The reports of the Orioles’ demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Baltimore parted ways with two of its best players at the trade deadline, but the team’s play over the last week has showed that they are not going anywhere. The Orioles remain in the wild card hunt without Trey Mancini and Jorge López.
Mancini has taken to Houston in a hurry, but the Orioles knew they were giving up a power bat. López started 1-for-2 in save opportunities for Minnesota, but his future remains more of a mystery.
The Orioles elected to part with a player that does not become a free agent until 2025. López earned his All-Star appointment with a stellar first half, but the move could indicate Baltimore anticipates a regression from the former starter.
The Orioles do not know how López will perform next season or beyond, but one thing is certain. The team is confident moving forward with the bullpen options it has right now.
Félix Bautista must play a significant part in that sentiment. The towering righty has wowed all season with his physical presence and power pitching. Bautista ranks in the 99th percentile of fastball velocity, and sits in the 98th percentile of strikeout percentage.
Simply put, it’s way too much fun to watch Bautista pitch. “The Mountain” throws the heater 63.9% of the time. He pairs the fastball with a wipeout splitter (22.9%) and a moderately rare slider (13.2 %).
The splitter has prevented opponents from sitting dead red every time. Opponents possess a brutal .086 batting average against the secondary pitch. When Bautista locates, it’s borderline unhittable.
Orioles fans know that Bautista is special, but the outside world appears to be catching on. The Orioles’ surprising success, paired with Bautista’s unofficial promotion to the closer role, has baseball fans across the country marveling at the rookie. Fantasy baseball players want this guy on their team, and I’d imagine plenty of MLB general managers do too.
It feels important to reflect on how far Bautista has come in less than a year. The 27-year-old was considered a dark horse to break camp with the team. Bautista ranked as Baltimore’s 30th best prospect back in April according to MLB.com.
The Covid year kept Bautista hidden from fans, but The Mountain pitched at three levels in 2021. He walked 23 batters in 36.1 innings in 2019 and issued 30 free passes in 46.2 innings last season. He walked nine batters in 18.1 innings at Triple-A.
Bautista quickly earned playing time in high-leverage situations this season. He has walked 15 batters in 47.1 innings but has never issued more than one free pass in a game. A guy with a whiff percentage in the 93rd percentile can afford the baserunner every once in a while.
Playing in the major leagues always brings pressure, but the closer role can be a different animal. Bautista’s size automatically makes him an intimidating presence on the mound, but his poise should keep him in the big leagues for years to come.
Bautista held it all together through a rain delay, an error, a dramatic light show entrance, and a matchup with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. before letting out tremendous emotion last night against Toronto.
Bautista likely at least considered the idea that López could be dealt at the trade deadline. Still, he entered last night’s game with a 1.74 ERA and 0.58 WHIP in 10.1 innings since the All-Star break. He has not stumbled while attempting to secure the closing spot for years to come.
Bautista’s velocity provides him some leeway with location, but it also speeds up bats. Opponents can send a splitter that doesn’t split a long way out of the ballpark, and a 100-MPH fastball can leave in a hurry if timed correctly. Nothing is automatic.
The Orioles have often turned to Bautista in the biggest moments of the game. His ability to record a four- or five-out save cannot be taken for granted, Brandon Hyde has done his best to manage an overworked bullpen this season, and the closer’s ability to enter in the eighth could save Dillon Tate or Cionel Pérez from an additional appearance.
Bautista naturally impresses anyone that watches him pitch. Fortunately for Baltimore, the big guy appears to have more than just size and speed to offer out of the bullpen.