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Tyler Wells started the season strong but ran out of gas in the second half

The third-year righty put up the best stretch of his career in the first half, but problems with home runs and fatigue forced him to the bullpen.

Division Series - Baltimore Orioles v Texas Rangers - Game Three Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

A big concern for the Orioles young pitching staff heading into the season was whether these relatively interested arms could stand up to an increased workload in 2023. For most of the O’s starters, this increase in innings presented no problem. For Tyler Wells, it was a different story. After an All-Star worthy first half, fatigue caught up to Wells in a second half that saw him sent down to the minors and brought back up in a bullpen role.

Perhaps we should’ve expected an unorthodox path for Wells in 2023 just based on how his season started. After beating out Grayson Rodriguez for a rotation spot in spring training, Wells’ first appearance of the season came in relief the day before he was supposed to start, when he took over for Kyle Bradish, who took a line drive off his foot in the second inning. The 28-year-old right hander was excellent, tossing five no-hit innings to spur the O’s to a 2-0 win over Texas.

Over his first four starts of the season, Wells showed much more good than bad. Sure, his home debut saw him give up two home runs in a loss to the Yankees. However, he followed that up by guiding the Orioles to victory in his next three starts with a 2.50 ERA and .191 BAA.

Early on Wells provided a measure of consistency to an Orioles rotation filled with uncertainty. Through April and May he was averaging nearly six innings per start while guiding Baltimore to a 6-4 record in his 10 outings. On May 13th against the Pirates, Wells delivered his best outing of the season. The third-year righty dazzled the Camden Yards faithful with seven shutout innings, holding the Buccos to one hit while punching out eight.

When Wells was on his game in the first half of 2023, he was among the best pitchers in baseball. His 0.93 WHIP at the All-Star break was the best in all of baseball among qualified starters. In all of his 18 first-half outings, Wells pitched at least five innings and in 10 of them he allowed four hits or less. I even went so far as to anoint Wells as the Orioles’ ace, such was his dominance at times in the first three months of the season.

However, whenever it went wrong for Wells it was usually due to his inability to keep the ball in the ballpark. Despite putting up otherwise good numbers, Wells allowed an MLB-worst 21 HRs in the first half. In seven different appearances before the All-Star break Wells allowed multiple home runs—including three apiece in June starts vs. Kansas City and New York. If you asked anyone in Birdland to name a reason as to why Wells wouldn’t sustain his success in the second half, they’d immediately point to his HR rate.

While it wasn’t exactly the home runs that did him in, Wells made only three starts after the All-Star break before the O’s were forced to make a move. He began his second half with his worst start of the season, as he gave up five runs over only two innings in a 10-3 loss to the Dodgers. Things got a little better in his next outing, as he pitched 4.1 innings and helped the O’s score a pivotal victory over the Rays. However, after allowing two more home runs and lasting only 2.2 innings against the Yankees, it was clear that Wells’ gas tank was nearly on E.

Brandon Hyde and Mike Elias gave Wells the chance to rest up and recharge when they sent him down to Bowie on July 30. In 10 minor league appearances split between Bowie and Norfolk, Wells continued to struggle, posting a 5.52 ERA over 14.2 innings. However, he still got a chance to contribute to the Orioles stretch run, receiving a call-up to Baltimore on September 22. Wells pitched five scoreless innings across four relief appearances, and his most memorable moment of the season came when he earned the save in the O’s AL-East-clinching win. Wells made three more appearances in the postseason, throwing another 3.1 scoreless innings.

In many ways, Wells still outperformed the expectations most had for him at the beginning of the season. When we reviewed season projections back in March, the consensus among prognosticators was that Wells would pitch around 100 innings, while putting up around a 4.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. The Wells optimist will point out that he bested all those numbers, finishing with 118.2 IP, 3.64 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. However, the sour taste left in the collective mouth of Birdland after his disappointing second half is hard to ignore when evaluating Wells’ season on the whole.

Will he be on the 2024 Orioles?

The question when it comes to Wells is not whether he’ll be on the roster, but what role he’ll occupy. He’s too good of a pitcher to not at least return in the relief role he occupied at the end of the season. In fact, Wells’ career numbers as a reliever—3.49 ERA, .168 BAA in 49 appearances—suggest he may be better off in the pen. However, the current noise coming out of the warehouse suggests that both Wells and DL Hall will both compete for a spot in the rotation come spring training. There is definitely a well-demonstrated upside with Wells as a starter. Even with his disappointing second half, 2023 was still the best year of his career. All that’s left to prove in 2024 is where he best fits in this ever-improving Orioles staff.

2023 player reviews: Ryan McKenna, Jacob Webb, Austin Voth/Keegan Akin, Adam Frazier, Jack Flaherty, Shintaro Fujinami, Aaron Hicks, Bryan Baker, Jorge Mateo, Kyle Gibson, John Means, DL Hall, Jordan Westburg, James McCann, Ryan O’Hearn, Mike Baumann, Ramón Urías, Cole Irvin, Ryan Mountcastle, Danny Coulombe

Tuesday: Cionel Pérez