The Orioles’ Early Favorite for Closer: Tanner Scott

We are living in the Statcast era. And it is glorious.

You can learn so much about your favorite sports with advanced statistics. Raw data can only explain so much and antiquated stats like pitcher wins and losses mean very little in the grand scheme of things.

This Statcast era of baseball allows the fan to educate themselves on the finer points of the game. Sometimes, it goes against conventional wisdom and other times, it reaffirms what we thought we knew.

In the case of the Baltimore Orioles’ closer role, the advanced numbers show agree with conventional wisdom — Tanner Scott is the best option in Brandon Hyde‘s bullpen.

Scott has always been a tantalizing prospect — he’s lived in the upper 90s with his fastball with a diving slider that pairs well when he’s commanding it. Scott didn’t live up to that vision earlier in his career, posting a 5.04 ERA in 2018 and a 4.78 ERA in 2019.

So when the pandemic-shortened season of 2020 arrived, it was fair to expect Scott to find himself at Baltimore’s alternate site by mid-season.

Wrong.

Scott pitched in 25 games, throwing 20.2 innings and posting 1.31 ERA and 1.065 WHIP, both career lows. He also finished with an 11.6 percent walk rate, another career low.

Why was Scott so good? His fastball-slider combo was one of the better ones in the game. Scott finished with a run value of -4 on his fastball, on par with the likes of Yankees star Gerrit Cole and Phillies starter Zack Wheeler.

Scott’s slider was the key, though. Scott’s slider generated a run value of minus-7, which tied him for seventh in all of baseball. His slider’s vertical movement was among the league’s best, averaging a 3.7-inch drop more than league average.

Opponents batted a measly .212 against Scott’s fastball last season. Against the slider, their average dropped to .079.

The fastball-slider combo made Scott one of the better relievers in all of baseball. His Statcast profile shows as much.

So how does Scott’s 2020 season fare in comparison with some of his bullpen mates? Scott finished the year second in barrel percentage, first in hard hit percentage, first in average exit velocity, second in launch angle, second in expected batting average (xBA) and second in expected slugging (xSLG).

Both Cesar Valdez and Paul Fry posted impressive 2020 campaigns and they’ll draw consideration to close for the O’s. But neither of them have the ceiling that Scott has and he was better than they were last season.

As bad as the Orioles are expected to be, at least they have a few semi-reliable options at the backend of the bullpen. The days of Cole Sulser pitching in the ninth need to come to a close. Scott is Baltimore’s best chance at finding a shutdown reliever to pitch in high-leverage situations.

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