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Tanner Scott is baseball’s next relief star

Orioles fans have had little to cheer about in 2018, but the potential for Tanner Scott is something that should have them excited.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

In the dark cesspool that has been the 2018 Baltimore Orioles, there has been little to cheer about surrounding the team. Now that their two major trade chips have moved along in Manny Machado and Zach Britton, it is clear that the main focus of the team needs to be on the future. But even with that, future contributors for the next good Orioles team are hard to find on the big league roster, with players like Trey Mancini and Chance Sisco turning in disappointing seasons.

To make matters worse, there have been little positives on the pitching staff to go along with a stagnant offense. No starting pitcher on the team has an ERA or FIP below 4.00, while their bullpen as a whole has posted below-average peripherals. But even with the worst of teams, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find something to get excited about. And after looking enough, you’ll even find one on the 29-73 Orioles. It should also be ironic that this exciting piece, a reliever, currently owns a 6.67 ERA.

The player is Tanner Scott. A hard-throwing lefty with a plus-slider, on the surface it would appear he has struggled at the major league level, allowing 23 earned runs in 30 1/3 career innings. The problems are fairly easy to pinpoint with Scott, as he’s had problems in small sample sizes with command (1.27 HR/9 in 2018) and control (4.8 BB/9).

There is no questions with the raw ability of Scott though. Only three left-handers in the game have averaged a higher fastball velocity than him (Aroldis Chapman, Felipe Vazquez, Jose Alvarado), while only one has averaged more miles per hour on the slider (Andrew Suarez).

Scott has been on the prospect radar for quite some time. He grabbed plenty of attention after his performance in AA as a starter last season, posting a 2.22 ERA, 3.17 FIP, and 11.6 K/9 across 24 starts. The future for him has always been in relief, but his ceiling in the bullpen has still kept him highly regarded.

He has a chance to be a very special late-inning reliever if he develops better command. At 23, there’s plenty of time for Scott to find a way to make it work, even if it doesn’t happen until his late 20s — the way it looks like Tayron Guerrero might have — because guys with this kind of arm strength get chances chances until that arm strength disappears.

The fastball was Scott’s calling card in the minors. According to FanGraphs’ THE BOARD, he was one of five prospects with an 80-grade fastball (Shohei Ohtani, Zack Burdi, Jorge Acala, and Nick Burdi being the others) and the only one that was left-handed.

Oddly enough though, the slider is what has been driving the success of his peripherals this year, not the fastball. And most of his struggles this season have been because of the fastball. The pitch has been good for a .492 wOBA against, the fifth highest in baseball out 432 pitchers with minimum 50 results.

Highest Fastball wOBA Against

Results Player Name wOBA
Results Player Name wOBA
69 Chris Tillman 0.581
96 Jason Vargas 0.500
50 Jefry Rodriguez 0.499
50 Eduardo Paredes 0.498
77 Tanner Scott 0.492
63 Pedro Araujo 0.490
52 Mike Dunn 0.477
83 Austin Bibens-Dirkx 0.473
78 Jorge De La Rosa 0.471
61 Brett Anderson 0.468
Minimum 50 results THE BOARD

The issue with Scott’s heater has mainly been location. Finding the strikezone with it has been an issue, as he ranks 382nd out of 427 pitchers in strike percentage on the fastball, standing at a lowly 60.4 percent.

Now with that out of the way, I can get to talking about one of my favorite pitches in baseball this year. A Tanner Scott slider. Here are the ranks among 274 pitchers with 100 sliders thrown this year. All the more better once you consider he’s a lefty.

  • xBA: 15th
  • xSLG: 33rd
  • xwOBA: 22nd
  • SwStr%: 2nd
  • Spin Rate: 12th
  • Velocity: 12th

This can be troubling for lefties, who collectively have a 55.2 percent K-rate and a .147 xwOBA off the pitch. The location sits mostly the right side of the plate, tailing away from lefties and inside to righties with it’s vertical movement.

I present the visuals.

The control with the slider seems to matter little, as he’s just throwing it out there with a combination of spin and movement that nobody can hit. But the fastball control and command will seem to dictate whether or not Scott will become a serviceable major league reliever. And with the potential for a dominant fastball/slider combo, the ceiling for Scott is sky-high. Names like Aroldis Chapman, Edwin Diaz, and Greg Holland come to mind.

The Orioles have very little positives to look to currently, but the developmental strides of Tanner Scott in a major league bullpen is one they should be keeping a very close eye on.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.