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Expect Gabriel Ynoa to get a serious look next spring

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The Orioles will probably remain stingy when it comes to spending on starting pitching. If so, Ynoa provides a pretty good bang for the franchise’s buck.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Ahh, the hot stove is here baby.

The likes of Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish and others will be signing contracts that set the precedent for other big money deals, superstar names will surely be traded, and the oven is gonna get toasty. Teams are going to try to find a way to construct their rosters to the betterment of the 2018 season and beyond, and the Orioles have every incentive to maneuver as such. The offseason is always fun.

You know, unless you’re the Orioles.

Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette doesn’t operate like the big boys, despite having a rather sizable budget and living in the same division as said big boys.

He prefers to get creative, whether it works or not, and even though the Orioles are shedding a heck of a lot money with Chris Tillman, Wade Miley, J.J. Hardy and Ubaldo Jimenez among others no longer on the payroll, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence to suggest Duquette will work around his established tendencies.

Yeah, the Orioles keep saying they’re going to add “multiple” starters this offseason, but Duquette promising anything related to pitching is more of a “I’ll believe it when I see it” kind of proposition. Alex Cobb is a perfect fit, but odds are the Orioles will get outbid for his services. The Arrieta’s and the Darvish’s are what we in the business call pipe dreams, and if the Orioles pull the trigger on Jason Vargas, all they would be acquiring is more of the same.

It’s not as if the Orioles are lush in enviable pitching talent, but this is the reality we live in. Duquette and the O’s not only make a game out of finding outliers, but this winter, they may again have no choice.

If we were to look inside at what is readily available, the likes of Alec Asher and Miguel Castro arise as understandable in-house arms to add to the rotation. I like Asher, but I like him more as option like, six or seven, and to me, Castro is perfect where he is right now. If there is one guy the Orioles have evidence to prioritize among the flurry of open starting rotation spots, it should be Gabriel Ynoa.

This past season, in his first 34.2 innings as an Oriole, Ynoa pitched to a 4.15 ERA/4.31 FIP, with a 17.7 percent strikeout rate and walk rate of 5.4 percent. Essentially, Ynoa got what he deserved as a low-walk, high-strike righty. And that’s one thing that Ynoa does do. He throws strikes.

Ynoa is only a three pitch guy, using an underrated two-seam fastball to go with a slider and the occasional changeup. You can see his stuff favors towards his arm side because of the running action on his fastball, a pitch he threw nearly 56 percent of the time a season ago.

As you would expect for a guy that does an OK enough job missing barrels because of the left-to-right tail on his fastball, Ynoa accumulated a satisfactory 38.2 percent ground ball rate while avoiding serious exit velocity issues. That fastball? It deserves more pub.

While this isn’t even one his better ones, and it wasn’t even called a strike, you see the kind of run he gets on a fastball that ranges anywhere from 92-96 MPH. The combination of velocity and movement has less of a risk over the middle of the plate because when one is good, both are better.

The current states of Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez were prime examples of flat, low-velo fastballs getting left over the plate, and the cause and effect of diminishing execution. Ynoa’s simple, repeatable delivery and live arm are two things the trio of Orioles now free agent starting pitchers did not have.

It’s not often you see a starting pitcher rely solely on three pitches, and if we’re being really nitpick-y, Ynoa really only uses a combination of his four-seamer and two-seamer as well as his slider to attack hitters. His changeup was used only seven percent of the time in 2017, giving Ynoa very few pitch pairs to work with.

Though, for a pitcher who historically has never really walked hitters going back to his minor league days, throwing strikes and using his fastball movement as his primary schtick has, for the most, worked out OK. Despite his limited offerings, the run his two seamer produces also makes his slider better, too.

In this sequence, Ynoa started Jesus Sucre with a fastball down and in for a strike, a fastball middle-in for a ball, and another fastball high to put the husky catcher up in the count 2-1.

Ynoa counters with a perfect slider away for swinging strike, putting Sucre in a precarious position. He can look for Ynoa to go back in with the running fastball, he can ride it high, he could try to use his tailing heater off the plate away and try to steer it back over the plate for a strike, or he could mimic the slider away.

The running action on his fastball forces Sucre to account for very unique aspects of the strike zone because of the types of things Ynoa’s fastball allows him to do. Even so, he knocks out Sucre with a perfect slider down and away, because that’s the kind of pitch you make when you go eight innings allowing only one run.

Trust me, if there was any way for the Orioles to reunite with Arrieta, I hope it would be considered. Forgetting a forgettable World Series, Darvish is the consummate example of what the Orioles need, but it’s never going to happen.

A lot of what is going to be available is probably not THAT much better than what Ynoa offers as he goes into his age 25 season. He’s still young, he throws strikes, and nothing ever seems to stifle him. And he’s a ways away from his arbitration years, something the Orioles will surely need if 2018 doesn’t include winning.

None of this is to say that Ynoa should be penciled into anything. The Orioles are going to have to do their due-diligence both in the mainstream and in the fringe. But if all he becomes is depth come opening day, Ynoa makes the Orioles’ roster just a notch better because of it.