It was a real strength of the much-improved 2022 Orioles – the Baltimore bullpen. Will it be a team strength again this year? It will likely need to be for the Orioles to keeping trending upward toward an American League playoff berth.
In 2021, the O’s bullpen ERA of 5.70 ranked last in the majors. The final season bullpen ERA of 3.49 from last year ranked as seventh-best in the American League and ninth-best in MLB.
On Aug. 16, the Baltimore bullpen ERA of 3.05 was among the best in the majors. That would not hold up and there was some falloff late in the season. But the final mark was over two runs better than the previous season.
That can help a team improve from 110 losses to 79.
Bullpen pitchers can be volatile in performance with much variation from year-to-year. Lefty Cionel Pérez, who pitched to an ERA of 1.40 averaging 3.3 walks per game with the Orioles, had an ERA of 6.04 and allowed 6.2 walks per nine innings over 50 2/3 innings in parts of season between 2018 and 2021.
Maybe just getting a bigger chance to show his stuff was important last year. But maybe O’s pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes made a difference too.
During a late season interview last season with then Oriole right-hander Jordan Lyles, the veteran threw big props toward the coaches for taking a bullpen made up of many waiver claims and turning that into a cohesive and strong unit.
Said Lyles: “A lot of teams claim a lot of people. 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 talented 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.”
That quote and the coaches work with the staff provides hope for future success. Maybe pitchers that broke out on their watch like Pérez can keep it going or come close to maintaining their individual successes which benefits the club.
The addition of right-hander Mychal Givens, an Oriole again, should both help lengthen the talent in the bullpen and provide insurance against one of the 2022 bullpen members seeing their performance falloff.
Right now, of course Félix Bautista is the closer and Pérez and Keegan Akin will be likely heading up the lefty contingent, possibly joined at some point by Darwinzon Hernandez, DL Hall and/or Nick Vespi to name a couple.
In the late innings from the right side the O’s have Dillon Tate, Givens, Bryan Baker and Joey Krehbiel along with Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi to name a few. Austin Voth certainly stands a good chance to break north with a role of some kind on the pitching staff after his dramatic turnaround last year on the O’s watch. We could see pitchers who previously were starters, such as Tyler Wells, get bumped to the bullpen as another possibility.
Last year in a stat “Wins Above Average” the Orioles bullpen at 4.0, led the American League for last season and ranked second in the majors behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the year. Click this link and scroll down to see the MLB bullpen standings.
Of course, one area that could help the O’s bullpen would be the O’s starting staff. They could cover more innings, thus allowing for both less wear and tear on the ‘pen which would allow for manager Brandon Hyde to use the bullpen in the roles and manner he would like most often.
Houston led the AL in bullpen ERA last year at 2.80 and also was called on for 495 1/3 innings - the fewest in the AL. The Yankees had the second-best ‘pen ERA at 2.97 while throwing the fourth fewest innings. The O’s ‘pen pitched 631 innings – only Texas, Minnesota and Tampa Bay threw more in the AL.
More offense could of course help, providing bigger leads late necessitating fewer innings from the late-inning arms.
On paper the O's bullpen unit looks sound heading into 2023. Soon we see how it all unfolds on the field.