The past few months of this Orioles season have sucked. There’s really no other way to put that. We all know it, and there’s not much more to say about it that hasn’t already been written many times over.
So, let’s try something else. Let’s talk about a nice story that’s developed in a second half nearly devoid of nice stories. Let’s talk about Donnie Hart.
A few months ago, you would be forgiven if you didn’t know who Donnie Hart was. Hart was a 27th round pick by the Orioles in 2013, and 27th round picks don’t exactly get a lot of press.
Hart pitched and played first base at Texas State University, and wasn’t originally a sidearmer. In fact, he discovered the throwing motion when he was forced to make a sidearm throw around a runner while playing first. Something clicked, and he decided to try pitching that way.
It’s obvious that the Orioles like pitchers with unusual arm slots - their minor league system is full of them. Hart’s odd delivery is probably the only reason he was drafted at all.
Hart made his pro debut with Aberdeen in 2013 and sported a 2.25 ERA while striking out 26 batters in 24 innings. That earned him a promotion to Delmarva in 2014, where he again averaged more than a strikeout per inning.
He started the 2015 season in Delmarva as well, but that didn’t last long. By the end of the year he was in Bowie, with a miniscule 1.49 ERA over 54 innings across three levels. That put him on the map as a possible left-handed bullpen option in 2016.
After Brian Matusz’ disastrous start to the season, guys like Ashur Tolliver, Brian Duensing, and T.J. McFarland didn’t work out due to either injuries or ineffectiveness (or both). That opened the door for Hart, and he’s made the most of the opportunity.
Of course Hart gave up his first run of the year last night when I was planning to write about him today, but even after that home run by Hanley Ramirez he’s still sporting a 0.55 ERA over 16+ innings.
Obviously that’s going to go up eventually - you can’t strand 100% of your runners forever - but his peripherals still show a guy who deserves to be here. Although it’s far higher than his ERA, his FIP is still only 3.68, which is perfectly reasonable for a major league reliever.
Also, we know first-hand how guys with strange deliveries can induce weak contact and beat their FIP consistently. Darren O’Day’s career FIP is 3.45, and his career ERA is 2.42. That’s over almost 500 innings, so I’m confident in saying that this is a skill and not just luck.
Barring something strange, Hart will be in the major league bullpen to start the 2017 season. He’s the best left-handed option the Orioles have right other than Zach Britton, and Buck Showalter has already trusted him in some big spots over the past few weeks.
That’s pretty impressive for a former 27th round pick. In fact, Hart is the only 27th round pick since 2011 to make the major leagues at all, other than some guy named Joe Mantiply who gave up five runs in two innings for the Tigers this year.
There have been some solid pros who were picked in the 27th round before, but most of them are guys like Anthony Rendon and Sonny Gray, players who were selected late out of high school, didn’t sign, and went on to become early-round picks out of college.
In fact, Hart is the lowest Orioles draft pick to actually play in the majors for the O’s since 2000, with the exception of Oliver Drake, a 43rd round pick in 2008. For as bad as the Orioles’ minor league system is, it would be pretty impressive to get major-league value out of that pick if Hart is able to stick around.
Obviously, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here. We’re talking about a guy who has pitched sixteen major-league innings and could give up five runs tonight. But Hart is a nice story and, from various interviews I’ve seen, seems to be a good guy who’s easy to root for.
Regardless of how this season ends, it looks like the O’s found an undervalued piece that can help next year’s bullpen. That’s not much to hang our hats on after the past four days, but hey - at least he’s not Brian Matusz.