pirates found a guy who severely turned things around in a small sample of success in the majors. To illustrate this, here is the exit velocity chart for Oviedo from his 2021 season with the Cardinals.

That’s a lot of red.

How much would 25 innings impact your decision after 13 starts with those results? The Pirates obviously bought in, and hoped for more.

It’s possible they spent time in Indianapolis focused on getting Oviedo to throw more over the plate. He seems like the perfect candidate to just trust his stuff and let opponents try to cause damage. Even against his old team, the fastball was mostly hit for singles and the slider wasn’t giving up home runs.

If you watch the video below, you can see his tendency to work that low corner in the left-handed batter’s box. His work with the Pirates is tighter, nailing that corner with more precision, rather than a sweeping movement that relies on a chase.

There are a few great pitches with the Cardinals against Ji-Man Choi and Bryan Reynolds. Focus especially on the last two pitches, which came with the Pirates against the Cardinals.

Just seeing those two pitches makes me wonder what Vince Velasquez could do in a long-relief role.

Here’s the difference between Oviedo snapping those pitches in close to the edge of the plate, versus having them sweeping away hoping for a chase: He forces a decision for the hitter.

Disciplined batters will quickly dismiss a pitch that is heading out of the zone. Oviedo will have success against the non-disciplined hitters — and there are many in the majors these days — so long as he gets ahead in the count. But with his stuff, why even try to get people to chase?

If Oviedo can maintain this type of precision in attacking the low part of the zone with his fastball/slider combo, then his stuff should be good enough to continue limiting home runs and reducing the impact of any walks. He seems like a guy who could put up average numbers as a 25-year-old starter, while keeping you waiting for him to take the next step to iron out his control issues.

If I were projecting out an Opening Day rotation for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates, the starting five probably wouldn’t include Johan Oviedo.

But it probably should.

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Should Johan Oviedo Be in the Pirates Opening Day Rotation? – READING

Carmen Mlodzinski Closed Out 2022 On A Strong Note

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

Why not just trade Brubaker to the Orioles to fill the last hole in their rotation and let Oviedo start for us? He’s a little better than Cole Irvin who they just traded for. Maybe we could add to JT and get Coby Mayo who could be one of our more interesting corner ‘spects.

Scam likely

I like oviedo, has 2 solid pitches and if he can get his command right could be an effective starter. Maybe Bru too the pen might work.

1979andCounting

Well, I wish Brooks Baseball would change their color scheme! Geesh. Too many shades of red going on there. Aren’t we looking for average EV which is 89-90 mph or better? And the bottom 6 squares diagram doesn’t include the boxes that might hit a LH batter in the foot. Other than that, I do like the analytics…….good article.

Duckhunter

Maybe JT Brubaker shouldn’t be a lock for the rotation he has shown me nothing other than taking a lead of blown starts

bucsws2014

On an unrelated note, I’m thinking GMBC is spending this morning figuring out how to get Matt Barnes on the roster. Barnes literally screams cheap reclamation project if BC can get him either for free (doubt Barnes gets through waivers though) or for nothing of particularly great value (plenty of “prospects” with no real chance of making it and sticking at PNC).

I give an 80% chance that Barnes is a Pirate by next week.f

And on topic… of course Oviedo should be in the rotation.

jon6er

I’d rather start Oviedo in Pittsburgh in the backend of a bullpen with Yerry, Oviedo and Bednar just to see how it works out and if they want to move Oviedo to the rotation they can save Nutting the bus fare!

Danatural08

This is a great topic & analysis for an article. Based on Oviedo & Bae’s #’s last year, you would think they deserve starting spots this year, yet as things stand, both guys looks like they’re starting as backups. Hopefully it doesn’t stunt their growth. In Oviedo’s case, his power stuff looks dynamite, that slider makes alot of good hitter look silly in the video. If anything, it might be a good idea to limit Oviedo’s innings early bc 130 innings is probably his max availability this year.

jaygray007

Am i skeptical of his long term starting ability, and do i think he’s likely to be a good reliever more than a good starter? yes.

Do i think he’s interesting enough to keep as a starter for this year, whether it be in Indy or PIT? yes

one of the main things that set good teams apart from bad teams, that i noticed last year, that many teams’ 6-10 sps were probably better than the pirates’ 1-5.

i have no issue just having Oviedo start the year in indy and come up when someone gets hurt.

if a year goes by and he looks mediocre at starting, i have little doubt he can be a pretty devastating 7th inning guy for the win-now 2024 team.

