Earlier this morning, ESPN.com reported that the Orioles had made contact with left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo.
That may have struck some as odd because the bullpen seems to be an Orioles strength.
It’s not as odd as it may seem, and it actually makes perfect sense.
No, it’s not a case of keeping up with the Yankees. Last week, New York added Aroldis Chapman to an already strong bullpen. Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller make for an excellent trio, though the new acquisition may have to serve a suspension due to a charge of domestic abuse.
It’s an admission by the Orioles that while they may not have the strongest starting staff they could have a bullpen to help them compete.
With Wei-Yin Chen, Yovani Gallardo and Ian Kennedy the only name starters still available, the Orioles may well be locked out of that market. If they go the one-year contract route with someone like Mat Latos, they’re going to need many strong arms in the bullpen.
Bastardo is one of the more underpublicized free agents around, but a close look at his stats shows you why the Orioles, along with the Mets, are eager to have at him.
Last year, when he turned 30, Bastardo turned in a superlative year with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA with a WHIP of 1.134. He allowed barely six hits per nine innings and only four home runs in 57 1/3 innings.
Bastardo does walk hitters. He gives up more than four walks per nine innings, but strikes out 11 per nine. That’s a ratio better than Brad Brach’s, and Brach is considered one of the Orioles’ strengths.
Last year, Bastardo held right-handed hitters to a .210 average, and left-handers hit just .138 against him.
The Orioles have two left-handers in the bullpen, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz. Last year, right-handed hitters had a .243 average against Britton while lefties hit .145. Right-handers hit .244 against Matusz, and left-handers .186.
A bullpen of Bastardo, Brach, Britton, Matusz, Mychal Givens and Darren O’Day would be one of the best in baseball and could help make up for shorter starts.
Last year, Orioles starters completed seven or more innings just 47 times, and Chen, who is unlikely to return, had the most, 12.
They certainly hope to make up some of those starts from Kevin Gausman (five starts of seven innings or more), Miguel Gonzalez (seven) and Chris Tillman (eight).
But, if the starts are short again, and Bastardo joins the bullpen, it may make for a much more competitive pitching staff.