No one outside of the Camden Yards warehouse expected the Orioles’ bullpen to excel in the fashion that they did in 2022. Just before Opening Day, the front office traded away two of the more established arms in their relief corps, sending Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser to the Marlins. What remained was a relatively unproven crew that would evolve as the summer progressed.
A common archetype within that unit was the minor league veteran that had enjoyed a cup or two of big league coffee but struggled to stick. Perhaps no one pitcher embodied that cliché better than Joey Krehbiel.
It was a long road for Krehbiel. Drafted by the Angels in 2011 out of a Florida high school, he eventually made his big league debut in 2018 with the Diamondbacks, coming over in a 2014 trade. The righty made it into two big league games that season, and then faded away. Krehbiel then played with four organizations in three seasons, going from the Diamondbacks to the Twins in 2020, then to the Rays in early 2021, before the Orioles claimed him off waivers in September of that same season.
Since his time spent in the majors was so limited, that made Krehbiel a 29-year-old rookie this past season, nearly four seasons after his debut at the level.
It was no guarantee that Krehbiel would make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster, and even if he did there seemed to be no doubt that he would be a frequent rider of the Norfolk shuttle for much of the season. But the trading away of Scott and Sulser, plus Tyler Wells’ move from reliever to starter meant there were plenty of innings to cover, earning Krehbiel the spot.
Krehbiel took that opportunity and ran with it, avoiding a demotion until the final week of the season, when the team was in a pitching crunch and the season was essentially over.
The stats for a full season won’t blow you away. Krehbiel was the picture of a perfectly serviceable middle relief pitcher. Over 56 appearances, the righty tossed 57.2 innings, had a 1.231 WHIP, 3.90 ERA, 103 ERA+, 4.67 FIP, 7.0 strikeouts per nine, and 2.8 walks per nine.
He did not have the strikeout numbers that are typical of modern relievers. Instead, Krehbiel made his name by avoiding hard contact and limiting walks. That can be a dangerous game, but it’s one in which a pitcher with subpar “stuff” must partake.
Krehbiel did show off a really impressive changeup throughout the season. The offering had a 25.3% strikeout rate and a .183 batting average against, by far his best pitch. It worked well in contrast to his four-seamer and cutter.
Such a solid changeup made Krehbiel a viable option against both lefties and righties this season as numbers against both are quite similar: .238/.319/.425 vs. left-handed hitters, .245/.294/.439 vs. right-handed hitters.
And it’s worth noting that Krehbiel was also able to provide length out of the ‘pen on multiple occasions. He went longer than one inning 15 times, pitched two or more innings seven times, and even had a three-inning appearance in May against the Rays.
As the season wore on, Krehbiel’s overall effectiveness did wane, however. His OPS against by month rose from .485 in April, to .769 in May, .368 in June, .633 in July, .989 in August, and finally .886 in September. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that he started to experience right shoulder inflammation in June, which put him on the shelf for over two weeks. It may have been something he continued to deal with, potentially sapping his abilities.
Krehbiel heads into this offseason on more solidified ground than he did a year ago. He now has a full, steady MLB season under his belt, and he has edged away from the fringes of the 40-man roster. But that does not mean that he is sure to nab a 2023 spot similar to what he had in 2022.
Mike Elias has shown that he isn’t afraid to deal away middle relief pitchers, regardless of years of team control. Krehbiel could be on the move for that reason. But apart from a trade, it makes more sense for the Orioles to hang onto him, his two minor league options, and the two years he has until reaching arbitration. At the very least, he is an ideal organizational pitcher that can do a job in Baltimore or Norfolk if the team stumbles into significant bullpen upgrades.
Tomorrow: Tyler Nevin