Orioles personnel had one last chance to evaluate Major Leaguers.
The Baltimore Orioles have largely been in offseason mode for over a month now, but their pro scouting department got one last look at players during the World Series. Evaluators had two looks at Justin Verlander, a rare Jose Urquidy sighting, and plenty of data for any other players they might be targeting. The World Series ended with the Astros winning it all, but it also gave the Orioles a better understanding of who they might sign or trade for this winter.
The presumptive Cy Young winner had two starts during the Fall Classic, and they went very differently. After an excellent outing in the ALCS, Game One fit into his World Series narrative of getting hit around and losing. He gave up five earned runs and a concerning amount of hard contact while being visibly tired in his fifth and final inning. The three runs he allowed in the fourth inning and two in the fifth were a dramatic departure after he breezed through the first three innings.
Taking a look at his pitch chart, Verlander threw lots of fastballs over the middle and well above the zone. This was a problem in his Division Series start and something the Orioles should scrutinize when deciding on a contract offer. His velocity lined up with his season average, but that doesn’t really matter when hitters can feast on fastballs or easily take them. His sliders were a bit more erratic than usual, and two of his curveballs over the middle led to runs. He only got one whiff on a curve and none on a slider. JV finished with five strikeouts while allowing six hits and two walks.
The Orioles have much to discuss internally about Justin Verlander
Verlander turned his fortunes around in Game Five, but it wasn’t easy. He started quite poorly, in fact, by throwing a high fastball to open the game, and then Kyle Schwarber turned on the same pitch for a leadoff home run. Verlander was more careful with his fastball after that, but he gave up three more hits and a hard lineout off his four seamers. After getting the first two batters out in the second, Verlander loaded the bases before striking out Rhys Hoskins on a slider. He also left runners in scoring position in the third and fifth. Verlander wasn’t sharp (four hits and four walks), but the bottom line is he held the Phillies to one run in five innings with six strikeouts and got his first World Series win.
Watching a supercut of his start shows his pitch sequencing well. After the first two innings, Verlander moved away from his fastball and threw more sliders, curves, and even a changeup. His fastball percentage for the game was 56%, down from 66% in Game One. His velocity was higher than his season average, which is normal due to playoff adrenaline, but that was not the case in his previous outing. Once again, he threw plenty of noncompetitive fastballs, but he also dotted a few for strikes. His curveball spin was up, and its location was much better, with most down and a few high for called strikes. Verlander’s slider was also more consistently down to his glove side where they should be, and he elicited seven whiffs. If the Orioles pay up for JV, I think the coaching will emphasize throwing a higher percentage of breaking balls and fewer fastballs.
With the Phillies up 7-0 in Game Three, Dusty Baker waved the white flag and turned to his long reliever. That meant Jose Urquidy got to pitch for the first time in the 2022 playoffs after moving from the regular season rotation to the postseason bullpen. He must have had some October bullpen sessions to stay fresh, but unsurprisingly he looked a bit rusty. His fastballs were all over the place, and the first two batters he faced both reached base. He settled down after that, though, and ended up throwing three scoreless innings. Urquidy is a reverse splits guy to his superb changeup, but it was working against righties, as well. He had four strikeouts, and all four were on the changeup, two each to righties and lefties. Two batted balls were hard hit, but nothing was terribly dangerous.
There was an eyebrow-raising report from ESPN’S Jeff Passan last week that the Astros had agreed to trade Urquidy to the Cubs at the deadline for Willson Contreras, but Houston’s owner nixed the deal. This means that in order to trade for Urquidy, the Orioles would have to give up the equivalent value of two months of an All-Star catcher. Mike Elias will have to decide whether that’s a fair price but getting someone like Pablo Lopez would likely cost more.
Bounce back candidates: Alec Bohm
Tough ask: David Robertson, Jean Segura