Spring training is scheduled to begin later this month, but each passing day makes an on-time start feel more doubtful.
It’s been about a month since The Baltimore Sun’s Oriole of the Day series began, and despite what seems to be progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement, the league and players are reportedly far enough apart that this lockout might not end before Orioles pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Florida. In the meantime, The Sun will continue to evaluate each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster, looking back on their 2021 seasons and looking ahead to a 2022 campaign that hopefully begins not too long from now.
After arriving as a late-September waiver claim from the Tampa Bay Rays, Joey Krehbiel almost immediately entered the mix of manager Brandon Hyde’s backend bullpen options. The audition largely went well, but whether there’s a place for Krehbiel in the Orioles’ 2022 bullpen remains to be seen.
2022 Opening Day age: 29
2021 stats: 4.32 ERA, 8 1/3 innings, seven strikeouts, 1.200 WHIP, 20.6 K%, 14.7 BB%, 0.0 fWAR for the Orioles and Rays; 4.19 ERA, 43 innings, 52 strikeouts, 1.093 WHIP, 29.5 K%, 5.1 BB% for Triple-A Durham (TB)
Under team control through: 2027
2021 in review
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Number to know: 24.4%. The difference in Krehbiel’s minor league strikeout and walk rates is an impressive one. Of the upper-minors pitchers who threw as many innings as he did, only eight managed a higher strikeout rate and a lower walkout rate, according to FanGraphs; three of them were also in the Rays’ system.
What was good: From June through September — in outings with Durham, Tampa Bay and Baltimore — Krehbiel had a 2.63 ERA, limiting opponents to a .175 average and .542 OPS over 38 outings. He particularly thrived for Durham in June and July, with a 1.25 ERA and 27 strikeouts against three walks in 21 2/3 innings. Of his 19 appearances in that span, eight came against the Orioles’ Triple-A Norfolk affiliate, so the organization got plenty of looks at him before he was eventually available on waivers in September.
What wasn’t: It’s fair to wonder how repeatable Krehbiel’s improved control is. His 1.9 walks per nine innings with Durham were half the best mark he posted in extended time with an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate from 2015 to 2019, and although that could be the product of work done during 2020′s COVID shutdown, it can be viewed as an outlier until he repeats it. In his six major league outings in 2021, Krehbiel issued 5.4 walks per nine innings, throwing about 9% fewer strikes in that small sample size than he did in Triple-A.
Looking ahead to 2022
Likely 2022 role: Up-and-down reliever
What’s projected: Any pre-arbitration reliever who has minor league options could find himself frequenting the so-called Norfolk Shuttle in 2022, and Krehbiel fits within that category. The Orioles will likely cycle through various options with the last handful of spots in their bullpen, and by being on their 40-man roster and pitching well for much of 2021, Krehbiel earned the opportunity to be in that mix and potentially on the Opening Day roster. Projection systems Steamer and ZiPS understandably see his 2021 walk rate as an aberration, estimating that a full season in the majors would have his walks per nine innings in the high 3s range he typically has shown as a minor leaguer.
A step forward: Perhaps all Krehbiel needs is an extended run of major league opportunity to show whether his 2021 success at Triple-A is evidence of the pitcher he is now. Assuming health and moderate performance, it figures that six of the Orioles’ bullpen spots are already secured — Tyler Wells, Cole Sulser, Dillon Tate, Jorge López, Tanner Scott and Paul Fry — with the possibility another goes to a young starter deployed in a swingman role. That leaves only one spot for a large group of inexperienced arms, and Krehbiel’s late-season success in a backend role could help him secure it.
Three up, three down
This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. The past three players featured in the series were Zac Lowther, Jordan Lyles and Isaac Mattson. The Orioles due up next are Bryan Baker, Alexander Wells and Michael Baumann.