13 April 2018

Richard Bleier Is The Orioles' Other Groundball-Generating Machine

Brad Brach is touted as a solid reliever who the Orioles acquired from the Padres for very little (a straight swap of minor leaguer Devin Jones for Brach in 2013). While there are things to like about bullpen mate Miguel Castro, who the O's also picked up for almost nothing, it's time to start referring to Richard Bleier that way, too.

Bleier is the unsung hero of the Orioles' bullpen. Or, well, he was, until recently. Bleier helped the Orioles get a series win over the Yankees on Sunday by tossing three shutout innings on the third of three consecutive days pitching. He then offered this gem of a quote after the game:
If that weren't enough, Sam Miller of ESPN.com also put Bleier No. 1 in his Wednesday article, "Your New Favorite Reliever Power Rankings: Eight guys to love you've never heard of." Not bad!

The Orioles added Bleier before the 2017 season by picking him up from the Yankees for a player to be named or cash considerations. He had become available because, five days before the trade, the Yankees designated Bleier for assignment to make room on their 40-man roster for Chris Carter.

That was after Bleier pretty much did for the Yankees in 2016 (23 IP, 1.96 ERA, 5.09 K/9) what he's doing for the Orioles, only with fewer strikeouts now. He started 2017 in the minors, but it only took him until mid-May to earn a regular role in the O's bullpen. He hasn't looked back.

I wrote about Bleier's reliability last October and how weird his low-ERA/low-strikeout ways were shortly afterward. It still seems bizarre that in 96 career innings, he has a 1.88 ERA and a K/9 of 3.94. As Miller noted in his article, Bleier has the "best ERA+ in major league history, minimum 95 innings!" He added another scoreless inning on Wednesday night.

Somehow, Bleier just keeps getting outs. His ERA is 1.88; his FIP is 3.86. His career FanGraphs WAR (based on FIP) is 0.6; on Baseball-Reference (based on runs allowed), it's 2.5. His fastball tops out in the upper-80s. So how's he doing this?

Let's call it a combination of sinkers and sliders, and left-handed deception. Bleier throws either a sinker or a slider about 80% of the time. He does not generate many whiffs. Instead, he gets lots of ground balls. His sinker and slider are both groundball machines. So is his change-up, which he doesn't throw often.

Going back to 2016, Bleier is third in groundball percentage among ALL major league pitchers with at least 90 innings. First, unsurprisingly, is Zach Britton (76.9%). Next is Scott Alexander, at 72.3%, and then there's Bleier, at 64.8%. In that same span, his strikeout rate is the lowest in baseball.

When you search for MLB.com videos under Bleier's name, of which there are only 15 at the moment, you'll find titles such as this: "Bleier induces double play"; "Bleier gets out of jam"; "Bleier finishes scoreless inning"; and "Bleier avoids trouble in 8th." You're not going to see anything about him striking out the side or making a few batters look foolish at the plate.

You'll just see stuff like this:

And this:

Inducing grounders; getting out of jams; putting out fires. That's been Bleier's calling card so far, and the Orioles can't get enough of it. You can't put your finger on anything in particular and say you feel great about it continuing. It's not like he's got amazing stuff or has some unbelievable ability to limit hard contact.

Without a doubt, it's a fantastic story, and it could very well keep going for the next few months or years. But if Bleier's run ended tomorrow, would you be that surprised? That's what makes this so fun. I didn't expect anything from Bleier, and neither did you. And now, he can't stop getting outs and being effective, which the O's so desperately need. Add another name to the "random Orioles performers" list, because Bleier deserves it.

Photo via Keith Allison. Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Brooks Baseball.

1 comment:

Pip said...

I enjoyed this, like most people, I enjoy rooting for an underdog.
I took to heart the articles about how he was ripe for regression, and I personally was advocating having Josh Edgin on the team.
And it will be interesting to see what happens when Cobb arrives.