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Wildness continues to plague the Orioles’ Tanner Scott

The left-handed flame-throwing reliever had a breakout season of sorts in 2020, but his walk rates are back up this year and he’s struggled more recently.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Minnesota Twins
Orioles reliever Tanner Scott delivers a pitch from the mound at Target Field in Minnesota.
Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

When Tanner Scott first entered the Orioles organization in 2014, he had a pitching arm that scouts would kill for. Still does. The raw stuff has never been a question. A southpaw with high 90’s heat and the ability to touch triple digits. Who wouldn’t want that on their team?

Not to mention, the left-hander is a strikeout artist. Since his major league debut in 2017, he’s averaging 12.0 SO/9 and has a career strikeout percentage of 29.6%.

But just like Scott has always possessed an electric fastball, he’s also suffered from a lack of control. Over the course of six seasons in the minor leagues, Scott averaged 5.9 BB/9. In 2016 specifically, when Scott played at Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, he gave up 57 walks in 64.1 innings.

If only the O’s could slap a pair of horn-rimmed glasses on the left-hander like Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn in Major League and solve all his control problems.

It really seemed like Scott turned a corner last year in the Covid-shortened season, too. He was still walking a lot of people, but the free passes were down slightly, for him. He also had a 1.31 ERA, 3.48 FIP, and 1.07 WHIP. But maybe it was just part of the illusion of a 60-game season, considering how Scott only pitched 20.2 innings. He’s less than three innings away from that total already this year.

In 2021, the left-hander has the second most walks on the Orioles with 17 in 19.1 innings. That equates to an average of 8.3 BB/9. Every starting pitcher on the club other than Jorge Lopez has fewer walks than Scott, and they all have considerably more innings pitched, too.

In Baltimore’s bullpen, Adam Plutko has the second most walks with 11 in 25.2 innings. Travis Lakins Sr. had 11 walks in 14.2 innings, but he’s at Triple-A Norfolk now.

Cardinals closer Alex Reyes is the only reliever in baseball with more walks allowed — 23 walks in 26 IP — than Scott. But Reyes is having a much more successful season so far with a 0.69 ERA, 14 saves, and 36 strkeouts in 26 innings. And although he’s yet to top 100 career innings, Reyes has a 2.01 ERA since 2016.

Back to Scott’s other 2021 numbers, he’s got a 3.93 ERA, 4.29 FIP, and 1.69 WHIP. That’s taking into account the rough patch he’s experienced lately. On Saturday against the Nats, Scott allowed three runs (two earned) in one inning of work, and this past Monday against the Twins, he allowed two runs in 0.1 innings.

It’s never ceases to amaze what a difference a few outings here and there can make over the course of a long baseball season. For Scott, it’s those last two appearances that took his ERA from 2.12 to 3.93. From April 24-26, he walked six batters over 1.2 innings. In roughly a month since then, he’s walked seven batters in 9.2 innings.

How common is it for a successful high-leverage reliever to have such serious walk issues? Here’s an extreme example for comparison: former MLB closer Mitch Williams, who was also known as “Wild Thing.”

In 1987, Williams’ second year in the league, he surrendered 94 free passes over 108 innings. Somehow, he managed to put up a 3.23 ERA that year. When he saved 43 games for the Phillies in 1993, he walked 44 batters in 62 innings.

For his career, Williams allowed 7.1 BB/9, which came out to a 17.4% walk percentage. But Williams was also a dominant closer for a long stretch, recording 172 saves from 1988-1993, and 194 saves in total over the course of his 11 year career.

At age 26, Tanner Scott has one career save, despite being discussed as a potential closer from time to time. And while Scott’s career walk percentage is 14%, it’s up to 19.5% almost two months into the 2021 season. His previous career high was a 15.6% walk percentage.

Yes, hindsight is 20/20 and blah, blah, blah, but maybe the Orioles should have tried to get something for Scott during the offseason when his value was at an all-time high. Easy to say now, I know.

Every year it’s the same thing. We love to watch Scott when he’s on, but when he’s not, look out. It’s frustrating to see the flashes of dominance mixed with the utter lack of control, and the inconsistency is maddening. So hang in there, it’s going to be bumpy.