The Orioles are winning and there have been a lot of heroes during this magic stretch of baseball - Adam Jones, Jason Hammel, Jim Johnson, Matt Wieters. The contributions of those players are obvious.
But on any winning club, there are always unsung heroes. And my favorite unsung hero this season has been lefty reliever Troy Patton.
But this isn't just about 2012. Truth be told, I have always been a Patton fan, ever since December 2007 when the Orioles acquired him from the Houston Astros in the Miguel Tejada trade. Patton was one of five players who came to the Baltimore organization in that deal and outside of Luke Scott, I was happiest to see him coming to Camden Yards. Just 22 at the time of the trade, Patton looked to be a big part of the Orioles' starting rotation for years to come.
That was not to be. Patton had to undergo shoulder surgery almost immediately and missed the entire 2008 season. He came back in 2009 and had a full, healthy season which was considered a victory at the time. But after struggling as a starter in Triple-A during the 2010 season, Patton stopped being featured on Orioles top prospect lists.
A switch to the bullpen in 2011 brought better results. He pitched 44 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for Norfolk with a 1.85 ERA (2.66 FIP) and an additional 30 innings for Baltimore with a 3.00 ERA (2.93 FIP). It seemed that Patton had found his new calling as a middle relief arm.
Patton was out of options coming into the 2012 season and I was praying that he would be given a chance in the Oriole bullpen, hopefully at the expense of Kevin Gregg. With so many relief candidates in Sarasota, Patton was no guarantee to head north after spring training. But Gregg and Patton both made the roster and Patton has quietly been one of the most valuable members of the Oriole bullpen.
Who's thrown the most relief innings for the Orioles in 2012? Patton has with 34 innings pitched (tied with Pedro Strop). Who has the most strikeouts among Baltimore bullpen arms? Patton. Who leads Orioles relievers in xFIP and fWAR? Patton (2.97 xFIP and 0.6 WAR). Who leads Orioles hurlers in multiple inning relief appearances? Patton again, with 14. In addition, he is second among Baltimore relief arms in BB/9, K/9 and SIERA. Honestly, without looking at the stat sheet, who would know that Patton has been this good?
The Baltimore bullpen has been a huge part of their success this season and Johnson, Strop, Luis Ayala and Darren O'Day have been fantastic. But Troy Patton's probably been more valuable than any of them.
Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey's Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.