By Jason Shetler
Looking to add depth to their bullpen for the 2016 season, the Pirates claimed A.J. Schugel off waivers from the Seattle Mariners. Schugel pitched well last year, as he put up a 3.63 ERA, along with an ERA+ of 113 and an even better 3.18 Fielding Independent Pitching.
Despite his good work, the Pirates optioned Schugel on two different occasions, once with the call up of Tyler Glasnow, the other with Steven Brault. Schugel had better numbers last season than Jared Hughes, and it was especially odd, given that Hughes had options remaining to be sent to AAA.
Entering Spring Training this year, Schugel appeared to have a pretty good shot of making the Opening Day roster. His chances seemed even better, following the release of Hughes during the final week of Spring. However, the Pirates made a surprising decision by cutting Schugel, optioning him to Indianapolis.
April did not go Schugel’s way at all, as he posted a 9.82 ERA. He did experience extreme bad luck though, with a BABIP over .400. Things really began to balance out for him in May and June, posting a combined ERA of 1.67, a 1.06 WHIP and a .194 batting average against.
The Pirates recalled Schugel on July 7th. His numbers have been even better to this point the second time around, allowing only two earned runs in 15.1 innings for a 1.17 ERA. The FIP is higher at 3.20, but it’s still a good figure. Perhaps the biggest thing for Schugel this year is getting a heavy amount of grounders. Schugel’s groundball rate is currently at 63%, which is a 21% increase from a year ago. He is throwing the two-seam fastball about 7% more this season at 68%, while his superb changeup is being thrown 31% of the time. The Pirates bullpen has performed better since the beginning of July, and Schugel is quietly playing a vital part once again.