For the first time since acquiring Tim Beckham and Jeremy Hellickson at the 2017 trade deadline, the Orioles made a trade on Thursday to meaningfully improve their current Major League roster when they traded for Cole Irvin from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for shortstop prospect Darell Hernaiz. Irvin has spent the last two seasons in Oakland's rotation and looks to bolster an O's rotation that lacks a true ace, at least until Grayson Rodriguez makes his debut and John Means returns from injury. With the trade, the Orioles are showing meaningful signs that they want to compete for a postseason spot in 2023 after falling just short last season with an 83-79 record. Let's learn more about the newest Orioles starter, how he will contribute to a winning team, and what the trade of Hernaiz means for the farm system.
Irvin turns 29 next week and still has four years of control left before he becomes a free agent which means the O's have a controllable piece for the next few seasons to anchor the back end of the rotation. He started his career with the Phillies but struggled mightily for parts of two seasons before finding a home in Oakland. With the A's, he had a 4.11 ERA and 4.25 FIP in 359.1 innings pitched. In 2021, he had the distinction of allowing the most hits, accumulating the most losses, and starting the most games in the American League. However, he had a reasonably successful season with a 4.24 ERA and 97 ERA+. Last season, he improved his ERA to 3.98 although his ERA+ dropped to 94. These stats essentially suggest that he has been a league average pitcher over the last two years but has been a work horse and will eat innings while the O's ease their young starters like Rodriguez, DL Hall, and eventually Drew Rom or Michael Baumann into the rotation.
Assessing Cole Irvin’s Fit With the Baltimore Orioles
One of the most significant aspects of Irvin's game is his lack of walks and strikeouts, which is unique especially in this era where three true outcomes are more prevalent than ever. Over his career, he has struck out 6.4 and walked 2 batters per 9 innings pitched. Last season, he struck out 3.58 batters for every batter he walked which means he has good control but does not have overpowering stuff. There certainly is benefit for the O's to add an efficient pitcher who will not allow too many unnecessary baserunners. Of course, this also means he has had struggles with the long ball in his career, giving up 48 homers over the last two seasons. As a southpaw, he should benefit from the expanded dimensions of the left field wall at Camden Yards since most of the batters he will face will bat from the right side. He also has a solid defense behind him with a gold glover in Ramon Urias, along with defensive studs like Jorge Mateo and Cedric Mullins starting behind him on a nightly basis. His ability to pitch to contact will hopefully play well for him next season, like it did for Dean Kremer last year who had a career year despite his lack of strikeout ability.
Steamer projections are predicting some regression out of Irvin next season. For instance, Steamer is projecting a 4.55 ERA and 4.58 FIP out of him next season in 28 starts and 169 innings pitched. They also project a mere 0.6 fWAR out of him in that stretch which essentially means they do not believe he will be a league average pitcher and he will struggle due to his lack of strikeouts. He also has not kept the ball on the ground with any consistency throughout his career, with a career groundball rate of 37.3%, which is always worrying because flyballs are more likely to end in extra base hits which can compound quickly. According to Fangraphs, his best season was 2021 when he ended with 2 fWAR despite an expected ERA and expected FIP near 5. Between 2021 and 2022, he improved his strikeout and walk rate but gave up more home runs between the two seasons. One of the most meaningful differences between the two seasons was his .302 BABIP in 2021 and .273 BABIP in 2022. This 30 point difference is meaningful because it shows that he was a bit more lucky last year. Over a full season, a BABIP of .300 typically indicates a normal outcome for pitchers and his 2021 stat line is likely more indicative of his talent level than 2022.
Baltimore Orioles: Breaking Down Cole Irvin’s Pitch Arsenal
Irvin has a four pitch mix with a fastball, curveball, changeup, and cutter. His fastball velocity averages around 91 miles per hour with very little spin. One thing that stands out is his extreme lack of spin on all his pitches. His curveball ranks in the 6th percentile and fastball 4th percentile for spin rate. He ranks in the 89th percentile for walk rate and 59th percentile for chase rate according to baseballsavant. Both of these metrics suggest that he does a good job pounding the strikezone while avoiding meatballs that opposing hitters can crush. Between 2021 and 2022, Irvin significantly increased his curveball usage while eliminating a slider from his repertoire. He has also steadily decreased his dependence on his changeup and continues to rely heavily on his fastball. His ability to pound the corners and command pitches is the key to his success and allows him to pitch late into starts with his high stamina and efficiency.
I like this trade for the Orioles. Irvin certainly is not flashy or electric but he is efficient and will eat up innings for the O's in the back end of the rotation. Darell Hernaiz was a good prospect and still has a bright future but he was running into a logjam of middle infielder in the O's system which would make it difficult for him to work his way into an Orioles uniform if he stayed. The trade also shows that Elias is willing to part with a prospect he brought on to improve the current team which is important as the O's look to compete for the AL East along with the other four teams in 2023. Irvin joins Kyle Gibson in the rotation, along with Adam Frazier, Mychal Givens, and James McCann elsewhere to join the Orioles this offseason.