01 August 2013

Orioles Pick Up Bud Norris, Part With More Mid-Level Prospects

The Orioles, having already acquired a starter (Scott Feldman) and a reliever (Francisco Rodriguez) in the last few weeks, decided they needed to make one more move for a pitcher at the trade deadline. That move happened to be trading for Astros starter Bud Norris, who will make his O's debut tonight (against his former club). For Norris's services, the O's sent L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader, and a 2014 competitive balance pick to Houston. Besides Norris, the O's received an international signing bonus slot.

Norris, 28, happened to be the Astros' best starting pitcher, though that doesn't say much. In 126 innings this season, he has a 3.93 ERA, but there are some worrisome signs. His strikeout rate (6.43) is about two fewer than his career rate (8.39). He's been fortunate with his HR/FB rate as well: Only 7% of the fly balls against him have left the ballpark, while his career average is around 11%. Also, as this FanGraphs article notes, Norris's velocity is in decline (which explains some of the strikeout issues), he is not good against left-handed batters, and he may have more of a "reliever's arsenal."

But it's not all negative with Norris. He's been walking fewer batters (3.07 BB/9 vs. 3.67 for his career). He's also thrown at least 153 innings the last three seasons (and is on pace to easily exceed that mark this year), which is not amazing in itself, but is always good to avoid giving starts to pitchers like Freddy Garcia and Josh Stinson. And he has two arbitration-eligible years left (he's not a free agent until 2016), so he should be relatively team-friendly cost wise. He'll likely replace either Feldman or Jason Hammel, who are both free agents, in next year's rotation.

Norris gives the Orioles more rotation depth and is probably a minor upgrade over Hammel, who went on the disabled list yesterday. But he basically provides more of the same for an O's rotation that is not very good in the strikeout department. Here are the strikeout rates for the team's five other starters (including Hammel):

Chris Tillman: 7.39
Miguel Gonzalez: 6.33
Jason Hammel: 6.22
Wei-Yin Chen: 5.50
Scott Feldman: 6.31 (5.40 with O's)

Zach Britton and Steve Johnson aren't high strikeout guys either. That's one of the reasons why fans are so excited about Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, and also why some refused to give up on Jake Arrieta. Certainly it helps any pitcher to have Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy fielding behind them on the left side of the infield, but most of the O's starters don't get a ton of groundballs anyway (Norris doesn't).

Maybe it would have made sense to just roll the dice with someone like Britton, who has pitched well at times but overall hasn't been that great. Interestingly enough, the Astros were interested in acquiring Britton as the lefty alongside Hoes in the trade, but the O's parted with Hader instead. Maybe that means Britton will strongly be considered for a rotation spot next season, or maybe the O's just didn't want to lose a 25-year-old starter who's a decent option and has major league experience.

So what did the O's give up in the trade? More of the same: mid-level prospects who the organization may or may not have soured on. Baseball Prospectus had Hoes seventh and Hader 10th on its preseason Orioles top 10 prospects list, while Baseball America listed Hoes sixth and did not include Hader. Hader appears to have a higher ceiling than Hoes, who many view as a fourth outfielder type. Still, the Orioles managed to hold on to Bundy, Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, and Eduardo Rodriguez, probably the organization's top four prospects. I'm also relieved that the O's did not sell low on Bundy.

Still, by not trading any of those four, the O's did not really improve the team that much. Feldman and Norris will help more than Rodriguez, but it's not like they were real valuable acquisitions. If Hammel is legitimately injured, the Norris trade looks a little better (again, unless you're a big believer in Britton). But none of the three are genuinely great pitching options.

As discussed in the K-Rod trade analysis, could the O's have packaged Delmonico along with the now traded Hoes and Hader (or Arrieta)? Even for a shallow farm system like Baltimore's, that would have still been an intriguing collection of prospects, and it should have netted a better starter than Feldman or Norris. But, again, it's hard to know who was actually available and how much the Orioles were willing to spend on whoever they acquired.

Dan Duquette made the decision to spread some assets around and trade for three decent but flawed pitchers. I'm not sure if the O's sacrificed that much talent for those pitchers, but I don't think their presence makes the team that much better. They're somewhat better, but was it worth the risk?


Triple R said...

"Steve Johnson [isn't a] high strikeout guy..."
Uuuuuuuhhh, am I missing something? Cuz I'd say striking out 29.5% of batters faced is pretty damn high. With Stevie, the problem isn't a dearth of strikeouts, but rather too much of everything else (i.e. walks and fly balls).

Matt Kremnitzer said...

That's not exactly a high sample size to work with. He has decent minor league K rates, but never to the level as his major league numbers. At least be reasonable.

Kurt said...

Its possible Norris will help, but then what do they do with Hammell or Britton next year? They are all roughly simular pitchers that are a #4 in a rotation.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Hammel is a free agent after this season, so he might not be back with the O's (same for Feldman). Britton and Gausman are two options to earn a rotation spot.

Unknown said...

completely agree. i think the feldman trade helped, but the other two were unnecessary.

JJ said...

Any insight on why the O's didn't do more in the off-season to acquire a quality starting pitcher through free agency? Were they expecting Bundy to be ready in the second half?

Seems like they could have picked up a quality pitcher then without having to trade away prospects.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Not really any insight. They tried to sign Joe Saunders, but the price must not have been right for that. And they took some fliers on guys like Garcia and Jurrjens, but that hasn't worked.

I'd imagine that you're right; they figured Bundy would have been an option. Maybe the same for Gausman, too.