The Orioles first placed Félix Bautista on the 40-man roster in November 2021. Baltimore added Bautista, DL Hall, Kyle Bradish, Terrin Vavra, Kevin Smith and Logan Gillaspie in an effort to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. Hall and Bradish were thought to be the prizes of the bunch with Vavra and Smith slotting below them. Gillaspie and Bautista were a pair of former minor-league free agents that held upside as relievers.
We all know what happened next. Bautista stole the show.
Bautista paired his triple-digit fastball with a devastating splitter to emerge as the most dominant force in Baltimore’s bullpen. The Santo Domingo native quickly became a reliable option in late innings and provided Baltimore the confidence to deal closer Jorge López at the deadline. He earned a nickname, a signature entrance, and plenty of hugs from catcher Adley Rutschman.
Bautista shedded previous control issues in a dominant minor league campaign in 2021. He allowed only eight earned runs in 46.2 innings, struck out 77, and held opponents to a .126 average between Aberdeen, Bowie, and Norfolk. Still, pitching in the big leagues can be another animal.
The Mountain used a three pitch mix last season but threw his slider only 12.3 percent of the time. Batters preferred the slider with a .333 average against the pitch. Opponents hit just .202 against the heater and a ridiculous .087 against the split finger.
Baltimore has slow played its closer this spring with Bautista battling knee and shoulder issues. The 27-year-old did his best to put concerns at ease with an extremely impressive debut on Tuesday.
Bautista struck out Pittsburgh’s Oneil Cruz, induced a ground ball from Bryan Reynolds, and punched out Ji-Man Choi to end his only inning. Bautista needed just 15 pitches to retire Pittsburgh’s three top hitters and threw an additional 10 pitches in the bullpen to complete his day. His fastball topped out at 99 MPH.
Last season will be difficult to top, and the projections predict some mild regression. I’m not sure how Baseball Reference calculates saves, but all three projections have Bautista with an ERA around three. Marcel drops the strikeouts with fewer innings but still has the closer issuing 20 free passes on the season.
All three projections include a higher ERA than Bautista’s 2.19 from last year. Marcel’s number falls in the middle, so let’s consider that one for now.
- ZiPS: 64.3 IP, 5-3, 2.94 ERA, 81 K, 21 BB, 29 Saves
- Steamer: 65 IP, 4-3, 3.14 ERA, 85 K, 27 BB, 29 Saves (both from FanGraphs)
- Marcel: 58 IP, 3-3, 3.10 ERA, 64 K, 20 BB, 7 Saves (from Baseball Reference)
The case for the over
Bautista put 65 games on tape last season. The league knows about his power pitching and the splitter that simply disappears. His heavy use of only two pitches could allow batters the opportunity to sit on a particular choice. He’s left the split finger up in the zone on occasion, and his fastball speeds the bat up enough as it is.
Bautista must improve his slider if he plans to utilize it more this season. His control issues could return, and he could suffer from additional arm fatigue or another knee issue after ending the year on the injured list last season.
The case for the under
He’s The Mountain! The guy possesses wipe out stuff and is still learning how to pitch at the big league level. His success from last year only flames the intimidation factor already generated by his towering presence on the mound.
With his control issues (hopefully) behind him, Bautista and the Orioles can dedicate more time to bringing along his third pitch. A stronger slider could bring his arsenal up to a cheat-code type level.
Bautista’s 2.19 ERA leaves plenty of room for regression without reaching the number three. Brandon Hyde will likely look to protect his young closer early in the season. The loss of Dillon Tate will put additional strain on the bullpen, but Baltimore can utilize Mychal Givens or Cionel Pérez if Bautista needs to avoid back-to-backs in April.
So what do you think? Will Bautista build on his impressive rookie season? Could the control issues creep back into the picture? Sound off below!
Will Félix Bautista post an ERA over or under 3.10?
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