Baltimore has the goods
Believe it or not, we’re almost at the ASG, a trip to Colorado that’ll be the occasion to admire Shohei Ohtani in all his uniqueness, destroying balls in the Home Run Derby and then pitching/hitting at the “real” game.
Denver will also be a chance for GMs to talk to each other, exchange trade proposals and assess where each team stands as the Trade Deadline is oh so close. There’s no such time as now: buyers are going to scour the market for the right piece of the puzzle while sellers are going to wait until the best offer comes around to dispatch their treasures.
In that sense, Baltimore has a lot to give, but also a lot to think about: while the rebuilding is on its course, it could be much closer than we think. Adley Rutschman is on his way to the big leagues, a SH catcher that is shelling AA, and other young thumpers are showing up to stay in Camden Yards: Hays, Mullins and Santander is a damn solid outfield and Ryan Mountcastle has terrific potential if a smidge of plate discipline ever comes through.
If the lineup projects well, and watch out for a big upgrade at SS in the upcoming free agency, starting pitching is severely lacking, with the sole John Means showing up. The good pitching in the Orioles roster is on the pen: quietly Baltimore has one of the best trios in all of baseball in terms of preventing runs and, most importantly, homers.
Who are the three arms you should want on your (hopefully contending) team? Let’s get to it!
First of all, a good old lefty specialist: Paul Fry seems like a LOOGY who should be out of a job in the three-batter-minimum era yet he’s still coming out from the Orioles pen and for a good reason.
While his splits are drastic, ERA around 1.4 on the friendly matchup but well over 5 against RHB, there’s also an interesting caveat:
Fry, with his 3/4 sidearm delivery, brings the funk and it’s a tough AB wherever the batter stands. Stuff-wise there’s seemingly nothing out of the ordinary, 60% 4-seamers averaging 93 mph and the remaining 40% sliders, with a much higher rate of breaking balls against lefties.
- He’s impossible to barrel
There’s no lying in those rankings: hardly no other pitcher is so tough to square up. Fry comes at you with an unsettling delivery, one that makes his fastball look much harder than what it actually is, and aims low in the zone so that he’s all about groundballs and bad contact.
This is not a 2021 aberration: Fry was equally good in 2020 at preventing consistent damage, but now he’s throwing more fastballs in the zone and batters are not hitting them for homers. As of 2021, he still has to give up a single longball, a clean 0 HR/9.
- His slider is an abomination
Fry’s best offering is his slider, which is of the sweeping variety but…it also drops quite a bit!
Above average hMov, above average vMov, there you have a deadly weapon if controlled and Fry, strangely enough, seems to be much more comfortable painting corners with his slider than placing his heater:
Fry is the rare reliever who can both bury his slider down and away against lefties and then backdoor it against righties, although he’s leaving a fair share of breaking balls in the middle. There’s an added layer to Fry’s bender:
He seems to have the so called SSW, Seam Shifted Wake, additional movement generated by the seams and the way he pulls them down when releasing the ball: while his slider should actually mirror the fastball, the pitches diverge in the actual movement as the 4-seamer has less fade and the slider more sweep.
Why not buying?
- He lacks control
If his stinginess is long reported, so is his penchant for giving up free passes: Fry will have outings in which he has no fastball control, making him a do or die slider-reliant pitcher that needs to spot perfectly as he has no gaudy chase rates.
As of 2021 he’s having a much higher walk rate against LHBs while RHBs are hitting him harder: that is also a product of his willingness to pepper the bottom-right of the zone with sliders instead of coming straight at lefties with the gas, a good exchange if it means avoiding runs.
Trade value: average
With all ups and downs, Fry is the one reliever of the trio who could be somewhat cheap, earning more than the other two being in arbitration but still a bargain, he has scary splits and tendencies but also an uncanny ability of avoiding damage and a death sentence against LHB.
He’s going to cost a low level prospect (org #20–#30 or even unranked in solid systems) and a PTBNL, not a bad get for a LOOGY, not a big haul for a barrel-free setup man. I’m buying.
Next up is the sneakiest of the three, a righty who was plucked out of Tampa Bay in a minor transaction and has pitched so well he’s now the de-facto closer, platooning with Fry, after Cesar Valdez and his amazing butterfly changeup were BABIP’d to death.
Cole Sulser shouldn’t be this good, but he is!
- He has a demonic changeup
While Sulser’s 2020 season can be considered his breakout, in 2021 he’s being even better and that’s because he’s keeping up a trend he started last year: throwing more and more of his changeup instead of an average slider.
Now going to his cambio more than a third of the time, Sulser is simply embarassing hitters: his low spin offering whiffs at an absurd 43% rate and all he gave up on it is three singles and a double…that’s it!
To note is his extension: at 6.6–6.7 ft he drives down the mound nicely and presents the ball late, giving far less time to decide if it’s a heater or a changeup and swing accordingly.
If it’s the change though, it’s bad news:
This kind of spin mirroring is a nightmare for batters: good luck looking at the seams because four seamer and change come out of Sulser’s hand exactly the same, spin the same and then poof, the bottom drops and you swung at a pitch in the dirt!
Why not buying?
- His stuff is garden variety
Sulser, contrary to the other two pen companions, relies on his control and on the fastball up/change down combo, a pairing that works together but stand-alone is not that great.
