For a moment in May, it looked like the progress Tanner Scott had made last year was giving way to the inconsistency he had shown in the seasons before.
On May 22, he allowed three runs in an inning in a 12-9 loss to Washington. His next outing came two days later, and he went out that day and allowed two runs in a third of an inning while taking the loss in an 8-3 loss to Minnesota.
Combine that with the fact that at that point he had walked 17 batters in 18.1 innings, and it looked like Scott was flirting with a regression back to the pitcher he was before 2020: All the velocity and stuff he’d ever need, and no ability to continuously keep it in the zone.
Since then, however, Scott has looked like the pitcher the Orioles were hoping for coming into the season. Since that loss to the Twins, he’s made 16 appearances and pitched 14.2 innings, and posted an ERA of 1.23. After seeing his ERA rise to 3.93 with that defeat, he’s now back down to 2.73.
It would be easy to say, now that he’s bounced back, that the Nationals and Twins games were just blips and that Scott has been superb all season, but the stats show he has exceeded even where he was before those two losses. In the 20 games and 17 innings before, Scott’s ERA was 2.12, and he had 21 strikeouts against 16 walks. His batting average against was .155, and hitters were hitting .216 on balls in play against him.
Since the Twins loss, however, Scott has been more dominant than he was at any point in April or May. He’s struck out 25 in 2.1 fewer innings, and walked only nine. In addition to the lower ERA, he’s allowing a .140 batting average against — and that’s with a .280 BABIP. Despite being unluckier, Scott has been better.
That’s not to say he’s been a Mariano Rivera-esque robot out there — there was a blown save against Houston on June 28 in which he walked three in only a third of an inning — but it’s been refreshingly close to what he did last year, when he went from ERAs of 5.40 and 4.78 in 2018 and ’19 to 1.31 while allowing only a .164 opponents’ average,
In addition to his pitching arsenal, Scott is showing he’s made some gains mentally as well. Two days after the rough showing against Houston, Scott was summoned again to face the best-hitting lineup in the majors. Scott was clearly unfazed by his stumble, striking out four of the five batters he retired while allowing no baserunners.
“You see what Tanner can be,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I mean, he punched out four. They had no chance. It’s electric stuff, and it’s all about strikes. So, when he’s throwing strikes, an upper-90s fastball with a slide-step delivery and a sharp slider, he’s extremely hard to hit.”
The statistics back Hyde’s assessment. Scott’s pitching repertoire matches up with the rest of the league. He ranks in the 94th percentile in velocity and in the 93rd percentile in expected slugging percentage, indicating he’s doing a good job of challenging hitters and staying away from barrels.
He also appears to have been unaffected by the sport’s crackdown on adhesive substances. He ranks in the 97th percentile in spin rate and 99th in whiff percentage, which would seemingly make him a candidate for the regression that’s been taking place across the game, Since MLB revealed a plan to punish pitchers caught using those substances, Scott has fanned 11 batters in 7.2 innings, and allowed a .154 average.
Should Scott continue to reliably get hitters out, it’ll be interesting to see what market there is for him as the trade deadline approaches. He’s under team control through 2024, so it’s not the normal case of an imminent free agent that the team would be looking to unload, but it’s hard to imagine the Orioles not listening if some team gets bold about trying to add Scott to a playoff-ready bullpen.
According to Rich Dubroff, Scott is very much on the market for the end of July, and the Orioles could get a little more eager to move him and get something at the deadline now that John Means’s and Freddy Galvis’s injury situations hurt their value.
However it ends, with Scott somewhere else at season’s end or still in Baltimore for 2022, he helps the team out by doing what he’s doing. The Orioles were hoping to have a shutdown lefty in the bullpen this season. If the past few weeks are any indication, that’s what they have once again.