The Orioles are looking to stretch out some of their bullpen pitchers this season to ensure enough innings to cover the long 162-game season. Manager Brandon Hyde recently said that could mean one inning plus for some relievers and could mean going two or even three innings for others.
Lefty Tanner Scott, who had easily his best season in the truncated 2020 season, said he is surely up for pitching more if needed. But it has not been something he’s been asked to do a lot in his career. He threw more than an inning in just five of 28 games in the 2019 season, when he threw 26 1/3 innings. Last summer, he went four outs or more five times in 25 games, throwing 20 2/3 innings. Just four times was he asked to throw more than 20 pitches.
“Yeah, I’m definitely open for everything. I want to put our team in the best spot we can. Whatever he calls me upon, that’s what I’m going to do,” said the 26-year-old Scott.
Scott went 0-0 with an ERA of 1.31 last season. He did not allow an earned run over his last 13 games, covering 9 2/3 innings. Now he is back at camp looking to repeat such success. He said he’s trying to take advantage of learning from some of the veterans the team added.
“It’s just picking (up) information on everything. ‘Hey, what do you do in these situations, how do you attack?’ It’s just really good to be a sponge right now,” he said.
Whether he gets to soak up some saves this year - he has just one in his career - we don’t know yet. Hyde doesn’t seem inclined to anoint one pitcher as the closer right now. He may mix and match in the ninth inning and Scott is ready for that chance, too, if it comes.
“Would it be different? I’d go day by day, same way I have. Wait until the phone rings and if they call my name in any situation, I’d be ready to go whenever,” he said.
Meanwhile, speaking of the vets: New Orioles right-hander Matt Harvey called it a humbling experience when he went this offseason to a pitching performance center in southern New Jersey. After producing an ERA of 7.82 over the last two years between the Angels and Royals, he needed to make some changes and do some things better.
He needed to take a closer look at how data, technology and analytics could help him try to turn his career around. What he started there he wants to continue with the Orioles and their first-year pitching coach, Chris Holt.
Holt has clearly developed a reputation as someone who can help pitchers of all ages after two seasons mostly working with pitchers on the Baltimore farm. But the O’s use of pitching data and analytics was a factor for Harvey in signing with the Orioles.
“Using the TrackMan and using the cameras that they use now, it was obviously something that they do here quite frequently,” he said. “And Chris Holt, he’s studied that very well and knows a lot about it. Seemed like they knew what I was doing wrong and it was a good fit to kind of get me back throwing the way I did before. Last couple of years I’ve had trouble getting back to that. Just really searching, I guess you could say. After talking to my agent (Scott Boras), it seemed like a good fit to get things going and have an opportunity to get back in the big leagues.”
The humbling part for Harvey included, he said, seeing high school pitchers putting up better numbers when using and tracking the technology. Not in velocity, but in other areas to possibly include spin rate data. They seemed to have knowledge, or at least put to use things that a pitcher that once finished fourth for the National League Cy Young Award, did not. So Harvey is looking to change that.
“I told the guys here: ‘Whatever you think mechanically could help, whatever you think needs to be done to get me back.’ I know it’s in there,” he said.
Harvey added he could remember his early days with the Mets, when he was just trying to make the roster. He’s back in that spot now, which he said would be fun and create a little fire and he said that’s a good thing. He’s ready to “try and impress people” again.
The O’s skipper said it was a positive for the O’s organization that a veteran pitcher, knowing he needed to fully embrace data, tech and analytics, cited that as a reason to look at Baltimore.
“It’s a huge plus,” said Hyde. “I think that our guys have a positive track record with pitching and with getting pitchers better. You saw what Holty did with our minor league system. How much our minor league system improved, even in that first year. Obviously, Sig (Mejdal) bringing over his analytic expertise and a lot of the people that he’s hired that dive into it - he has great info and we have great people working on our analytic team. I think it’s great to hear that players want to play here. I’m hoping that continues. I didn’t know that. Great to hear from Matt.”
What once seemed to be featured by a handful of teams, the data and tech is now prevalent industry-wide. And while young players are reaching a point that they seemingly readily embrace it all, veteran players are starting to understand if they are not on board yet, they better get on board.
“You know, I think veteran players, at least the ones I’ve been around in the game now, understand that it’s a helpful tool,” said Hyde. “So they’ve investigated it and looked into it to see how it could help them. And I think they understand there is information out there that is going to help. Either their pitch design, or analytics is kind of a broad term, right? So how guys can get more spin on their fastball or use their breaking ball differently. All those type of things that is under the analytics umbrella, I think veteran players have come around to know that the information is useful, and now it’s how to apply it into their game. Yeah, you do get left behind if you are not monitoring it closely.”
And the younger pitchers in the organization seem to be invested in soaking up what they can from data and tech.
“I just think you see it with younger players throughout the league. With the advanced knowledge of analytics and guys going to Driveline and other places to develop their pitches more, try to work on something,” Hyde said. “That wasn’t around 15 or 20 years. Guys had a pitching plan during the offseason, but got ready on their own. Now guys are a student of what their pitch mix is, what they want their pitch design to look like, what their goals are from that standpoint. The young players have a good feel for the analytics.”
We can take a young pitcher like Scott and you have to wonder how impactful analytics were in his improvement last year. He went from a 4.78 ERA to a 1.31 in the shortened season. From a WHIP of 1.785 to 1.065. From 6.5 walks to 4.4. His strikeout rate actually went down, but in getting batters to swing and miss, his whiff rate ranked among the top 9 percent in the majors.
Did improved spin rates help him? His four-seam spin rate in 2019 was 2,412 RPMs and last year it was 2,656. The major league average in 2020 was 2,306. His slider spin rate improved from 2,586 to 2,778 which was well above the major league average for last year of 2,438.
“I mean, you to see what the ball does and how your stuff plays against certain hitters,” Scott said Sunday. “It’s definitely a part of the game now, so you have to pick it up and learn the information since it’s there. You have to soak it in.”
O’s players are now doing so on the farm and in the majors. A club once considered somewhat resistant to use of analytics now is developing a reputation for being solid in this aspect of the game.
And by the way, the old school ways are still around. Like a veteran pitcher helping a younger pitcher any way can. Harvey, during his Sunday Zoom interview, said he’s ready to serve as a mentor with the Orioles.
“I told everybody, whatever they need, whatever they want to ask, I’m all theirs. Up for whatever. Just extremely happy to be here,” he said.
Remember me: The Orioles drafted high school outfielder Jaylen Ferguson in round nine out of Arlington, Texas, in 2015. He was signed by scouts Ken Guthrie and Nathan Showalter, the son of the former O’s skipper. He’s dealt with some injuries and was limited to just 43 games when we last saw him in 2019. But he posted an OPS of .861 between Single-A Delmarva and short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
His agency posted him working out with Driveline baseball instructors on Sunday as he preps for the 2021 season.
This young man keeps working & after a big 2019, he is ready to have a bigger 2021! Great seeing @Orioles client OF @Jay_fergiee working with the great people of @DrivelineBB today in Texas! Consistent EV of 100 mph + thx @FranklinSports @sluggernation #msmfamily pic.twitter.com/e1hcQrge72-- MSM (@MSMsports) February 21, 2021