On the MLB transactions wire last November, the Orioles registered two small blips. Small blips that later made big impact during the 2022 season. On Nov. 8, they claimed right-hander Bryan Baker on waivers from Toronto. On Nov. 24, they added lefty Cionel Pérez via waivers from Cincinnati.
They were part of a Baltimore bullpen filled with waiver claims that was among baseball’s best for most of the year. In fact on Aug. 16, the O’s ‘pen had an ERA of 3.05, which was among the lowest in all of the majors. That would not hold up and there was some leakage and falloff late in the year.
The final ‘pen ERA of 3.49 was still seventh-best in the American League and ninth-best in the majors. The Orioles ranked last in bullpen ERA in 2021 at 5.70, so this over two-run improvement was massive and a huge difference between 110 losses and 79.
The two AL teams still playing in postseason, Houston (2.80) and New York (2.97), ranked 1-2 in the league in bullpen ERA. But in a stat via Baseball-Reference.com called Wins Above Average, the Orioles ‘pen ranked first at 4.1 followed by Houston 2.7 and New York 1.9.
But here is a big difference between these three clubs: While the Houston bullpen threw the fewest innings in the AL and New York’s pitched the fourth-fewest, the Orioles ‘pen accumulated 631 innings, which was fourth-most in the league.
When we look at areas the Orioles could improve for 2023, we often discuss getting that topline starting pitcher and/or a big bat, but adding a key late-inning bullpen arm could be huge as well. Not long after the Orioles traded Jorge López, the bullpen began to struggle. It just was thinned out among the late-inning depth.
Where they once had López in the ninth and Félix Bautista in the eighth, now Bautista had the ninth and others moved up pitching later than they had been in pitchers like Pérez, Baker, Joey Krehbiel and Dillon Tate.
That was a solid group of pitchers before the trade and if the Orioles could add another pitcher or two to put into that mix, say from inning six on, they both add to the late inning depth and present manager Brandon Hyde more options. And if the ‘pen would be asked to pitch the fourth-fewest innings rather than fourth-most, that makes a big difference too.
By the way, I recently found these quotes from right-hander Jordan Lyles about the Baltimore bullpen. He gave a lot of credit to pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes for taking these waiver claims and helping them become bullpen weapons. It is encouraging and provides confidence that they could do that again with any new acquisitions still to come.
“A lot of teams claim a lot of people,” said Lyles. “Over the years, we have not had a great record and so got first dibs at some guys. But a lot of quality, talented arms were added, and Mike (Elias) has pulled the trigger on getting those talent guys. But a lot of credit also has to go to our pitching coaches, Chris Holt and Darren Holmes. They find out how these guys click, what makes them successful and what allows them to be consistent in the strike zone.
“A lot of guys that get claimed, they have talent and they have things that they can do well. But it’s a matter of unlocking that and opening that door for them. I think Darren Holmes and Chris Holt have a lot to do with this as well.
“At the end of the day, they make guys comfortable with trying to throw strikes with their best stuff. Easy to say, but they know a way to translate that and connect with guys.”