With baseball’s Midsummer Classic in the rear view, the game’s other beloved midsummer tradition is well underway. The trade deadline is only nine days away, and trade speculation has entered into its annual stage of rampancy. For the Astros, many possibilities exist, but a sheer certainty among them is the bolstering of their bullpen, and in terms of overall fit, one name stands out from the rest: Orioles reliever Tanner Scott.
Baltimore’s resident flamethrower figures to be one of the more prominent names in the coming days. While lacking the track record of the trade market’s top relievers, Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel and Twins closer Taylor Rogers, Scott’s talent compensates for his relative youth and inexperience.
The 26-year-old southpaw attacks hitters with a four-seam fastball that sits in the upper-90s and a power slider that’s missed more bats than any other reliever’s. Following his breakout 2020 that saw him post a 1.31 ERA in 20.2 innings, Scott has produced a 2.65 ERA this year in 37.1 innings. According to Statcast, his strikeout rate is 91st percentile — largely thanks to a 99th percentile whiff rate — and his barrel rate is 86th percentile.
What’s been the undoing for the O’s fireman has been the free passes. Few pitchers have a higher walk rate. This problem was on full display against the Astros on June 28, when Scott walked three consecutive batters late in the game and was pulled after recording only one out.
Two days later, however, he struck out Michael Brantley, Yordan Álvarez, Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker in a dominant multi-inning outing.
The Astros already have their fair share of wild relievers, but the bullpen is also in need of another pitcher who can miss bats, as the unit ranks 15th in whiff rate. Minimizing contact can be a deciding factor in October.
Improving a pitcher’s control is easier said than done, but if any pitching coach is equipped to do it, it’s the Astros’ Brent Strom, who 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel once referred to as “the master of mechanics.”
Potential mechanical refinements notwithstanding, there’s another area of Scott’s game that could be greatly improved.
The Astros covet pitchers with high spin rates, and Scott’s four-seamer ranks 97th percentile in that regard. While a gaudy figure, it’s somewhat hollow because of its meager 76 percent active spin rate. For context, many big-league hurlers’ four-seamers have an active spin rate above 90 percent, with some — such as Justin Verlander’s in 2019 — near or at 100 percent.
Forward-thinking teams like the Astros could unlock a substantial amount of movement in Scott’s heater. There are several techniques employed by coaches to optimize spin efficiency — grip alteration, release point adjustment, etc.
Scott isn’t a free agent until after the 2024 season, which makes him more valuable than an ordinary rental arm. Although the former sixth-round pick has already established himself as an effective reliever, he has the potential to be one of the game’s finest in the not-too-distant future. Getting in on him before he reaches his peak could be highly rewarding.
Trading for Scott wouldn’t come cheap, but the Astros could acquire the Texas native relatively inexpensively when compared to the value that Proven Closers™ such as Kimbrel and Rogers are expected to net.
From the outset, the Astros’ relief corps has mustered just one consistently reliable option, its All-Star closer. Ryan Pressly has been magnificent all season, but he can only do so much, and with the Astros primed to be one of the league’s premier contenders later this year, an upgrade in personnel is imperative.
In 2018, the club acquired Pressly — a good but not great reliever at the time — and proceeded to significantly elevate his game. Scott is similar in the sense that he could make an impact now and perhaps an even greater one in the near future. Under Strom and the Astros’ tutelage, such a trajectory would seem rather likely.