14 November 2017

Orioles Should Target These Starting Pitchers for Norfolk Depth

In years past, I noted how an important aspect of constructing a solid MLB roster is to have flexibility in the MLB roster where players can be shifted around to no negative effect and all to have a few guys on the farm who can step in without being a disaster.  While it may seem like the Orioles suffered with a rotating cast of starting pitchers, they really did not come from the farm.  The actual starting rotation remained fairly healthy and threw the first pitch often.  Let's look back over the years at the top three contributors to the rotation from the farm.

2012 239 4.47
2013 132.2 5.13
2014 118.7 4.43
2015 167 3.34
2016 157.1 5.53
2017 61 4.33

Most impressive was the 2012 performance where more than one starting pitcher's worth of innings was needed to fill the void.  That year, of course, saw the emergence of Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez as legitimate rotation arms.  2015 also saw a mighty impressive performance from Kevin Gausman as the sixth arm with a 100.1 strong innings (4.00 FIP).  Seen as a whole, having a reliable 6th, 7th and even 8th pitcher is important because one or two starting pitchers is bound to get hurt enough to visit the disabled list (or having a strong supporting rotation lets a pitcher go on the DL in the first place.

2017, the starting rotation was pretty much a disaster.  The club flirted around with having the worst ERA- in team history, but fell short at 129 (1991 Orioles are the worst with a 132 ERA-).  If you want a larger focus, then the 2017 starting rotation, since 1954, was the 24th worst starting rotation ever.  What might be more interesting is that it was done with an incredibly healthy starting rotation with only 61 innings needed from the farm.  While contractual obligations limited the kinds of moves the Orioles could make, it was pretty apparent that the farm offered little that was appreciably better than what the starting rotation currently employed.

The short of it is, the club needs a strong AAA pitching staff.  And, well, that is not what is currently present at Norfolk. Assuming that the Orioles have Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and three external solutions to the starting rotation, then Norfolk's current rotation looks like: Alec Asher, Jordan Kipper, David Hess, John Means, and Yefry Ramirez.  That is a decent collection of AAA workhorses, but not exactly a situation where you feel comfortable bringing more than one player up.  Asher may be needed for a bullpen role and that really leaves you with some stretches who have not shown enough performance at AAA or, even, AA to provide much confidence.

With that in mind, if I ran the Orioles, I would want to add two more rotation talents whom I would have slightly more confidence in as not being complete losses at the MLB level who would be added to David Hess, Yefry Ramirez, and probably Alec Asher.  The others would work on things down at Bowie.  Existing arms like Christopher Lee and Brandon Barker would see various roles emerging from the bullpen.

Minor League Free Agents
When I sit back and think about the kinds of pitcher to target as rotation depth, I consider a couple things.  I would want someone who is in the top half of starting pitchers at the MiL AAA level for swinging strikes and for DRA.  Second, I want them as young as possible.  That really is it.

Who is on that list who is also a MiL free agent?
Ryan Carpenter, LHP
David Hurlbut, LHP
Drew Hutchison, RHP 
Ryan Carpenter, LHP (26 yo)
DRA: 2.39
Swinging Strike %: 10.7%

Carpenter was never considered much of a prospect.  He is a control guy who mixes in decent enough fastball, changeup, and curve.  Carpenter shines a bit more than Hurlbut and Hutchison.  While they barely made both cutoff marks, Carpenter had one of the best DRAs and a slightly higher swinging strike rate.  The optimistic wrinkle is that around the mid-season mark, Carpenter added a slider to his pitches and saw his season turn around.  His first half saw him pitch to a 5.15 ERA and his second half, with the slider, when down to 3.37.

That said, the Rockies apparently did not see enough of an upside and let him go.  I think the ceiling on him is perhaps a better T.J. McFarland if it all works out.  McFarland was a lefty who showed no handedness advantage and was just a hair away from being a useful swing man.  Carpenter might be able to be a hair better than McFarland.  That would be useful.

David Hurlbut. LHP (27 yo)
DRA: 3.95
Swinging Strike %: 10.3%

Hurlbut looks like a lesser Carpenter.  He too had a rebirth in the second half of the season.  Actually, it was really just one horrific May outing.  He does not see much of an improvement against lefties and gets by on three average pitches, but he locates them well and seems to have enough deception in his delivery to make guys miss.

However, twice drafted by the Twins and in the Twins' system these past 6+ years, Hurlbut has been aggressively average.  He has never exactly looked good at any level, but holds his own with some thinking that perhaps a breakout is possible.  It appears that the Twins have given up on that breakout and with his inability to be a LOOGY he does not have much of a safety net.

