Rookie relief pitcher A.J. Schugel has been reliable for the Pirates all season long. And since returning to the Major Leagues on Sunday, he has continued to shine in his rookie campaign.
Even though the Pirates' losses to the Cubs the past two nights have sucked there has been one positive. The return of A.J. Schugel. On Sunday the Pirates recalled Schugel from Triple-A, and in two outings since he's return he has continued to impress.
In 2015 with the Arizona Diamondbacks Schugel saw limited Major League action. While with Arizona last year Schugel pitched nine Major League innings allowing 17 (!) hits, two home runs, he walked five batters, and he posted a 5.00 ERA and a 6.58 FIP. However, Schugel has been a completely different pitcher in 2016.
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Since returning to the Pittsburgh Pirates A.J. Schugel has pitched three innings the past two days. In these three innings pitched Schugel has allowed one hit, he has not walked a batter, and he has struck out a pair. These three stellar innings just add to Schugel's impressive numbers this season.
A.J. Schugel has now pitched 52 innings for the Pirates this season. In these 52 innings pitched Schugel is averaging 7.96 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 0.69 HR/9, he's held opposing batters to a .219 batting average against, and he has a WHIP of 1.06. Due to these results Schugel owns a 3.63 ERA, 3.19 FIP, and a 3.74 xFIP this season.
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The most impressive part of Schugel's game this season has been his change up. Opposing batters are hitting just .085, with a .135 wOBA, and a -11 wRC+ off of his change up this season. Furthermore, Schugel has allowed just one extra base hit off of his change up this season.
Despite being one of the Pirates' best relievers all season long, A.J. Schugel was optioned back to Triple-A in late July. This was a move that made no sense. Yes Schugel has Minor League options left, but so does Jared Hughes who has struggled immensely this season.
While which middle reliever is in a bullpen may not sound like a big deal, it can be. There was at least two games I can think of that the Pirates lost due to inefficiency from Hughes while Schugel was at Triple-A. And in a heated postseason race, every game matters.
A.J. Schugel is under team control through 2023. With relievers such as Tony Watson, Felipe Rivero, Antonio Bastardo, and Juan Nicasio under contract for next season the Pittsburgh Pirates should have a strong bullpen in 2017. And A.J. Schugel is part of this mix.