When the Orioles signed Chaz Roe back in December, it did not come with much fanfare. On this site, even during a slow news month, it didn't warrant an article or even a quick post - instead we got the following in Bird Droppings: "An Orioles official told me yesterday that they're still working on a minor league deal with pitcher Chaz Roe. It's going to get done." Well, then, our season is saved!
I laughed, because I had no idea who he was and he had a fun name. He looked like nothing more than spring training roster filler, no more exciting than the signing of grandfather Mark Hendrickson. Especially with the bullpen roster crunch that was discussed ad nauseum this spring, Roe was probably about the 15th reliever on the depth chart in March.
A few short months later, trades (Ryan Webb), injuries (Wesley Wright), and "injuries" (Jason Garcia) opened up a spot for Roe in the bullpen. He's done everything possible to keep that spot for good. After his call-up in May, he's thrown 19.1 innings with a 0.93 ERA, striking out more than a batter per inning with ridiculous stuff that has already been deemed GIF-worthy. In just over a month his role has increased from extra mop-up bullpen arm to a Tommy Hunter-esque 6th/7th inning guy in close games.
So, where did this come from? Roe's journey started in 2005, when he was drafted in the supplemental part of the first round by the Rockies. As a starting pitching prospect, Roe never really panned out. Over five years in the Colorado system his strikeout rate consistently sat at around 6ish K/9, and he posted an ERA under 4 only once. In 2011, he was traded to the Mariners, and started making relief appearances. He began to strike out more batters than ever before (7.49 K/9), but also walked a good amount (3.43 K/9). That, combined with some serious bad luck (.359 BABIP) resulted in an ERA approaching seven.
Roe was released following that season and played the 2012 season for the Laredo Lemurs of the Independent League. I doubt stats posted for the Laredo Lemurs mean much in the eyes of MLB scouts, but nevertheless his 1.47 ERA in 49 relief appearances earned him a contract in the Diamondbacks organization for 2013. From then on, he was a completely different pitcher. He struck out nearly a batter per inning in AAA and posted a 1.23 ERA before earning a call-up to the big club. He struggled with his command over 22 innings in Arizona (5.24 BB/9), but a 9.67 K/9 showed some promise.
In 2014 he caught on with the Marlins, and after striking out 72 batters in 64 AAA innings he was traded to the Yankees, where he pitched only two innings in pinstripes before the end of the season. That brought him to free agency yet again, the O's picked him up, and we know the rest.
So, did Dan Duquette see Roe's performance coming? On one hand, the signs were there. His minor league stats show that he's clearly better suited to be a reliever, and after his stint in the Independent League when he finally became a full-time bullpen arm he essentially turned into a completely different pitcher. It's easy to see why he's getting so many strikeouts these days - he's hitting 95 with Jim Johnson-like run on his fastball, and his slider has some pretty ridiculous movement as evidenced by the GIF linked above. The inning he pitched against Boston on Tuesday was just complete and utter dominance of three accomplished hitters. This clearly isn't Evan Meek inexplicably carrying a sub-2 ERA after a few weeks. Roe has earned his ERA so far.
On the other hand, he's been lucky too. His .227 BABIP against, 96.4% of runners stranded, and below-average 7.1% HR/FB will probably all regress at some point, so don't expect his 0.93 ERA to stay quite so low. Even taking all that into account, his FIP (2.70) and xFIP (3.04) show that he's been quite effective so far. If we say his ERA "should be" in the high 2s after accounting for luck, that's still a hell of a lot better than what we expected back in March.
The bottom line is that 19 innings is not much to draw any conclusions from. Roe has certainly had some luck on his side, but it's hard to watch him pitch and not think that he looks like a Major League-caliber bullpen arm. With his stuff, Roe could be the Orioles' 8th inning guy in 2016. He could also come crashing back to Earth and be in Norfolk a month from now. It's just too early to tell for sure. But to this point in the season, it looks like Chaz Roe is the front runner for the 2015 Duquette Scrap Heap Pickup of the Year Award. Not many pitchers are truly fun to watch pitch, but right now Roe is one of them. Let's hope he can keep it up.