Last Friday, before the Orioles traded for Wade Miley or Steve Pearce, many of us O’s fans were constantly refreshing our social media feeds, just waiting to see if Dan Duquette would make a move. We knew there wasn’t a Chris Sale or a Rich Hill headed our way, but there had to be some move, any move, to bolster the pitching staff.
Finally, at 1:45 PM, our prayers were answered in the form of Logan Ondrusek.
Um....what? Who? This literally might have been the most Dan Duquette transaction of the entire Dan Duquette era. On July 29th, 101 games into the season, the Orioles felt the need to DFA a right-handed relief pitcher with a 3.72 ERA and sign a different right-handed relief pitcher with a career 3.86 ERA who hadn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2014.
So...who is Ondrusek? The towering 6’8” righty came up through the Reds organization, and from 2010 to 2013 he was a decent but unremarkable middle reliever. Over those four seasons he pitched 229.2 innings with a 3.61 ERA - that’s nothing to write home about for a reliever, but it’s a guy you wouldn’t hate to have as the fifth or sixth best option in your bullpen.
Over that four year span, little by little, Ondrusek was improving. His average fastball velocity climbed each year from 2010 to 2013, and the movement climbed along with it. The result? A steady climb in K/9 from 5.98 in 2010 to 6.42 in 2012, followed by a big jump to 8.67 in 2013. Although his ERA didn’t reflect it, he was becoming a more formidable pitcher each season.
Ondrusek looked like a breakout candidate if the trend could hold in 2014. Instead, the trend did hold, but the results just weren’t there. He struck out a career high 9.22 batters per nine, which helped him to a career low xFIP of 3.80. Unfortunately, the ERA didn’t come along for the ride. The classic unlucky combination of a high BABIP (.360) and a low strand rate (68%) helped his ERA balloon to 5.49.
Following the disappointing 2014 season, Ondrusek found himself out of a job and took his talents to Japan. He dominated the NPB in 2015 and posted a 2.08 ERA over 70 innings for the Yakult Swallows, which led him to be named their closer for 2016.
This season, Ondrusek had similar results (2.45 ERA) but was pitching considerably less innings. After tossing over 70 innings during the 143-game season in 2015, Ondrusek had logged just 29 innings through 95 games this year. After a “disagreement” with the Swallows’ management, his agent reached out to some MLB teams and the Orioles answered the call.
Knowing that, the timing of the signing makes a little more sense. Rather than randomly picking a reliever to replace a not-terrible Chaz Roe at the end of July, it’s possible that Ondrusek was a guy that Dan Duquette wanted all along. Perhaps he was content where he was in Japan, until a mid-season falling out with his team caused him to look back to the United States for a change in scenery. For all we know, Duquette could have talked to - and been rejected by - Ondrusek’s agent in February.
There’s another big reason why this deal starts to make sense. For the past few months, ever since Brian Matusz was traded and Brian Duensing was injured, there have been talks of the Orioles looking for a left-handed reliever. Since Duensing hit the DL, the Orioles used a revolving door of Jayson Aquino, Ariel Miranda, Ashur Tolliver, and Donnie Hart to serve as non-Britton left-handers in the bullpen, but none of them pitched in more than five games.
Basically, it was just Zach Britton out there from the left side. It made sense to go get a proven, left-handed MLB reliever to compliment him. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and considering the prices that teams were paying for bullpen help this year that may have been a good thing. So, if you can’t find a lefty, what’s the next best thing? How about a right-handed reliever that can get lefties out?
I like Chaz Roe, but he is not that guy. Roe is basically a right-handed version of a lefty specialist - a ROOGY, if you will. In his major league career, he’s faced 201 right-handed batters and held them to a slash line of .200/.308/.361. He’s also faced 128 left-handed batters, who have hit .336/.414/.566. That means that over his career, left-handed hitters facing Roe have an OPS six points higher than 2015 Miguel Cabrera.
Ondrusek, on the other hand, has fared well against lefties. In fact, left-handed batters actually have an OPS 22 points worse (.704 vs. .726) than right-handers against him in his career. This isn’t a tiny sample size either - Ondrusek has pitched to 452 lefties and 727 righties over his 5+ years in the big leagues.
Suddenly, this deal doesn’t seem so strange. The Orioles sorely needed a left-handed presence in the bullpen, and weren’t able to secure one in the extreme sellers’ market for relievers in 2016. At the same time, a reliever with recent big-league success against left-handed hitters unexpectedly became available. The timing was right, Ondrusek’s agent made the right phone call, and the rest was history.
Ondrusek gave up his first run as an Oriole last night, but overall he’s looked pretty good in his short time with the O’s. Despite Dan Duquette’s flaws, he has repeatedly shown an ability to find value in players that he plucked from the scrap heap. Logan Ondrusek just might be the next addition to that list.