On a team that doesn’t feature many pitchers with either big strikeout totals or premium velocity, the Orioles have a young lefty that checks both boxes. Reliever Tanner Scott made some nice gains in the second half of the 2018 season and the vast potential the club felt was there all along started to present itself.
He doesn’t yet have the stats to grab much attention, but as his control and slider have improved over the last two years, you can start to see the makings of a possible late-inning weapon.
I can remember a scout telling me about three years ago that Scott wouldn’t need to have good control to be effective, just adequate control, and he moved another step closer to that in 2018. During the 2016 season, the now 24-year-old lefty averaged 7.82 walks per nine innings at Single-A Frederick and 8.44 at Double-A Bowie - and that was obviously too many. In 2017, he cut that down to 6.00 with Bowie and that mark was 4.72 last season with the Orioles.
Criticized for their lack of producing homegrown starting pitchers over the years, the Orioles’ player development system should get some props for Scott’s gains. The Orioles developed a plan for Scott to start and pitch three innings every five or six days for Bowie in 2017 and the plan worked. It gave him longer outings to work on his slider quality and fastball command, and it gave him a bullpen session or two between starts to further work on his delivery. Just as hoped, he got better. For the 2017 Baysox, Scott was 0-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 69 innings.
The raw numbers for last summer show that Scott, the club’s sixth-round pick in 2014 out of a Texas junior college, went 3-3 with a 5.40 ERA in 53 games. Over 53 1/3 innings, he allowed 55 hits with 28 walks, 76 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.556.
But after the All-Star break, he lowered that ERA to 4.10 and his batting average against was .224. He had an ERA of 3.38 in September for the Orioles.
The ability to throw a fastball that touched 100 mph has always garnered Scott attention and was one reason he was ranked three times among the top 11 in the top 30 Orioles prospects by Baseball America. He reached a high of No. 6 after the 2017 season.
His four-seam fastball average was 97.5 mph last year and his slider averaged 89.1 mph. To show how far his slider has come, the pitch usage was nearly a 50/50 split as he threw the heater 55 percent and slider 45 percent. While batters hit .368 and slugged .594 off his fastball, those numbers were .155/.252 off Scott’s slider.
While that slider can be tough on a lefty hitter with hard down-and-away break, it has become effective versus right-handers as well. Against righties, Scott can backdoor or backfoot the pitch. Backdoor meaning throw it for a strike over the outside corner and have the hitter give up on the pitch and take it or swing late. Backfoot meaning what looks like a pitch coming down the middle breaks sharply down and in on the hitter, often ending up near his back foot to get swings and misses as a putaway pitch.
Scott fanned 12.8 batters for every nine innings last year. While that was nowhere near the top relievers (four major league pitchers averaged over 15 per nine led by Aroldis Chapman at 16.3), it did rank 13th-best among all major league relievers.
Scott’s slider produced swings and misses 30 percent of the time last year. That number was 55 percent on all swings against the pitch. To put those numbers in some perspective, Andrew Miller’s career high in slider whiff percentage is 27 percent and his career best is also 55 percent when batters offer at the pitch. These numbers bode pretty well for Scott and that pitch moving forward.
The ceiling remains quite high for this young left-hander, and the gap between potential and actual performance and production shrunk last year. If that trend continues in 2019, the pitcher that once walked way too many batters could be one of the best pitchers on the team.
Orioles 2018 leaders in strikeouts/nine innings (minimum 40 innings)
12.83 - Tanner Scott
9.65 - Dylan Bundy
9.27 - Mychal Givens
8.54 - Yefry Ramírez