The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired pitcher John Axford from the Cleveland Indians today in hopes of fixing their bullpen woes. Axford is not the same pitcher he was in the past, but he is still an upgrade in the Pirates’ bullpen.
Axford was a dominant closer for the Milwaukee Brewers a few years ago, but has since been struggling in the major leagues. This season, he signed with the Indians and has had moderate success out of the bullpen. He has an ERA just a shade below 4.00 and that is in line with his advanced metrics. Axford is also striking out more than a batter an inning, something the Pirates have sorely been lacking in the middle relief. He also has a very high ground-ball rate, which will help him because the Pirates convert a high rate of ground balls into outs.
Axford also has his perks when it comes to his contract. He is under team control for two more years after this one, so the Pirates could keep him longer than the traditional rental. The Pirates also received Axford for nothing but a waiver claim, so they did not have to give up anything to acquire him.
He certainly has his drawbacks, though. He has walked a ton of batters this year — 6.18 per nine innings to be exact. That is something the Pirates can’t afford to have because they already have Justin Wilson and Stolmy Pimentel who have issues walking batters. Axford also gives up a lot of home runs and a short porch in right field of PNC Park won’t help him with that issue against left-handed batters.
Axford is not a player who is going to come in and be a great-late inning option for the Pirates down the stretch, but he is still an upgrade in middle relief over Jeanmar Gomez and Pimentel. He could be a guy who pitches in the sixth inning when it’s a close game and the starter has to leave early. He could also be serviceable by giving some of the late-inning pitchers a day off once in awhile. Axford will not fix all of the Pirates’ bullpen troubles, but it is certainly a start.