Last edited 2 days ago by jaygray007
NMR

Very, very compelling.

Cobra

Oviedo & Velasquez will both make our rotation: Oviedo as our 5th starter with a long leash and Velasquez as our first-ever 6th starter with a short leash. (I say short leash because he will obviously have more trade value as an effective backend bullpen arm than a struggling starter).

Padres are doing 6 man rotation in ’23 according to Athletic and more will follow suit :

https://www.si.com/mlb/2022/08/18/astros-six-man-rotation-the-opener

Last edited 2 days ago by Cobra
Anthony

I heard Mackey say last week that a 6-man rotation was on the table for the Bucs, but it could just be another one of those nuggets he opines on then says “well no one told me it wasn’t false.”

NMR

A 6-man rotation for the Pirates in particular, who do not appear to have any single starter who stands out from the pack, seems like a perfect idea for this age.

Tired: Openers
Wired: 6-man rotations

1979andCounting

It may be a perfect fit for an MLB staff that actually has 6 MLB starters.
I’m concerned that the Pittsburgh Pirates have yet to prove they have 6 starters. I mean this could work, for what, two times thru the 6-man staff……and then cracks will appear!

NMR

At which point you fall back to the same ole 5-man!

Cobra

Also we’ve got a 60 year old man in our rotation & plus we should keep an eye on Contreras innings too – not to mention priester and burrows innings when they are hopefully worked in to rotation

ArkyWags

Hill can only pitch afternoon games if it doesn’t conflict with Matlock.

NMR

Ha!!

skliesen

When I was a kid, I saw Satchel Paige pitch when he was close to 60, and he looked every bit as good as the young guy’s pitching that day.

You watch, Dick Mountain is going to frustrate the living daylights out of the whippersnappers who can turn around a 100 mph heater with his 88 mph fastball. It’s gonna be such a joy to watch.

RAS TN

Off-topic but, the Hall of Fame voters are one screwed-up bunch…There are absolutely zero reasons to vote for Rolen and not Andrew Jones, and why Billy Wagner is not in is a joke…

bucsws2014

Personally, I like JAWS as a gatekeeper. And JAWS says Jones should be in. But man, he really did nothing outside those 7-8 years of high productivity, which I’m sure cost him votes. Rolen benefits from the lack of 3b in the HoF, but at the same time, his JAWS numbers put even more focus on guys like Whittaker and Grich not getting the call. I have no issue at all with keeping Wagner out. I would’ve kept Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman out. Mariano set the bar so high for RPs, it’s hard to even make a case for anyone else based on stats or logic.

leefieux

When you have to ‘make up’ stats to make a player look good, then he is HIF worthy. This is as bad as Baines getting in

ArkyWags

Scott Rolen was a legit beast for a decade and a solid contributor even when injuries hit. Baines was a one way compiler who wasn’t even that special at the plate who got in because of cronyism. The two cases aren’t comparable.

leefieux

They’re comparable only because both belong in the Hall of the Very Good. I live near Philly and don’t remember any of my friends ds calling Rolen ‘a beast’.

He was always just ‘pretty good’.

I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Scam likely

Hell Rolen didn’t even start on scott Rolen day in Philly. Oh Terry Francona.

ArkyWags

A slew of GG, AS games. I think he had eight GGs and seven AS games. Averaged six fWAR for eight years and was productive after that even when injuries took hold. For counting stats, he averaged almost 30 homers and over 100 RBI in that stretch. While playing GG defense.
Also Philly fans hated Dick Allen, so it’s no surprise Rolen’s qualities are lost on them.

Last edited 2 days ago by ArkyWags
leefieux

Dick Allen should be in the HOF!

ArkyWags

No argument on that one!

skliesen

There are a bunch of old dudes who fail to realize the HOF is a museum honoring those who played the game. They conjure up reasons to keep players out and pat themselves on the back for being the gatekeepers to the history of the game.

NFL puts in something like 8 players and coaches/GM’s/Owners every year. MLB is perfectly fine if nobody is enshrined. Makes no sense to me.

ArkyWags

No one likes to clutch pearls more than baseball writers.

PirateRican21

I don’t see what he will gain by going to AAA, but I also know that it is a long season, I don’t like writing this, but I’m ok with him starting in AAA.