Sulser’s heater doesn’t spin or move much differently than your average fastball and he lacks the carry to reliably fool hitters up in the zone, so that his 4-seamer is more of a table setter for the change. His slider is a sweeping one that he uses away in the zone against RHB, at risk of hanging one for a ride.
When his command, now much better than last year, eludes him, look out for hard contact: he roams on the 5th percentile in HardHit% and has below average Barrel numbers so he’s not immune to giving up the bomb.
Trade value: moderate, slightly above average
Sulser’s newfound ability to strike out a gazillion by means of his changeup makes him an interesting RHP option for every pen, one that has late game experience, years of control and minimum impact on the payroll.
For all of the aforementioned, Baltimore won’t ask for less than a #10-#15 organizational prospect, not a negligible price for a reliever who has average stuff, playing far above it thanks to spin features, and gets hit hard on occasions. I’m on the fence but, depending on Baltimore’s requests, I’m in for a buy.
Last but not least, the prize of Baltimore’s pen, a LHP with few equals, one of the most puzzling arms in the game. What to do with Tanner Scott?
- He’s the rare 80 Stuff 80 Movement guy
No kidding around, Scott has nefarious stuff.
He, as Fry, is a simple two-pitch reliever, a 4-seamer and a slider as his buddy but that’s where the comparison ends: Scott’s heater is gasoline, averaging 97 mph he’s no painter, he just grips and rips it and there’s not a lot you can do.
Oh, that spin? All natural baby! He routinely exceeds 2600 rpms on his fastball, even in the no-substances era, so it carries a ton and comes straight, albeit not whiffing a ton.
But hey, Scott knows where to go for them: his slider is ridicolous at getting batters to flail air, a 52% Whiff that is not of this world, a putrid allowed statline and a ton of swing and misses in the zone.
Good luck squaring him up: a flamethrower with a 50% GB rate, he’s of the Emmanuel Clase mold, a potential closer who is almost impossible to hit, even less out of the park, a lefty without hindering splits and deranged movement on his already nasty stuff:
Opposite of Sulser, Scott is not trying to fool you via smoke and mirrors: his fastball is just an arrow of sheer violence, not deviating from its path, while his slider drops more than sweeps, but at around 89 mph is as firm as it can be while maintaining a good speed differential with the heat. He works both offerings in on RHB and that explains the amount of groundballs he gets, as hitters are locked up by big time gas.
Why not buying?
- He has no idea where it’s going
No kidding around, Scott has no control whatsoever.
You can color it a lot of ways, going from 1st percentile in BB% to his 18%(!!!) walk rate to a Zone% that’s barely over 40% and a comic 7.1 BB/9, Scott is the prototype of the “all gas no brakes”, 80 Stuff 20 Control wildcard.
Every single one of his outings is like a box of chocolates: sometimes he comes in and makes hitters look like kids with rods, incapable of doing anything against his stuff, other times he loses the ability to throw a strike, walking the bases loaded in 12 pitches and making you question why he’s not in the Minors.
To be honest, the former are more than the latter as testimonied by a sub 3 ERA, that collides with a scary 1.42 WHIP, still he’s as polarizing as a known quantity can be, his amazing stuff supported by unplayable control since 2018.
Trade value: who the hell knows!?
I have no idea how to consider Scott: he has unreal stuff, a long track record, has still to go to arbitration and provides rare lefty heat without the matchup constraint, but he’s also unbelievably wild and hard to tame.
This is probably a case of Baltimore valuing him more than all other organizations so they are going to ask a lot, a top 10 org prospect or even more. I don’t see him going, not when Jose Alvarado, a notably electric and erratic LHP comparable to Scott, went from the Rays to the Phillies for pennies on the dollar. But if Baltimore decides to sell him for a Sulser-like price I’m biting, as he can be a middle reliever, multi-inning shutdown machine when good, and the bad…I can get by!
Baltimore has value on the pen.
These guys are going to be in high demand come late July: they are cheap, either just into arbitration or at the minimum, controllable and simply too good to loom in the ranks of a basement dweller. In a trade market where every team, from my Astros to the Yankees with a broken Chapman, needs upgrades on the bullpen, Baltimore has a shot at acquiring young talent in a 0–3 window, the prospects that are closer to ML and could help the team as the tide rises.
They also have a new front office so, while Angelos is still a scary presence, an array of young, talented managers and analysts is a shining beacon of hope: in the last couple of years some of the brightest minds in the Astros organization, Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal among them, joined the Orioles high ranks, the former as GM, to completely change the organization and boy did they.
Baltimore, always lagging behind in the analytics, is now in synch with modern baseball: the Orioles are back in the international FA market after years of trading their bonus pool away, moreover they are wheeling and dealing between waiver wire bets and reclaming projects, Matt Harvey and Jorge Lopez to name a couple, as a rebuilding team does, trying to catch lightning in a bottle and trade it for future assets.
In this train of thought, they ought to think about getting as much as they can from their precious bullpen pieces before they become moot, as unfortunately relievers tend to do: there’s no one more fickle yet valuable than a relief pitcher, so a non-contending team should always sell high and care about the pen when it’ll be actually needed to make a good team better.
That’s not now, and maybe not with this bullpen, but good times are ahead for Baltimore.
All stats and graphs are from Baseball Savant, updated to July 5th.