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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Chris Ellis

The Orioles prospects haven’t arrived yet, so guys like Chris Ellis are getting second chances.

Baltimore Orioles v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

NOTE: On 5/12/22, the Orioles placed Ellis on the 60-day injured list after he had season-ending shoulder surgery earlier in May. He is no longer on the 40-man roster.

How he arrived: Outrighted from 40-man 11/4/21, became free agent, signed minor league contract 3/14/22, contract selected 4/19/22

Who left: DJ Stewart designated for assignment 4/19/22

There are few real pleasures at the major league level for fans of long-term rebuilding teams like the Orioles. Most of the time we just have to talk ourselves into the potential positives of little, inconsequential things, like when the team is using other teams castoffs because its own prospects are not quite ready yet. There’s something about a new arrival that’s similar to the experience of buying one lottery ticket. You won’t win, but it’s fun for a little while to imagine what if you did.

The first couple of weeks of the 2022 season has brought several new arrivals, but none quite approach this feeling for one simple reason. They aren’t actually new! We’ve seen these guys before. In the case of Tuesday night’s Orioles starting pitcher, Chris Ellis, Orioles fans got that “Okay, at least he’s somebody new” feeling when he arrived on waivers from the Rays last August.

Ellis, a former third round pick by the Angels, went on to make six starts for the Orioles down the stretch. Looking only at the 2.49 ERA that he ended up with in those starts, the results were interesting, though he also never pitched more than five innings in any start, and his strikeout and walk rates were not good. 16 strikeouts to 13 walks in 25.1 innings is not an exciting small sample.

Both the Orioles and the rest of the teams in the league are aware of this. A 29-year-old who just pulled a 5.22 in Fielding Independent Pitching, the ERA analogue that tries to encompass only what a pitcher can control, does not have a lot of value. This is especially true when considering Ellis’s past Triple-A performance. He had a 7.18 ERA in 2019 in the Cardinals system, and a 6.32 ERA with the Rays Triple-A affiliate in 2021 before they plugged him in for one long relief outing (four scoreless innings against the Orioles) and waived him within days. I guess that MLB debut made an impression on the O’s.

When the Orioles put Ellis on waivers last November, no other team wanted him. When Ellis became a free agent, he did not have an opportunity he wanted to take until after the lockout ended.

Like I have written over the last week about Spenser Watkins, Travis Lakins Sr., and Marcos Diplán, whose paths back to the Orioles were similar, this is just not very exciting. The Orioles could have had him on the roster all along. They did not want to. The rest of the league felt the same. This is kind of like the pitching equivalent of how we just kept seeing Pat Valaika and Stevie Wilkerson over the past couple of seasons. As the cat in the song, we thought they were goners, but they just couldn’t stay away.

Two injuries later, one an oblique for Dean Kremer and the other the forearm thing that currently makes me feel like it’s inevitable Tommy John for John Means, Ellis, like the cat, is back. If you are like me, you were hoping the first starter we would see from the minors would be Grayson Rodriguez, or more realistically, Kyle Bradish. Multiple April injuries have dashed that hope. The prospects are not built up yet. The team is not rushing them. And so... Ellis.

Against the Athletics in his first 2022 start, Ellis kept Oakland off the scoreboard over 4.1 innings. Orioles fans have seen a lot worse than that in recent years, and we have seen it often. Yet much like Ellis’s 2021 starts, there was some luck there. He allowed four hits and three walks with 20 batters faced. Pitchers allowing a .350 OBP will not enjoy much success over the long haul.

In terms of his pitch arsenal, Ellis is mostly a fastball-slider kind of guy. These two accounted for 79% of his pitches thrown last season. He mixed in a curve and change occasionally. FanGraphs pitch data was positive for the fastball and curve in his small sample size last season. Even as bad as the Orioles have been, they don’t claim every single pitcher that comes across the waiver wire. I’m sure there’s something about Ellis where they thought they could try to get a couple of tweaks to sink in and then see what happens.

The coming Orioles schedule is not full of off days. They get one on Monday as they return from the west coast before a stretch of 13 straight days with games, then there’s one more off day before 15 days in a row with games. This is probably not a “Ditch the #5 starter for a couple of turns” situation, so unless the Orioles decide to do something unexpected with what pitchers join the team through mid-May, Ellis has some more chances coming. The next will be Sunday, as he’s already been announced as the starting pitcher for the series finale against the Angels.

This is not a very exciting experiment for the 2022 team to re-run, but I hope it succeeds anyway because after four terrible seasons of Orioles baseball I’m ready to see something that isn’t bad baseball. I think things will get better whenever the prospects get here. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Orioles started getting a little better even before the prospects arrive? Maybe Ellis can help, just a little bit.

Still to come: This is the end, until the next 40-man roster move