The '24 Birds are no doubt counting on another big year from Yennier Cano

With the Orioles set to play the entire 2024 season without closer Félix Bautista, which pitchers replace him in the ninth inning and how well they do next year will have a lot to say about the O’s team performance for the year.

Obviously, we don’t know yet the makeup of the 2024 bullpen and if the team will look to acquire via trade or free agency someone that could pitch the ninth. But one pitcher that will be in that late-inning mix is right-hander Yennier Cano, mentioned in this space yesterday as a player that surprised us in the 2023 season.

He sure did. He was not even on the Opening Day roster and in the 2022 season, between the Twins and Orioles in brief action, he had posted an 11.50 ERA and 2.333 WHIP. Then that same guy began his 2023 O’s season with 17 straight scoreless outings. That is about as surprising as it can get.

After Cano became more hittable in the second half – somewhat expected when you are almost unhittable – he no doubt has some doubters entering the winter.

But let’s look at some numbers first.

Cano went 17 scoreless to start his year between April 14 and May 19. In that span he allowed just four hits and no walks in 21 2/3 with 25 strikeouts.

For the year he went 1-4 with eight saves and a 2.11 ERA, He pitched 72 2/3 innings allowing a 1.005 WHIP with a 1.6 walk rate and 8.1 K rate. In July he and Bautista made the AL All-Star team.

In this mid May interview I did with Cano, he told me his amazing start to the season was due in large part to a decision he made early in spring training. In a March 2 game in Lakeland, Fla. Cano allowed four runs in 2/3 of an inning to the Tigers leaving his two-game spring ERA at 21.60.

It was right that day he decided to scrap one of the two arm angles he was pitching from. He would scrap the more over the top angle and go only with a lower slot.

“I did throw from two different arm slots, but I ultimately made the decision to stick to the one I’m throwing with now,” Cano explained to me in that May interview with help from team translator Brandon Quinones. “Just because I was able to get more consistent results, throw strikes a lot more consistently and overall, my stuff just looked a lot better from this arm slot.

“It was a decision I made during spring training. I had my worst outing of the spring. I was throwing from over the top quite a bit and just didn’t feel comfortable. The results were better from the more lateral angle,” he said.

They sure were. He ended spring with 5 1/3 scoreless and then began the regular season with 21 2/3 scoreless.

Cano on his own made the decision to go from two arm slots to one, but the O’s coaches were fully on board.

“The pitching coaches and I were always in communication, and they thought this way I did look more consistent. They agreed with the decision,” he said.

He didn’t know it at that time, but that decision would produce such good results and an All-Star appearance.

Sometimes relievers can regress and that could be a concern with Cano. O’s lefty Cionel Pérez came out of nowhere to pitched to an ERA of 1.40 in 2022 with a 1.162 WHIP. Then last year he was not as effective, although his second half was solid. He had an ERA of 3.54 for the year with a 1.556 WHIP.

Can Cano avoid regression next season?

One reason he might is the quality of his pitches, which score very well via Statcast metrics. In overall pitcher run value, an attempt to measure the quality of each pitch a hurler throws, Cano and Bautista tied for the top spot on the O’s team, even ahead of Kyle Bradish. They were in the top 11 percent in MLB.

In fastball run value, Cano was in the top three percent due to his strong two-seam sinker. A pitch that, despite a modest 13.7 whiff rate, was scored as a very effective pitch and among the best sinkers in the game.

If you wanted swing and miss, watch Cano’s changeup, which averaged 90.9 mph and produced a 40 percent whiff rate. And it was a pitch where opposing batters hit .193 and slugged .295 against. Cano’s sinker helped him rank among the top four percent in groundball rate (59.0) and the top 15 percent in chase rate.

Also, Cano was throwing his slider more as the year went to give hitters a third pitch to have to look for. It he can continue to improve the quality and command of that pitch, his chances to pitch well again for the Orioles should improve.

Whether he is the closer next year, a setup guy, some of both or just one of several in the mix for those roles, Cano is expected to pitch key innings again next season when the O’s playoff chase resumes.



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