Quick takes on bullpenning, starting pitchers and Victor Victor

A few quick takes now that the Orioles’ search for a new general manager and manager is on and the Major League playoffs are underway:

The A’s used an opener and lost: We can’t dismiss the use of an opener or the Oakland A’s using a bullpen game in the American League wild card game just because Oakland lost.

If they had a top starter like Kyle Freeland, Chris Sale, Luis Severino or Jon Lester, they probably don’t go with a bullpen game. But by doing so they were going with a strength.

The Yankees bullpen is considered very strong, no doubt. Well, during the regular season New York’s bullpen had a 3.38 ERA while Oakland’s was at 3.37. New York’s ‘pen allowed a .221 batting average. Oakland was at .220. New York’s OPS against was .663, with Oakland at .658. The WHIP for the Yankees bullpen was 1.21. The A’s relievers were at 1.18.

The A’s did the right thing, but pitchers who threw well most of the year or late in the year, such as Liam Hendricks and Blake Treinen, just gave up runs. It happens.

Call it using an opener, bullpenning or whatever name you prefer. Tampa Bay showed that the strategy could work.

The Rays debuted their use of an opener on May 19. The team went 32-23 in 55 games with an opener for a win percentage of .582. Tampa Bay’s win percentage for the year was .556 as the Rays went 90-72.

Following the debut of the opener in May, Rays pitching ranked second in the American League and third in the major leagues with a 3.50 ERA, trailing the Dodgers (3.19) and Astros (3.39). Prior to that date, their 4.43 ERA ranked ninth in the AL and 22nd in the majors. The Rays had a 3.61 ERA in the first inning, best in the AL, ahead of the Astros (3.78) and second best in club history.

The Rays used the opener strategy the most, and it was one of many factors in Tampa Bay’s suprisingly good year.

Can Bundy be like Folty?: As the Atlanta Braves became the surprise winner of the National League East this year, one of their young pitchers played a huge role. He was ace-like in 2018 after years of not living up to his promise.

That was 26-year-old right-hander Mike Foltynewicz. This season he went 13-10 with a 2.85 ERA, a .202 batting average against and 202 strikeouts over 183 innings. Who saw that coming?

Probably not Braves fans. From 2015 through 2017, Foltynewicz went 23-24 with a 4.85 ERA and an ERA+ of 85. He was less than a league-average pitcher. I point this out to compare him to the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy. Over Bundy’s last three years he is 31-31 with a 4.65 ERA and ERA+ of 92. Even with his ERA rising to 5.45 in 2018, Bundy’s last three years compare and are actually a bit better than the three seasons for Foltynewicz that preceeded his breakout 2018 season.

No, I am not predicting that Bundy will become the ace fans have been hoping for in 2019. But here is another example of a pitcher who took several years to get there - but did get there. There is time left for Bundy to realize his vast potential.

Unfortunately for Foltynewicz, his strong season didn’t carry over to the postseason. In Game 1 of the NL Division Series last night he allowed two homers and four runs over two innings. The Los Angeles Dodgers took the series opener 6-0 from Atlanta. Maybe Foltynewicz will get another shot if the series goes the full five games.

Victor Victor day: Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, ranked as the No. 1 international amateur by Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com, will host a showcase today for all 30 big league teams at Marlins Park. The Orioles, of course, will be there. His 16-year-old brother, Victor Mesa Jr., will also attend the showcase. So will Cuban-born pitcher Sandy Gaston, whose fastball has touched 100 mph. He is rated 16th on MLBPipeline.com’s list of international amateurs and 24th by Baseball America.

Major League Baseball recently cleared the Mesa brothers to sign with any team. The Orioles reportedly have around $6.5 million remaining in their bonus pool and that leads all teams, with the Marlins next at $4.3 million.

Victor-Victor-Mesa-WBC-Cuba-Sidebar.jpgVictor Victor, who is 22, is rated as an elite talent. I interviewed Baseball America international prospects expert Ben Badler in late July. He said Victor Victor has two tools that rate as at least a 70 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale: his speed and arm.

“I am a big fan of his,” Badler said. “He is a super athletic center fielder. Lot of quick-twitch explosion in everything he does. I’ve seen him play since he was 17. He is a terrific defensive center fielder. When he was 17 he could have played defense in the big leagues. Tremendous instincts, reads off the bat, routes to the ball and he makes highlight-reel catches. He has a tremendous, tremendous arm, too.

“Coming up through the Cuban junior leagues he always hit very well. When he was healthy, he hit well in Cuba. He did have some injuries that slowed him down. That does add some risk to his profile. But it’s really, really electric athleticism and tools at a premium position.”

During the 2016-17 season in Cuba, Mesa batted .354/.399/.539 in 70 games, with more extra-base hits (27) than strikeouts (19), and 40 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Badler projects he could play in high Single-A ball or Double-A ball right now.

There are some in the industry I have spoken to about Mesa who believe the Marlins will heavily emphasize the Cuban connection/population in Miami in a sales pitch. That is something the Orioles cannot compete with and could give the Marlins the edge to sign Victor Victor.

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