Baltimore Orioles Free Agent Shopping: LHP Robbie Erlin
By Nick Stevens
The Baltimore Orioles are going to be in the market for low-cost pitching options this offseason. Should they take a look at LHP Robbie Erlin?
While the Baltimore Orioles may not be targeting high-profile free agents this offseason, general manager Mike Elias and his staff will still be active over the winter trying to find low-cost diamonds in the rough and much-needed depth options on the bench.
A major focus will center around the league’s worst pitching staff. We know that All-Star lefty John Means will lead the rotation in 2020, with Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb also appearing to be locks. Names like Asher Wojciechowski, Aaron Brooks, David Hess, and Gabriel Ynoa will enter spring training looking to win one of the remaining spots in the rotation.
We know Baltimore isn’t looking to add much to the payroll this offseason, instead focusing on bargain bin shopping down the starting pitching aisle. Earlier, we discussed former Los Angeles Angels starter Trevor Cahill, went through some of the positives and the negatives, and decided whether the Baltimore Orioles or pursue or pass in free agency. We continue that series today with a look at someone who could fill multiple roles in the Charm City.
Should the Orioles take a look at former San Diego Padres LHP Robbie Erlin? He’s definitely worth a look.
Erlin, 29, was removed from the Padres 40-man roster last week and elected free agency instead of accepting an assignment to Triple-A. The Padres have a long list of roster decisions to make before the November 20th deadline to protect any Rule 5 draft-eligible prospects. Unfortunately for Erlin, he ended up being a roster casualty. There’s no doubt that he will catch on somewhere
Erlin saw limited action as a starter during his first three seasons in the big leagues before undergoing Tommy John surgery during the 2016 season. He would miss the remainder of 2016 and all of 2017 before returning in 2018 as a spot-starter/long-relief man for Andy Green and the Padres. The ’18 season ended up being his best season as a major league pitcher.
Logging a career-high 109 innings (39 appearances, 12 starts), Erlin went 4-7 with a 4.21 ERA and was worth 1.6 fWAR. His 3.31 FIP was nearly a full run lower than his ERA and his 2.7% walk rate (0.99/9 IP) was spectacular.
The impressive walk rate isn’t the only reason why Erlin is an attractive low-cost option this winter. He’s been successful at keeping the ball in the yard, he can work as a starting pitcher or out of the pen, and his highly-effective curveball is a major contributor to his success.
Erlin’s rookie year 6.6% walk rate is the highest of his career, having issued just 62 free passes in 313 career innings, never walking more than 15 in a single season (minimum 50 IP). Despite seeing his walk rate take a significant jump from 0.99/9 IP to 2.44/9 IP this season, only John Means, Gabriel Ynoa, and Richard Bleier walked fewer batters per game, among Orioles pitchers.
After watching Orioles pitchers give up a record number of home runs in 2019, any free agent pitcher who has a history of limiting home runs instantly becomes an attractive option. In Erlin’s four pro seasons where he’s seen at least 50 innings on the mound, he has yet to record a home run rate higher than 0.99/9 IP. Bleier was the only Oriole to achieve that feat in 2019.
To be fair, pitching in Petco Park is a lot different than pitching in Camden Yards. In fact, Erlin has tended to struggle greatly on the road. The disparity in his home/road splits from 2019 tells a story that similarly describes his career.
At home, Erlin recorded a 4.26 ERA and allowed a .270/.311/.357 slash line. On the road, he posted a 6.85 ERA and a .362/.400/.533 slash. He’s never pitched at Camden Yards, so we don’t have any sense of how he may perform, should he call Baltimore home in 2020.
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However, Erlin has been effective in the same type of role Aaron Brooks and Gabriel Ynoa struggled in last season. While he has had respectable outings as a starter (4.98 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 IP), his numbers are much better out of the pen. Robbie Erlin, the reliever, owns a 3.86 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a 7.7 K/9 IP mark.
Lastly, his curveball is a lot of fun to watch and it’s effective. With a fastball that averages 90.7 mph, Erlin drops his curveball in at 76 mph, a big change in speeds to keep hitters off-balance. His mastery of an 83-84 mph changeup doesn’t hurt.
Here’s what San Diego Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley had to say about Erlin last season after coming back from TJ surgery, courtesy of AJ Cassavell over at MLB.com.
“He’s a better pitcher now than he ever has been,” said pitching coach Darren Balsley. “The changeup has been the difference. He’s always had good fastball command, always had good spin on the curveball, always been knowledgeable about hitters. His changeup is the addition that’s made him really good.”
Opponents hit .182 and were limited to a .176 wOBA against his curveball, while generating a 28% whiff rate.
So, what do you think, Birdland? Knowing that Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg aren’t options, is Robbie Erlin a guy worth bringing in to compete in spring training?