Anthony

They’ll probably want to get him in a good starter’s routine at the beginning of the year as he was essentially a swingman last year. May also be beneficial to manage his workload early, so he can finish strong.

postal911

I think he’ll be in the rotation on day 1 simply because the odds are that 1 of the other 4 will be hurt. That just seems to be the way in today’s baseball. Signing over the hill Hill increases the chances of injury. That’s been his entire career story.

roberto

Well, it has not been. What’s the counter argument to 31 and 26 starts in the last two years? He might break, but name a pitcher who will not.

NMR

Name a single 40-yo pitcher in the modern history of major league baseball who’s nearest two seasons of good health have been more predictive of injury than the entirety of his career.

Come on dude, quit being the smartest guy in the room.

Last edited 2 days ago by NMR
SBRO

Realistically, what’s Oviedo’s upside as a starter? Below average fastball, elite slider, a kinda weirdly effective curve. Even if the FB becomes average, he’s at best a #3 but probably an above average #4 .

On the other hand, I think he could be a shutdown reliever this season to pair with Bednar. That’s where I’d put him, and Lord knows the Pirates are thin in the late innings.

NMR

Love this.

Tim makes a very compelling argument, but I’m left feeling it’s somewhat academic in that he’s also perfectly, if not better, suited for the pen.

You can run dudes like Chad Kuhl out in starter roles for the better part of a decade chasing bouts of fleeting success, but I’m still not convinced that’s somehow better than putting them in a better position to succeed right off the bat.

ArkyWags

I can’t wait for the Pirates to repeat this mistake with Kuhl. Yes, let’s get encouraged about Oviedo pitching seven shutout innings against the Cubs and ignore three previous outings when he walked 11 in 10.2.
NH used to do this and it drove me up the wall. He’d stubbornly cling to this idea that “we’ll make this guy a starter,” even if there are more warning signs a guy can’t do it. There comes a point where it’s better to focus on what a player can do, rather than what you want him to be. And also make the big club better in the bargain, cause that’s what this whole damn thing is about.

b mcferren

Brubaker ranks pretty high against those who remain on the list of free agent starting pitchers

Hopefully he and Oviedo have strong springs and we ship out JT to some team that has an injury in their rotation

roberto

Explain please. This is the build phase of the rebuild.

NMR

Are you extending Brubaker into his mid-30s in a few years?

If not, he most certainly will not be any significant part of this win cycle. Sucks, but this is the reality they chose with a long, slow, tanking rebuild.

b mcferren

Brubaker has more value now than he will ever have

Its all down hill from here and a matter of addition through subtraction

Capitalize on any hype he has left

AttyMike

If the kings of player development couldn’t help this guy achieve his potential, there’s virtually no chance that the Pirates will be able to succeed where the Cardinals failed. This guy is next year’s Bryse Wilson.

jaygray007

this is one way to look at it. but the other way to look at it is that maybe the cardinals had to give up something pretty dang good in order to get one of the better starting pitchers on the deadline pitching market.

tventimiglio

I’d like to see him in AAA to start the year and have some success in making effective use of his pitch mix and location. His 30 IP in Sept isn’t enough to declare him as ready. We have VV, why not use him to get JO squared away in lower pressure situations in AAA?

emjayinTN

Johan Oviedo earned the Rotation spot with his work for the Pirates after the trade. Velasquez was a bump SP in 2022 – some starts but I think more work out of the BP. Therefore, if he performs the same function with the Pirates, he will more than earn the $3 mil he will be paid. His value to the Pirates will come at or before the trade deadline.

The Pirates need to move forward with developing the future Rotation – Oviedo would be a step forward, V would be a step backwards in my opinion.

AttyMike

His value to the Pirates will come at or before the trade deadline.” This is akin to adding “in bed” after the fortune in a fortune cookie, except the Pirates version. It applies to most of their free agents.

emjayinTN

Exactly. Any of us who think V will be a Pirate after Aug 1 is not understanding what the Pirates are trying to do this year. They collected some mid-level guys who, barring injury, will help this group of youngsters be competitive, and then be traded to any team in the race for the playoffs. The trade deadline is when most teams will sacrifice talent a few years away for a “now” pitcher or player.

Anthony

VV is a BOR option. I’m fairly confident that he was signed to make the younger guys a little “uncomfortable” heading into spring training. He’s a professional, and he will come in ready to compete for a spot. This dovetails with what the FO has been saying all off-season.

If they actually see something in VV, it’s purely on an experimental level, and I would chalk-it-up to an investment in R&D.

Last edited 2 days ago by Anthony
1979andCounting

You may be greatly over-rating VV! There’s no evidence that he’s going to be much different than Derek Holland and Trevor Cahill. He’s not likely to be a trade candidate whatsoever.

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