There is no question that losing is the worst part of a rebuild. It’s the worst part of any season, really. But there’s another pain point that stings nearly as much— waiting.
Fans are left waiting for prospects to arrive. There’s the wait for the trade deadline and even the MLB draft. When there is not a lot to enjoy, it makes sense to look toward the future. When top prospects are sitting in the low minors, the future can sure seem a long way away.
Orioles fans are still waiting for Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Adley Rutschman. We finally caught a glimpse of Ryan Mountcastle, but were deprived of a full season from Hunter Harvey once again.
Unfortunately, there is no fast forward button in a rebuild. There are ways to make the waiting a bit easier though. Every once in a while a player already on the roster overperforms. Instead of waiting on a player to develop, the organization is gifted a legitimate piece out of nowhere.
Paul Fry emerged from the depths of the Orioles’ bullpen and blossomed into a legitimate, left-handed reliever. Fry posted a 1-0 record, 2.45 ERA and 1.409 WHIP this season. He allowed a run in six of his 22 appearances, but was never charged with more than one earned run per game.
That 1.409 WHIP may not jump off the page, but his 29/9 walk-to-strikeout ratio did the trick. He surrendered a run in two of his first three outings, but posted a 0.79 ERA and 1.059 WHIP throughout the month of August.
With baseball’s new rule requiring pitchers to face at least three batters or close out an inning, the days of the LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy) are long gone. However, a left-handed reliever is more valuable than ever. Left-handed batters hit .273 off of Fry while righties batted just .223.
Fry inherited some tricky situations in 2020, but he often rose to the occasion. Batters hit .244 with the bases empty, but just .200 with runners in scoring position.
Fry used only two pitches for the vast majority of his outings. His four-seam fastball checks in at around 93 MPH, and his slider averages about 85. With only two pitches in his arsenal, there’s very little margin for error. Fry credited a mechanical change that eliminated any pitch tipping that may have occurred in 2019.
Left is Paul Fry, 2020.— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) August 7, 2020
Right is Paul Fry, 2019.
See the difference?
He's lowered his hands in the set position to help avoid tipping pitches to the runner at second base. #Orioles pic.twitter.com/8zpRNSE0ya
A reliever only needs two pitches if he can keep batters guessing. Fry kept hitters on their toes in 2020, and his ability to strand baserunners made him a valuable asset in close games.
The Orioles acquired Fry in a trade with Seattle in April 2017. The Orioles sent the Mariners an international bonus slot (a common trade chip for Baltimore at the time) and received the reliever after Seattle designated him for assignment. He came to Baltimore with a solid minor-league track record and a reputation for keeping the ball in the ballpark.
It’s difficult to say whether the Michigan native will carry his success into 2021. Fry will be arbitration eligible in 2022 and a free agent in 2025. At 28-years-old, he’s got three Major League seasons under his belt. He’s cheap, he’s experienced, and he’s left handed. The Orioles like all three.
Anyone choosing a breakout lefty for the 2020 Orioles would have selected Tanner Scott. Scott possesses better stuff, but he paired a high level of potential with a low amount of control. Scott finally put things together with an impressive 1.31 ERA and 1.065 WHIP over 25 games. His breakout may have overshadowed Fry’s step forward, but the ability to pair the two relievers in the back end of the bullpen could go quite a long way.
Could Fry be a member of the next good Orioles team? Absolutely. An affordable, left-handed reliever is a welcome addition to any team. Of course, if he’s an asset to the Orioles, other teams may take an interest. Because Fry does not boast high-level stuff like Scott, he may not fetch a large return. Still, he could fit the mold as a July trade piece in either of the next two years.
Next season will tell us a lot about Paul Fry. Will he continue to enter games in difficult situations and keep runners from crossing the plate? There’s a non-zero chance that Scott becomes the Orioles closer at some point next season. If Scott handles the ninth, Fry could serve as a high-leverage, new aged “lefty specialist” next season.
Either way, we should not have to wait to see how Fry fits with the Orioles moving forward.