Can you build a bullpen and get significant contributions from other teams' castoffs and have that bullpen perform about as well as any in baseball? So far, for the Orioles, that answer is yes.
Over time we will see if this bullpen can keep up its impressive start and how the ‘pen will hold up when having to cover so many innings. But if we gave a 49-game grade, how could they get anything other than an A?
Even in losing 12-2 Sunday, right-hander Cody Sedlock helped preserve the bullpen for tonight by pitching three innings plus in his major league debut. He and Marcos Diplán combined to give up six runs, but no other pitchers were needed on a day when starter Bruce Zimmermann allowed five homers and pitched just four innings.
The O’s ‘pen, in having this big year, has been a real key in the team’s overall improvement and ability to beat good teams and win some close games. The Orioles seem to be slowly getting better at winning those close games as the year goes on.
Through Saturday’s games, the Baltimore 'pen had an ERA of 3.00 to rank second behind Houston at 2.53. And the O’s bullpen compiled a 2.61 ERA in May, also second to the Astros, whose relievers are at 1.94 for the month.
There are five pitchers in the bullpen right now that were claimed via waivers:
* Bryan Baker, claimed Nov. 8, 2021 from Toronto.
* Cionel Pérez, claimed Nov. 24, 2021 from Cincinnati.
* Joey Krehbiel, claimed Sept. 21, 2021 from Tampa Bay.
* Jorge López, claimed Aug. 9, 2020 from Kansas City.
* Diplán, claimed Dec. 9, 2019 from Detroit.
The Marlins signed Félix Bautista originally, then released him in January 2015. On Aug. 4, 2016, the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal. Very slowly, he got better and improved his command and control on their watch. That included his buzzing through three levels on the O's minor league system in 2021, going from high Single-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie and on to Triple-A Norfolk. Now he is pitching to a 2.25 ERA with 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings and touching 100 mph, and sometimes even more than that.
Logan Gillaspie was pitching in independent ball, trying to make a career out of baseball any way he could after the Milwaukee Brewers released him in September 2019. He has allowed just one run over 5 1/3 innings for the Orioles so far, who, in a mild surprise, added him to the 40-man roster last November after his ERA was 4.97 last season on the O’s farm.
Dillon Tate is a pitcher now starting to come into his own. The O’s added him on July 21, 2018 in the series of deadline deals that included the Manny Machado trade. Tate came from the Yankees in the deal that sent Zack Britton to New York.
The only current homegrown pitcher in the Baltimore bullpen is lefty Keegan Akin, a second-round pick by the club in the 2016 draft out of Western Michigan University. Akin has thrown two innings or more in all 13 of his games, recording a 1.71 ERA.
Baker has a 4.66 ERA and 9.8 K rate.
Krehbiel has a 2.86 ERA and 1.045 WHIP.
Pérez has an 0.60 ERA and 9.6 strikeout rate.
López has become a real late-inning weapon with six saves, a 1.16 ERA and 1.071 WHIP.
And the O’s bullpen, like some of the top bullpens in the game, is bringing the heat right now. Here are some of the average velocities:
98.2 – Bautista
97.8 – López
95.9 – Pérez
95.5 – Gillaspie
94.5 – Baker
93.8 – Krehbiel
93.6 – Tate
In López, the Orioles have a closer that is a former starter and can thus throw three or four pitches for strikes. And even in the ninth, he has all four if he wants to go with a fastball, changeup, slider or curve.
Others in this group have some outstanding pitches to go to. Bautista gets a 51.7 percent whiff rate on his splitter and Pérez a rate of 41.0 against his slider. Tate gets a whiff rate of 40.8 off his changeup and Krehbiel 33.3 percent against his cutter.
They have some quality pitches and they have been executing them, thus far, very, very well.
Others could return to provide reinforcements, like right-hander Mike Baumann and lefty Nick Vespi, who has not allowed an earned run over 17 1/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk.
The O’s have built a bullpen, almost from scratch, and it’s been impressive.