Drew Hutchison, RHP (26 yo)
DRA: 3.97
Swinging Strike %: 10.2%

Until sometime in 2015, Hutchison was considered a future workhorse for the Toronto Blue Jays.  It all came crashing down.  Teams started hitting him hard; especially the teams that were able to stack up powerful lefties.  The Pirates thought they could turn him around and dealt out a wobbly and expensive Francisco Liriano, past prospect Reese McGuire, and stalling prospect Harold Ramirez.  There have not been any clear winners there, but the Blue Jays might get something out of McGuire and the wobbly Liriano remained wobbly, but was able to fetch the unexpectedly excellent Teoscar Hernandez from the Astros this past year.

Anyway, the Pirates could not fully right the ship.  They were able to improve him from being horrendous against southpaws to acceptable, but he could not crack a non-playoff Pirates roster.  That said, he would have surely appeared in Baltimore last year.

Are these guys better than the batch last year?
At the levels at which the three above performed, yes.

DRA SwgSt%
Tyler Wilson 6.20 7.9%
Gabriel Ynoa 5.52 8.3%
Jayson Aquino 4.65 10.3%
Mike Wright 4.31 9.5%
Jordan Kipper 4.94 5.6%
Alec Asher 5.97 6.9%

Kipper's 5.6% mark was the worst swinging strike rate in the International League for pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched.  Asher and Wilson were not far behind.  Only Aquino had an above average rate.  As far as DRA is concerned, none of the Norfolk rotation appeared as average or better.  Now, Ynoa is already gone--to Tampa.  [Ed. note: Vidal Nuno signed a minor-league deal with the Rays. Ynoa is still with Baltimore. We regret the error.] Wilson and Aquino are minor league free agents.  Wright and Asher are on the roster bubble with Asher having one more option remaining.  Kipper, I believe, is Rule 5 eligible, but that kind of performance would make many teams question as to how he could get through an MLB lineup with such hittable offerings.

I could understand bringing back Aquino, but I would prefer someone whose peripherals are slightly better. Yes, Aquino is a year or three younger then the three arms I identified, but youth is not all.  There has to be another gear that can get him to perform well enough at the MLB level.  Regardless, last year AAA SP performance was poor and it appears the best way to move forward is with some new blood.


Anonymous said...

How is Ynoa in Tampa? Nothing on the wire about it and he still seems to be on the 40-man.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Ynoa is still with the Orioles. Vidal Nuno signed a minor-league deal with the Rays. This post has been updated with the correct information.

Jon Shepherd said...

Sorry about that Roger. I was writing this quickly and fringe roster pitching got mixed up in my head.

Unknown said...

I think it isn't an entirely insignificant distinction in this context. Nuno is probably a better reliever right now than Ynoa and for that reason is a lot more likely to win his way onto an opening-day roster, but I like Ynoa significantly more as a depth starter. I think his stuff holds up much better for multiple trips through the lineup. He's not a guy you want to plan on coming into the season as a member of the rotation, but he's a guy who could come up and make some starts without hurting the team too badly. The guys has always had 80 control, he's got solid velocity, and that combination makes him competitive enough, especially with limited exposure. He may or may not have any remaining upside as a prospect, but he helps with the depth issues. Depending on who ultimately gets signed this offseason, he may even be given a chance to compete for the 5th starter position in Spring Training. Would that really shock you guys based on previous offseason pitching strategy from this front office? They love relying on development of the guys in the system.

Unknown said...

AAA guys this past season were worse by comparison than ML starters, and that's a strong statement!

Unknown said...

Gotta love those 7 HR! allowed in 14 innings by Nuno!

Pip said...

We are approaching my favorite day of the off-season. I do not know when it is, but it is the nontender deadline, after which, many interesting possibilities are going to be cut loose by various teams.
Dan grabbed Castillo immediately after he was dumped by the Diamondbacks, so we know that Dan can work fast, we just mourn that he does not.
Anyway, I'm hoping that there will be some possibilities among the players set free. Meanwhile, I continuously laugh bitterly that we kept Lee( who had and has no future) and dumped Triggs, Who was doing fine for Oakland until he was injured.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Parker Bridwell......

Anonymous said...

The Braves just left Travis Demeritte unprotected. Perfect target for the O's as UTIL IF. Great defender and huge power potential (and huge K potential just like every other O). A Santander for the IF.