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2021 Orioles vs. projections: Tanner Scott (poll)

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Tanner Scott took a big step forward in the shortened 2020 season. Can he keep it up in 2021 and beat his projected ERA?

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The 2014 draft was always going to be something of a lost draft for the Orioles. Between the trade for Bud Norris and the signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, the O’s didn’t get a pick until the third round. The second player they actually got to select chose basketball over baseball. Yet starting in 2019, the lost draft began to bear some late fruit. Eleventh round pick John Means turned into an All-Star, and in 2020, sixth round pick Tanner Scott finally started to harness some of his promise.

For someone like me who had already written off Scott, this was a pleasant surprise. Scott has always had a big “if he ever figures out how to throw strikes” attached to him, and he has not thrown strikes. In the 2016 minor league season he had a BB/9 of 8.0. Eight! The next year, it was 6.0. By 2019 in the majors, he was still walking 6.5 batters per nine. It doesn’t matter how many guys you strike out if that’s your walk rate. It’s bad.

Then, in 2020, Scott’s walk rate was, finally, not bad. At a 4.4 BB/9, it still wasn’t good, but a strikeout pitcher can get by with that, especially if batters aren’t doing much damage when they do make contact. In 20.2 innings in the shortened season, Scott allowed just one home run, and only 12 hits in total. Even counting an elevated-but-passable walk rate, Scott’s WHIP was 1.065. You can be very happy if your favorite team has a late-inning reliever with a WHIP barely over 1.

No one should get their hopes up that Scott will be able to duplicate his 1.31 ERA from the 60-game season over 162 games. That’s “Zack Britton from 2014-2016” territory. Scott posted a career-low .224 BABIP and a career-high 58% ground ball rate, both of which are much more likely to be artifacts of his pitching in just 25 games, rather than some real, durable, serious improvement into one of the game’s elite relief pitchers.

On the other hand, Scott doesn’t need to turn into one of the game’s elite relief pitchers to justify the development effort that Dan Duquette and then Mike Elias put into him. Scott’s Fielding Independent Pitching, an ERA analogue that only considers what a pitcher can directly control, was 3.48 in the 2020 season.

That’s good enough, if he regresses to that level of performance to have a role on a good team. Maybe that’ll be on the next good Orioles team - Scott’s a free agent after 2024, so there’s time to be good while he’s still here - or with some other team after a modest trade return in service of the rebuilding project.

Here’s what three of the big publicly available projection systems see coming for Scott in 2021:

In the projections we’ve looked at so far, a number have felt like they could be pessimistic about Orioles players. Here’s the first set where there’s some optimism. At this point, Tanner Scott has thrown over 100 innings as a big leaguer, nearly two seasons for a reliever, and his career ERA is 4.50. Seeing a projected ERA so far below that means that the Fangraphs systems, at least, seem to be big believers in Scott having some real improvement in 2020, as opposed to just good luck.

The case for the over

Perhaps you believe, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once put on paper (paraphrased), that there are no second acts in baseball careers. Scott is who he is, and that is a guy who walks too many batters to ever have any kind of big league success, even if your definition of success is kind of sad, like “a reliever with an ERA in the upper-3s.”

After all, Scott has more than just a 100 inning big league sample to go off of. He’s also thrown over 250 innings in the minors, in which time he had a BB/9 of 5.9. Believing that this abruptly changed based on a reliever’s performance in a 60-game baseball season is foolish.

The case for the under

One very interesting thing about Scott’s 2020 stats is that the average exit velocity batters had against him was 85.1 miles per hour. Among the 323 pitchers who had at least 20 innings pitched in 2020, Scott comes in 22nd. It’s not just that he threw more strikes, it’s that his strikes were better, and batters had a harder time squaring up on them. Or at least, that would be the theory of why he could do better than a 3.70 ERA in 2020.

Make your pick

See the first post of this series for an explanation of why the poll is built around ZiPS. Camden Chat readers have been optimistic about the players so far, including 66% of voters so far picking the over in the last poll before this, for Ryan Mountcastle. I won’t be surprised if that continues.

The only polls I’ll revisit at season’s end are the ones where a hitter takes at least 200 plate appearances, a reliever throws at least 25 innings, or a starter throws at least 60 innings as Orioles. That’s about a third of a season. If someone gets hurt or gets traded before they can play that much, it won’t be very interesting to see if they beat their projected performance or not.

In the event of a push, where Scott’s ERA to two decimal places is 3.70, the tie goes to the under.

What are you expecting from Scott in the coming season? Do you see the same improvement, or more, that ZiPS does? Or do you expect more of the familiar Scott? Let us know in the comments below.

Poll

Will Tanner Scott go over or under his ZiPS projected 3.70 ERA in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Over
    (59 votes)
  • 66%
    Under
    (119 votes)
178 votes total Vote Now