Even though one season was 60 games long and one was 162 games in length, O’s bullpen lefty Tanner Scott threw a similar number of big league innings in each, tossing 26 1/3 in 2019, when he spent some time at Triple-A, and 20 2/3 innings this season.
But what he did with those innings was very different.
The pitcher long considered a top bullpen prospect lived up to the hype this year. His ERA was down while results against his fastball were up for him. We’ve talked often about his devastating slider over the years, but in 2020 his fastball was a real weapon. It combined to provide Scott with two weapons to look like the late-inning hurler the Orioles always felt was there.
His walk rate came down from 6.5 in 2019 to 4.4 per nine in 2020. That is still too many. But for a pitcher with stuff like Scott’s, scouts said all along that he would not need an outstanding walk rate. Just one average to somewhat below and he could still thrive. He did in 2020.
In the 2019 season he went 1-1 with a 4.78 ERA and 1.785 WHIP. He allowed 9.6 hits per nine innings with that 6.5 walk rate and a strikeout rate of 12.6. In 2020 he went 0-0 with a 1.31 ERA and 1.065 WHIP. He allowed 5.2 hits per nine with a 4.4 walk rate and strikeout rate of 10.0. Scott allowed four homers in 2019 (1.4 homers per nine) and one this season (0.4 per nine).
A two-pitch pitcher, Scott threw his fastball 59 percent in 2019, using his slider 41 percent. In 2020 those numbers were 61 for his fastball and 39 for the slider. And the speed of his pitches didn’t change much. A fastball that averaged 95.9 mph in 2019 per Fangraphs.com was at 96.5 mph last year.
But the fastball generated a much higher number of swings without contact, which jumped from 18.4 percent in 2019 to 34.1 percent last year. His slider whiff percentage held strong, even though it dropped a bit, from 47.7 to 41.7.
According to Statcast, the spin rate on Scott’s fastball ranked among the best in the game, in the 98th percentile. That meant the heater had some good movement and late life. It was hard to square up. Batter slugging percentage off the pitch dropped from .659 in 2019 to .389. Again, that is slugging percentage against the fastball.
And hitters overall just didn’t square him up nearly as well as he ranked in the 93rd percentile in exit velocity allowed this year. Batters averaged 85.1 mph when making contact with his pitches after averaging 91.5 the previous year. So the slugging percentage was down off his fastball and batters made less hard contact against him.
A comparison of the slash lines against Scott in the past two seasons jumps off the page too. This is for all games and against all hitters. In 2019, Scott’s line was .277/.402/.446 with an OPS of .847. Hitters got to him. In 2020, the numbers were .164/.291/.233 for an OPS of .524. Hitters didn’t get to him.
Darren Holmes, who completed his first year as Baltimore’s bullpen coach, discussed Scott in a late August Zoom interview.
“The one thing that we did is, we put him into load-and-go,” said Holmes. “Most people call it a slide step, a quick pitch home where he didn’t lift his leg up. We started this in spring training, the load-and-go. What we found going back over everything from spring training, we found his strike percentage when he was quick to home was, like, at about 72 percent. And when he raised his leg he was, like, at 48 percent. So, we showed him the information and he said, ‘OK, I’m all in.’ It didn’t take away from his velocity, but it added command. He’s a 96 to 100 (mph) guy at times, and if you can get that in the zone and he has a plus slider, he’s going to be very successful.”
And he was during the past season, telling reporters several times that enhanced confidence was big for him in his improvement.
During the 2020 season, Scott had the big fastball and strong slider as he has had in the past, but this time he had the stats to match the potential for the first time in his career.