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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Louis Head

The most recent Orioles 40-man addition is a 32-year-old journeyman reliever.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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.

How he arrived: Waiver claim from Miami Marlins 7/12/22

Who left: LHP Kirk McCarty designated for assignment 7/12/22

Note: There was not one of these articles about McCarty because his brief tenure coincided with my wedding/honeymoon absence. He arrived by waivers from Cleveland on 7/6 and was back to Cleveland again on waivers 7/14. Sorry, Kirk.

Let’s all go ahead and get a little bit of immature chuckling out of our systems now, because this article is about a player named Louis Head. His status as a journeyman player means that for a long time, no one wanted Head. His arrival by waiver claim in the Orioles organization means that the Orioles got Head. Hahaha. Okay. You’re officially not funny if you make any Head-related jokes from here on.

There were probably not very many 2012-drafted players who had yet to debut in MLB by 2020 who were still kicking around in the minors. Head, a right-handed reliever who’s now 32 years old, was originally drafted by the then-Indians out of college in the 18th round in 2012. Already 22 when drafted, Head had an uphill battle before he ever even got started. A slow ascent that made it to Triple-A in 2017 never got him a big league call-up. Once he became Rule 5 draft eligible, nobody called his name. Chances with the Dodgers and Mariners did not pan out.

The Rays came calling last season and Head was finally able to break through, making his big league debut last April 25. However, he was never able to get comfortable for long. The Rays ended up sending Head back to the minors and calling him up again a dozen times over the course of the season.

The new baseball CBA provision that limits the number of times a player can be optioned in a season to five is directly related to these sorts of shenanigans. The rule might as well be called the Louis Head Rule. The Orioles, no strangers to having players riding the Triple-A-to-MLB-and-back shuttle themselves, have had to adjust their behavior as a result of the rule.

One reason that the Rays kept bringing Head back again and again is that he was doing pretty well in his sporadic stints. Across 27 games and 35 innings, Head’s season performance included a 2.31 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 0.857 WHIP, and an 8.2 K/9. Batters hit just .175 against him, he limited walks, and didn’t give up many homers. Despite this, the Rays did not want Head again for 2022, trading him to the Marlins last November for a player to be named later that eventually became Josh Roberson, a 26-year-old minor league reliever who walks too many guys.

A common trend of all of the waiver claims that have found their way to the Orioles is that if they were doing well in that season, they wouldn’t have been stuck on waivers in the first place. In July, we can add to this that with the Orioles doing surprisingly well, many teams have priority over them for waivers. None of the teams with worse records than the O’s put in a claim for Head. Of course they didn’t! Not many rebuilding teams need to add a 32-year-old reliever into the mix. That is not a player with much likely upside.

Head was not duplicating his 2021 success. When Miami chucked him onto waivers two weeks ago, Head had a 7.23 ERA in 23.2 innings across 23 games this season. Though he’d increased his strikeout rate slightly, he’d also nearly doubled the walk rate and tripled the home run rate. Once-unhittable stuff was now hittable: Batters are hitting .271 off Head in 2022.

The question of why the Orioles bothered doesn’t have an immediate obvious answer. One other thing to note, though, is that Head was on the injured list due to an impingement in his left (non-throwing) shortly before going onto waivers. Perhaps the Orioles were willing to gamble that Head’s 2022 struggles involved that injury in some way and that if it healed, he’d have some value. If they chucked a player who mattered to bring him in, that would be frustrating. Shuffling off Kirk McCarty is less upsetting.

The Orioles sent Head to Triple-A Norfolk immediately after claiming him. He walked three batters in one inning in his first outing for the Tides, allowing three runs in the process. Not exactly the start of a beautiful friendship. Head has pitched twice more since then, each time walking a batter in an inning. This is not a small sample size that suggests a long tenure on the 40-man roster is coming.

Head does, at least, have multiple minor league options remaining. That may be something the Orioles considered as well. They won’t be able to send him up and down a dozen times like the Rays since the rules changed, but if he straightens out his act then they can use him as many times as allowed for this year and next as well.

That’s not going to sell many Orioles season ticket plans. You never know when a waiver claim will blossom. Perhaps Head will join useful-seeming waiver arrivals like Cionel Pérez and Joey Krehbiel, or perhaps like earlier 2022 waiver additions Logan Allen and Kirk McCarty he’ll be gone before you ever get much of a chance to think about him.

Still to come: That’s all, for now